Gemma Hickey – Art in the Time of Physical Distancing

July 2020

What book(s) and author(s) are you reading right now and why?

How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa. When I discovered her poetry, it was love at first read. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this collection of her short stories. The Blue Clerk by Dionne Brand. As a queer writer and social activist, her poetic voice intersects with my own.

Is there a particular genre of films you find yourself watching? Or do you have any recommendations of series or movies on a streaming site?

I’ve been binging on historical television shows lately like Vikings and Outlander. Both are available on Netflix and Crave, but I had to purchase the latest seasons on iTunes.

What music or artist are you listening to right now and why?

Erik Satie, Lhasa de Sela while I read; Van Morrison, Kamasi Washington, while I cook; Bruce Springsteen, Janis Joplin while I drive; and sometimes, I take Chet Baker to bed.

Are you able to keep to a routine in terms of your own work? Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for others who are struggling to work from home right now?

I’m the Executive Director of a youth arts charity called Artforce (formerly known as For the Love of Learning). The organization is considered to be ‘essential’ so nothing has really changed for me in terms of my work schedule. Structure is important at a time like this. If you’re not going into an office like me, recreate your workday at home by dressing up as if you’re going to work, setting a schedule and maintaining it.

Social media is exploding with daily check-ins, poetry readings, virtual art gallery tours, etc – is there anything in particular you have discovered that has delighted you?

Because I spend a significant amount of time participating in Zoom meetings, I’m trying to cut back on my screen time when I’m not working or volunteering. But I do feel that social media is filling a void by keeping us all connected. I recently took part in Ochre Fest, a literary festival where I read an excerpt of my award-winning memoir, Almost Feral. Due to the pandemic, the festival was online this year. As I watched other authors read from their work, I felt less isolated because I was reminded of a larger community that I’m a part of that’s so lovely and talented.

How has food provided a comfort?

Yes. At the beginning of the pandemic I was baking a lot. Baking is a huge rite of passage in my family in addition to food being part of daily life. My grandmother, Mary Duffy Hayward, published a cookbook (Nan’s Pantry: Traditional Newfoundland Recipes) and her husband, my grandfather, Jim Hayward, was a Master Baker. But the pounds were adding up because I was less active. Gyms and pools were closed so I put a boxing bag up in my garage and have been walking more. The endorphins from exercising have replaced my cravings for comfort food.

Can you describe the physical situation you are in right now – what location, who you are spending this time with?

I’m in front of the fire with two dogs at my feet. Life is grand.

In your opinion, what’s the best thing about being in NL during a global pandemic?

The fact that we’re on an island.

Any overall words of wisdom to share?

Embrace the uncertainty. There are lessons to be learned. Yes, it’s true that stress and anxiety will amplify during the pandemic, but like the world we inhabit, we all could benefit from slowing down and taking a break.

What do you miss the most? 



Gemma Hickey is celebrated author and activist from Newfoundland and Labrador. A passionate humanist, Gemma’s advocacy has made headlines around the world. Their multi-award-winning memoir, Almost Feral (Breakwater 2019), was recently acquired by a publisher in Japan. Gemma is currently pursuing a Masters in Gender Studies at Memorial University in St John’s.

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