It was a strange and surreal experience for Patty Rivera to sign her late daughter’s book during a book launch party Oct. 27. She signed it with Rani’s name, knowing in her heart that the book was her way of making her daughter’s dream come true a year after her death. Photo by Jean Ko Din

Poetry book a bittersweet dream come true

By 
  • November 13, 2017
Read by Lo Bil at the "All Violet" book launch at Progress Place, a mental illness recovery centre in Toronto where Rani Rivera used to work. Video by Jean Ko Din
It was always Rani Rivera’s dream to become a published poet, much like her mother Patria. What she didn’t know was that her dream would come true after her own death.

It was a strange and surreal experience for Patty Rivera to sign her late daughter’s book during a book launch party Oct. 27. She signed it with Rani’s name, knowing in her heart that the book was her way of making her daughter’s dream come true a year after her death.

“I think that this is what she wanted to do but she didn’t have the time,” said Rivera, a former editor of Catholic Missions In Canada magazine. “It was her dream.”

All Violet is a small collection of poems about Rani’s life, love, insecurity, hope and sadness. It is about a 35-year-old woman who battled depression and who felt things more deeply than most people would, according to her older sister Isobel Rivera-Dumont.

About 40 friends and family attended the book launch at Progress Place, a mental illness recovery centre in Toronto where Rani used to work. It was the perfect venue for the book launch, said Rivera, because the centre represented Rani’s passion for helping marginalized people.

Rani Rivera in Prague 2015. “She had that ability to connect with different kinds of people,” said Criss Habal Brosek, executive director of Progress Place. “I knew she would be able to connect with people, not only with people that she worked with but also with the service providers and professionals.”

Brosek offered her a job after meeting her in 2013. She was working as an after-school program facilitator at St. James Town Community Corner, a community hub in one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods.

Brosek learned that her contract with The Corner was ending and she knew that Rani would be a great addition to her team.

In 2014, Rani began work at Progress Place as a community coordinator. She thrived in coordinating social programs at the centre. When Brosek decided to partner with Weston Mount Dennis Community Place Hub, she knew Rani would be the right person for the job.

“I saw (in Rani) this unwavering ability to be so dedicated and committed to working with people, and always with a positive outlook,” said Brosek. “I feel like the book is her release and I think it was open and honest. I think it was similar to many stories we’ve heard from people that we worked with.”

Brosek said she was flabbergasted by the honesty and raw emotion of the book. Rani’s poems confront themes of brokenness, addiction and frustration.

Rivera, a published poet herself, knew Rani shared her own passion for writing. However, she did not know Rani was a prolific poet until her daughter’s boyfriend Seth Blender gave her Rani’s computer, just a month after Rani’s death from an overdose of anti-depressant medication on Aug. 3, 2016.

There were 10 years worth of poetry hidden among her digital file folders.

Rivera only used to read poems that Rani would allow her to read, so to find more than a hundred poems in her daughter’s hard drive was overwhelming.

“It’s like a young woman’s journey and hers is not of a typical, straight-laced young woman,” she said. “Hers is more like the broken type of journey where she experiences so many different disappointments, struggles and dealing with relationships.”

Instantly, Rivera knew that she wanted to help Rani fulfill her dream to be published. She consulted with her friend Ruth Roach Pierson, an award-winning poet and professor emerita at University of Toronto. Together, they found poet Jim Johnstone to edit Rani’s poems.

“I’m really grateful to all our friends and relatives for supporting us on this adventure because it really was an adventure for the whole family,” said Rivera. “Rani had a real, lifelong struggle with finding her identity and finding what she really wanted in life... but in the end, she found that it was not in seeking happiness for herself but it was in seeking happiness and wellbeing for others that she could find happiness. I think that’s one lesson I got from her.”

All Violet is published by Dagger Editions, an imprint of Caitlin Press in Vancouver. All proceeds benefit Progress Place.


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