The Calgary Women’s Literary Club will resume in person meetings on October 3, 2022 in the Central Memorial Library with a presentation on the works of Ottessa Moshfegh. Let our year of rest and relaxation begin!
This excerpt is from Lois Cutler’s presentation to the Club entitled Notes, Memories, and Comments on The Calgary Women’s Literary Club, which celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Club (March 2, 1982).
“Mrs. J.E. Dunlop was secretary for 1920-21. On November 9, 1920, she wrote that the Club had met in the Library at 3:00, half an hour earlier than usual, to give the members an opportunity to attend the reception for Mrs. Meighen. “The meeting closed at 3:57, and members hustled to the Palliser.” The following week she reported: “Minutes read and adopted with the exception of one word, “hustle.” The dictionary says the word means ‘to move with attempted haste, or to shabble hurriedly.’ Certainly the members did not shamble hurriedly: the members of the CWLC are not so lacking in dignity. Did they move with attempted haste? In view of the undignified meaning one might take, the secretary begs to submit the words “expeditiously departed; but fearful of the consequences, the secretary hesitates to make the correction without the approval of the president and members. The minutes in question would then read as follows: The meeting closed at 3:57 p.m., the president and members expeditiously departed for the Palliser.”
Member Janet S. gave the last presentation of our spring session on Canadian author Steven Price. Mr. Price is the author of several collections of poetry (Anatomy of Keys, Omens in the Year of the Ox) and 3 novels (Into That Darkness, By Gaslight, Lampedusa). Although they are all very different, Janet showed that each work had memory in it’s essence.
Lampedusa, his most recent novel, was Janet’s favourite. It is an imagining of the struggles of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of The Leopard. While it is not a typical novel, being based more on character than plot and using limited punctuation, it shows the poetry Price brings to his novels. Janet appreciated the emotion that Price brings to dying and death as a passage of life. It shows how Lampedusa used memories of his own life to produce a novel about the end of an era.
The Anatomy of Keys, while it is a book of poetry, is inspired by the life of Harry Houdini. It uses polished alliteration and metaphor which Janet demonstrated through reading poem 13. Omens in the Year of the Ox has mythology as a theme, but a dark emotion is evoked.
Unlike me and some other club members, Janet did not enjoy By Gaslight, Price’s novel about a real life Pinkerton detective in the years after the American Civil War. She found it dense and complex with many flashbacks to explain the plot. She found herself liking the anti-hero more than the protagonist. However, she did enjoy some of the excellent descriptive passages.
Janet next discussed Steven Price’s first novel, which she read last. Into That Darkness is about Victoria in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake. It is a bleak world turned asunder, partially told through the thoughts of the three main characters. Like Mr. Price’s poetry, this work alludes to classical mythology – a journey into hell.
Another excellent presentation on a Canadian author. What a great way to end the spring session!
For the Western reader, member Helen T. posited that the work of Malaysian author Tash Aw remaps the literature about southeast Asia from the viewpoint of an Asian author. Mr. Aw is both an ‘insider’, born and raised in SE Asia, he is also to a certain extent an ‘outsider’ as the grandchild of Chinese immigrants to Malaysia, and as a Cambridge educated author who now lives in London.
On April 12, 2022, Helen presented Tash Aw’s fiction and non-fiction in the context of George Orwell’s 1946 essay Why I Write. Here is my brief summary of how she saw Mr. Aw’s work fitting into Orwell’s 4 basic motivations.
Sheer Egoism: to show skill and to explore oneself. Helen put Strangers on a Pier, a book of personal essays and Five Star Billionaire in this category.
Aesthetic Enthusiasm: Map of the Invisible World, Helen’s favourite of Aw’s novels, is in this category. It is a novel about home, identity and belonging envisioned as a haunting historical drama.
Historical Impulse: TheHarmony Silk Factory is set in the Malay Peninsula, just prior to the Japanese invasion. A story is told through 3 imperfect narrators and the readers is left with questions.
Political Purpose: In this case, political purpose can be defined as an attempt to influence the reader to a certain viewpoint about what society should strive for. Tash Aw’s book We, the Survivors highlights the plight of illegal laborers from other Asian countries in Malaysia and how the price for rapid development is paid by those who can least afford it. Follow this link to see Mr. Aw discuss this book.
Helen ended by reiterating that any of Tash Aw’s works could fit in one or all of these categories. While his themes are universal, he turns the focus of the Western reader to Asia in a new way.
Next week, member Janet S. will be presenting the works of Steven Price.
Honorary member, Vera Ross, passed away on March 9th, 2022. The Calgary Women’s Literary Club was one of many organizations to benefit from Vera’s talent and enthusiasm. She joined the club in 1996 and soon joined the Executive, serving as Program Chair, Vice President, and President. She became an Honorary member in 2014.
Although I didn’t know Vera, I would have enjoyed her many presentations including The Poetry of Yeats, Women in Literature as portrayed by Shakespeare, Pierre Berton, Simone de Beauvoir, Ian McEwan and others. Her love for literature is reflected in the wide range of authors and topics that she chose to present. She will be missed.
On April 5th, 2022 the Club welcomed a marvelous guest speaker, Teresa Wong. She is the author of the graphic memoir Dear Scarlet: The Story of My Postpartum Depression, a finalist for The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize and longlisted for CBC Canada Reads 2020. Her comics have appeared in The Believer,The New Yorker and Event Magazine. She teaches memoir and comics at Gotham Writers Workshop, and is the 2021–22 Canadian Writer-in-Residence at the University of Calgary. Read more at: https://www.byteresawong.com.
The author gave an beautiful and engaging illustrated reading from her pandemic narrative #tantrumseries. This narrative started on Instagram, and will be part of the anthology Good Moms on Paper, which presents the challenges and rewards of being a mom while authoring creative works. During the early days of the Covid 19 pandemic, she recorded her 4 year old son’s morning tantrums with photo’s and watercolours, which she then posted. In total, 20 watercolour portraits of her son were completed – visit her Tumbler blog or search #tantrumseries on Instagram to view these lovely images and more.
While recording these moments, she pondered her motivation: Was she recording these moments for herself, for others, for her son in the future? Was this an intrusion into her son’s privacy? Was her motivation to present a more realistic portrait of toddler parenting and to show it can be funny? Or was she looking for affirmation or “likes”? The series ended when her son told her “stop taking my picture”. Two years later, he sometimes scrolls through the pictures and recognizes himself. Her concluding comment on #tantrumseries was that the creative work was “fully alive and fully itself, like a child in my care”.
The author was going through a crisis herself at the time of the #tantrumseries, and found she could relate to her son’s frustration and feeling of helplessness. In early 2020, she was trying to get Dear Scarlet into the world, along with the daily work of parenting 3 children. To quote her: “mothers have guilt rather than the space and time to do creative work”.
Next, she presented Piano Lessons, short comic published by Believer magazine , illustrating her 10 years of piano lessons and what classical music means to her. To quote “music took me somewhere… elegant, refined, orderly”.
After the presentation, there were a number of questions from members about Ms. Wong’s development first as a writer and then as a graphic memoirist. Ms. Wong said that she was always a writer, but began painting after she had children. She described the graphic genre as more poetry than prose, bringing out ideas with phrases and imagery. Personally, I am a fan of graphic memoir, history and fiction and hope to read more from Teresa in the future.
On March 29, 2022 member Moorea G. took us into the fantastic world created by J.K. Rowling. There is no greater statement on the universality of Ms. Rowling’s work than the comments of our members at this very well attended Zoom meeting. Several members spoke of how the Harry Potter series evoked their childhood memories of the British public school system, with it’s uniforms and houses. Another member recalled standing in a long, midnight lineup on an icy Calgary night to get a newly released volume in the series, so her son could stay up until the wee hours reading it.
Moorea said that while Harry Potter’s story enchanted her children, she was also enchanted by the inspiring story of J.K. Rowling as an author who overcame personal struggles to produce her art.
After a brief introduction to the life and works of Ms. Rowling, Moorea played two videos showing the evolution that the story takes: from the innocence of children starting school to confronting evil and death in the final book of the series. Links to these video’s can be found here:
The core of the Harry Potter series is a coming of age story that highlights friendship, loyalty, love, and the nature of good and evil. Ms. Rowling enhances that story with a glimpse into a strange, beautiful world where all things are possible and good can conquer evil. J.K. Rowling has a knowledge and love of the Greek and Roman classics, Shakespeare, and literature generally that is shown through her extensive use of literary allusion. Allusion in the Potter books is (in my opinion) like hiding Easter Eggs in the story for parents and older young adults – and it keeps the reader captured even after they have closed the book.
Moorea highlighted a number of her favourite examples, limited only by the brief length of our meeting.
Alchemy: the Philosopher’s Stone, which plays a prominent role in the first Harry Potter book, is a reference to the traditions of alchemy – an ancient branch of natural philosophy which in part hopes to turn base metals into gold.
Jane Austen: the school cat, that spies and tattles on students is named Mrs. Norris after a similar character in Mansfield Park.
Shakespeare: like Macbeth, the battle between ‘he who cannot be named’ and Harry is foretold in a prophesy. Hermione, who is briefly petrified, is named for a character in a Winter’s Tale.
Thomas Gray:Moorea noted that the Dementors flying around Hogwarts may reference the death imagery in the poet’s “Ode On a Distant Prospect of Eton College”.
Ovid, Homer: Fluffy the guardian of the Philosopher’s Stone is very like Cerberus, the guardian of the Underworld.
The enthusiastic comments and questions for this presenter show that J.K. Rowling and the world of Harry Potter have enchanted young and old. Next time you want to challenge yourself, take up these novels that are old friends and hunt for the Easter Eggs.
“Reading [her work] is like being wrapped in silk” – that is how member Marcia C. described the poetic novels of author Esi Edugyan.
In her March 22, 2022 presentation, Marcia highlighted the life and work of Esi Edugyan. She is the author of 3 novels, many short stories and several non-fiction works. Ms. Edugyan was born and raised in Calgary and now lives on Vancouver Island with her family. Her husband, author Steven Price will be the subject of member Janet S.’s presentation on April 19, 2022.
Esi Edugyan cites authors Toni Morrison, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as early literary influences. While club members who have met Ms. Edugyan describe her manner as gentle, Marcia feels there is a sense of foreboding in some of her writing that may reflect her love of the great Russian novelists.
The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, set in 1960’s Alberta was released when Edugyan was just 26. The central character of the novel is loosely based on her father. In 2011, her second novel Half Blood Blues was released. The novel won a first Scotiabank Giller Prize for the author. Her most recent novel, Washington Black, was also awarded the Giller Prize in 2018.
On March 15, member Wilda D. continued our theme of authors of the 21st century with her presentation on the works of American author Amor Towles. Mr. Towles is best known for his three novels: The Rules of Civility; A Gentleman in Moscow; and The Lincoln Highway.
In Wilda’s words “I chose to present on this author because I just love his writing”. There is no better reason.
Wilda emphasized that Amor Towles uses excellent descriptive details to make character and place come alive to the reader. Each of his three novels are set in the early to middle 20th century, however the author does not allow historical detail to overcome the stories about people and their choices that he tells.
The role of rules in the lives of his protagonists is a key part of his three novels in Wilda’s opinion. In The Rules of Civility, the protagonist tries to govern her behavior using an actual list of rules written by George Washington. In next novel, A Gentleman in Moscow the main character is a man who overcomes Soviet tyranny using the unwritten code of the Old World gentleman. The Lincoln Highway is the story of young men who are discovering what the rules of adult life will be.
A Gentleman in Moscow is Wilda’s favourite. It was clear from member discussion after Wilda spoke that many share her love of this book, and I share it as well. The book uses very constrained setting, which is presented in language that allows the reader to enter the character’s world. What stood out to Wilda is that the protagonist masters his circumstances, he is not mastered by them.
Wilda ended with “I highly recommend the work of this author”.
On March 10th, member Janet H. shared the work of Michael Crummey, with emphasis on his historical novels. She used the phrase “I feel a tug” to describe the longing we get to know the emotional and practical lives of those who came before us. Many of us are thus drawn to historical fiction- stories that make our sense of place come alive.
Michael Crummey is a Canadian poet and historical fiction author whose work brings to life the unique culture and history of Newfoundland and Labrador. Janet read from his early book, The River Thieves which looks at cultural loss as European fisherman and colonists encounter the last of the Indigenous Beothuk. Life in early Newfoundland is shown as an unequal struggle over minimal resources in a harsh land.
Next, Janet read from The Innocents, a story of two children who are orphaned and take on the adult world of subsistence fishing and agriculture in a remote settlement. The reading illustrated how even the harshest of circumstances can be faced with determination, love and occasionally humour.