“But so many voices filled that space”

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Last night we drove down to the Arts Centre in Sechelt to hear Ted Chamberlin read from his forthcoming book, Storylines: How Words Shape Our World. The Centre was full. Ted’s reading was inspiring; he drew together threads of his life pursuing stories, listening to them, teaching them, and how we understand the world and its diverse histories by paying attention. After his reading, there was time for questions from the audience and more discussion.

The first reading we attended at the Arts Centre was in spring of 1985. I know that because we’d been invited to the dinner for the author, John Newlove, beforehand; and I remember I was pregnant with Angelica. (So much of my own personal history is brought to mind by these details!) In the years that followed, we were both invited to read as part of the series hosted by the Sunshine Coast Arts Council at the Arts Centre, a beautiful log building which is a gallery, a performance space, and a warm venue for book launches and other events. We hosted an evening there to celebrate John’s Governor General’s award in 2006. Over time, when the committee organizing the reading series was chaired by the wonderful Dick Harrison, we became involved in a deeper way. Not as involved as many–I think of Eleanor Mae, Paddy Blenkinsop, Anne and Geoff Carr, and others–but John helped to decide on potential readers, poets in particular, and we hosted some of those over the years at our home overnight: Sarah DeLeeuw, Evelyn Lau, Kevin Paul, Pauline Holdstock, David O’Meara, and more. A dinner was held before the readings, with all of us preparing a main course or a salad or dessert, a clever way of ensuring both an audience and a work-crew to set up the Arts Centre for the events and then to put away chairs, tidy the kitchen afterwards (because we all contributed baked treats to have with coffee and tea during the break), and turn out the lights after everyone had left. A lot of work, more for some than others (which you’ll know if you’ve ever filled out funding forms for the arts agencies), and a really valuable gift to the community at large. Bev Shaw at Talewind Books would arrive early to set up a book table featuring the author’s work. She’d also paint details on the window of her store a week or two beforehand.

Last night, listening to Ted, I was following his strands of thinking and telling, the ones that detailed the Rastafarian story traditions, the Indigenous ones (including Kalahari, Australian aboriginal stories, those of Mongolian horse cultures, and more), and I was glad we’d driven down the coast, under stars, to come. So it was a little unsettling to hear one of those who organized the event announce that the reading series was being terminated after this season. (There are three more readers over the winter and spring: Nicole Markotic, Sam Wiebe, and Tolu Oloruntoba.) No reason was offered but the one making the rounds is that a new Arts Council intends to “decolonize” the Arts Centre and its offerings. Think about that. It’s a careless use of language at the very least. Decolonize a venue that has always been welcoming and inclusive, has become even more mindfully so as our thinking about inclusion and diversity has evolved? Last night Ted’s wife, Lorna Goodison, was with him, Lorna is former Poet Laureate of Jamaica, the author of multiple award-winning poetry and short-story collections and a gorgeous memoir, From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island; she was part of the reading series a few years ago. Eden Robinson came one spring, not long before Son of a Trickster was published, and I remember I introduced her and put a little jug of salmonberry blossoms on the podium.

I think of the diligence and hard work and grace, yes, grace devoted to the reading series at the Arts Centre over more than 37 years, with crisp press releases, generous intelligent introductions, good questions after, and I can’t help but think those who did this work deserve more than a careless wave of the hand in the grand scheme to “decolonize” the place. I don’t know these people with these plans, apart from one or two. I haven’t seen them at readings over the years, again apart from one or two. But so many voices filled that space, over more than 37 years, so many lines of poetry, stories (including Ted’s last night), so much laughter (if you’ve heard Eden laugh, you’ll know what I mean), so much community. On the dark drive home, we were quiet, and then we weren’t. By Middlepoint, we were sad, angry, hurt at the work we’d done over the years, with others, being so casually and thoughtlessly abandoned. I was awake, thinking about the ways stories can save us, salvage us, take our broken parts and put them together again. How they can take us out of a bitter place for a time and give us the sweetness of human connection. That sweetness, what’s happened to it?

the day before the B.C. Book Prizes

Euclid's Orchard_cover Final

Last night I read at the Gibsons Library and engaged in a conversation with Dick Harrison, dear friend and fine scholar. I had one of those moments, after people had made generous comments or asked interesting questions, when I realized that I’d written the book I’d hoped to write, one that weaves family stories into a larger pattern of natural, cultural, and regional history. Someone said at the end that the one word they (well, it was she) would use was “textured”. And yes, that was at least one of my intentions.

But it’s a quiet book. The writing doesn’t exactly ignite fireworks. I’m not apologizing. I believe that the world needs all kinds of books and I hope that the quiet ones can continue to find a place in the literary conversation. The ones that notice the plants and birds (right now there’s an orange-crowned warbler on the rugosa rose out the window!), record the dailiness of lives, ask us to remember the ordinary people who made us. Ask us to listen as the coyotes sing in the woods beyond the house, to birdsong on a May morning.

Tomorrow is the Gala for the B.C. Book Prizes awards. If you visit this site frequently, then you know that Euclid’s Orchard has been nomination for the Hubert Evans Award. I don’t have any expectations regarding the award. I do believe that it’s an honour to know that a jury read all the non-fiction books published in B.C. in 2017 and included mine among their top 5. I’ll pack my glad rags, cross Howe Sound on the ferry, and go to the reception and dinner, then sit among the well-wishers as the awards are given out in the big ballroom at the Pinnacle Hotel in Vancouver. It’s a chance to celebrate the vital writing and publishing community in this province and I’m happy to be part of it. And what a thrill to be in this company for the past two months.

Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize

Supported by the BC Teachers’ Federation

Dead Reckoning: How I Came to Meet the Man Who Murdered My Father
by Carys Cragg
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press

When Carys Cragg was eleven, her father, a respected doctor, was brutally murdered in his own home by an intruder. Twenty years later, and despite the reservations of her family and friends, she decides to contact his murderer in prison, and the two correspond for a period of two years. She learns of his horrific childhood, and the reasons he lied about the murder; in turn, he learns about the man he killed. She mines his letters for clues about the past before agreeing to meet him in person, when she learns startling new information about the crime.

Carys Cragg is an instructor in Child, Family & Community Studies at Douglas College. Her personal essays and reviews have appeared in such venues as The Globe & Mail and The Tyee.

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Euclid’s Orchard & Other Essays
by Theresa Kishkan
Publisher: Mother Tongue Publishing

In her new collection of essays Kishkan unravels an intricately patterned algorithm of cross-species madrigal, horticulture, and love. Opening with ‘Herakleitos on the Yalakom,’ a turbulent homage to her father, and ending in ‘Euclid’s Orchard,’ amidst bees and coyotes, her touchstones of natural history and family mythology are re-aligned and mortared with metaphysics and math. Along the way her signature lyricism of place and home sings us from her grandparents’ first homestead near Drumheller via an actual ‘Poignant Mountain’ of her girlhood to her beloved home on the Sechelt Peninsula in BC.

Theresa Kishkan is the author of thirteen books of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. She has been a finalist for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and won the Edna Staebler Personal Essay Prize.

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Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition
by Paul Watson
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

In a masterful work of history and contemporary reporting, journalist Paul Watson tells the full story of the Franklin Expedition: Sir John Franklin and his crew setting off from England in search of the fabled Northwest Passage; the hazards they encountered and the reasons they were forced to abandon ship after getting stuck in the ice hundreds of miles from the nearest outpost of Western civilization; and the dozens of search expeditions over more than 160 years, which collectively have been called “the most extensive, expensive, perverse, and ill-starred . . . manhunt in history.”

Paul Watson earned three National Newspaper Awards for foreign reporting and photography, the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography, and the 2006 Hal Boyle Award from the Overseas Press Club of America.

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The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land, Rebuilding the Economy
by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson
Publisher: James Lorimer and Company Ltd., Publishers

Manuel and Derrickson offer an illuminating vision of what Canada and Canadians need for true reconciliation. They show how governments are attempting to reconcile with Indigenous Peoples without touching the basic colonial structures that dominate and distort the relationship. They review the current state of land claims, tackle the persistence of racism among non-Indigenous people and institutions, celebrate Indigenous Rights Movements while decrying the role of government-funded organizations like the Assembly of First Nations, and document the federal government’s disregard for the substance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples while claiming to implement it. These circumstances amount to what they see as a false reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

Arthur Manuel was a widely respected Indigenous leader and activist from the Secwépemc Nation. He was known internationally, having advocated for Indigenous rights and struggles at the United Nations, The Hague, and the World Trade Organization.

Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson served as Chief of the Westbank First Nation from 1976 to 1986 and from 1998 to 2000. He was made Grand Chief by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs in 2012.

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The Sacred Herb / The Devil’s Weed
by Andrew Struthers
Publisher: New Star Books

The Sacred Herb / The Devil’s Weed is informative and even enlightening, but above all, it’s a hilarious look at a humble plant that has entertained, inspired, and occasionally terrified so many for so long. One side of this double paperback answers all your questions about the world’s most misunderstood plant, from how “the bikers of the Stone Age” spread it across Europe to why it makes music sound better. The other side is a non-stop trip as Struthers weaves together true stories, collected from 100 friends, of marijuana-inspired misadventures.

Andrew Struthers is the author of Around the World on Minimum Wage (2014), The Last Voyage of the Loch Ryan (2004), and The Green Shadow (1995). His films include The Magic Salmon, TigerBomb: A Symphony in Dynamite, and Spiders on Drugs.

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