While we were not able to meet for our normal Spring luncheon, we celebrated the end of our spring 2021 program with a Zoom call featuring a guest speaker, author and historian Shaun Hunter. Ms Hunter’s work as Historian in Residence at the Calgary Public Library included a Literary Map of Calgary (https://www.heritagecalgary.ca/heritage-calgary-blog/yycliterarymap).
Ms. Hunter is a native Calgarian, who has searched the canon of Canadian literature for her book Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers. She started by asking the question “What is Calgary and how has it shaped me?”. Generally Calgary has been considered a barren frontier by the literary establishment (my words, not hers), but when you look a bit further, there is a it is a fruited plain.
Highlight’s from her presentation include references to former CWLC members Flos Jewell Williams, Nellie McClung, Georgina Thompson. She ended with a quote from Johnny Chinook (Robert Gard, 1967): “Calgary people are the children of change”.
A question for members only: What does Peter Carey have in common with Susan Hill, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, George Jonas, and Rex Murphy? If you don’t know, the answer is “Anita.” My tenure in CWLC only goes back to 2012, so this is just an incomplete list of Anita’s eclectic author presentations!
That’s the thing about our “book club with a difference:” Our annual theme takes on a life of its own when one is on the upcoming slate. The presenter has been reading and researching like crazy, quite often an author and/or theme that may not be one she normally reads. The lucky members come home with new insights and another author to add to their ever-expanding reading lists. Horizons expand! With all of us stuck at home this year, our theme of Australia and New Zealand has given us a welcome new literary horizon. Anita selected two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey, whose novels, short stories and non-fiction are summed up by Anita as “quintessentially Australian.”
On April 20, 2021 club member Helle K. gave a presentation on the works of Australian (Tasmanian) author Richard Flanagan. The Zoom presentation brought to a close the regular meetings of the CWLC until autumn 2021.
Helle talked about the fictional works of Mr. Flanagan – she has read most of novels. Through readings and discussion, Helle showed his fiction to be complex with intertwined narratives and difficult subject matter. She highlighted her favourite of his works, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, which focuses on the challenges of Slovenian immigrants coming to Australia in the aftermath of WWII. It was described as a sad, poignant book that shows how we hurt the ones we love the most. It ends with the possibility of healing and redemption even after great pain.
I am interested in reading in a more recent work by Richard Flanagan: A Narrow Road to the Deep North, which won the 2014 Man Booker Prize. It is about an Australian prisoner of war forced by the Japanese to work on the Burma Death Railway during WWII. While the book is fictional, the author’s father was one such POW.
The first meeting in April was a guest speaker event, with Canadian playwright Meg Braem. Ms. Braem is currently the Canadian Calgary Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of Calgary Faculty of Arts. Ms. Braem was introduced by Alexandra Handley, who is a member of the Distinguished Writer program Steering Committee.
Ms. Braem gave an entertaining reading from a production draft of her play The Resurrectionist. The play shows the intersection of two bits of Canadian history: the exclusion of women from medical schools in the 19th century and the stealing of bodies from graveyards by medical students in Kingston.
After the reading, the author answered club members questions about her influences and her writing process.
Via a well-attended Zoom call on March 30, 2021, member Anne T. presented on the New Zealand crime writer Ngaio Marsh. I learned that Ms. Marsh was a rival author to Agatha Christie, writing 32 whodunit’s, mostly set in England. She shared a birthday with Shakespeare, and used that as motivation in a successful backstage career in Shakespearean theatre.
Anne’s favourite of Dame Ngaio Marsh’s novels was “A Surfeit of Lampreys” AKA “Death of a Peer”, which I hope to read in the near future. (I also learned that the Ngaio is a tree native to New Zealand).
On March 23, 2021 Margaret S. introduced the club to the works of Lloyd David Jones, a contemporary New Zealand author. Jone’s novel “Mister Pip” was the recipient of a Commonwealth Writer’s prize and was short-listed for the Booker Prize.
Margaret demonstrated how Mr. Jones sees people in a different lens, sensitive to the complexity of human relationships. She discussed “Mister Pip”, “Paint Your Wife”, short stories from “The Man in the Shed”, and his memoir “A History of Silence”. Her emphasis on Jones’s ability to hear silence made me want to discover more about his work.
On March 16, 2021 Flora’s presentation on Joy Cowley’s literature for children and adults showed us how the author uses everyday situations to shed light on intimate relationships.
Joy Cowley is contemporary New Zealand author who writes adult and children’s fiction, and works of spiritual reflection. In her youth, she was apprenticed to a pharmacist – then married a dairy farmer and raised a family of 4 children. Her children’s character “Mrs. Wishy-Washy” is based on a dairy farmer’s wife.
Flora used a clip from “The Silk”, a short film Rodrigo Films based on Cowley’s novel, to show the quiet impact of her work for adults. (More information on the clip here: http://www.rodrigofilms.com/thesilk/.)
Continuing with this year’s theme of “Writers of Australia and New Zealand,” on March 9, 2021 Betty S. presented Australian author Shirley Hazzard whose works, both fiction and non-fiction, reflect her fascinating life experiences particularly with respect to character and setting. Betty’s comprehensive and critical overview, especially of Hazzard’s award-winning novels The Transit of Venus (1980) and The Great Fire (2003), highlighted her biting wit and the quality of her prose. Celebrated for her vivid descriptions of both the natural world and the inner lives of her characters, Hazzard’s writing explores some of the major themes of the mid-20th century from the horror and displacement of war to the mysteries of love and friendship and the importance of luck and accidents in life.
Cecilia started our 2021 session by bringing to life the personal and professional successes and struggles of Miles Franklin. Ms. Franklin rejected her rural Australian upbringing in 1901 to product her first book, “My Brilliant Career”. Semi-autobiographical, it divided her family members, but found widespread success in Australia and across the world.
Ms. Franklin found a way to live a literary life, travelling to other countries, but returning to Australia in the 1930’s. Her estate established the Miles Franklin Literary Award, a lasting legacy recognizing excellence in Australian literature.