LITERARY FEST RENAISSANCE
Discover New and Growing Fall Festivals and Reading Events
ON THE MAWIOMI TRAIL
How Powwows are Culturally Recharging Mi’kma’ki
FINDING YOUR HAPPY PLACE
How Fogo Island Inspires Children’s Illustrator Dawn Baker
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How Young People Are Creating a New World
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Seasons before the War
Chocolate River Publishing New for Fall
A celebration of childhood in old St. John’s by acclaimed Newfoundland novelist BERNICE MORGAN, with artwork by award-winning illustrator BRITA GRANSTRÖM.
Follow the Goose Butt to Nova Scotia
“Bernice Morgan’s wonderfully evocative prose, delightful in its detail, and Brita Granström’s marvelous illustrations are an inspired combination, making Seasons Before the War a book sure to be reread and treasured.”
Another Camelia Airheart adventure $10.95
~ Kevin Major, author of Hold Fast, The House of Wooden Santas, and No Man’s Land
Under the Floorboard A young adult novel $12.95 978-1-927917183 / $29.95 Ages 7+ Available this fall from Running the Goat, Books & Broadsides www.runningthegoat.com
The ABC’s of Viola Desmond Grade 4 students at William King Elementary School and teacher Beatrice MacDonald. 54 pages, $23.95 Reviewed by Lauri Taparluie for Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario.
Delmore “Buddy” Daye
Excellence in Africentric Education & Research
“A is for African Canadian.” The events of the fateful night when Viola Desmond was refused access to the “whites-only” section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, unravel page by page in this thoughtful and powerful book. In The ABC’s of Viola Desmond, readers are presented with the history of one of Canada’s esteemed civil rights activists in an alphabetical format. Written for an audience of grade three students, words such as “discrimination,” “inspiration,” and “segregation,” underscore the role Viola Desmond played in the fight for equality of all people, regardless of race. This book, written by Grade 4 Nova Scotian students for the African Nova Scotian History Challenges, speaks not only of Viola’s courage and strength when faced with racism, but also of the struggles of all Black Canadians of the time, the key people who aided her in her fight and details of her story overlooked in traditional historical texts. Exposure to diverse literature is imperative for students belonging to all communities.
History textbooks alone do not adequately expose students to the histories of Canada. Discrimination based on skin colour, ethnic origin and religious affiliation happens every day with examples frequently broadcast in mainstream media. Acknowledging the past and present struggles of people who have been marginalized will lead to a better understanding and appreciation of our history and our present day. This book can be used effectively as a mentor text to increase students’ cultural awareness and historical knowledge. While it has direct links to the Grade 3 social studies curriculum, it could also be used as a text to support understanding in Grade 6 social studies and Grade 7 and 8 history as students learn about the different communities that make up Canada and the privileges or lack thereof experienced by different groups. Lauri Taparluie is a member of Greater Essex County Teacher Local.
Order your copy through the Delmore Buddy Day Learning Institute at dbdli.ca
Contents Number 87 Fall 2018
30 Foreword 6
Letters From Readers
Literary Fest Renaissance Denise Flint discovers a new and growing fall festival-and-reading scene across the region
Author To Author Lesley Crewe has a large and loyal readership that goes far beyond her Cape Breton roots. But as she tells Sarah Mian, Cape Bretoners do get a kick out of having their neighbourhoods mentioned in her books.
Cover Story 13
Youth Power How young people are creating new worlds for themselves and why we all benefit from it
Reading an Endangered World Creative narratives about environmental crisis are acts of psychological adaptation
Saint John Creative How Canada’s oldest city keeps its edge
No Writer is An Island Carol Bruneau’s Mentorship of Nicola Davison Became a Lasting Friendship
Young Readers 33
ABOUT THE COVER
Hope Blooms has great light in their greenhouse and it’s a hopping spot on a weekday evening. During this shot, there were kids of all ages playing outside as well as a birthday party going on behind us, complete with pizza and a rapidly melting ice cream cake. Nicola Davison is a photographer and writer based in Dartmouth. She’s smitten with natural light and prefers a documentary-style of portraiture in which her subjects forget about the camera. One day, if you find her crouching inside a shrub with a long lens, just ignore her. She’s in her happy place.
Centring the Artist Bestselling children’s author and illustrator Dawn Baker’s favourite place
Big Themes for the Young: The Toll Of Depression; Nazi Occupation; Connecting with Place and Time; The Essence of Loving Fathers; Astronomical Vision; Remembering Africville; Conquering Fear Lisa Doucet and Jo-Anne Elder review the season’s most anticipated books for young readers
Trudi Johnson’s Family Secrets and Questions of Identity
41 Paul Carlucci’s Layered Stories of Life in a Northern Town
42 Jessica Mitton’s Reimagined Newfoundland Recipes
A Worthy Celebratory Portrait of Dalhousie University’s 200 Years
Maureen St. Clair’s Solace in Bosom Friendship
High-profile Artists Ponder the Contested Meaning of “Home”
Robert Chafe’s Drama Centres on a Man Who Saved Entangled Whales
Mark Critch on the Art of Shampooing a Cat An excerpt from his memoir, Son of a Critch
New Books 48
Editor’s Picks 18 Atlantic Canadian books that are generating buzz this season
Elizabeth Russell Speaks of her Slave Peggy Pompadour
Atlantic Books Today
Editor’s Message When I was deciding whether or not I wanted kids, in addition to feeling all the usual anxieties, I wondered about the added strain on the environment. I’m pretty sure my parents and grandparents weren’t struck by that particular doubt. But I figured, “Hey, maybe my kids will be part of the solution. Maybe their generation will collectively figure out political or technical solutions that will help humanity live sustainably again.” Self-serving delusion? Maybe. But the young people in Erica Butler’s cover story are kinda what I had in mind. They aren’t politicians—at least not yet. So far, they’re ignoring conventional ways, by which I mean the ones that created ecological crisis in the first place. They are blazing their own trails. Among them only Stella Bowles, who has a new book called My River: Cleaning up the LaHave River, is someone you might think of as an environmental activist. But her form of activism is so straightforward it’s like nothing we’ve seen before. And it’s working.
The young people of Hope Blooms Community Garden (the subject of a new book called Hope Blooms: Plant a Seed, Harvest a Dream) are at times of a more entrepreneurial than purely ecological mindset. But their genius is in how they’ve used the tools of commerce to better their own lives, their communities and the local environment at the same time. And Frankie MacDonald, 30-something, self-made, celebrity YouTube weatherman (with his book, Be Prepared: The Frankie MacDonald Guide to Life, the Weather, and Everything) inspires with a story of how an autistic man can spend his life doing what he loves, pursuing his passions and bringing a great deal of joy to his fans in the process. My own kids are still single-digit aged, but I hope they too take inspiration from their slightly older Gen-Y-and-Z peers. If the generations before you fail to leave you a workable model, make your own. Chris Benjamin Errata In “Atlantic Poetics,” (page 23 of our spring issue) we misspelled the name of the poet and clay artist Gerri Frager. Our apologies for the error.
Gaspereau 1/2 H
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Doug Knockwood, Mi’kmaw Elder Stories, Memories, Reflections by Doug Knockwood & Friends
Atlantic Books Today is published by the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association (www.atlanticpublishers.ca), which gratefully acknowledges the financial assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canada Book Fund of the Department of Canadian Heritage. Opinions expressed in articles in Atlantic Books Today do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Board of the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association.
This is a personal story of how one man overcame the ravages of colonialism, racism, tuberculosis and alcoholism to become an honoured and respected Elder.
ROSEWAY PUBLISHING www. fernwoodpublishing.ca/roseway
Brave new fiction from New Brunswick & Cape Breton
PUBLISHER Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association EDITOR Chris Benjamin email@example.com ART DIRECTOR and ADVERTISING SALES Gwen North firstname.lastname@example.org
Never Speak of This Again Brenda MacLennan-Dunphy
Through Sunlight and Shadows Raymond Fraser
Lucy Cloud Anne Lévesque
From Pottersfield Press (distributed by Nimbus)
ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT Chantelle Rideout email@example.com Printed in Canada. This is issue number 87 Fall 18. Atlantic Books Today is published three times a year. All issues are numbered in sequence. Total Atlantic-wide circulation: 100,000. ISSN 1192-3652 One-year subscriptions to Atlantic Books Today are available for $16 ($18.40 including HST). Please make cheques payable to the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association and mail to address below or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for subscription inquiries. Publications Mail Agreement No. 40038836 Return undeliverable Canadian addresses to: Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association Atlantic Books Today 1484 Carlton Street Halifax, NS B3H 3B7 Phone: 902-420-0711 Fax: 902-423-4302 atlanticbookstoday.ca @abtmagazine facebook.com/AtlanticBooksToday
something for everyone the new story collection by
Garden State meets King Leary in this slapshot novel about hockey, smalltown Maritime life, and how, despite our best efforts, nothing can save us from becoming our parents.
October 2018 | ISBN 978-1-988784-10-6 | $19.95 invisiblepublishing.com @invisibooks
Atlantic Books Today
Dear Editor, I was about to do a quick flip through the Spring issue of Atlantic Books Today—cleaning off my desk, I thought it would be a five-minute procrastination opportunity. But there is so much great stuff in the issue that I had to put it aside for after the desk cleaning, so I could spend time reading it cover to cover. Really great range of content and compelling stories. It’s a great issue. Best, Kim Pittaway Halifax, Nova Scotia
readers a bit misguided about events. He refers to Canada Day, 1916, which did not exist officially until 1982 but was actually Dominion Day from 1879. Also, it specifically would not have applied to Newfoundland since it was not part of the Dominion until 1949. Perhaps the reviewer was doing this for the benefit of today’s reader, but that holiday would have meant nothing to residents of Newfoundland. I am sure the tragic losses suffered by the Regiment would have more contemporary meaning if compared to other battle events of the day or period. Best regards,
Dear Editor, Often, I try to pick up your publication, Atlantic Books Today, to keep abreast of new releases. My own research is on the life and times of Great War veterans who had ties with Grand Manan in the Bay of Fundy. Therefore, I was encouraged to read the general review of three books on the topic in your Spring issue by Jon Tattrie (page 31). However, the portion devoted to Frances Ennis and Bob Wakeman’s, I Remain, Your Loving Son, may leave
Roger P Nason Fredericton, New Brunswick grandmananfundyhistory.com Dear Editor,
that he doesn’t know. How hard is that, really? Where most reviews come across as advertisements, providing a plot summary and tossing in a comparison to X or Y Grand Old Author to help market the book, demanding little of the reader along the way, it’s commendable that Dhuga chose his own vocabulary to get across specific ideas instead of relying on clichés and banalities. For his troubles, he’s publicly chided, perhaps to make him self-conscious. Instead of allowing Dhuga his own voice, Fitzpatrick wants him to adopt a more reader-friendly approach that amounts to “Will it play in Peoria?” I encourage Dhuga, who I don’t know at all, to write as he feels comfortable and not be stifled by anyone. Jeff Bursey Charlottetown, PEI
Jamie Fitzpatrick’s disproportionate reaction (Letters, Spring 2018, page 6) over the prose US Dhuga used in his review of Sharon Bala’s The Boat People is worth addressing. Time spent with a dictionary or a search engine would have provided Fitzpatrick with the meaning of words
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Shauntay Grant reads at a Kid Lit event at the Fog Lit Book Festival in Saint John, NB in 2017.
Literary Fest Renaissance Denise Flint discovers a new and growing fall festival and reading scene across the region by Denise Flint
hocolate River Publishing owner Kate Hanson has noticed a change in the festival feeling in recent years. “I think there’s an uptick in the number of festivals,” she says. “I think individual communities want to have books celebrated in their own community when they see what’s going on elsewhere.” Hanson has a booth at Fog Lit in Lunenburg and some of her authors are appearing at Word Feast—Fredericton’s new festival—and at Word on the Street in Halifax. “Festivals help celebrate books, Atlantic Canada books and reading culture,” says Hanson. For some I pay more for my booth than I make in sales, but it gives me a chance to showcase our books and my authors really like to take part.” No matter the size of the population or the strength of the writing community, there’s a literary event for everyone in Atlantic Canada this autumn. Maybe it’s the leaves turning; maybe it’s the start of the new school year; maybe it’s the anticipation of curling up with a good book on a cold winter’s day after months of sweltering summer beach reading, but every fall there seems to be a greater flurry of festivals as the weather cools down.
Word Feast, running September 17 to 23, began last year as a legacy project of Ian LeTourneau, Fredericton’s inaugural Cultural Laureate. Its aim is to foster the growth of readers and writers in both official languages. LeTourneau says the festival was started because there were good festivals in Moncton and Saint John, but nothing in the provincial capital. “We had 80 people at the opening launch lastRick year. It was Mercer standing room only,” he says. LeTourneau believes there is a real resurgence in literary events, not just festivals. “Odd Sundays (a regular reading series held in a wine bar) every other week is really popular and the Writers Federation of New Brunswick has lots of events and people keep coming to them.” This year will revolve around the theme of memory, which is constantly changing, just like the Saint John River as it flows and moves through time. Wayne Johnston will be the featured author and give the second annual Word Feast lecture. Organizers have added a postcard-story contest, which will be judged by Rabindranath Maharaj, bestselling author of The Amazing Absorbing Boy and Adjacentland. The winner will read Atlantic Books Today
FOREWORD Left: Merch table at the 2017 Fog Lit Festival.
with Maharaj on the final day of the festival at a special Odd Sundays event. Another newcomer to the fall litfest scene is Literary Events NL. It was started last year, almost by accident, by members of Romancing the Rock writers’ group, who wanted to tour and show their support for the libraries of the province. This year the format will be similar, with readings in a library every weekend starting in Stephenville in the west on September 22 and ending with a gala in St. John’s in the east on November 17. All events are free. Janice Godin is one of the organisers and explains that the tour is an opportunity to support not only the province’s libraries, but also a broader range of writers: “Everyone knows the traditionally published authors, but there are so many indie authors as well. Indie musicians are okay at Woody Point [a national writers and musicians festival held in the province every summer], but not indie writers. Here there’s a nice mixture.” The Literary Events tour allows people in smaller communities, who have never been to a traditional reading, to attend one. Fog Lit Book Festival (which would win the best title award if there were such a thing) is in its sixth year and runs from September 26 to 30 in Saint John, New Brunswick. The free event was begun by a group of women who had taken a writers’ class in Fredericton and felt there was a dearth of activity promoting reading and writing in their own area. They wanted the festival to be unintimidating and inclusive, featuring all genres from children’s books to cookbooks. The festival features readings, question-and-answer sessions, signings and author-run workshops. Events such as Words & Wine Authors, Ale & Acoustics and Novel Tea illustrate how light and easy they keep things. The public is also invited to “get lit in Lunenburg” on September
28 and 29, at the Lunenburg Lit Festival, which is held in a variety of venues and is sponsored by South Shore Public Libraries. The three-year-old festival includes readings and a kids’ event (free), as well as a walking tour of Lunenburg. Guests include Donna Morrissey and co-authors Jonathan Torrens and Jeremy Taggart; $50 gets you into all events. And of course we can’t forget the granddaddy of them all: The Word on the Street Halifax Book and Magazine Festival, being held this year on Saturday, September 15 at the Halifax Central Library. WOTS is now in its 23rd year. It’s a single-day bonanza that aims to “provide a free literary ‘theme park’ where the printed word comes to life through interaction with its creator.” Sessions run concurrently all day and generally feature three writers. This year Kevin Major, Chad Norman and Janice Landry will be among them and the wealth of sessions available will include Young Adult Fiction, Life Stories and Supernatural Tales. In addition to author readings there are informational sessions such as “Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada Indie Publishing 101 – Keys to Success” and interactive events like the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association’s “Pitch the Publisher and Blue Pencil Cafe.” The ever-popular Exhibitor Marketplace will give visitors the opportunity to chat with publishers, editors, educators and activists. Farther east, the Cabot Trail Writers Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year from September 20 to 30 at the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s Bay. The festival calls itself a sincere and wholehearted celebration of the relationship between reader, writer and literature, with no stage or curtain between the reader and the writer. You’re advised to leave your pretentions at the door for this “distinctly unstuffy literary experience.” Author Sharon Bala is one of the writers who will be appearing at the festival. After the success of her debut novel, The Boat People, she has been on a whirlwind tour of festivals across the
Romeo Dallaire photo provided by Christina Pottie, photo of poets provided by Sue Sinclair.
Right; Romeo Dallaire reads at the Lunenburg Lit Festival, 2017.
There is a real resurgence in literary events, not just festivals.
Above: The University of New Brunswick’s annual Poetry Weekend, 2016. Left: Candace Osborne reading at the Gander library as part of LENL’s 2017 tour.
country. Bala believes these events are as valuable for writers as they are enjoyable for readers. “It’s pretty special to be invited to read at an event. It’s a great opportunity to meet readers,” she says. “It can be very difficult to meet them face to face. They have taken time out of their day to be there and they’re usually pretty nice.” She enjoys meeting other writers. “It’s good to meet writers from elsewhere and compare notes. I really like to have more experienced writers to learn from.” Prince Edward Island may not have a literary festival, but Islanders do have something that comes close to fitting the bill. The somewhat misnamed Winters Tales Reading Series is sponsored by UPEI and dates back to 1969, when the university first opened. Poets Steve McOrmond, Chris Bailey and Annick
MacAskill will share the stage on September 20 to kick things off for the season and there will be more readings on October 1, October 29 and November 20. Readers come from across Atlantic Canada and the rest of the country. Organizer Richard Lemm explains that there used to be a PEI literary festival in the late 1980s called the Milton Acorn Poetry Festival. “It lasted 10 years, but the energy left. There’s now talk of getting one going again.” Perhaps next year there will be another new festival to celebrate. ■ Denise Flint is a freelance journalist who lives just outside of St. John’s. She is Past President of WANL, the Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador.
EVENTS TO WATCH FOR
• Word on the Street: Sept 15 at Halifax Central Library, 2018 lineup posted at thewordonthestreet.ca/halifax/festival/schedule. • WordFeast: Sept 17–23, headliners include Wayne Johnston, Donna Kane, Pamela Molloy, Lucas Crawford, Jenna Lyn Albert, Rabindranath Maharaj and more. Full details at wordfeast.ca • Fog Lit: Sept 26–30, headliners include David Huebert, Hermenegilde Chiasson, Andy Jones, Lesley Crewe, Edward Riche, Trudy Morgan-Cole and more. See foglit.ca/festival-2018 • Lunenburg Lit Fest: Friday September 28, 1:00 pm, Lunenburg Academy Headliners include Jonathan Torrens and Jeremy Taggart, Peter Barss, Lezlie Lowe, Donna Morrissey, Genevieve Graham and more. Full details at lunenburglitfestival.com/#programme • UNB Poetry Weekend: Sept 29–30, details available at facebook.com/pg/PoetryWeekend/ about/?ref=page_internal • Cabot Trail Writers Festival: Sept 28–30, headliners include Madeleine Thien, Linda Spalding, Sharon Bala, Oisín Curran, Phonse Jessome, Shalan Joudry and Joanne Schwartz. See cabottrailwritersfestival.com/currentfestival Atlantic Books Today
Q & A
author to author Lesley Crewe, author of Relative Happiness, Amazing Grace, and her new release, Beholden, has a large and loyal readership that goes far beyond her Cape Breton roots. But as she tells Sarah Mian (When the Saints), Cape Bretoners do get a kick out of having their neighbourhoods mentioned in her books. by Sarah Mian
Sarah Mian: Lesley, you have a new novel out almost every year. Now that they’ve become so popular, do you feel pressure to churn them out Maud Lewis-style? Seriously, how are you so prolific? It takes me months just to come up with a character’s name. Lesley Crewe: My writing is completely willy-nilly. I can write for two months nonstop, 18 hours a day, and then go for a year and a half and not write a thing. It’s a hobby, basically, that got out of hand. I write my books as they appear. They aren’t planned, so there’s freedom in that. There is no intention to do too many or too few. I don’t ever think of this as a career. The day that happens is the day it all goes away. SM: How so? Beholden Lesley Crewe Nimbus Publishing
LC: I write only for me, and my emotional wellbeing, which is precarious most of the time! If I start to fret about this as a business, the happiness disappears. When you start writing novels at 50, you’re not doing it to be famous. I could be knitting instead. SM: Knitting shmitting. Your novels are most often set in the sweet wildness of Cape Breton. What facet of the region does Beholden reveal?
Q & A
LC: This island is where I’m most comfortable, so the stories just naturally settle here. To tell you the truth, I only used St. Peter’s because of its location [with respect] to Sydney. I needed the two communities to be far enough apart so that in the 30s and 40s it would be difficult to travel back and forth; the families needed to be separate and yet connected. Each county of Cape Breton has its own feel and history, but to me the entire island is one big jewel and it doesn’t matter where I put my story. The true essence of this place always shows itself. SM: Do you ever worry about pissing off the communities you write about? LC: No! They love it! They get a big kick out of having their neighbourhood mentioned. Obviously if I was writing about axe murders and lawlessness they might not be so keen, but that stuff doesn’t interest me, so I’m safe. I do write about town gossips and church women and the local drunks, but they’re okay with that because every community has them and we’re all the richer for it. SM: Nell, the protagonist of Beholden, chooses a life less ordinary for a woman in the 1940s. She refuses to wed her childhood sweetheart yet continues to have a sexual relationship with him after he marries another woman. How does Nell compare to the heroines of your previous books?
Left: Lesley Crewe Above: Sarah Mian
LC: Nell is a troubled soul and I’m very protective of her. There were times when I didn’t even like her, and that’s when you know you’ve created someone beyond yourself. She’s a lot like Grace in Amazing Grace, but she doesn’t have Grace’s courage. She’s isolated herself from the world and takes no comfort from anyone, other than George. Nell comes off as brittle,
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Q & A
No one would care about me, or my opinions, if it weren’t for my books, so I might as well enjoy it. It’s not like I’m a Kardashian. but she’s lost, frightened and so very, very angry. She’s one of the few characters I’ve created who doesn’t have a sense of humour. That feels odd. SM: Your first novel, Relative Happiness, was adapted to the big screen. The same film production company has optioned my book, When the Saints. Advice, please! How did you boil a novel down to a screenplay? LC: You do everything the movie people tell you. You’ve already written the book, so you have nothing to prove. Pretend your characters have been adopted out by a weird and whacky family and you just step aside. Be prepared to lose a lot of your favourite scenes, but as long as they keep the heart of it, you’ll be okay. It’s a
completely different type of writing; kind of like homework. And it takes years. Prepare to be endlessly patient. SM: Wise counsel. I’m going to keep these instructions pinned above my desk. Speaking of which, tell us about your writing space. Is it on the upper or lower floor? Door open or shut? Desk or no desk? Spartan or cluttered? Do you write on a PC, laptop, typewriter or pen to paper? Anything quirky about the way you work? LC: My writing space is my daughter’s old room on the main floor. It’s completely cluttered and filled with books, bills, diaries, family pictures, old birthday cards, baskets of animals, collectables from travels, childhood treasures, hooked rugs, my
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big erasable calendar board where I plot world domination and book tours, and big posters of my book covers that Nimbus has given me over the years. I write with the door definitely closed to everyone but the cat. I have a laptop, but it’s on a higher shelf and I write on a separate keyboard because my neck is too old and creaky to look down for hours at a time. I need the window open for fresh air, the sound of trees and rain and birdsong. SM: Is there one question you wish someone would ask—or stop asking— about you or your writing? LC: People can ask me anything and everything, over and over again. It’s fun to have people interested in what you do. No one would care about me, or my opinions, if it weren’t for my books, so I might as well enjoy it. It’s not like I’m a Kardashian. SM: Haha! So, will you take a break this summer? Kick back in a hammock with a margarita? Or are you already on to the next book?
The Other Side of the Sun Thien Tang
Where Duty Lies John Cunningham
Rescue at Moose River Blain Henshaw
From Pottersfield Press (Distributed by Nimbus)
NEW FROM FLANKER PRESS
St.John’s, Newfoundland 1-866-739-4420 www.flankerpress.com
LC: I plan to do diddlysquat over the summer. I don’t even have an idea for another novel, although something my hairdresser said today gave me a quick buzz. That’s how it happens. A phrase blurted out. I always have my titles first, before I’ve written the first sentence. It’s the ember I hang on to when the going gets tough. SM: You’ll be typing before that margarita gets blended. ■
Sarah Mian‘s debut novel, When the Saints, was published by HarperCollins in 2015. It won the Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award , the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award and was a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. Sarah is from Dartmouth, NS and now lives on the South Shore. atlanticbookstoday.ca
C O V E R S T O RY
How Young People Are Creating New Worlds for Themselves And Why We All Benefit From It by Erica Butler Atlantic Books Today
“Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”
— Alan Turing
M Hope Blooms Hope Blooms/Arlene Dickinson Nimbus Publishing
amadou Wade is fond of this particular line attributed to ground-breaking thinker and computer scientist Alan Turing. As a long-time member of Hope Blooms, a youth-led community project growing vegetables and herbs and producing their own line of popular salad dressings, Wade is getting accustomed to “achieving things people don’t really imagine you achieving.” “I feel like that resonates with us,” says Wade, “because from the outside looking in you see the stigmas, you see the stereotypes of inner-city kids. But we’re really achieving great things.” Back in 2013, Wade was on a team of young kids from Hope Blooms who presented on CBC’s reality investor series, Dragon’s Den. After going in asking for a $10,000 investment to help meet the growing demand for their home-grown herb salad dressings, the Hope Blooms kids brought tears to the eyes of several Dragons and went home with four contributions of $10,000 each. The story that moved the Dragons to tears (and to ponying up financial support) is told in Hope Blooms: Plant a Seed, Harvest a Dream. It is one of three new books—the others are about an autistic weather aficionado and an 11-year-old citizen scientist—that, on the surface, tell vastly different stories. But they all hone in on some basic principles that drive their subjects—all of them under 40—who “no one can imagine anything of.” They have all achieved book-worthy success and they are all, each in their own ways, changing and inspiring the world in the process.
C O V E R S T O RY
Nicola Davison of Snickerdoodle Photography.
All Hope Blooms photos courtesy of Nimbus Publishing and Hope Blooms, except image at right by
THE GARDEN TYCOONS The Hope Blooms story goes back to 2008, when nutritionist Jessie Jollymore brought together nine children and youth living near an abandoned community garden in Halifax’s North End. Together, they grew enough fresh ingredients to produce 150 jars of homemade salsa. The Salsamania crew sold the lot, then voted to donate the proceeds to a local women’s shelter. The seeds of Hope Blooms were sown. Ten years later, there are more than 50 Hope Blooms youth, ranging in age from five to 18 years old, growing more than 4,000 pounds of produce annually. The group has a bustling commercial kitchen and storefront, a solar-powered greenhouse growing herbs year-round and an everevolving garden space, which has become a focal point of the local community. Hope Blooms dressings are now available in major grocery stores and, in addition to funding local charities, they have created the Hope Blooms scholarship fund, currently helping four garden alumni cover their post-secondary education costs. Mamadou Wade was the first scholarship recipient in 2016. He attends the University of Toronto and studies business and technology. Wade recalls first joining the group when he was 11. “Some of my peers would go to the Hope Blooms garden, and I was kind of curious,” recalls Wade, admitting that the gardening was not what won him over. “I like gardening but I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s my main passion. The business side of things really attracted me—going to the Seaport market every Saturday selling the dressings. “I still garden occasionally,” he admits with a smile. In the spirit of a youth-led organization, the children and youth take ownership over what Hope Blooms does, says Wade. “Salad dressing is obviously our staple product, but there’s also other things we do. We’re starting a tea business, which is completely youth-led. And we have a lemonade business. Going on Dragon’s Den, that was our idea that we put forward,” he recalls. “We really were into it. We would come in after school and just really put in the necessary work. We took ownership and we took pride in that. It wasn’t just about getting the money, it was about making our community proud.” After ten years, Hope Blooms has become a self-sustaining community engine of positive impacts, with older participants and alumni like Wade mentoring the younger gardeners and budding social entrepreneurs. And that, according to Wade, is the real payoff. “Starting off as kids, and growing into young men and women who are going to eventually change the world… that’s kind of the end goal.”
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THE CITIZEN SCIENTIST It’s a goal Stella Bowles can relate to. In Grade 6, at age 11 going-on 12, Bowles became a household name in Nova Scotia. Her science-fair project documenting the dangerously high enterococci bacteria levels in the LaHave River put the adult stewards of her community to shame, and kickstarted a process that will, eventually, put an end to more than 600 illegal “straight pipes” that have been flushing raw sewage directly into the river for generations. Like Mamadou Wade, Bowles is taking her personal success and parlaying it into helping other young people. Using awards, grants and donations, and in partnership with the conservation group Coastal Action, Bowles has put together kits and training sessions to make it possible for other young people and citizen scientists to measure pollution levels in their own local waterways. And she’s also become a strong advocate for better science education, calling for more hands-on experience and inquirybased learning in schools. The story of how Bowles got where she is today—a savvy, determined 14-year-old who may end up seeing the demise of straight pipes throughout Nova Scotia—is told in My River: Cleaning up the LaHave River, co-authored by Anne Laurel Carter. It all started with a conversation around her kitchen table. As her parents discussed the prospect of replacing their septic system, it came up that not all properties along the river actually
had septic systems. “And Mom explained what a straight pipe was and my jaw dropped. I had no words,” recalls Bowles. Bowles had questions. Her parents decided to help her find the answers. Through Coastal Action, Bowles met her first mentor outside her family, Dr. David Maxwell, who had been testing the LaHave for two years and was finding unsafe levels of fecal contamination. Bowles was shocked and concerned, especially for the people swimming and boating in the river, including her father and brother. Even today, says Bowles, “I see people swimming in the water and I’m like, ‘oh, I wonder if they know.’” Before taking on any testing herself, Bowles decided to start getting the word out. She put up her first now-famous sign facing the road on her property: “This river is contaminated with fecal bacteria.” Almost two years later, after her science project had gained boatloads of media attention and garnered her a silver medal at the Canada-wide Science Fair in Regina, the government funding needed to put an end to straight pipes had still not
Photos taken by Andrea Conrad, courtesy of Formac Publishing.
Above: Stella takkng samples on a chilly day. Right: Stella’s second sign.
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come through. So Bowles put up a second sign: “600+ homes flush their toilets directly into this river.” “It was to the point, it was simple, and everybody understood it,” says Bowles. In addition to learning the rudiments of controlled experiments and the importance of valid scientific results, Bowles had learned the value of simple, clear messages when communicating to the public at large. She had also learned that to provoke change in the adult world, you need to keep up the pressure. After federal funding was approved and the demise of straight pipes in the LaHave seemed imminent, a call came in from the municipal government to ask if Bowles would consider taking down her discomforting sign. She agreed to, but only after the first hole was dug to replace a straight pipe with a proper septic system. Bowles’ youth has had its disadvantages. Though no one challenged her in person, she has heard people discrediting her work, “because you’re a kid.” Luckily, she has had mentors showing her how to do the science right, her parents and Dr. David Maxwell, as well as other local scientists. She was even invited to Acadia University to perform further tests to confirm that what she had been counting were actually enterococci. (They were.) At other times, her youth has proven advantageous. “The fact that I was a little kid, kind of shaming the adults, was creating a lot of talk in the community,” says Bowles. “‘Hey, look at what this kid did for a project. Why hasn’t anybody else done this?’ There were a lot of upset people, not because of me, but because this is happening and nobody was really doing anything.” To date, about 10 straight pipes have been replaced along the LaHave. More are underway. The full project is expected to take about five years. “I’m really, really happy with the progress,” says Bowles. “It’s crazy to see that a little project sparked so much change. Being a kid doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. You can make a difference. Your age is just a number.” Bowles found strength not only in science but also in effective communication. For that, she didn’t just rely on roadside signs. She also made good use of social media. “Posts went so far,” says Bowles. “Social media can be used for good. It doesn’t have to be always negative. Without Facebook I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere with this project.”
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Left: Frankie MacDonald.
On Twitter, where MacDonald maintains an active presence as @frankiemacd, Frankie Defence Teams have sprung up to help maintain the positivity and shut down the bullying. MacDonald’s new book (replete with weather facts from around the world) and his new line of action figures (sporting hoodies emblazoned with “Frankie Says Be Prepared!”) are his current projects, but otherwise MacDonald is focussed on producing more videos, continuing to care for people by warning them of bad weather in the making and continuing to make them laugh with his comedy skits. Your age is a number. Ignore the bullies. Seek out the right mentors. Put in the necessary work. Make your community proud. It’s almost as if the kids of Hope Blooms, Stella Bowles and Frankie MacDonald were all following the same recipe for success, each in their own unique way. It’s lucky for us they are, because someone has to have the guts, the creativity and the fortitude to “do the things no one can imagine.” ■ F E A Erica Butler is a freelance journalist, transportation columnist and former host of Habitat Radio.
Be Prepared Frankie MacDonald and Sarah Sawler Nimbus Publishing
Photo courtesy of Nimbus Publishing.
THE YOUTUBE WEATHERMAN The support of mentors and the ever-growing online world has presented opportunities for another young Nova Scotian, too. You may know Frankie MacDonald from his videos on YouTube, where he reports the weather forecast with a gusto that has won him fans across the globe. He also creates popular comedy clips such as “Guy Tries to Eat 50 Hot Dogs at Once,” which has garnered more than 1.2 million views. In Be Prepared: The Frankie MacDonald Guide to Life, the Weather, and Everything, author Sarah Sawler teams up with MacDonald to give a glimpse behind the videos and tell the story of how MacDonald’s interest in technology and weather eventually led him to carve out a dream job for himself. In Be Prepared, we learn of MacDonald’s early life, growing up with autism in Sydney, Cape Breton. We learn of the people in his life who helped him learn to connect with others and encouraged him to pursue his interests. We learn of his passion for weather, inspired by watching the weather channel at a young age and later chasing the odd storm with his father. And we learn that concern for people is at the core of his dedication to weather forecasting. “I warn people to get them ready for bad weather,” says MacDonald, with advice ranging from “get your flashlights” to “order your pizza, order your Chinese food.” And always, “take care, be prepared.” Of course, MacDonald has had his run-ins with the darker side of humans so prevalent on the internet. He shut down his first YouTube channel in 2010 after too many negative comments. But his current channel is going strong, with more than 175,000 subscribers and pages of positive comments. MacDonald says when things get nasty, there’s only one thing to do: “Ignore all the trolls. Ignore bullies. Ignore negative comments,” says MacDonald. “Those guys will be banned from YouTube sooner or later.”
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Reading An Endangered World Creative narratives about environmental crisis is an act of psychological adaptation by Carla Gunn
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nspiration sometimes comes straight out of facts,” says Nova Scotia author Rachel Lebowitz in her Biblioasis interview for her linked lyric essay collection, The Year of No Summer. “I read about birds falling dead from the skies and I knew I had to write about that.” (The facts as I write this: oil tanker protesters are dangling from the Ironworkers Memorial bridge in Vancouver, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee is now an endangered species and the headlines scream “Red Hot Planet: All-time heat records have been set all over the world.”) Much environmentally themed creative literature arises from real-life events. The year following the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora on April 10, 1815, for instance, is what inspired Lebowitz’s collection. She weaves prose with direct quotations from historical documents, novels, poetry, myths and parables, and in doing so provides a darkly fascinating account of how people responded to global weather disruption, disease and famine. Whereas we may take amusement in apocalyptic films and movies, during this particular summer not so long ago many believed the world was ending. Along with “acts of God” though, today’s writers have a broad array of human-caused environmental crises from which to choose. These, of course, have provided fodder for contemporary apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, such as Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. The magnitude and complexity of environmental problems and conflicts loom large. With the pace of atlanticbookstoday.ca
destruction ramping up, writers can’t help but reflect this in their fiction. Take, for example, plastic. There is a constant stream of news stories about the negative impacts of this impervious stuff. In the new novel, The Luminous Sea, a story of a sea creature and the conflict over her fate (which can be read, I think, as an environmental allegory, with the sea creature emblematic of nature), Newfoundland author Melissa Barbeau draws our attention to the way plastic has changed the landscape: “Broken bottles transformed into sea glass. Boats rotted into the grass, ropes disintegrated in the water. Now you have all this plastic everywhere and it’s getting harder and harder to disappear us…We’ve finally found the way to immortality, found a way to keep company with everything ancient down there, and it’s through trash.” In The Rest is Silence, a 2012 novel by Nova Scotia author Scott Fotheringham, plastic is central. In the very near future scientists have discovered a bacterium that breaks it down and effectively recycles it—but these bacteria are released into the ecosystem with dramatic unintended consequences for humans. And plastic inspired my own eco-novel, Amphibian. When my son was nine and biking along the trails near our home, he suddenly hit the brakes, jumped off his bike, hurled it aside and sprinted toward a plastic bag floating across the path. “Don’t people know sea turtles choke on this stuff ?” he screamed, shaking the bag in his clenched fist.
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After the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora (above right) in 1815, the world experienced what became known as “the year without a summer,” which inspired some of the work of the English artist J M W Turner’s (above left is his 1815 work, “Crossing the Brook”).
The Luminous Sea Melissa Barbeau Breakwater Books
(DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE?) As you might expect with “crisis” fiction, anxiety is palpable. In The Rest is Silence, Benny experiences increasing frustration with what she sees as inaction on environmental issues. In The Luminous Sea, Vivienne is deeply disturbed by the callous treatment of the sentient sea creature her supervisors refer to as “the specimen.” And in Amphibian, nine-year-old Phin is overwhelmed by anxiety in response to the destruction of the natural world. Although one reader told me that by page 30 she experienced so much anxiety that she hurled Amphibian at the wall (which struck me at the time as odd as I thought I had written a funny novel), if you’re among the third of pre-teens who believe the Earth won’t be around by the time you’re an adult, crisis fiction may simply be imitating what you already know—and you may find comfort in the knowledge that others know it too. As Scott Fotheringham puts it, “Environmental fiction offers some solace to know that there are others out there who care about the world. Isn’t that one of the most beautiful things about fiction—that we get to not feel so alone?”
The Year of No Summer Rachel Lebowitz Biblioasis
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“He suddenly hit the brakes, jumped off his bike, hurled it aside and sprinted toward a plastic bag floating across the path. “Don’t people know sea turtles choke on this stuff?”
(PROCESSING, PROCESSING) In Amphibian, Phin created stories to help make sense of and cope with dark realities. In The Year of No Summer, Lebowitz highlights the parables, fables and myths we humans created in order to weave meaning into our lives and to which we return for comfort. We need stories to help us process our experiences. Dystopian environmental fiction, like The Rest is Silence, may be of particular importance to us collectively as it introduces scenarios that we can imagine (and may already have imagined) happening. Since we humans are horrible at responding to events that we perceive as far off in the distance, this sort of fiction elicits the sense of urgency that we need to feel before we act. Many environmental advocacy groups are aware of this and craft messages to overcome the problem of temporality. In particular, I am reminded of a climate change public service announcement from about a decade ago: “Climate change? That won’t affect me,” says a man standing on railway tracks. Suddenly he steps off the tracks and his young daughter takes his place as a train comes hurtling toward her. Moreover, although set in different times, The Year of No Summer and the Rest is Silence both prompt us to explore how people respond to a crisis that has already occurred or is in the process of occurring, and then to use these stories to project ourselves into the future. After relating the horror of the sinking of the ship, Medusa, in the summer of 1816, and what hunger incited the surviving crew members to do, Lebowitz muses about the future: “I’d like to think it takes thirty days, not two, for us to bite.” For some, fiction with such severe themes may be too intense. For others, it helps them prepare psychologically for possibilities. I have a friend who may or may not have inherited a fatal disease. She has envisioned what the future may hold and has mentally worked through various options. This exercise has, to a certain extent, relieved some of the anxiety. For many, a sense of predictability—even when what’s predicted is horrific—is better than unpredictability.
(BREAK IT TO ME GENTLY) For some readers, however, more of a “Love not Loss” theme may be most palatable. In fact, in recent years some organizations, such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), advise that environmental organizations move away from fact-based campaigns that emphasize death and destruction and instead toward messages that draw attention to the beauty and value in our natural world. The idea is that we will want to protect what we love. Deep love and respect for the natural world are reflected in many Atlantic Canadian works of fiction. Along with descriptions of seasons, flora and fauna—which pepper Fotheringham’s The Rest is Silence—New Brunswick author Beth Powning’s beautiful prose springs to mind. Whether the intention is to encourage a deeper affinity with our natural worlds, this perhaps is a consequence, especially if the prose evokes the reader’s own memories and love for natural areas. When it comes to what dosage and intensity is best suited to which reader, the jury is still out. I’m reminded of a cartoon I show in my psychology classes when we talk about therapies and how there needs to be a level of “readiness” before clients can accept insights: Kermit the Frog is seated in his doctor’s office and is about to be shown an X-ray of his spine, revealing a human hand that extends right up to the base of his skull. “Sit down,” says the doctor, “what I am about to tell you may come as a huge surprise.”
The Rest Is Silence Scott Fotheringham Goose Lane Editions
Amphibian Carla Gunn Coach House Books
ATU UR REE FFEEAT
From US National Oceanic and Atmosphereic Administration’s Coral Kingdom Collection, taken at the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea, by Ben Mierement.
(I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?) Recently Rebecca Solnit, in a Literary Hub article titled “Not Caring is a Political Art Form,” argued that many of the crises we face—gun violence, climate change, agendas of the “alt right”—are all “exercises in not feeling and not connecting,” or what she calls the ideology of disconnection. Many novels, including environmentally themed fiction, explore how injustice is facilitated by callousness. Some bring attention to how this enables the destructive corporate mindset of “progress” at any cost, which often involves the exploitation of “others”—whether those others be humans, animals or the natural environment. Lebowitz references multiple historical examples of cruelty in the The Year Of No Summer, such as in the early rubber industry: “You walk more than twenty miles to the European agents, who weigh the rubber. You are paid with a piece of cloth, a handful of beads, a few spoonfuls of salt. You skirt this spot here where Rene de Permetier has all his bushes and trees cut down around his house, so he can sit on the porch and use passerby as target practice.”
In The Luminous Sea, Vivienne’s supervisor warns her that her efforts to blow the whistle on an act that reflects an astounding callousness (that parallels the treatment of the sea creature pivotal to the story) will be futile: “Telling anyone else about this will not make things better for you. Your story will be like one of those dolphins…This dolphin swam right into the beach where all those Spring Breakers were getting pissed, and someone spotted it and hauled it in and everyone had a picture with it, everyone got a selfie, and rubbed their tits on it, and the next thing they knew it was dead. Mauled to death.” By focusing on injustice and the heartlessness that so frequently underlies it, environmental fiction can be emancipatory. It prompts us to examine both the individual and systemic variables at play and consider where we stand—and perhaps collectively emboldens us to take a stand.
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EMPATHY (WALK WITH ME) The poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “I learn by going where I have to go.” You can exchange “going” for “feeling” and it also holds true. In contrast, psychology literature is full of examples of what people do when they can no longer consciously experience emotion: nothing. The Year of No Summer, The Luminous Sea, The Rest is Silence and Amphibian all evoke big doses of emotion: anger, sadness, curiosity, disappointment and joy, albeit in different proportions. One emotion they are all effective in eliciting, though, is empathy. And when it comes to environmental issues, this may be the most important of them all. Researchers are attempting to tease out the relationship between fiction and empathy. In one experiment, participants read literary fiction, genre fiction, nonfiction or nothing, and only literary fiction had the effect of markedly increasing levels of empathy. Another study found that those who read fictional scenarios about an individual dramatically impacted by climate change spent more time afterward reading educational materials about climate change and voluntarily took this material home.
“We’ve finally found the way to immortality, found a way to keep company with everything ancient down there, and it’s through trash.” -Melissa Barbeau in The Luminous Sea
“Environmental fiction offers some solace to know that there are others out there who care about the world. Isn’t that one of the most beautiful things about fiction—that we get to not feel so alone?”
ACTION (A KICK IN THE PANTS) Does the empathy elicited by fiction inspire action on environmental issues? To attempt to answer this, let’s return to plastic. Many of us know that straws and other plastic waste are negatively impacting wildlife. We’ve read the statistics—like how more than 100 million marine animals die each year due to plastic debris. We know all of this but we don’t feel it. However, when a straw is lodged up a sea turtle’s nostril and there’s a video documenting this poor creature’s plight, well, we’re suddenly mobilized. Why? The simple explanation is the psychological finding that when something horrible impacts many lives we care less about it than when it affects few lives, but the deeper explanation may be that when something is personal and woven into a narrative, it engages our emotions and not just our minds. That individual sea turtle’s struggle makes it relatable (imagine a straw stuck up your dog’s nose, or your own) and children take up the cause. In a similar, albeit more horrific vein, the image of the body of a little Syrian boy washed up on shore saw donations to the Swedish Red Cross jumped from $8,000 over a period of months to $430,000 in just a few weeks. One of the powers of fiction is that, like real-life stories, it draws us into a personal narrative. Stories engage the heart and this is key to motivating us to act. Although it’s anecdotal, readers of Amphibian wrote to tell me that Phin’s struggle changed the way they viewed animals and that this was in turn influencing their product choices. I am reminded of a parable: a starfish is washed up on shore and a young boy throws it back into the ocean. An old man scoffs, “But there are thousands of dying starfish, what difference does it make?” The boy replies, “It made a difference to that one.”
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Clear-cutting photo by Tomas Sennett, Environmental Protection Agency.
HOPE (STORYING A WAY FORWARD) In order to act, people need to feel that what they do will have an impact. But when the scale of disaster looms large, we feel helpless and are often thus paralyzed. “What’s the point?” we think. We may look to God for meaning and direction, or to those we believe have more knowledge than we do. “If there is wisdom, it’s nothing I know. It’s all just birds and storms and hauntings. We look behind and scoff, as if those ahead weren’t doing the same,” writes Lebowitz. These days we turn to science and government for reassurance that something effective can and will be done. But when these institutions fail to give us the reassurance we seek, we end up feeling frustrated and disillusioned. This is what happens to Bennie in The Rest is Silence: “What was needed was rapid planetary triage. Throwing a spanner in the gears was the obvious means of disabling the machine that continued to spew all over the planet.” How do we collectively overcome feelings of futility? That’s an open question. Recently, however, I came across an exciting project funded by The Trudeau Foundation called Storying Climate Change. Headed by York University professor Catriona Sandilands, the goal of this project is for writers, artists, activists and academics to work together and produce a collection of stories that the group can use as a vehicle to engage the public and start meaningful conversations. In this collection, I anticipate that we will see protagonists who choose to act and for whom these actions have consequences that are positive and affirming. Turning pessimism into optimism is not a one-dose cure, but the more we are exposed to these stories, the more they will seep into our collective consciousness, perhaps inspiring us to respond to the very real threats facing us.
Clear cutting in California, 1972.
ADAPTATION (“THOSE WHO CANNOT CHANGE THEIR MINDS CANNOT CHANGE ANYTHING” – GEORGE BERNARD SHAW) We hear a lot these days about physical adaptation to climate change, like using scarce water resources more efficiently, but I would argue that psychological adaptation is just as important. This sort of adaptation takes many forms and can be fostered through reading environmentally themed fiction in all its variety. We relate to the anxiety and frustration experienced by Benny in The Rest is Silence and we feel not so alone. We witness Vivienne in The Luminous Sea respond to injustice and we are prompted to consider how individual acts are important. Through reading fiction like The Year of No Summer, we come to a deeper understanding that both continuity and transformation are imbedded in the human experience, and in doing so we ourselves are transformed. ■ Carla Gunn lives in Fredericton, where she teaches psychology and works on ongoing writing projects with a focus on the environment.
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Creative How Canada’s Oldest City Keeps Its Edge by Carmel Vivier
aint John has often been referred to as a historic city and a renaissance city. It has a long history of achievements, including many firsts. It is filled with creativity in its endeavours, be they shipbuilding, architecture, literature or visual artists. Saint John has been welcoming immigrants from the United States, Eastern Europe, England and Ireland for centuries, and more recently from the Middle East and Asia. With their arrival, each immigrant group brings more culture and leaves a unique imprint on Saint John’s cultural and artistic scenes. The population of the city started expanding with the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists from the United States, in 1783. Two years later, New Brunswick had its first official newspaper, The Royal St. John Gazette and Nova Scotia Intelligencer. By the 1820s, some books were being published locally instead of in England. According to The Creative City of Saint John, a new collection edited by scholars Gwendolyn Davies, Peter J Laroque and Christl Verduyn that portrays the creative work of Saint John in the century following confederation, one writer, Mary Agnes Fleming, sold her first story at the age of 15, to a New York magazine. Fleming continued to write after her marriage in 1865 and moved to New York to be closer to her various publishers. A savvy businesswoman, Fleming was earning $10,000 yearly through her writing contracts with magazines and publishers. It was an unheard of amount for a woman in 1875. Another prominent local writer was bestselling author William Edward Daniel “W E D” Ross (1912-1995). He wrote an incredible 358 novels in various genres throughout his career, as well as more than 600 short stories and over a dozen plays. He wrote many of these under one of his 21 pseudonyms. Ross’ popular vampire Gothic fiction books series sold 17 million copies. His novel China Shadow, written under the pseudonym Clarissa Ross in 1974, sold more than 2 million copies.
Left: Boy on a tricycle, Moore Street, by Ian MacEachern, from The Lost City, courtesy of Goose Lane Editions.
WE’LL BE SHIPBUILDING Throughout the 19th and early-20th centuries, New Brunswick was the centre of tall shipbuilding in Canada, producing more than half of all tall ships in the country. Among the ships built here, the most famous was the Marco Polo, the “fastest ship in the world.” I wrote about the Marco Polo in my book Shipwrecks Off the East Coast. Saint John master carvers were kept busy during the Golden Age of Sail carving figureheads for many of the ships being launched. One such carver, Amos Fales, carved the figurehead for the ship the Prince Victor. The Quaco Museum in the Village of St. Martins in Saint John County has the repatriated piece, the only fully restored figurehead from a locally built ship.
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FIRE AND ARCHITECTURE The architecture of Saint John is unique in part because of the Great Fire of 1877, which gutted the city. What took the fire nine hours to destroy took a building boom of nearly 10 years to rebuild. Saint John’s diverse architecture stands as an homage to the craftsmen, designers and builders who travelled from across North America and beyond to assist in the rebuilding of the city. Changes to the landscape have also been made through urban renewal. Fredericton-based photographer Ian MacEachern’s work in his new book, The Lost City, serves as a portrait of times gone by, specifically showcasing and documenting the changing landscape of Saint John from the 1950s through to the 1970s. These landscapes at times resemble the much larger American city of Boston and have in fact been used by film crews in Boston-set movies. Much of the architecture from the late 1890s has been preserved and Saint John is unusual in having a designated heritage area in its downtown/uptown landscape. One heritage district is the Trinity Royal Preservation Area, located in the heart of the city and encompassing more than 300 commercial and residential buildings. You can read more about the architectural heritage of historic Saint John in A Pictorial Walk Through Historic Saint John: Canada’s Oldest City, which I co-wrote with Ethel King. IN THE ART OF THE CITY Saint John continues to have a vibrant and eclectic literary and art scene. Many of the city’s artists exhibit their works at the Saint John Art Centre, which also holds workshops, classes and cultural events. Saint Johners are proud to claim prominent artists Fred Ross and Miller Brittain as their own. Saint John was also once home to famous actors like Walter Pidgeon and Donald Sutherland, and film producer Harry Salzman, who produced many of the James Bond films and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Movie studio mogul Louis Mayer of MGM fame also came from Saint John.
The Creative City of Saint John Edited by Davies, Larocque and Verduyn Formac Publishing
Ned Landry, the three-time North American fiddle champion and composer of more than 500 original fiddle tunes, was also from Saint John. Other local musicians include Landry’s cousin Stompin’ Tom as well as Bruce Holder, Kenny Tobias, Frances James and Catherine McKinnon. SAINT JOHN INVENTIVE Saint John can also boast of having been home to some famous inventors and inventions, such as the SCUBA tank, invented by James Elliott and Alexander McAvity in 1839. Since modified for modern use, the SCUBA tank had its first patent nearly 180 years ago. The Steam Fog Whistle, invented by Robert Foulis, was patented in 1853. The world’s first steam fog whistle was set up on Partridge Island to warn ships of the often fog-enshrouded location of the island at the mouth of Saint John Harbour. Other local inventions include a clothes washer with wringer rolls, combination hot-and-cold water faucets and the vortex flushing toilet. Artistry in all forms is being created and viewed every day in Saint John. Look at the events being showcased around the city to get a flavour of just how much Saint John has grown and of the bright road ahead. There are local music, dance and drama schools where all levels of these arts are taught. People here embrace their heritage. Whether extolling Saint John’s architectural wonders to visitors, performing in musicals or plays, or writing novels, Saint Johners proudly create. And we encourage our compatriots to do the same. Saint John is a better city for it, one that embraces varied cultures and art forms and one that continues to innovate. ■ Carmel Vivier is an author and journalist living near Saint John. She writes about history, businesss, law, photography, travel and tourism.
The Lost City Ian MacEachern Goose Lane Editions
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School girls with laundry, photo by Ian MacEachern, from The Lost City, courtesy of Goose Lane Editions.
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No Writer is An Island Carol Bruneau’s Mentorship of Nicola Davison Became a Lasting Friendship by Philip Moscovitch
arol Bruneau and Nicola Davison sit across a table from each at the Halifax Central Library’s fifth-floor cafe. Along with their drinks, each has a copy of the other’s forthcoming novel in front of her. Nearly three years ago, Davison was an excited and terrified aspiring writer who had just been accepted into the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia’s Alistair MacLeod Mentorship Program. Bruneau—the mentor she was paired with—was an award-winning writer working on her eighth book. Now, both those novels—Davison’s In the Wake and Bruneau’s A Circle on the Surface—are about to be published by Nimbus’s Vagrant imprint (both were edited by Nimbus’s Whitney Moran). And while they started off as mentor-protégé, that relationship quickly evolved to one between peers, and then to a full-blown friendship.
Davison, a professional portrait photographer with a keen eye for observing people, started working on In the Wake in 2013, and submitted the manuscript’s opening scenes for her mentorship program application. She was turned down but got what she calls “a lovely rejection” and an invitation to apply again. “I was just lost. I had this gigantic manuscript. It was from three different points of view, and I felt like it was all sagging in the middle, and I didn’t know what to do. I needed somebody to guide me—a mentor who could say let’s clean this up,” she recalls. So she applied again in 2015. And this time she got in. “I was so happy and frightened. I thought Carol is this seasoned writer and she’s going to look at my manuscript. It was such a mess at the time, and I wouldn’t let her see it. Remember that?” Davison says, looking at Bruneau.
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“I never really like to talk about it when I’m working on something, because explaining stuff can be just like killing it. It was really cool that I got over that when I was working with Nikki, because I would talk a little bit about my story as I was working things out for myself—in a way that I would never do with anyone else.”
Photo: Nicola Davison
A Circle on the Surface Carol Bruneau Vagrant Press
“I had no idea,” Bruneau replies. “When they called and said I got the mentorship, I screamed, and then I said oh God, someone’s going to read it.” “I had no idea,” Bruneau says again. “You hid it very well.” *** In 2001, Alistair MacLeod won the Portia White Prize, which recognizes artistic excellence and achievement by a Nova Scotian. He designated $7,000 of the award money to the brand new WFNS mentorship program, which now bears his name. Linda Hudson, the Arts Education Officer for WFNS, says the program is aimed at “people who have been honing their craft for quite some time and need direction.” Depending on funding, the federation offers three to five mentorships a year. Applications are due in October and then a peer assessment jury goes over them and chooses the winners based on “the merit of the writing, the direction they want to go in, and their commitment to the project,” Hudson says. She explains: “When we have decided on our apprentices, then we match them with a professionally published writer as a mentor. We connect them based on style and genre, but also their personalities—hoping they will get along and also challenge each other.”
In the Wake Nicola Davison Vagrant Press
Jonathan Meakin, who was WFNS’s executive director at the time Bruneau was mentoring Davison, says matching up mentors with apprentices involves weighing experience, interests, projects and distance—but is also “part hunch.” He says, “The jury suggested several mentors for Nicola Davison, but the decision to approach Carol Bruneau came into focus from several, shared angles: an influence of the visual arts, to a degree, on matters of theme and craft; a gravitational pull to tell stories about Nova Scotian communities and families; and (perhaps extremely hunchy) a humble and yet steadfast, hardworking commitment to the craft of fiction-making. On paper, they seemed a perfect match.” On paper and in person too. During the five-month mentorship period, Davison and Bruneau met every two weeks, usually on the library’s top floor—drawn by the place’s openness and a sense of almost being outdoors while remaining protected from the winter weather. Davison knew going in that she had to cut about a third of her manuscript. And her first chapter was problematic: “It was almost me telling myself the story—here we are, here are the characters.”
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Bruneau told her she needed to pick up the pacing too. Davison’s photographer’s eye was lingering too long in the early going. “I started out quite slowly, more descriptive, scenery and things, and then started moving more into the plot of the story,” Davison says. Looking across the table at Bruneau, she adds, “You had me pace that better.” Mentors and apprentices in the program are free to set their own terms for how they will work together and how often they’ll meet. In December, before the formal mentorship begins, everyone gets together to discuss expectations and get to know each other. Without any formal publishing credits, Davison felt intimidated. “I had very little to say. The first part of the mentorship was so scary. And then I got to meet Carol one-on-one and sit and talk.” Bruneau tried to reassure her, telling her she had mentored three writers previously and all had been published. (One, Catherine Cooper, was a finalist for the Amazon First Book Award for White Elephant.) Davison remembers half-joking “that I have to get published now so I don’t break her track record.” Unwilling to show Bruneau the whole manuscript, Davison ruthlessly edited her work and sent it to her mentor in chunks of 50 to 75 pages at a time. Bruneau would email suggestions and before their next meeting Davison would incorporate them and send the next chunk of text. “It was a lovely rhythm and it worked really well,” Bruneau says. “The combination of emailing stuff, critiquing stuff and meeting in person. It was a really good balance. You can use email, and that’s fine, but it is really different when you can hang out and have coffee and laugh about other stuff. It feels more organic.” Bruneau took to the manuscript right away and saw the strong influence of Davison’s background in photography. “Nicola’s a very visual writer and that gripped me. I found the manuscript very sharp and precise and vivid.” She also felt a connection between Davison’s work and the new novel she was working on. “I love your story,” Bruneau says, speaking to Davison. “It’s contemporary Nova Scotia rather than...” she pauses to touch the cover of her own book, on the table between them, “something that’s romantic and in the past. But I think there were parallels in our projects that were interesting too.” The program allowed the pair to take a wide-ranging approach to aspects of writing going far beyond craft. “Carol talked to me about applying for grants, getting published—all sorts of side things I always wanted to ask an author but was afraid,” Davison says.
Davison even got coaching on how to elevator-pitch her book, summing it to a few-seconds-long verbal description. “I still struggle with what to tell people,” she says. “What’s your book about?” I ask her. She laughs. Then says, “Oh, you really do want me to answer that question, don’t you? “Well. It is about a young family who is coming back to Nova Scotia after having lived in Alberta for about 10 years, and they buy a house that’s a little bit beyond the price range that they had hoped to pay and it’s this big modern house with a glass wall that faces the sea. And when they move in they start to make friends with the closest neighbours and they simply don’t realize how entangled they are going to become with their lives. It’s a little bit of a suspense and it’s a lot to do with families, grieving; there’s some wonderful foggy sailing scenes, and it all ends up in a storm.” Bruneau describes the mentorship process as being very different from teaching, “because you really are peers.” The pair would chat about characters—it almost felt like gossiping about people they knew—and, Davison says, “that would bring out aspects of them I hadn’t thought about.” At a certain point, Bruneau started talking about her book too. She says, “Writing fiction can be sprawling and feel aimless. I never really like to talk about it when I’m working on something, because explaining stuff can be just like killing it. It was really cool that I got over that when I was working with Nikki, because I would talk a little bit about my story as I was working things out for myself—in a way that I would never do with anyone else. It’s a really lovely, inter-connected way of seeing story and the process.” The mentorship period ended more than two years ago but Bruneau and Davison continue to meet regularly. “Last year for my birthday, my husband asked me what I would like, and I said I would like to have Carol Bruneau to drink wine with,” Davison says. “He called Carol to ask her to come over to the house, and she was my birthday present last year.” The mentorship program is funded by the Canada Council, and accepts applications until October each year. It is open to all genres of writing except graphic novels and children’s picture books. ■ Philip Moscovitch is a writer and radio documentary maker living near Halifax. Follow him on Twitter @PhilMoscovitch.
Centring the Artist Bestselling Children’s Author and Illustrator Dawn Baker’s Favourite Place by Lori Doody
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I want young Newfoundlander and Labradorians to be proud of their home and I would love to introduce this place to children elsewhere.
am a bit embarrassed to say that I have never been to Fogo Island. However, having looked at photos of the island and having read Dawn Baker’s latest book—her ninth picture book with Flanker Press, Fogo: My Favourite Corner of the Earth—I am definitely due for a visit. On Fogo, traditional houses are juxtaposed with sleek contemporary architecture. The recently added Fogo Island Inn and artist studios seem to echo the shapes of icebergs and whales that can be seen from the island in late spring and summer. International artists produce and exhibit their work during residencies through Fogo Island Arts and tourists, either artistically inclined or not, visit to appreciate the island’s beauty and culture. This new picture book is an excellent introduction to Fogo’s environment and to its growing and impressive artistic community. Lori Doody: In this book you highlight the contrast between traditional and contemporary architecture on Fogo Island. Why was this important for you to show? Dawn Baker: As a visual artist, I am intrigued by the juxtaposition of the old and the new on Fogo Island. It comes as no surprise that traditional structures such as fishing stages and saltbox houses fit in the landscape seamlessly. It is fascinating, however, how the contemporary designs of the brilliant architect Todd Saunders (including The Fogo Island Inn and six unique artist studios) feel equally at home on the rugged land. Of course, both old and new styles share much in common. They are spare structures, built using economy and with respect to the scarcity of materials, and they were constructed by local builders. It was my intent to reflect my admiration for the beauty of all the buildings on Fogo Island in my book. Lori Doody:You have recently reached an impressive milestone of selling more than 100,000 copies of your books. How has a sense of place, particularly Newfoundland landscapes and seascapes, influenced your picture books? Dawn Baker: I am equally humbled and thrilled that my children’s books are such good sellers. Without exception, the themes, settings and characters that I use are drawn from my
home province. I love this place—despite the (anything but rare) May and June snowfalls! I have had the opportunity to travel a good deal in my life but I have never seen a place more beautiful than here. There is endless inspiration in the cliffs, the sea, the barrens and the dense forests. I want young Newfoundlander and Labradorians to be proud of their home and I would love to introduce this place to children elsewhere. Lori Doody: This book is about a young boy who meets a painter visiting Fogo Island. Have any visual artists influenced your work? Dawn Baker: There are many artists who have influenced my works over the years. When I was a young artist in the 1980s, I had the privilege of attending workshops with numerous gifted Newfoundland visual artists and their influence has been the most significant. There are four in particular, who stand out: Lloyd Pretty, Ted Stuckless, Gerald Squires and Julia Pickard. When I am painting, I frequently find myself remembering advice I was given during those workshops so long ago. Skills and knowledge that I acquired during that time have been integral to my work. I was so sad to learn of the passing of Gerald Squires and Julia Pickard in recent years. I am grateful that I had an opportunity to learn from these amazing artists.
Lori Doody: Why is Fogo Island special to you? Dawn Baker: The first time I visited Fogo Island was in the early summer about 20 years ago. It was a lovely visit where everything went the way it should. The sun shone and the winds were light. I was enchanted. I saw beauty and charm in every direction. Fogo Island has been special to me ever since that visit. Lori Doody: I know that you recently gave some readings of this book on Fogo. How are those kids responding to seeing their home in a picture book? Dawn Baker: It is a great pleasure for me to share my books with children whenever I can. What could be more perfect than to read Fogo: My Favourite Corner of the Earth to the kids who live there? It was delightful to be present as the children recognized places and structures so familiar to them. I could tell that they felt really good about their connection to this book. And, undoubtedly, that made me feel fantastic! ■
Fogo: My Favourite Corner of the Earth Dawn Baker Flanker Press
Lori Doody is the author and illustrator of Capelin Weather and The Puffin Problem. Her artwork is available through the Emma Butler Gallery in St. John’s, Gallery 78 in Fredericton, the Lorimer Gallery in Charlottetown and at 14 Bells Fine Art Gallery in Halifax. She lives in St. John’s.
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Big Themes for the Young: The Toll Of Depression; Nazi Occupation; Connecting with Place and Time; The Essence of Loving Fathers; Astronomical Vision; Remembering Africville; and Conquering Fear Lisa Doucet and Jo-Anne Elder review the season’s most anticipated books for young readers
Africville Shauntay Grant, illustrated by Eva Campbell Groundwood Books (Ages 4 to 7) “Take me to the end of the ocean…” So begins this paean to the oncethriving Nova Scotian community of Africville. Located along Halifax’s Bedford Basin, it was home to a closeknit Black community that, throughout its more than 150-year history, was consistently under-served, mistreated and ultimately razed. This book recalls the spirit of Africville and its people: the colourful houses nestled along the water’s edge and the sun coming up over the water; children picking berries, playing football and
rafting at Tibby’s Pond; catching codfish and gathering round a bonfire at the end of the day at Kildare’s Field. As the protagonist attends a modernday festival that honours Africville, she envisions it as its former residents remember it and she savours her own personal connection to this place when she finds her great-grandmother’s name inscribed on a memorial sundial. In her latest picture book, Haligonian Shauntay Grant once again captures a place and its people. Africville will touch the hearts of adults as surely as it will its intended audience. Grant’s perfectly paced free verse poetry has a gentle, hypnotic quality that flows through the narrative and invites the reader to savour each word and the myriad images the words evoke. Eva Campbell’s illustrations are bold, bright and filled with energy and motion. In some cases, the faces are expressive and filled with emotion. On other pages they are blurred and indistinct, letting the bodies tell the story. Each page is richly textured and visually depicts the warmth, the intimacy of this community as well as the natural beauty of the landscape. Together, the text and illustrations create a vivid portrait of what Africville once was. Young readers may be inspired to not only read the information included at the back of the book but to also check out the suggestions for further information.
PB’s Comet Marnie Parsons, illustrated by Veselina Tomova Running the Goat, Books & Broadsides (Ages 3 to 8) When the sheep and the lambs of Toad’s Cove (along with one cranky old goat!) make their way to Fox’s Island to spend the summer, they look forward to leisurely days of grazing on the island’s salty green grass and cavorting on the rocks by the sea. All but one solemn little lamb, that is. PB’s head and heart are in the stars. Inspired by the renowned astronomer Edmund Halley who, once visited Toad’s Cove, PB is determined to study the stars until she finds a way to predict when the next comet will appear.
REVIEWS But that one crotchety old goat is determined to thwart PB’s efforts, doing everything he can to throw obstacles in her path. He hides her spyglass and jumbles her numbers. But then “the sight of the night sky, and the wonder it brings/of the largeness and the beauty and the smallness of things” makes him realize all that he’s been missing. From then on, while the other sheep and lambs continue to spend their days munching on the tender grasses and gambolling along the cliffs and coasts, these two unlikely friends spend their nights stargazing and drinking in the wonders of the skies. Another delightful and quirky picturebook offering from Running the Goat Books & Broadsides, PB’s story is sure to charm young listeners. The jaunty and lyrical text begs to be read aloud as it trips and dances along in frolicsome fashion. Parsons, who hails from Ontario but now calls Newfoundland home, has crafted a tale that feels timeless and contemporary. Young readers will marvel at PB’s passion and zeal. The old goat’s dramatic change of heart leads to a most satisfying ending. While the book is set in Newfoundland and was inspired by true events in what is now known as Tor’s Cove, the story has a universal quality and will be read and loved by readers everywhere. Veselina Tomova’s illustrations are playful and sprightly, featuring a sketchy and free-flowing style and a folk-arty feel. With muted tones, they bring this flock of sheep (and one goat) to life. The Better Tree Fort Jessica Scott Kerrin, illustrated by Qin Leng Groundwood Books (Ages 4 to 8) What could make a new house better than the last one for a young boy like Russell? A fine old maple tree with giant limbs, a tree that is just right for a tree fort!
recognizes the value of what he has, both in terms of the tree fort and the loving man who worked so hard to build it for him. The delightful watercolour illustrations are loose and fluid, with sketchy outlines and muted tones. They are earnest and expressive and capture a sense of whimsy and playfulness. Together the words and images tell a tale of familial love and gratitude.
When Russell shares this idea with his dad, his dad admits he doesn’t know a lot about building. But Russell makes a plan and off they go to the lumber store— multiple times. Russell’s dad does his best and soon they have a tree fort. It doesn’t have a balcony or a skylight or an escape slide, as Russell had envisioned, but when the two of them eat peanut-butter-and-jam sandwiches and sleep in their sleeping bags in his new tree fort, Russell knows it is truly perfect. But the next day, a construction crew shows up three houses over. Soon there is a new tree fort in the neighbourhood, with turrets, bunk beds, electricity, a skylight and a balcony. When Russell visits the boy whose father ordered the plans for this magnificent structure, he realizes something profound wonderful about the nature of things, and about dads. Nova Scotia YA writer Jessica Scott Kerrin’s first foray into the world of picture books has yielded a gentle, beautiful story that is heartwarming and as perfect as Russell’s tree fort itself. The story is simply and elegantly told, with an understated quality that renders it even more poignant. Neither Russell nor Warren (the boy with the castle-like construction) say too much but the message that is conveyed is timeless and important. Russell dreams big but in the end he
Summer in the Land of Anne Elizabeth R Epperly, illustrated by Carolyn M Epperly Acorn Press (Ages 5 to 11) When Mama tells Elspeth they are going on a vacation, she is thrilled and rushes to share the news with her older sister, Willa. But why, the girls wonder, is Mama being so secretive about where they are going? They know it has something to do with the special book she is going to read to them later that night. When the book turns out to be Anne of Green Gables, it doesn’t take long for Elspeth to deduce that they are going to Prince Edward Island. When they get to Cavendish, Elspeth is filled with awe as they visit all the places that were so important to Anne and to LM Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables. In the core of her six-year-old being, Elspeth knows that she herself is really Anne and these places feel like they are her real, true home. But she is deeply saddened when
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she discovers that the house where LM Montgomery once lived has been torn down. As Mama and the girls talk about Montgomery and her writing, Elspeth discovers a new source of inspiration. Now she knows that she isn’t really Anne, she is “Elspeth of Cavendish, the famous writer.” The Epperly sisters have created a delightful new addition to the body of literature that is inspired by, and pays homage to, Montgomery’s much-loved heroine. Elizabeth Epperly, herself a long-time resident of PEI, renders Elspeth’s enthusiasm and passion, the relationship between the two sisters and the profound effect that this visit has on all three of them with great sensitivity. She is keenly aware of the deep connection that so many visitors to the Island feel to Anne and to Montgomery and she ably depicts that in Elspeth. Many young readers will relate to Elspeth’s feelings and her belief that somehow this shared experience is still deeply personal and belongs just to her. This is truly part of Montgomery’s gift and her ongoing legacy, and the Epperlys portray it beautifully here. Carolyn Epperly’s exquisite watercolour illustrations perfectly evoke the magnificent pastoral landscapes of the island and bring to life the sacred LMM sites. Her jewel-toned illustrations are infused with light and evince a sense of reverence. This heartfelt ode to Anne and LMM will speak to the hearts of countless readers and will undoubtedly serve as a cherished keepsake for many who will find in Elspeth a “kindred spirit.” Finding Grace Daphne Greer Nimbus Publishing (Ages 11 to 15) For as long as she can remember, Grace’s life has revolved around Dotty, her older sister. Living with the nuns in a convent
realized character. The relationship between her and Grace is vividly rendered and realistically depicted. Grace’s experiences, insecurities and fears as she begins her new life with the other girls will elicit empathy from modern readers who will relate to her feelings if not the setting. Through the diary entries that Grace reads, the author is able to give readers a glimpse of what life was like in Belgium during the dark days of Nazi occupation. The multilayered plot is intricately woven and well paced. The resolution is emotionally satisfying, making this a story that will appeal to a wide range of readers. in Belgium, she has always helped look after Dotty. Until now. Now Dotty is dead and Grace is being moved to the dormitory to be with the other girls her age, the same girls who used to call her and Dotty “sister retards.” To make matters worse, cruel Sister Francis is in charge of the dormitory. As Grace tries to fit in with the other girls and make new friends, she also tries desperately to steer clear of Sister Francis, who always seems filled with anger and hate. Grace continues to hope and pray that one day the mother who left her and Dotty at the convent will come back for her. When Grace finds an old diary hidden in the library, she becomes caught up in the sad story of the young woman who wrote it. As she learns about the terrifying events that transpired when the Nazis invaded Belgium, her heart goes out to the girl who witnessed and lived through such unspeakable horrors. She never imagines that this diary will lead her to the truth about her own family history. Recalling her own experiences at a Belgian boarding school, Nova Scotian author Daphne Greer has crafted a compelling work of historical fiction that is a poignant family drama. Although readers are only briefly introduced to Dotty, she is nonetheless a beautifully
Under the Floorboard Wendy Ranby Chocolate River Publishing (Ages 13+) As she deals with the typical anxieties and insecurities that adolesence brings, Aileen’s greatest source of stress seems to be her mother. Somehow everything her mother says to her feels like a criticism. Thankfully she has her Aunt Bea to spend time with and confide in when things with her mother are too strained. When the family learns that Aileen’s mom is going to have another baby, even this exciting news brings up longsuppressed worries as Aileen remembers
when her baby sister Claire died, many years earlier. She has always blamed her mother for Claire’s death. When baby Katrina is born, things become even worse as Aileen’s mom struggles to deal with her “baby blues” and Aileen and her brother Scott try to function as best they can in the midst of the chaos. Just when things reach an almost unbearable point, Aileen finds her mother’s journals. In their pages, she discovers shocking secrets about her mother’s past and her own early years, some of which threaten to drive them even further apart and some of which may enable Aileen to see her mother in a new light.
Grandes roues et petits pois Christine Arbour illustrated by Réjean Roy Bouton d’or Acadie (Ages 4 to 8) Will today be the day Émilie rides her brand new bicycle for the first time? Right now she’s nervous. With no training wheels and no one to help, Émilie can barely bring herself to get up off the lawn, where she’s watching the clouds and daydreaming about being a champion cyclist.
Wendy Ranby, a New Brunswick native who now lives in Ontario, gives readers an up-close look at how depression and mental illness can take its toll on a family. The journals Aileen finds give readers as well as Aileen a chance to see her mother as a real person who has lived through great adversity and who has struggled through many dark and difficult times. Told in the first person, this story realistically depicts Aileen’s anger and rage, her seemingly endless frustration, her feelings of being alone in her misery and always being misunderstood. However, just as her best friend Jenny often finds her constant negativity challenging, readers also may find
Émilie feels small and frightened. She thinks of the big wheels on her bike turning like the water circling down the drain, the marbles rolling along the ground, the wind turbines where her father works and the hands on her watch counting off the seconds. There’s no one to help her with the big challenge she’s facing or to witness her adventure. Her father’s at work, her brother’s off playing somewhere and her mother’s busy picking peas in the garden, unaware of the great event about to take place. With the great care appropriate for this major feat, Émilie fills her water bottle, puts on her helmet, climbs on her bicycle ... and she’s off ! Her mother turns around just in time to see her big girl riding down the pebbly path. This book is suitable for beginning readers as well as reading aloud. The bright and interesting illustrations, together with the simple but innovative text, express the complex emotions that accompany an accomplishment so important for young children. This book will be a starting point for discussions
Aileen difficult to like and/or synpathize with at times. Nevertheless, her story highlights the wide-reaching effects of mental illness. Lisa Doucet is the co-manager of Woozles Children’s Bookstore. She shares her passion for children’s and young adult books as our young readers editor and book reviewer.
about fear, courage, determination and pride. The author, Christine Arbour grew up on the Gaspé coast and now lives and works in Québec City. Grandes roues et petits pois is her first children’s book. ■ Jo-Anne Elder has translated more than 20 works of poetry, theatre, film, fiction and non-fiction from French to English and has been shortlisted for a Governor General’s Literary Award for translation three time. She lives in Fredericton.
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Reviews Trudi Johnson’s Family Secrets and Questions of Identity
All Good Intentions Trudi Johnson Flanker Press As our plane descended, the Rock came into view and took my breath away. I was coming to St. John’s to give a talk about the memoir-writing class I had created at a large senior citizens’ community centre in Montreal. The great swaths of rock and greenery seen from our plane seemed to swell with silent testimony to the highs and lows of life. I looked forward to touching down and entering into the stream of story that was ceaselessly flowing below. It was with that same sense of wonder and excitement that I immersed myself in Trudi Johnson’s historical fiction, All Good Intentions, a book that shines a light on how family secrets can wreak havoc for generations. Though All Good Intentions picks up on the story of the Newfoundland Sinclair family, which Johnson wrote about in
her first novel, From a Good Home, it is a book that stands on its own. In reading Johnson’s most recent book, it was delightful to come across mention of various streets including Water and Military, as well places I remember from my short trip to St. John’s. No doubt people with deep roots in the area will find much to connect with in All Good Intentions. Johnson is careful to make mention of towns, streets and landscape features that anchor her story in time and place. One particularly visual description stands out: “Later that evening, on board the schooner bound for Falcon Cove and points north, Hannah bundled her belongings around her and hoped they would cut the chill. She focused on the steep rocks of the Narrows, the entrance to St. John’s harbour between the hills, then Freshwater Bay, until they disappeared from sight in the dusk.” With just two deft sentences, Johnson creates an atmosphere that reflects how Hannah must have been feeling at this point in the story—a young woman who had just given birth to a baby she was unable to keep. Yet, these forays into the feeling world of the many characters in All Good Intentions are often too brief and few throughout a novel that relies mainly on dialogue to convey the narrative. In their brevity, they remind me of fingers that merely trail on the surface of what is most definitely deep waters, and in that sense, they leave me wanting much more. Throughout the novel, I longed for more showing and less telling. However, Johnson’s expository style is no doubt a function of her academic background. “Ideas for the story grew out of my academic research in Newfoundland legal history,” shares Johnson, who has a PhD in the island’s history. In All Good Intentions, her specialization
in matrimonial law and inheritance practices is put to good use in crafting a story that unfolds as a direct result of one family member’s decision to ignore certain legalities. I’m sure many people will find something to relate to in this story about family issues. That is the great appeal of genealogical stories, whether imagined or real. Positioning oneself along the narrative continuum of place and family is a practice that has gained popularity alongside genealogy shows. Before those shows there were memoirs, autobiographies and historical fiction, such as Johnson’s books, to quench our thirst for knowledge about perennial questions of identity. The issue of identity—how we create a sense of it for ourselves in the present and how much of it is determined by those who have come before us—is one that we all grapple with, to one degree or another. Whether we go to books such as All Good Intentions for entertainment or answers that fire our imagination, or we pick up the pen ourselves, the urge to know who we are by understanding our ancestors is clearly a strong one. All Good Intentions reminds us of how important family memories are to making sense of who we are and, perhaps more importantly, who we want to be. Ironically, though, we cannot make those crucial decisions about our destiny without knowing the truth of our family stories. ■ Elizabeth Johnston is a poet and nonfiction writer who teaches at Concordia University.
Paul Carlucci’s Layered Stories of Life in a Northern Town
The High-Rise at Fort Feirce Paul Carlucci Goose Lane Editions Paul Carlucci’s linked short story collection, The High-Rise at Fort Fierce (from New Brunswick’s Goose Lane Editions), revolves around a dilapidated apartment building in the titular, fictional small town in the Northwest Territories. The opening story follows three generations of owner/caretakers of the building as they allow the high-rise to fall into further and further disrepair. They especially neglect the floors where they have crowded low-income tenants. Many of the collection’s protagonists are tenants who are being slowly poisoned by the high-rise’s mould-infested walls; their shared symptoms are one of the ways Carlucci creates cohesion across the overlapping narratives. The mould and the illness it causes are symbolic of the theme of exploitation that runs throughout the collection. In the opening story, we learn the owners of the building know dangerous fungus is growing inside the walls and hope to keep it secret so they won’t be forced to do anything about it. Some tenants suspect the building is making them sick
THIS BOOK WAS REVIEWED FROM AN ADVANCE COPY PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
but lack the resources to relocate. In “There Goes the Dogstar,” the narrator wonders if there might be something toxic behind a plaster bubble on the wall of his apartment but decides he won’t ask the landlord about it. He loves taking his dog up to the roof to stargaze and worries the landlord will take away his key to the roof as a punishment for raising the issue. The mould is a physical manifestation of how place and exploitation are connected in these stories. The High-Rise at Fort Fierce attempts to show how abuse is perpetrated and experienced in an isolated, Northern community. Carlucci references the historic and ongoing systemic oppression of Indigenous Peoples by the Canadian government as a force that shapes life in Fort Fierce. In the first story, Norman Franklin, who inherited the high-rise from his father, reflects on an inukshuk at the entrance to Fort Fierce. Residents of the town are angry about the inukshuk because it is an Inuit symbol that does not represent the town’s Dene community. Norman thinks he might have an Indigenous relative and this inspires him to consider asking some of his Indigenous tenants how they feel about the inukshuk. He quickly decides against speaking with the tenants, reciting racist stereotypes about Indigenous people to himself. In “Look at you, Percy,” a Dene woman named Linda mentions the inukshuk as a symbol of how the colonial government ignores distinctions between different Indigenous groups, making it easier for the government to steal land and resources from Indigenous Peoples while refusing to implement basic infrastructure in communities like Fort Fierce. In both these stories the Inukshuk becomes a vehicle to reveal the complex ways systemic racism impacts life in the town. Early in the book, Carlucci raises the idea of individual “newcomers” and “outsiders” in the Northwest Territories participating in systems of power
that make it possible for them to take advantage of permanent residents of Fort Fierce. The narrator of “Wood Toad,” a woman named Marley, describes a transient community of people who come to the town in the summer because they have “... ruined their lives in the south and been lured north by the promise of escape.” These visitors often scoop up public-sector jobs, for which Marley says the locals are deemed too inexperienced or unskilled. As a child, Marley has a strange and manipulative secret friendship with an adult surveyor from the south. Even though it is a brief relationship it has a huge impact on Marley. As an adult she is drawn to “newcomers” and starts advertising welcome baskets designed to make visitors feel at home in Fort Fierce. This is one of the quieter and more poignant stories in the collection; it captures the dynamic between people who are able to leave a small place and those who cannot. While the mould is a subtle metaphor for the bodily harm people in positions of power inflict on people with less agency, almost every story in the collection has descriptions of more explicit violence, including battery, murder and strongly implied sexual abuse. Carlucci’s characters are complex and his strength is that he captures how people can be capable of both love and unforgivable brutality. But having several stories in a row hinge on lurid descriptions of assault or murder becomes repetitive. The graphic violence in the book, especially the descriptions of violence against Indigenous women, feels gratuitous and takes away from the more nuanced observations about abuse and exploitation in the collection. ■ Eva Crocker’s debut short story collection Barrelling Forward was published in 2017. Her work has been published in Riddle Fence, The Overcast and the Cuffer Anthology. She lives in St. John’s.
Atlantic Books Today
Jessica Mitton’s Reimagined Newfoundland Recipes
Some Good: Nutritious Newfoundland Dishes Jessica Mitton Breakwater Books “Some good,” they say. Newfoundlanders and other Atlantic Canadians love the expression and use it often. “Some good” can refer to, for example, a talented singer. “Adele is some good.” It can refer to a movie, as in, “Jurassic World is some good.” It can refer to food. “Leo’s fish and chips is some good.” In fact, the bound words can be used to praise any number of things. Some Good: Nutritious Newfoundland Dishes by Jessica Mitton is aptly named, although a more accurate subtitle might be, Nutritious Reimagined Newfoundland Dishes. The recipes in Some Good may come as a surprise to Newfoundlanders brought up on foods prepared in a prescribed manner for generations. I can hear them say, “Whoever came up with riced cauliflower, instead of potato, in
fishcakes? Or pea soup dumplings made from brown rice, sorghum and arrowroot flour?” Mitton’s cookbook had just arrived. It sat on my desk on a stack of paper. A bright, cheerful image of the author— posed cutting a carrot—taking up most of the book’s cover space. Noticing the latest addition to the organized mess occupying my desk, spouse reached over my shoulder to grab the book. At this point I’d only given Some Good a cursory look and was inclined to think it might be a bit niche. At least that was the impression I got from one of the book’s introductory chapters. It was 14 pages dealing with ailments associated with diet and various food substitutions, subtractions and additions to manage them, called, “Living without Dairy, Gluten, and Refined Sugar.” I panicked slightly when I read the title. “What living?” I wondered. Spouse turned my thinking around. I might have gotten there myself, eventually, but it was obvious that what he was reading was making a positive impression. Mind you, he does have a food allergy; however, I’m certain his enthusiasm for Some Good went beyond vested interest. Although much of the information is standard and preaching to the choir of people with dietary issues, Some Good contains several revelatory tidbits—well, for me at least. For example, in addition to lactose, did you know that some people’s bodies cannot properly break down casein and whey, the proteins in milk? Ingesting them can lead to gut grief and other distressing symptoms. Interesting facts aside, Some Good’s main purpose is to entertain the reader with recipes described as “delicious Newfoundland dishes.” Most cookbooks these days offer between 100 and 150 recipes. Some Good contains 40, a surprisingly low number. More important is how well they work and how they taste. I made several of the recipes quite successfully, including savoury salmon and roasted vegetables. Moose stew is a favourite of mine. I had some moose meat and decided
to use Mitton’s method, ignoring the accompanying photo of what looked like watery beige soup. (I’ll discuss Some Good’s photos later.) Unlike many Canadian publications, Mitton’s cookbook does not give metric measurements, only imperial. Also, instead of being specific about things like the size of dice or cubes, there is either no advice—just “diced turnip”—or words like “small cubes.” It would be helpful to know if a cube should be one inch or something else. Where guidance wasn’t specific, I went with generous bite-sized cuts and produced a delicious moose stew from Mitton’s recipe. Finally, a few words about the book’s photographs. Some Good’s photos— by Becki Peckham—apart from the consistently excellent portraits of the author, run the gamut from perfectly fine to passable. I suspect the poorer results were due to inexperience in food photography and not using an experienced food stylist. Photographs of salads, vegetable combinations and breakfast dishes— like poached egg on roasted veg, partridgeberry banana pancakes and blueberry oatmeal bowl—are very good, as is a very appetizing close-up of roasted chicken. I was bewildered, however, by the decision to include others. The photos of battered cod, baked beans and lobster-stuffed mushrooms are unlikely to make anyone’s mouth water. Despite the few uninspiring photos, Some Good is a cookbook with valuable information and recipes that will yield good-tasting results. ■ Karl Wells is an award-winning food writer and restaurant critic for The Telegram in St. John’s, host/producer of One Chef One Critic and a restaurant panellist with enRoute magazine.
A Worthy Celebration of 200 Years of Dalhousie
The Dalhousie University Story: A 200 Year Anniversary Portrait Mona Holmlund, Curator, with Poetry by George Elliott Clarke Goose Lane Editions and Dalhousie University University and college anniversaries tend to inspire the publication of ponderous memorial volumes and a goodly share of attractive common room/coffee table books. Dalhousie University’s 200th anniversary year commemorative book may be of that genre, but it stands out as a cut above the rest. No attempt is made to duplicate the definitive and authoritative two-volume history, Lives of Dalhousie (1994 and 1997), produced by the venerable Peter B Waite. Instead, we are treated to a visually stunning, finely crafted and exquisitely tasteful living history exhibiting the richness of the university’s visual culture. The 200th-anniversary volume strikes a completely different tone from Waite’s books of record, seeking to build a bridge from the past to the future. The full-colour opening page features three Mi’kmaw Elders-in-residence wearing ceremonial dress. University president Richard Florizone conveys a contemporary message. “Drawing on our founding values,” he writes, “we aspire to
academic excellence, to have an impact on local communities, and to become an inclusive institution where everyone belongs.” Dalhousie’s founder, George Ramsay, the ninth Earl of Dalhousie, featured in Waite’s history, has almost disappeared. In place of the normally obligatory founder’s photo, we are treated to a visually attractive collage of founding artifacts, showing the original building, the cornerstone plaque and the silver trowel used in 1820 to lay the cornerstone. The unbridled spirit and passionate heart of 200th Anniversary Portrait is to be found in a fiery poetic history composed by celebrated Canadian poet and Halifax’s favourite literary son, George Elliott Clarke. Commissioned as a Bicentennial Poem, it was initially delivered in a virtuoso performance on February 6, 2018 at the celebratory launch. That contribution, exhibiting Clarke’s distinctive lyrical style, sets the stage for a virtual kaleidoscope of images and visual artifacts encompassing university life over two centuries. Building the volume around Clarke’s poem was an astute editorial decision. With the bicentennial celebration approaching, Dalhousie was embroiled in a very public controversy over its founder and revelations about his rather unsettling attitudes toward slavery and race. What better way to counter the backlash than by enlisting the support of Dalhousie’s most famous Black alumni to perform a poem summarizing the university’s past? Clarke obliged with a feisty epic poem paying tribute to the Dalhousie tradition without whitewashing troubling aspects of the university’s past. “Dalhousie originates,” in Clarke’s words, “as a trophy—a profit—of War, as actual booty.” He captures well Dalhousie’s claim to be “free and open to all,” but, in practice, only welcoming white male Protestants, and mostly Presbyterians. Dalhousie alumni will spot a few incisive poetic tweaks in Clarke’s verse. High Anglican King’s College, he notes, in passing, “spurned entanglements with Dalhousie” and went its own way. It’s also clear, in his verses, that doors
remained closed to women until 1881 and Dalhousie did not record its first “coloured” graduate until 1896. No official history comes without a nod to the institution’s benefactors. Sprinkled throughout the book are subtle tributes to major donors, including Ken Rowe (Kenneth C Rowe Building 2005), Elizabeth and Fred Fountain (Fountain School for Performing Arts 2013), Margaret McCain (Wallace McCain Learning Commons 2015) and Marjorie Lindsay (current IDEA Campaign Chair). Figuring prominently in the official opening photos is the Dal president widely recognized as the contemporary campus builder, Tom Traves (1995-2013). A 200th Anniversary Portrait is experiential and organized around the stages and extensions of university student life. Scenes of a snow-covered square, a Dal spirit rally, open house days and examinations are interspersed with images of colourful Indigenous ceremonies, African Heritage Month flag raising and smiling graduates exemplifying diversity. Registration day visuals include a September 1932 application from Robert Lorne Stanfield of Truro, future Premier of Nova Scotia. The transition in libraries from the MacDonald Memorial Library study carrels of the 1930s to the food fair in the Killam Library mall is striking. Time-lapse group photos of formally dressed Dal students in 1919 are juxtaposed with today’s smiling, relaxed students, 100 years later. This book is essentially a stylish, sophisticated album of fleeting memories. “It is a cloud chamber,” Holmlund writes, “a place where transformation in time and space has been frozen, offering glimpses into multiple memories.” The result is a visually stunning book of fragmented images very much in tune with the contemporary world. ■ Paul W Bennett, Ed.D., is Director of Schoolhouse Institute, Halifax, and author of eight books, including The Grammar School: Striving for Excellence in a Public School World (2009). Atlantic Books Today
Maureen St. Clair’s Solace in Bosom Friendship
Big Island, Small Maureen St. Clair Roseway Publishing It’s been four decades since AfricanAmerican writer Barbara Smith raised eyebrows with her reading of an early work by a future Nobel Laureate in Literature. In “Toward A Black Feminist Criticism” (1977), Smith examined Toni Morrison’s novel Sula (1973), noting that the title character and her childhood friend Nel maintain a relationship that “from the very beginning, is suffused with an erotic romanticism. … The ‘real world’ of patriarchy requires, however, that they channel this energy away from each other into the opposite sex.” “There is no homosexuality in Sula,” Morrison later summarily declared. Canadian scholar Laura Robinson prompted a similar reaction with “Bosom Friends: Lesbian Desire in L.M. Montgomery’s ‘Anne’ Books,” a paper she delivered at a 2000 gathering of academics in Alberta. Offering an interpretation that rattled Montgomery
experts, Robinson ventured that the fictional Anne Shirley lusted after female friends such as Diana Barry and Leslie Moore (characters in the iconic Anne of Green Gables and Anne’s House of Dreams, respectively). “Montgomery’s texts subtly challenge compulsory heterosexuality by drawing attention to the unfulfilled and unacceptable nature of women’s love for women,” Robinson noted. “Because Anne’s various expressions of lesbian desires emerge but are not engaged, they draw attention to what is excluded, what cannot be said to be, in Anne’s world.” I was mindful of the controversy surrounding Smith and Robinson’s work (the latter garnered the author hate mail) while reading Big Island, Small, the debut novel by Maureen St. Clair, who lives in Nova Scotia and Grenada. The absorbing volume chronicles the bond between Sola, a young Black woman, and Judith, a fair-skinned, bi-racial woman who wears dreadlocks. After attending a summer music festival in an unnamed city (“kind of cold that make people miserable”), the women discover their common roots in a small community in the Caribbean. Rendered in the lilting patois of both women (in alternating chapters), the narrative ushers readers into a world of joy, risk, sacrifice, hope and grief. Here, Judith imagines the skepticism she evoked when Sola first spotted her grooving to a reggae beat. “She watching not with care but with judgment…I know those kinda eyes, that kinda stare—the stare of people wondering what this white woman doing dreading up she hair, trying to be more Black than white.” By chance, the women meet the next day. Attracted (if warily) to each other, they attend another festival performance. En route home, they kiss under a starfilled sky. “I don’t want [ Judith] to stop,” Sola remembers. “…We kiss leaning up against a fence.” The embrace transports Sola back to her childhood on the tropical isle. “Wet
grass touching bare skin, cool breeze blowing…sea licking ankles, begging me to walk farther out, dunk my head and swim.” The tender moment is interrupted when a gaggle of children flinging stones and expletives exhort the women to “get a man.” Emblematic of the race, class, skin-colour bias, gender violence and emigrant motifs that course through the novel, Sola is unnerved by the incident that Judith appears to take in stride. “I just suck my teeth when I realized [the children] yelling down at us,” Judith muses. “But Sola she shove me away like she realize I woman not man. …I can’t understand how Sola afraid. And then I start to think what if she shame …cause she think kissing women criminal. I start to wonder if she think I criminal.” Sola and Judith mend the divide and go on to develop a nurturing friendship that enables them to better cope with the difficulties (past and present) in their lives. Perhaps not surprisingly (these days) in a novel that includes flashbacks to the formative years of girls, the spectre of sexual misconduct looms large. Here, Sola mines a childhood memory: “I was…busy…dreaming about the new bicycle Mr. Robbie say his wife was going to send me. …He said Mrs. Robbie was grateful I was spending so much time…keeping him company while she and the kids were away.” As with the “bosom friends” crafted by Lucy Maud Montgomery and Morrison’s Sula and Nel, Judith and Sola provide sanctuary for each other. Kudos to Maureen St. Clair for a heartfelt (if at times wordy) contribution to queerand-questioning literature infused with a calypso flair. ■ Evelyn C White of Halifax is the author of Alice Walker: A Life (WW Norton).
REVIEWS THIS BOOK WAS REVIEWED FROM ADVANCED GALLEYS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
High-profile Artists Ponder the Contested Meaning of “Home” At Home: Talks with Canadian Artists
About Place and Practice Lezli Rubin-Kunda Goose Lane Editions / Regal Projects Can you go home again? Or do you carry home wherever you go? Is home where the heart is? Or the art? These are the sorts of questions pondered by Lezli Rubin-Kunda, and which she discussed with 31 artists from across Canada. At Home, co-published by Fredericton’s Goose Lane Editions, chronicles Rubin-Kunda’s journey as she returns to the country where she was born and raised after more than 30 years living in Israel. The related tensions of postcolonialism in Canada and RubinKunda’s ambivalence towards narratives of home and belonging in the face of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict permeate this book, and the author does not shy away from the apparent paradox of seeking home in contested territories.
Structured into thematic groups of interviews, Rubin-Kunda acts as a garrulous tour guide, bringing us along on her journey and regaling us with stories of her life and art practice. Completed over two trips to Canada in 2012-13, the interviews vary widely in length and depth, with some comprising chapters in themselves and others being brief descriptions of single works or series that fill less than a page. Where the interviews are in-depth and engaged with the thoughts of the artist—such as in the excellent sections on Montreal artist Francs Morrelli, on Saskatoon’s Amelie Atkins and on Halifax’s Lorraine Field and Susan Fiendel—the reader learns about an artist and their work. The discussion of notions of home serves as an interesting entry point into what are very divergent approaches. The imbalances between the treatment of the artists are jarring, however; it’s as if the author felt that the visit had to be acknowledged, despite having relatively little to say about the artist in question. In a book stretched over 13 chapters with a foreword and afterword, some of the sections, frankly, feel like filler. Where Rubin-Kunda seems most comfortable is in discussions of practices that are performative and which align with her own art practice. RubinKunda’s conversation with Edmontonbased artist Tanya Harnett, a member of Carry the Kettle First Nation in Saskatchewan, and her articulation of her sense of home as based in culture, history and biology is particularly engaging and thoughtful. As RubinKunda records Hartnett saying, “I think the land has a memory that would transfer into one’s bones.” As the only Indigenous artist interviewed, Harnett’s chapter stands out in a book about place. Canada’s history of colonization is addressed by many of the artists and the author’s thoughts are rarely far from it, but more Indigenous voices would have made the book stronger.
At Home: Talks with Canadian Artists About Place and Practice is a book that doesn’t fit easily into familiar categories. Not a travel book, but not solely an art book either. In the end, Rubin-Kunda is very present in every discussion, which is both a strength and a weakness. When she is present as part of a discussion, as she is with Harnett, Frank and with Atkins in particular, the book works well. Where it is weak is best summed up by the way she begins the afterword: “When I reflect at the end of this journey on the question I set out with— what is the relationship between art practice and a sense of home—I am reminded of an early work of mine.” As a reader, at the end of this long journey to visit Canadian artists with the author, that is not exactly what I want to hear.
“I think the land has a memory that would transfer into one’s bones.” Later, she writes, “When I started, I yearned for a sense of belonging to a place I could call home. The closer I got, however, the more the unity of the inquiry unravelled into many disparate threads. The beauty and the interest lay in the uniqueness of each artist’s path, and not in any thematic commonalities. Every artist, it seemed, was a world unto his or herself.” Indeed. And it is when Rubin-Kunda shows us those worlds that At Home succeeds. ■ Ray Cronin is a senior arts professional with more than 25 years’ experience in multiple aspects of museums and creative industries. Most recently the CEO of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Cronin led that institution for seven years.
Atlantic Books Today
Robert Chafe’s Drama Centres on a Man Who Saved Whales
Between Breaths Robert Chafe Playwrights Canada Press
Reading plays in the quiet of one’s home is more solitary than immersion in a novel, poetry or non-fiction. The most significant difference is imagining how a stage direction would be carried out in such a way as to draw in an audience, as this random example from Robert Chafe’s one-act three-hander play, Between Breaths, illustrates: “JON stands in a tight spot of rain, alone, looking somewhat perplexed but immune to the cold ... He stares up into the rain cloud above, then closes his eyes a moment.” As individuals we can picture this, but since water on stage is generally avoided we wonder how this can be achieved, and thus momentarily step away from the reading experience. When the presence of water is amplified from rain to an ocean, and that ocean is filled with whales—their conjured presence and the use of their calls making them nearly another character—the demand on our imagination is greatly increased. Between Breaths is about Jon Lien (1939-2010), a scientist who originally atlanticbookstoday.ca
THIS BOOK WAS REVIEWED FROM AN ADVANCE COPY PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
moved to Newfoundland and Labrador to study seabirds. He was soon known as “the Whale Man,” credited with rescuing hundreds of them after they became entangled in fishing nets. That was not part of his duties when he took up his job at Memorial University of Newfoundland. As Chafe has Jon say: “This fisherman thought I was there to help. Heard I was into whales. Those potheads trapped in the ice the previous year. But I was just there to record them. Their distress.” One intervention follows another until gradually it becomes a mission lasting many years, embracing ecological concerns as well as the economic damage to fishers from ruined and expensive nets, until Jon’s health declines. The play opens with him “trapped” in his wheelchair and ends with his release. In between the first and last scenes Chafe describes, through a mixture of exposition-laden and semidramatic flashbacks, how the healthier Jon—with support from an employee named Wayne, a former whaler who became his friend and right-hand man, and sometimes in the face of opposition from an unnamed MUN dean—grew to embrace his unexpected role. Most of the life-saving events occur on and under the water. That means the stage directions contain explicit details of events that readers who are also theatregoers would not expect to see mounted. “The whale bumps the boat suddenly” is one instance that speaks to the canvas Chafe has created, and indicates that only a larger and more costly production than is usual could capture his full vision. A CBC story from May 2016, “Whale researcher Jon Lien’s life set to be dramatized this summer,” contained this remark about Between Breaths: “‘We’re doing a sort of stripped down version of this play this summer that can easily tour to rural communities, and we’re really happy about that,’” said [producer] Pat Foran, adding the skeleton and more elaborate sets may appear in subsequent productions.”
For me this mingling of Chafe’s ambition and an awareness that what is being presented cannot be truly grasped unless there is a full-scale production, made the reading process less than satisfactory. As well, there is at times an undercutting of dramatic moments or possibilities. Jon and Judy, his wife, argue about his involvement with whales, and the confrontation echoes what has been portrayed in countless movies and plays when someone (usually male) has to take a course of action that goes against common sense or the wish of a (usually female) loved one. Late in the play Jon declares, “I’m the guy, Judy, because there’s no one else,” but this is neither surprising nor incisive. Their clash of wills may be true to life, but as character development it resembles stale workshop advice on how to instill conflict more than living, breathing disagreement. Similarly, when Jon and the dean (never shown) butt heads, any potential drama is swept away as quickly as it’s introduced. It may be that Between Breaths isn’t meant to be a dramatic work but rather an affectionate and respectful bio-play, since Jon, for all his stubbornness, comes out quite well, and Judy “concedes something deep within herself ”—that’s a bit mysterious—once she finally understands he is more than “a lecturer... a scientist.” The play is not a tragedy and Robert Chafe designed its structure to avoid it ending as an “irredeemably sad” piece of work. Instead, he has provided audiences with a celebration of a life given over to helping endangered mammals. As such, it might be seen as preparation for a future screenplay where the real drama of lives on the line—the stuff that, in its present incarnation, occurs underwater and therefore out of sight—can be brought fully before our eyes. ■ Jeff Bursey is a Canadian novelist, shortstory writer, playwright and literary critic born in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He lives in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. He is a frequent contributor to print and online critical publications.
How to Shampoo a Cat An Excerpt from Mark Critch’s new book, Son of a Critch
The only other uses of the phone table were the shining of the shoes and the washing of the cat—the two chores Dad took very seriously. Dad had one colour and type of shoe: black dress shoes were for work, formal events, jogging, beach wear, and shovelling. He went through a lot of polish. Shampooing our Siamese cat was more involved. The cat was as old as I was. Dad brought home the newborn kitten the same week I was born. He’d won it in a card game. Dad had won all his opponents’ money, and in an act of desperation, the poor loser had wagered the animal. Mom had never wanted the cat, and so it was my father’s responsibility. He was proud of his prize and would heap praise upon the cat as if it were a Grand Prix–winning show horse. “Look at that cat! That’s some cat. See the way her tail moves. When a dog wags its tail, it’s happy. But when a cat wags its tail, it’s angry. See? Look at her tail wagging. Something has her—ow! The damn thing scratched me!” The cat never liked Dad. She would hiss at him and scratch him. This did nothing to deter him from pursuing the object of his affection. Perhaps Dad was so adamant about this cat-cleaning chore because he wasn’t otherwise what you’d call a handyman. He had what he called a “tool kit.” It was an old metal biscuit tin with a picture of a young Queen Elizabeth on it. Inside was a half-used roll of black electrical tape, some random screws, a small flat-head screwdriver with a wooden handle, a can of black shoe polish, one roll of black thread, one roll of white thread, one roll of tan thread, eight buttons (mixed), a brand-new roll of masking tape, some change, and a seven-inch record of “A Night at the Copacabana with Tony Martin.” Next to the tin he kept a rusty hammer and a collection of dried-out paintbrushes. If something needed fixing, Dad would open the tin and ponder which tool was right for the task at hand. Usually the electrical tape would win out and the old man would apply it sparingly to the broken glass, loose hinge, or wobbly table leg. There was never need of a second roll of tape in my entire lifetime. Whenever there was work to be done around the house he would put on his work clothes. These consisted of a white T-shirt, a pair of tan pants, and dress shoes.This was also his preferred outfit for cat grooming. Someone had convinced Dad that cats needed to be shampooed. So, once a month he would get a blanket and put it over his lap, don winter gloves, and shampoo the cat. Afterward, the cat would
lock eyes with him as she licked herself, seeming to say, “See? This is how a cat cleans itself. And I would enjoy it a lot more, too, if you hadn’t spayed me, asshole.” Of course, first the cat had to be caught. Whenever it saw Dad in his handyman uniform it would hide under the biggest thing it could find—the stereo. The old man would reach underneath it, the cat digging her talons into his thick winter gloves in a timeless battle of man vs. beast. Eventually, she would dig her nails into the carpet as he tugged at her hindquarter. “See? Her tail is wagging, that means she is— ow!” Then he would carry his hissing prize to the telephone table and rub in the cat shampoo. Sometimes I’d be called upon to rub the cat’s fur with a damp tea towel to “activate it.” This didn’t so much shampoo the cat as anger her fur, making it stand up in little matted waves on an arch-backed sea of feline fury. Dad would admire his handiwork and the “cleaned” cat. Now covered in shampoo and somehow drier than she was before, she’d hurl herself off his lap and disappear for days.
Mark Critch is a comedian from St. John’s, best known for his work on the television series, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, initially as a writer and then as a regular cast member beginning in 2013.
Excerpted from Son of a Critch by Mark Critch. Copyright © 2018 by Mark Critch. Published by Viking Canada, an imprint of Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved. Atlantic Books Today
Editor’s Picks 18 Atlantic Canadian books that are generating buzz this season POETRY
Salt Fires Janet Barkhouse Pottersfield Press
Barkhouse’s seasoned poems are Nova Scotia—evocative of the land, sea and culture. Her work evokes the peninsula and its islands, forests and farms. She slices out a small piece of the planet, representative of the whole, a microcosm of the Earth. Janet Barkhouse
afraid of the dark
Afraid of the Dark Guyleigh Johnson Pottersfield Press
Dartmouth’s Guyleigh Johnson melds poetry and prose to tell the tale of a teenaged Black girl struggling with her identity. Her character wants to hide herself, her appearance, heritage and culture—yet she is drawn to these things. Poetry is her escape. Guyleigh Johnson
I Heard Something Jaime Forsythe Anvil Press The most fun description of Haligonian Jaime Forsythe’s sophomore collection is that it’s “a Rube Goldberg machine,” from multi-award winning poet Sandra Ridley. There’s a surrealist, dreamy quality to these poems. Atlantic Canadians will appreciate her advice in “Instructions for Heavy Weather”: Watch the porch light’s seizure, silver mothers. / Wait for everything to stop.
The Lady from Kent Barbara Nichol Pedlar Press
The subtitle almost says it all: “A story for girls and boys and raccoons and grown-ups and ants dressed as bees. And elves.” Subsequent pages are part poem, part tall tale and part illustrated comedy routine. The whole fandango centres around a joyful, wild and wacky character.
One for the Rock Kevin Major Breakwater Books
Governor General Award winner Kevin Major is best known for his YA fiction, though he’s published fiction, non-fiction and poetry. One for the Rock is his first book of crime fiction. The action is driven by the energetic and feisty recent divorcee, Sebastian Synard, and a couple quick slips—of a tourist visiting St. John’s and of Sebastian’s ethics. Killing Pace Douglas Schofield Minotaur Books Nova Scotia author Douglas Schofield is back with a fast-paced thriller about a woman suffering amnesia, being cared for—and held captive by—a man who claims to be her boyfriend. Lisa Green is not your clichéd damsel in distress. She’s strong,
fearless, impulsive and more dangerous than her captor.
Stealing the Past John Tillman Nimbus Publishing
Did you know one of the world’s most notorious art thieves is from Fall River, Nova Scotia? Tillman stole more than 10,000 artworks worth millions of dollars from galleries, museums and stores, until authorities caught him in 2013. Here is his fascinating tell-all, written from prison. Fishing the High Country Wayne Curtis Goose Lane Editions Wayne Curtis and the Miramichi vibrate at the same frequency. He writes of the place as one would a beloved partner. Characters are folksy but authentic and fully realized. Fishing the High Country is an ode to roots, place and connection, by an author who is right where he belongs. A Man of My Word Beaton Tulk with Laurie Blackwood Pike Flanker Press Beaton Tulk was briefly the seventh premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, after Brian Tobin jumped to federal politics. It was a job Tulk says he didn’t want but loved. This is a tell-all political memoir that covers plenty of personal ground too.
Flawed Andrea Dorfman Firefly Books
Adapted from Haligonian Andrea Dorfman’s Emmy-nominated film, Flawed is a sophisticated, profound and personal probe into self-acceptance, simply told and illustrated. It conveys the difficulty of appreciating one’s own uniqueness in societies judging how we look compared to everyone else.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
From Palette to Palate Lynda Shalagan (art) and Dale Nichols (food) SSP Publications
This book is a marriage of still-life art by the Sacred Heart School’s art teacher and 50 signature recipes (using fresh, local ingredients) by the head chef at Digby Pines. The design and artwork show enticing dishes you’ll want to bring to life. The Overcast’s Guide to Beers of Newfoundland The Overcast Breakwater Books This 100-page guide is surprisingly thorough and conveys a quick and fascinating history of Newfoundland beer, the establishments of local tastes and the commercial interests that have catered to them. Fourteen local breweries are profiled and their wares sampled. The tight writing and design make for a quick reference or lively read.
Put Your Hand in My Hand… Harvey Sawler Nimbus Publishing
Beside the obvious genetic connection between the two subjects, music and more specifically songwriting is the real tie that binds here. PEI’s Gene MacLellan was a known master of the craft. Catherine is not yet as iconic, though she’s been widely lauded. She talks openly about her father’s struggle with depression.
POLITICS AND SOCIETY
No Place to Go Lezlie Lowe Coach House Books
Finally someone asked the question: what’s up with the shitty publicbathroom situation in the city? Wait, I have to pay to poo? Or buy a crap cup of your coffee? What if I were sick? Or homeless? Or transgendered? Surely we can do better. Lezlie Lowe went there and we’re all better for it. Conspiracy of Hope Renée Pellerin Goose Lane Editions Four years ago, Renée Pellerin broke the story of a major study finding that mammography results in over-diagnosis of breast cancer. Pellerin, a recent King’s MFA grad, was not prepared for the angry response. Her first book explores the controversy around mammography and why it pervades even as evidence shows the process does more harm than good.
Cops in Kabul William C Malone Flanker Press The former Canadian deputy-police commander in Kabul (May 2011 to May 2012) provides a gripping personal account of an impossible effort to establish security in a lawless situation: a country at war. No Choice Kate McKenna Fernwood Publishing Growing up on Prince Edward Island, Kate McKenna was angered by the unjust lack of access to abortion. Here she documents how the Catholic Church and other antichoice groups stacked hospital boards to deny access, and how women fought back for their rights.
The Flanker Dictionary of Newfoundland English Gerry Cranford Flanker Press
Newfoundland English comes from a fascinating mix of the West Country in England, southeast Ireland and a dash of Scottish. It’s enough to make an outsider’s head spin, but Flanker Press owner Gerry Cranford has you covered with this comprehensive resource.
Atlantic Books Today
Elizabeth Russell Speaks of her Slave Peggy Pompadour*
Peggy is in the habit of running away it would be bad enough if she left by herself but now she is taking her children with her. She is a very bad woman a mean slave she goes to the outskirts of the city and roams in the bushes eating berries and wading in the Don River catching salmon that still travel to these parts She has erected a hut of sorts from the brambles of the elderberry tree she lived there with Amy and Milly for three weeks until Peter sent the constables to retrieve her he returned the children to the house but lodged Peggy in jail Now he wants to sell her but neither Joseph Brant nor Matthew Elliot wants to buy her on account of her fugitive career though they had promised Peter they would buy her. Because no one wants her Peter has to keep her in jail he resents paying the jailer’s fee If only this mean slave would behave!
Peggy’s incorrigible son Jupiter has followed in her fugitive steps he has Just ran off someone saw him in the vicinity of the Don River around Pottery Road lurking about Mr. Long’s farm Peter has sent the constables after him. Peter really wishes to be rid of Peggy I for one do not want her ever again in this house I hate the very sight of her after she smashed the fine China I crossed the sea with from Ireland Because the jailer’s fee is mounting Peter is forced to put a ‘For Sale’ ad in the paper Matthew Elliot has disappointed us Joseph Brant the same perhaps someone else will take pity on Peter And take the wretch and her son off his hand I have already gifted my god-daughter Elizabeth Dennison With Milly and Amy. *Peggy Pompadour and her children Amy, Milly, and Jupiter were held as slaves in the household of Peter and Elizabeth Russell of Toronto. Peter was a former administrator of the province of Upper Canada. ■ Afua Cooper is the James R Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University, the author of The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal, and the recently appointed Poet Laureate of Halifax.
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