Black Voices: Donna-Michelle St. Bernard

February 23, 2017

For Black History Month, we're featuring black authors, their latest work, and their writing process. Today playwright and emcee Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, whose latest published play A Man A Fish (Playwrights Canada Press) explores environmental sabotage, shares her writer's block coping strategies, what she can't live without, and other interesting insights, below.

Photo by Denise Grant.


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This Black History Month, we're interviewing writers of colour every Thursday, here on the All Lit Up blog.



ALU: Who’s a writer of colour you always recommend?

DMS: I don't speak well of what moves me, so I can only say your life will be better with these writers' words inside of you:

Yvette Nolan
Marilyn Dumont
Djanet Sears
Nalo Hopkinson
Dionne Brand

ALU: Who are your favourite fictional characters?

DMS: Wolverine. He's not really good. He's only as good as he can be, as good as he should be, and when he isn't you can only say, "fair enough." Or, Loker from Lie to Me is almost certainly not a nice man, but I'm inspired by his commitment to the inconvenient practice of radical honesty. Or, Detective Lilly Rush on Cold Case—her hair is a constant disaster, and she's so good at her job.

ALU: What was your most rewarding moment as a writer?

DMS: In 2009 I finished Gas Girls, a play about young sex trade workers at a truck stop on the Zimbabwe border. At the time, I was a vocalist with The Awakening, a strange and wonderful band committed to the creation of good energy. The height of intensity, we called "spirit rising"—a phrase I attribute to drummer/guitarist Michael Clark aka Dr. Chaos. When Michael accompanied me in a performance at the 2012 AGM of the Ontario Coalition for International Cooperation, we didn't know what to expect. Arriving early, we sat at the back of the room as a gathering of NGO leaders discussed their efforts to reverse infant mortality rates in different developing nations. Then they introduced us.  Full to the brim with these stats and stories, I had a shaky start, and soon asked Michael to play something for the people while I gathered breath. Michael nodded, strummed a few lazy notes on his guitar and began to sing a song he'd written for the "gas girls" of Zimbabwe, in response to my play. When the Trucks Come In is the best song I ever heard; the most fulfilling response to my work; a generous act of caretaking by a friend who covered for me while experiencing emotions of his own; a great gift to those listening, understanding how much their work meant to us. That day, I truly saw the spirit rising. Thank you, Michael.



ALU: If you wrote a memoir, what would it be called?


I would have several to choose from, including:

  • The Girl Who Thought She Was Helping
  • Offkey, Onpoint
  • God Was Listening
  • Passing Damascus
  • Impatiens 


DM workboard at TPM

Donna-Michelle's workspace.


ALU: If you get writer's block, what do you do to overcome it?

DMS: When I get writers block I'll change any little thing to try and shake something loose. Eat weird candy. Wear my pants inside-out. Find something to be curious about and ask questions. Feed my hero complex by conjuring up a list of people who are counting on me. Walk up to Supercoffee and encounter my stimulating community. Then go back home and play video games for, like, ever. Also crying.


ALU: What was the last movie you saw?

DMS: Willie Dynamite (1974) and Tokyo Godfathers (2003). Each of these movies, in its own way, represents an artist's triumph at subverting a "popular" medium in service of a humane politic. It gives me joy when those in tragedy do not act tragically, and when people in struggle fight for each other, not just for survival.


DM writer advice

Donna-Michelle's advice for other writers.



ALU: What are three things you can’t live without?


a.Music. Preferably bass-heavy, danceable, leftist manifestos, but if we're talking about finite space, better just make it The Hardline According to Terrence Trent.  Right? 

b. Books. Like every book; any book; even books by Tami Hoag. Wait, no. Not those. 

c. Kern.


Photo credit: Ontario Council for International Cooperation

Chaos and Bella - OCIC 2012

DM St Bernard is a pleasing arranger of words for the stage. She lives surrounded by obsolete technology which may one day assemble itself into a robot, and stacks of books whose endings she hopes to forget and rediscover. She is convinced that time will stop if we cease to measure it. A lover once wrote her this poem:

How humbling it is

To know

That my presence is worth exactly:

All the pillows, all the blankets

A book

A drum

A glass of juice

And two white bears

One named “good enough”

The other called, “that will do.”





Thanks to Donna-Michelle for answering our questions, and to Jessica at Playwrights Canada Press for making the connection. If you missed our other Black Voices features, check them out here.


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