Growing up in Villaguay, Argentina, Silvana Goldemberg was surrounded by reading, writing, love and humour. Not only did her grandfather tell fun stories and her mother read books to the gathered family, but late into the night, Silvana could hear the clack-clack of her mother’s typewriter creating children’s books.
All that changed in 1994 when a Buenos Aires Iranian bomb took the life of Silvana’s brother-in-law, leaving his three children, including a three-month-old, fatherless. Murders and robberies grew rife, and remain prevalent to this day, she says.
So, Silvana and her husband began to research safer countries for bringing up their two daughters. They felt fortunate when they were able to move to Vancouver and gain Canadian citizenship by 2003.
Long before then, Silvana had become a kindergarten teacher, and used to write stories for her young students. She never imagined trying to publish any until her mother dared to “borrow” one, rework it and submit it to a contest in Ecuador with a double byline: her own and her daughter’s. Thrilled when it won, Silvana began writing and submitting children’s stories on her own, soon publishing them in Argentina, Peru and Cuba.
Her first Canadian stories were a collaboration between her and the late Max Tell, a fellow CWILL-BC member. It became a self-published audiobook in English and Spanish. Her 2013 Tradewind young-adult book Victoria was a finalist for the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature BC Book Prize. Its focus on Argentinian street kids offered Canadian children a wider perspective.
To date, Silvana has published more than 20 books, some in English and some in Spanish, including novels, short stories, poems, word games, nonfiction, plays and scripts. She also teaches Spanish and creative writing, babysits, works in a pizza place (her favorite pizzas have anchovies), and runs the Spanish Book Fair (coming up for its third year) in collaboration with the Vancouver Public Library.
Of these, teaching Spanish is one of her favorite activities because she feels passionate that immigrant parents should help their children start life bilingual. “It’s easier when they’re younger than when they’re older, and it helps them keep the culture and stay in communication with their family and friends, especially grandparents abroad. Also, we’re living in a small world and we need more languages; it’s good for traveling, for knowing more people, for studying and for getting more job opportunities.”
She adds that while it was a challenge coming from a Spanish-speaking to English-speaking country, “Now I’m happy I have two languages to play with.”
As if those activities are not enough, Silvana also paddles canoes and kayaks, plays soccer and walks her three dogs daily. Meanwhile, both her university-age, bilingual daughters have taken up the family tradition. The oldest has won three awards for plays, and the second writes stand-up comedy.
“I write mostly with humour,” Silvana says. “I especially like rhymes. I grew up reading and playing with words. My husband and girls, we play with words. It’s the thing I like most. I also like real stories and short stories. My favorite authors in English are Ray Bradbury and John Steinbeck.”
As an activist, she works “to prevent things like what happened to my brother-in-law in Argentina, I do my best to help Canadian organizations that fight terrorism and antisemitism.”
She’s also currently working with a First Nations man, helping him write his life story in middle-grade, chapter-book form. She has no favorite book, genre or age group. “I like them all, as long as they are well written.”
Another work-in-progress: “my first non-fiction book in Spanish with tips and exercises for new writers ages 7 to 120.”
But she’s lucky to still have her mother for advice as well. They speak by phone several times weekly. And today, at 83, Susana Goldemberg continues to publish children’s stories, even with more than dozens of books to her name and more than 100 awards.
Like her first role model, Silvana writes whenever, wherever she can – in the kitchen while family members are slow to drag themselves to the supper table, or on her tablet when kept waiting at the doctor’s office.
She’s surrounded by reading, writing, love and humour. She’s busy, happy and proud to be Canadian. Meanwhile Canada, and especially CWILL-BC, is proud to have her.
— Pam Withers has written 17 YA adventure novels.