Norman Nawrocki

Photo by Vivian Nawrocki

Norman Nawrocki’s life and career would require a shelf full of books to document. Born in Vancouver, already an anarchist at the tender age of 14, he cut his teeth on radical journalism both on and off the university campus. His move to Montreal in 1981 marked the beginning of an extraordinary career as a cabaret artist – he quickly made the leap from poetry readings to performance in the mid-eighties with Rhythm Activism, a duo he started with guitar wizard Sylvain Coté. Rhythm Activism toured across Canada, up and down the West Coast of America, and overseas to Europe, and eventually evolved into a full band.

Since then, Nawrocki has been the member of several other musical ensembles, as well as a community-based circus. He toured (and continues to tour) campuses across Canada with a series of one-man shows dealing with issues of sex and sexuality, attacking misogyny and homophobia and promoting good clean fun in the sack. He’s published numerous poetry collections and a novel, as well as many audio releases.

These days, he’s concentrating on writing. He’s almost finished a new novel, this one addressing the current wave of racist legislation and police-backed harassment of the Roma people of Italy. “Recently, the persecution of Roma refugees has intensified. What I saw with my own eyes when I was touring Italy was just so utterly incredible, unbelievable and unjust, that I wanted to have this novel as a vehicle to write about that, to talk about it and spread the story. Once it comes out I’ll tour that with a theatre piece that I wrote to accompany it.”

He’s also planning a fall tour of Japan, Taiwan, Mainland China and Hong Kong with his HK-based compatriot Lenny Guo. “I was just in Hong Kong last year doing a series of shows, spoken word with live music,” Nawrocki explains. “We did a couple of shows together in Hong Kong that went great, so now he wants to organize a tour. We’re going to do a more developed show with joint material – music, spoken word, song.”

Nawrocki’s long-standing love affair with theatre has led him to take a leading role in organizing the annual International Anarchist Theatre Festival (beginning in 2006), bringing in heavyweights like Judith Malina’s Living Theatre, Vermont’s legendary Bread & Puppet Theate, and Parisian anarchist playwright Monique Surel, as well as locals like Geneviève Letarte and Bruno Massé. This is just one aspect of his multivarious activities in Montreal ... Nawrocki is currently busy putting together the first-ever anthology of new writing by anarchist writers. He regularily teaches grad students how to use the arts for meaningful social change at Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs. And this summer he organized an outdoor neighbourhood festival in defense of Parc Oxygene, the community-built green space located next to the co-op where he lives. “I’m trying to get people to think about what’s happening in our cities – we gotta keep the city liveable for people like us.”

His writing continues to be a central passion. As well as finishing up his Italian novel, he’s already envisioning his next poetry collection, Nightcap for Nihilists. “I read the newspapers every day, I’m online every day, and I get tons of inspiration from the news around us. At least once a week I churn out something new about something else going on out there. As long as there’s issues I’ll be writing about them.”