Sure, big guns like Random House and HarperCollins have the kind of elegant downtown tower offices you’d expect—but did you know that Coach House Books, also in Toronto, operates out of a real coach house? (It took Sevigny a minute to realize the entrance was through the alleyway.) And houses like Frontenac House and our own University of Alberta Press run out of, well, houses. The U of A’s abode has untold numbers of hidden crawl spaces and a set of narrow servants’ stairs, while Frontenac’s, in Calgary, doubles as the actual residence of its husband-wife founders. Both look cosy.
This week’s column is about Erinne Sevigny, an Edmontonian who spent a month travelling across Canada, visiting 20+ publishers and seeing what she could glean about the publishing industry at large.May 17, 2013
In fact, of the 10 titles NeWest published last year, six have been nominated for prizes. Maybe 6.5, Matwychuk jokes, if you count some of the individual plays in Clem Martini’s collection Martini with a Twist, which were up for theatre awards the years they were first produced.
A celebration is most definitely in order.
This week’s column is about a party being thrown by our local literary press. If you’re in or around Edmonton, I hope I’ll see you at Roast next Wednesday.May 10, 2013
In addition to the banners, Stocks’s win was celebrated at Eston’s one K-to-12 school, where the news was broadcast over the school’s P.A. system. “Apparently the Grade 2 class gave me a standing ovation,” she says with a laugh. “Isn’t that great?”
This week’s column might be my favourite yet. A woman from a town of 1,000 people takes home Canada’s national humour award. Home-made banners are involved.May 3, 2013
So, in July of last year, Robertson created the Edmonton Book Blogger Directory. The list is ever-expanding, but at last count included 16 bloggers from the capital area. Their interests were wildly different, ranging from YA to non-fiction to paranormal to classics. Ditto their approaches to blogging: some dedicated souls writing something every single day, others only sporadically, as the whim struck them.
This week I take Journal readers into the tight-knit world of Edmonton book bloggers. It won’t surprise anyone here to learn that there are dedicated online literati in every city; still, I was surprised and excited to learn how deep the ranks in mine go.Apr 26, 2013
This week’s column is all about the Edmonton Poetry Festival. Eight days, 33 events, a bajillion poet laureates all gathered in one place.Apr 19, 2013
“I know several people with hyphenated identities — and I hate to call it that, but for lack of a better term — who see themselves as very Canadian, but then they step out into the world, and this isn’t how others choose to view them,” Edugyan says. “That’s very interesting to me. That gulf that can sometimes arise out of your sense of identity and what others would impose on you.”
This week’s column is an interview with Giller Prize-winner Esi Edugyan, who’s coming to Edmonton next week for a free lecture about home, identity, and the most Canadian question of all: What does it mean to be Canadian?Apr 12, 2013
Too often we associate this kind of flexibility with weakness, or selling out (whatever that means); when talking about indigenous groups, we also tend to rely on colonial language and imagery. Those issues are still far from settled, as Martin is quick to point out. But Stories in a New Skin re-casts this malleability in a refreshingly positive light, framing it instead as a measure of intelligence and cleverness.
The more I learn about indigenous literature and language, the more fascinated I become. In this week’s column, a local university professor takes us way north, to a remote Inuit hamlet on Baffin Island.Apr 5, 2013
“There are a lot of [written] resources available if you can speak and read Cree fluently,” Gnyra says. “And there’s a lot of really basic stuff: numbers, and animals, and pictures on a page … But nothing’s tying point A to point B.”
So Gnyra decided to fill that gap herself — and she’s using technology to reach as wide an audience as possible.
Last Friday’s column was about a fascinating project called Little Cree Books, which is a stepping-stone series of reading resources for kids learning the indigenous language. It’s the brainchild of one Edmontonian, who was inspired by, among other things, a certain much-read Onion story.Apr 1, 2013
Omar Mouallem is officially open for business.
Starting this week, the 27-year-old journalist, author, and rapper takes over as the Edmonton Public Library’s 2013 writer in residence for the Metro Edmonton area. But don’t let his youth fool you: Mouallem comes to the position fresh off a four-year run as associate editor at Avenue magazine, and with an impressive freelancing resumé in hand. His story “Under the Veil,” for instance, from local magazine Eighteen Bridges, was nominated for a National Magazine Award.
“I’m excited to have a place to evangelize my love of creative non-fiction and narrative journalism,” Mouallem says. “It’s something that’s long been underappreciated as an art form, but I see it starting to re-emerge, in the form of [journalism aggregating website] Longreads, that sort of stuff.
“Maybe it’s because of blogs. That might be it—that people are putting their own personal stories or journalism online. I think people are starting to appreciate that style of writing more.”
Mouallem himself is no stranger to the digital world. He was the impetus behind Avenue’s beefed-up web presence, and is an unusually savvy social media user. As writer in residence, Mouallem plans to divide his public workshop time between creative non-fiction and what he calls digital tools: blogging, tweeting, and self-publishing, among others. “I don’t know if there’s been a writer in residence who’s emphasized digital before,” he says. “And I think the digital part best represents [the EPL’s] move into the next 100 years.”
Indeed, 2013 marks the library’s centennial anniversary. It’s also the first year the writer in residence has been expanded into two positions. As the Metro Edmonton representative, Mouallem will be based out of the Stanley A. Milner library downtown; fiction writer Natasha Deen, on the other hand, will spend time at libraries in St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan, and Strathcona County over the next 12 months as the regional writer in residence.
And as the EPL continues to take strides into an increasingly digital world, Mouallem (who, full disclosure, is a friend) is thrilled to be coming onboard as an advocate of this new frontier.
“The library understands that it’s not necessarily a place for books anymore, but a place where people come together and share ideas,” he says. “It’s more of a community gathering place. Books are the clutter”—his words, dear reader! Not mine!—“that are going to slowly get removed from libraries, because everything’s going digital. My hope is to emphasize the digital aspects of writing and publishing.”
As for specific projects, Mouallem has two big ones in mind. First is a marathon, seven-day magazine challenge, wherein he’ll help coordinate a team of volunteers as they “brainstorm, assign, write, shoot, edit, lay out, and send to the printers a magazine, by and for library patrons.” Second is set to overlap with the national 3-Day Novel Contest in the fall; Mouallem plans to participate by stationing himself in a public space and then writing from dawn until dusk, “as some form of public art.”
He also plans to make use of his rap persona A.O.K, or Assault of Knowledge, to engage with younger library patrons and the at-risk youth who frequent the Milner library. “It’s the closest thing I have to a connection to the poetry world. And also, y’know, it’s like a cool thing. It’s street cred.”
But that’s not all. Half of a writer in residence’s working week is spent on their own projects, and Mouallem plans to use 2013 to climb to the next rung of his journalism career.
“I’ve done pretty well in the Edmonton and Alberta magazine circuit,” he says. “But nationally, I’m an unknown. I’d like to be a known […] I’d like to be a writer stationed in Edmonton who tells stories and talks about ideas of national appeal. And that stuff takes time.”
No matter what he’s working on, though, be it a public workshop or his latest magazine feature, Mouallem says the goal is to make himself vulnerable. “I’m still learning,” he adds. “I still find myself putting something down about myself on paper and then retreating. Because I’m not ready to share it.
“To sit in my office and hear people tell me about their personal stories, which takes a tremendous amount of courage—I will learn from that.”
While Mouallem’s home base will be downtown, he plans to do meet and greets at other EPL branches around the city. You can find him at the Abbotsfield branch next Thursday at 6 p.m., and then at two branches on Saturday the 12th: first at Capilano at 11 a.m., then at Whitemud Crossing at 3 p.m.
(profile originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal, January 4, 2013)Jan 4, 2013
On Wednesday, Tamas Dobozy took home the $25,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, one of Canada’s most lucrative literary awards, for his story collection Siege 13.
From here on out, that’s the only detail of the process that will linger in the reading public’s memory. But it’s important to remember that prizes aren’t handed out by objective, excellence-seeking algorithms. No, they’re handed out by juries: groups of red-blooded literary folk who are given the semi-anonymous-yet-Herculean task of having to read more than a hundred books in a few short months, then come together to settle on a shortlist and, finally, a winner.
This year’s Writers’ Trust jury was made up of three literati who are also authors themselves: Victoria’s Esi Edugyan, Ontario resident Drew Hayden Taylor, and Edmonton’s own Lynn Coady.
I recently sat down with Coady and asked her to take me through this mysterious process.
Coady is no stranger to both sides of literary awards, as a juror (she previously judged the Writers’ Trust prize in 1999, as well as the Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction in 2003) and as a nominee (her own novels have been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and the Giller Prize).
The first thing to know about literary jury duty, she said, is that while it may technically only be a part-time job, it sure doesn’t feel that way.
“It felt like hell,” she says, laughing. “It kind of ruined my summer. I mean, I feel great about doing the jury, and supporting Canadian literature, and all that. But it just makes you not like books anymore. You see a book, and you hate it—either because you know you have to read it, or it’s a book you want to read, but you know you can’t.
“If you’re reading,” she adds, “you have to be reading for the jury. There’s no leisure involved anymore. And for me, that’s hell. Reading is my ultimate leisure. I just didn’t have access to it.”
The nominated books started arriving at Coady’s house in April first in a trickle, and then in a flood. Over the next four months she read a staggering 116 titles from 45 different publishers—almost literally a book per day. Coady admits she sometimes struggled to keep apace, but past experience as a juror gave her a few advantages when it came to time management.
“When you’re in the early stages, you feel like the fair thing to do is to read the book beginning to end,” she says, “because what happens if, at the end, there’s this incredible flourish that ties it all together?
“But then, after you read sixty fucking books in a row, you realize that never happens, actually. So you start to get a really finely tuned sense of what book is going to pull itself off, and what isn’t.” If it’s the latter, you have to ditch it and move on.
For their discussions, Coady, Edugyan, and Taylor mostly spoke on the phone, at first talking generally about what stood out amidst the avalanche of material. Eventually they each brought forward a list of 20 contenders, which were slowly whittled down to their five-book shortlist: Siege 13, as well as Tim Bowling’s The Tinsmith (another Edmonton local), Rawi Hage’s Carnival, Alix Ohlin’s Inside, and Linda Spalding’s The Purchase.
Every jury is different, of course, and the biggest distinguishing factor is taste. Edugyan, Coady says, was on the lookout for craft, and beautiful sentences. Taylor just wanted something that told a good story.
As for Coady, “I felt humour was important. I always feel like if a book is totally humourless, it fails in some respect—because life isn’t totally humourless.”
I ask if she was able to draw any larger conclusions from the job. After all, CanLit has more than its fair share of stereotypes, and a prize jury reads pretty much the entirety of what’s been published over the past year. Who better to sum up the actual state of Canadian literature in 2012?
“I don’t mean this in a disparaging way,” Coady says, “but Canadians write a lot of fiction set in the fairly distant past. There’s a lot of World War I and II stuff. I think what’s underneath it is this Canadian inferiority complex, where we feel like contemporary Canada is not a topic worthy of literature.”
I take this last sentence as a call to arms. If you’ve got an idea for a novel set in present-day Edmonton, start putting pen to paper—2013 could be your year.
(profile originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal, November 9, 2012)Nov 9, 2012