A Good Home, Book lovers, Books, Canadians, Creative Writing, Following your dreams, Home, Mentoring Writers, Non-fiction writing, Reading, Writers, Writing workshops

At Home with Author Donna Kay Kakonge

Canadian Donna Kay Kakonge is a prolific author whose range includes memoirs, how-to books, academic tomes and others.

Blog Photo - Donna Book 4

She’s published dozens of books.

Blog Photo - Donna Book2

Donna also paints, teaches creative writing, and has just completed her Ph.D.

Blog Photo - Donna Book 3

She makes the time to support other authors – especially first-time authors and those who are independently published. She mentors them, lines up readings for them, and shares her own experience.

“If you know you want to write, if you really, really know that you do …. new writers of all ages…then just do it! Write! Make sure you do. And coupled with this you MUST make sure that you also read. Imagine a musician that does not listen to music. This would be laughable. You must read in order to write.”

Donna also runs Creative Writing Workshops. The next one is at the Toronto Public Library in June.

She does this in her spare time. She has a full time job with Mobilman Management Inc.

Blog Photo - Donna LR2

Much of Donna’s writing in the past ten years has been done in her downtown Toronto apartment , “900 square feet with a washer and dryer included”. Her home is filled with paintings – some of which she did herself.

The apartment is home.

“I love my home. I didn’t show my bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, laundry area or my home office, but they are also lovely. I feel very lucky to have this place.”

It’s home not just because her possessions are there, not just because this is where she writes her books, but because her family and friends live on the same street.

“My sister and my nieces live across the street. I have a friend from my undergrad days who lives down the street. My father lives next door. He’s been living in this area since 1981 and owns seven houses in this area.”

Donna likes her street because it’s “quiet and safe”.  Because it’s centrally located and has several  grocery stores in the area.  And because almost everybody knows everybody. Most of the neighbours know each other.

Blog Photo - Donna living room

“What a lot of people don’t always think about is that it truly can take a long time to make a place feel like home. Even though I’ve grown up in this neighbourhood since 1981  — and went through a period of time where I was moving in and out of this neighbourhood — I have traveled and lived enough in other areas of Toronto to learn to truly, truly appreciate my home. I feel excessively fortunate!”

So much so that Donna says she doesn’t plan to move – ever.

“I have finally found my home – and it’s right in the city where I was raised – imagine that!”


Donna’s latest book was published in March of 2014, under the title:

Young Black Women in Toronto High Schools: Portraits of Family, School and Community Involvement in Developing Goals and Aspirations

Her books are in both of Canada’s official languages, English and French. Among the titles available in French:

Comment Écrire Non-Fiction Créative (How to Write Creative Non-fiction)

Qu’est-il arrivé à l’Afro (What Happened to the Afro)

Comment à parler Crazy People (How To Talk To Crazy People)

All are available on Amazon, or through Donna’s website at: http://www.donnakakonge.com

Thanks to Donna for the photos of her home.

A Good Home, Book lovers, Book Reviews, Great books, Libraries, New Category Nam

Red Shoes At The Library

The woman at the London Public Library wore red.

Red shoes.

She was supposed to attend another event that evening, but came to my book reading at the library, wearing her red shoes. It was a direct reference to a highly charged passage about red shoes in my book, A Good Home.  It was also a sign of camaraderie and support to an author whom she’d never met.

Image via: Google Images
Image via: Google Images


She was not the only person who had already read the book. There were several in the room, including library professional Jacqui Denomme. Exactly one year before this event, Jacqui, who works with the London Public Library, read my short story (about two much-loved homes) in the Globe and Mail newspaper. She immediately wrote a letter of praise about the story to the editor. That letter was passed on to me.

Through the months leading up to the publication of A Good Home, Jacqui and I kept in touch by email. When the book was released, she was one of the first people to read it. She then showed it to her supervisor, Elizabeth Egleston.

I therefore should not have been surprised that the first library to order the book was the London Public Library.

“You’ve started a trend,” I told Jacqui and Elizabeth. “More and more libraries in Canada have now ordered copies of A Good Home.”

A Good Home - A memoir by Cynthia Reyes
A Good Home – A memoir by Cynthia Reyes

Libraries have meant a lot to me since childhood. And decades later, my local public library became one of the few places I visited repeatedly in the years after the car accident. At a time when I had difficulty walking, talking and when even trying to read a book gave me blinding headaches, the librarians there guided me to audio books.

When I started reading books again, they often helped me choose. Some days, when I stumbled into the library, mumbling incoherently,  two librarians rushed to help me at once. And so, when A Good Home was finally published, my husband and I brought a copy of the book for each librarian, with heartfelt thank-you notes.

Knowing how much libraries had helped me, I wanted my book to be in libraries. With this strong desire, and my close connection to public libraries, I was thrilled when the invitation came from the London Public Library.

On September 25, my husband and I traveled to London for the reading at the Stoney Creek branch of the London Public Library. We met Jacqui and Elizabeth in person for the first time.

I started the session by reading the short story from the Globe that had started the connection between the LPL and me.

Photography Credit: Hamlin Grange
Photography Credit: Hamlin Grange

Just minutes earlier, Jean, an audience member, had stuck out her feet, clad in pretty red shoes for me and everyone else to see. Somehow, those red shoes and Jacqui’s warm introduction kicked off the event in just the right way.

It was a perfect evening.

My thanks to Jacqui and Elizabeth, to Jean (and her red shoes), and all the patrons and local residents who came out to meet me, buy my book, and hear me read.

Photography Credit: Hamlin Grange
Photography Credit: Hamlin Grange

The evening reinforced my impression that the best of these events are a true give-and-take between author and readers. It was a terrific discussion, and I appreciated both the laughter and the moving comments  that were made about homes and family relationships.

Photography Credit: Hamlin Grange
Photography Credit: Hamlin Grange – Photo shows Jacqui Denomme on right

p.s. If A Good Home isn’t in your local library, please ask the librarian to bring it in.  I’ve found that libraries are very helpful in bringing in books for their patrons.

A Good Home, Architecture, Autumn, Book lovers, Fall colours, Interior Design

Up North With The Limberlost Club

All the way north along Highway 400, the leaves on the trees are still green.

An hour from Toronto, there’s just a hint of autumn. The air is fresh and cool. Some leaves – not many yet – on a few trees are turning yellowish or pinkish or reddish.

Our car crosses over bridges, large bodies of lake water on both sides, evergreen cedars and pines and spruces hugging the shoreline. We’re in cottage country now, no doubt about it. It feels like a far way from Toronto, though it’s only a couple hours’ drive.

Book Autum colours

We leave the highways behind. The road narrows and the trees and bushes seem only an arm’s length from my window. Up here, the red, russet and yellow leaves signal that fall has arrived.

“A minute ago, the trees were still mostly green!” says Lisa, who’s driving. MerriLynn and I agree.

We turn right on an even narrower lane, then down a driveway towards the lake. The car pulls up beside a large, two-story,  flat-roofed house that looks like it was built by Frank Lloyd Wright, except that it seems brand new. The exterior is clad with dark brown wood, the roof-line and doors trimmed with black.

Debbie, our host, greets us immediately. She leads us inside. We drop our bags on a hallway bench and follow her.  It’s a stunningly beautiful house – an interesting mix of modern and traditional. A large family room with library is to the left; a big, yet comfy, kitchen and dining area to the right.

Large windows reveal the lake, its surface gleaming in the light, reflecting the pine, white birch and cedar trees that flank the water.

Book - lake and trees

The house, the lake, our hosts – all make us feel welcome and relaxed. We sit at one end of a massive dark maple dining table for a late lunch. The tomatoes, the radicchio, and almost everything else we eat come from Debbie’s sprawling garden near the kitchen.

We rest then head off for a walk down to the dock, then through the woods. Late September. Not the best time for a swim in the lake, but the very best time for a walk in the woods along the shoreline.  No mosquitoes, no deer flies.

The house was built by engineer Jim Lischkoff, designed by son Chris. Debbie’s mother Gladys also lives here. She’s 90.  Perhaps that’s why there’s a feeling of history to this brand-new house, built by family members, loved by three generations of one family.

We ask Gladys about her earlier years: her family and the homes she’s lived in. Her memories, going back to childhood, are clear and vivid. Gladys’ storytelling talents are shared by her daughter Debbie. We sit at the table with them and Gladys’ caregiver Anna, wanting the stories to continue.

In a few hours, it’s evening. We are joined by a steady stream of visitors. The members of Debbie’s book club gather in this beautiful lakeside home.  It is my turn to tell and read stories — about the homes I’ve lived in, the generations of my family, the experiences they and I have shared.

Book October Book Club group

I’m the guest of the Limberlost Book Club, made up of women who live along this lake or others nearby, or in cities, towns and villages in this region. This is my first talk with a book club, and I don’t know what to expect. As I move around the large room, introducing myself to each person, I’m greeted with a friendly smile and a “Hi, Cynthia!”

Of course:  they’ve seen my photo on the back cover of the book. They already know it’s me.

It’s my first time with a group of people who have all read my book, and I decide to try something new: before reading an excerpt to them, before making any comments, I ask the group to share their reactions to the book.

The responses are spontaneous and warm. The women talk about the homes in the book, the characters, the events, the universal themes of childhood, whether one is a young girl in Jamaica or a young girl in Canada.

It’s a lively give and take between my intentions as an author and their reactions as readers. We share thoughts about reflection, redemption, recovery. It all makes for a rich and enjoyable discussion.

Thank you, Limberlost Book Club. And Gladys and Anna, and our mutual friends Lisa and MerriLynn. Thank you, Debbie and Chris and Jim for this stunning yet comfortable house. What a wonderful visit. What a lovely home.

Book October book club Lisa, Debbie and me

A Good Home, Inspiration, Uncategorized

Thank you, Readers

Who was to know that a book completed in a time of such pain and agony would become a comfort and inspiration to so many readers? Not me.

The earlier parts of my book, A Good Home, had been written over 25 years. Some of those stories are hilarious, and I hoped that readers would recognize their own experiences and foibles in these stories, and laugh along with me.

But home isn’t always a fun place to be, and my editors, first readers, family and health professionals felt I also had to write about what happens when a home becomes a prison – as was the case after a car accident left me injured and house-bound for long stretches of time.

Stack of JournalsI finally decided to crack open the journals I’d kept. I hated reading them at first and wept often.

But the insights I gained — from transcribing parts of those journals into story form — are priceless additions to the book. Once added, it became clear that the story I’d been writing for decades – a story about home and family – was finally complete.

Book photo - stack of books

I hoped the book would offer some insights to people going through big changes in their lives – whether it was moving to a new home or dealing with a major life challenge. In fact, this was my main reason for releasing a book that is so personal. But I wasn’t sure how readers would respond.

I got my first clue when a few readers wrote to say “I just couldn’t put this book down” and had stayed up all night to read it.  Several readers said they didn’t want the book to end, and actually slowed down their reading of the last few chapters to savour every word”!


Book photos - cards from Readers

Merri Lynn wrote: “I do not often finish a book sensing a longing for it to continue, a sadness that I have finished it, a desire to know more. Although I read constantly and on a wide variety of subjects, that feeling does not occur often. It just happened with your book.”

On the phone, another reader, Allan, told me:

“Cynthia, your book made me laugh a lot. 

 And then it made me cry. I wept.”

“I’m so sorry, I replied.

“No need, Allan said. “What a wonderful book you’ve written. I’ll probably read it again.”

That’s been a common theme. Many people are re-reading the book. The letters have been pouring in from readers in Canada, the US, the UK, the Caribbean, S. Africa, Denmark and elsewhere. Many are long e-mail letters. Some are short notes — a paragraph or two. Some come in the form of cards and letters, sent in the mail.

One reader, Diane, even sent me a sweet little card of a pink house! (My first childhood home was pink.)

All reveal how deeply they have been touched by A Good Home.

A Godo Home - reader card pink house

I read every letter carefully. Some take my breath away as they describe the depth of feeling and memory evoked by the book. Some surprise me at the insights they got from A Good Home. And then there are those who re-read whole parts of the book for comfort. One of them is Muriel, a gifted artist who struggles with chronic pain. She’s read the book three times. She’s even turned a few quotes from my book into daily mantras that help her cope.

“As Oprah used to say, wrote Sandra, “I want to buy all my friends a copy of this book.” And that’s exactly what a number of readers have been doing. Mae, Anne, Lorna, Carol, Keith, Shirley, Karlene and Lloyd all read the book and loved it, and immediately ordered more copies as gifts for family and friends.  Many of those friends have done the same.  That may explain why some independent bookstores are on their second or third order in a matter of weeks.

Libraries and book clubs are also doing their part. The London Public Library was the first to order my book, followed by public libraries in Waterloo, Kitchener, Toronto and others.  And book clubs are selecting A Good Home . What an honour! Thank you.

I didn’t know what to expect when I completed and published this book.  I am thankful to you, my readers, for the fabulous way in which you have responded to A Good Home. There will be more news to share in the months ahead, and I will. Thanks again.