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Wenting Li, Mary Kirkpatrick, Adam de Souza and Drew Shannon talk about what it was like to illustrate last year’s often challenging essays – and share a new work to make their point

Globe and Mail readers may reveal their hopes, dreams and devastations in the daily First Person essay, but perhaps the column’s illustrators have just as challenging a task: It isn’t easy to succinctly capture the inner workings of a writer’s heart. Alongside a steady stream of lighthearted pieces in 2020 were many stark stories reflecting a grim news cycle. We asked Wenting Li, Mary Kirkpatrick, Adam de Souza and Drew Shannon to capture their year of First Person work with a few words and, of course, an illustration.

Illustration by Wenting Li

Wenting Li

“This year has made me a close reader of stories where intimate experiences speak to the underlying inequities the pandemic has only exacerbated, from racial profiling to brutality against those with mental illnesses, to pervasive anti-Indigenous, anti-Black attitudes from both settlers and our settler state. As we face down a new year, these personal essays underline the systemic changes we need, and the necessity of maintaining space and time to listen to these stories. Readers’ stories humble me: There is so much work ahead and the weight of it needs to be felt to be shared.” – Wenting Li lives in Toronto

See Wenting Li’s work accompanying recent First Person essays

My skin is light. Dad told me I’d take less of a racist hit - but then I moved to a small town

A police officer is not the best person to help someone in psychosis

Words can heal and words can hurt – one minority doctor’s experience


Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

Mary Kirkpatrick

“Illustrating First Person has allowed me glimpses into the lives of strangers, from the compassion of front-line workers in hospitals and long-term care homes to the small moments of joy that come from tending a vegetable garden or watching the leaves turn on the bank of Toronto’s Humber River. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has trusted me with their stories this year. It’s hard to feel at all optimistic after this year, which has been so full of hardship and suffering. However, I’m hopeful that we can learn from the grim lessons of 2020 and rebuild toward a more compassionate and equitable future for our society.” – Mary Kirkpatrick lives in Toronto

See Mary Kirkpatrick’s work accompanying recent First Person essays

In the ER, patients need my comfort but I am scared to give it

I am discovering the joys of not travelling

Putting my pandemic garden to bed this fall gives me hope for next spring


Illustration by Adam De Souza

Adam de Souza

“Through all 2020 has thrown at us, First Person has been a recurring reminder that we’re all in this together. At times, it’s helped me feel a reckless hope that we will leave more than just the virus behind in 2020, and that 2021 will be the beginning of real, equitable and ethical change.” – Adam de Souza lives in Vancouver

See Adam de Souza’s work accompanying recent First Person essays

I’m Black and privileged - and feeling guilty. You really don’t need to check up on me

My 95-year-old grandpa is the best cure for loneliness that I’ve got

I need more people with ADHD in my life


Illustration by Drew Shannon

Drew Shannon

“Illustrating for First Person over the years has offered me a glimpse into the hearts of everyday Canadians and the opportunity to help tell their stories. This year, though, I think of all the Canadians whose stories we lost too soon and for them, I offer a candle in honour and celebration of their lives. My hope is we can illuminate the cracks some of us fell through this year as we head into the next.” – Drew Shannon lives in Toronto

See Drew Shannon’s work accompanying recent First Person essays

The dog (or werewolf?) that helped me heal from my daughter’s death

People watching from my mother’s park bench

Our pet lizard showed us how to leave behind who we used to be