“A Writer Creates Their Own World…”

Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

On November 8, 2022 member Robin S. invited members into the many worlds created by Emily St. John Mandel. Ms. Mandel is the author of the novels Last Night in Montreal (2009), The Singer’s Gun (2010), The Lola Quartet (2012), Station Eleven (2014), The Glass Hotel (2020), and The Sea of Tranquility (2022). Station Eleven was the 2015 winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best Science Fiction published in the United Kingdom.

Mandel had a unique path to authorship. She grew up in British Columbia, lastly in an island community, leaving to study dance without completing her high school diploma. She became a travelling dancer, then a dancer who writes, then a writer who dances and finally a successful writer. While her island upbringing is reflected in her work, she loves urban life in cities such as Montreal, Toronto and New York City.

Her latest novels are difficult to put in a box: mixing noir mystery, the supernatural and science fiction. Station Eleven solidified Mandel as a genre writer. The book is post-apocalyptic science fiction, exploring celebrity culture, and the importance of art in society even when things fall apart. Robin found this to be a hopeful book (her advice however is don’t read it on a plane trip!).

The author falls in love with her characters, and uses them again. Characters introduced in Station Eleven reappear in The Glass Hotel and The Sea of Tranquility. This most recent book is speculative fiction about time travel and the time traveller’s dilemma: “If you could change history, would you? should you?”.

Robin finds that Emily St. John Mandel’s work is getting better with each book. Since I have no air travel coming up, I plan to try out Station Eleven.

Shawna M.

Next Tuesday, member Anne Marie D. will discuss the works of Thomas King via Zoom.

Interested in Learning More About Us?

Guest Speaker – Poet Leah Horlick

On October 17, 2022 the Club welcomed guest speaker, Leah Horlick, the Canadian Writer in Residence, University of Calgary Distinguished Writer Program. She is the author of several collections of poetry: Riot Lung, For Your Own Good, and Moldovan Hotel.

Image from the author’s website. Photograph by Erin Flegg.

Ms. Horlick started with a brief introduction, relating her personal love for the Central Memorial Library. Then, she gave read a selection of her poems. The first, Amygdala, was from For Your Own Good, a collection of poems relating her experience of intimate partner abuse.

The next readings were from Moldovan Hotel, and included the title poem from the collection. Horlick’s went to Moldova in 2017, seeking insight into her Jewish family’s life before, during and after World War 2.

Following the readings, the speaker answered member questions about her creative process, the barriers to getting published as a poet in Canada, her early love of reading assisted by the Saskatoon library system, and why she was drawn to poetry.

Read more about Ms. Horlick and the University of Calgary Distinguished Writer Program here: https://arts.ucalgary.ca/calgary-distinguished-writers-program/writer-residence/current-writer-residence.

Shawna M.

Next week, member Barbara R. will be presenting the works of Timothy Caufield. Interested in joining us? Click here: https://calgarywomensliteraryclub.com/join-

The Illustrated Life – Guest Speaker Teresa Wong

Photo from https://www.byteresawong.com

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.

Shawna M.

Next week, member Helen T. will be presenting the works of Tash Aw. Interested in joining us? Click here: https://calgarywomensliteraryclub.com/join-

Peter Carey: Quintessentially Australian

From Wikimedia Commons: CC BY-SA 4.0

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.”

Janet H

Learn more about Peter Carey from our “resident expert” here!

Birth of the Noir

Photo by Camilla Plener on Unsplash

On November 17, 2020 Anne-Marie Duma presented the two Swedish authors who are credited with creating the popular Nordic Noir (Scandinavian Noir) genre. Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo created the 10 book “Story of Crime” series in the 1960’s and ’70’s – police procedurals that cast light into the dark side of Norwegian society.

The authors use plain language, a dark landscape, and slow multilayered plots to highlight the poverty, criminality and brutality underneath the welfare state. Anne-Marie read several passages that emphasized the bureaucratic failures, social ills and endemic petty corruption that contribute to crime and hamper police work.

These books are for the reader who likes to solve a puzzle.

Shawna M.

Learn more in Anne-Marie’s summary: https://calgarywomensliteraryclub.com/maj-sjowall-per-wahloo/

Julia Alvarez – Herstory Rather than History

On November 10, 2020 Helen shared her experience of the poetry, fiction and non-fiction of Julia Alvarez, a Dominican American author.  Ms. Alvarez’s work highlights the 20th century immigrant experience from a woman’s point of view. Helen illustrated, through readings from “The Woman I Kept to Myself” – a book of poetry; discussion of Alvarez’s works of auto-fiction; and a video clip from 2020, that Julia Alvarez is not silent in spite of family and societal expectations for women like her.


Photo by JoelValve on Unsplash

Ms. Alvarez’s hero as a young girl was Scheherazade, a woman who used storytelling to defeat a autocrat.  Through her own work, she seeks to bring out truths that expose the ways that society can oppress. Her best known work, “In the Time of the Butterflies” is a fictional account of real sisters who were assassinated for their opposition to the Dominican Trujillo regime. Much of her other work is very personal, discussing her experience as an immigrant and bringing out stories that were not discussed within her family. 

Shawna M.

Learn more by reading Helen’s summary here: https://calgarywomensliteraryclub.com/julia-alvarez/

Laurens van der Post -Adventurer and Writer

Photo by Chris Stenger on Unsplash

Janet Samber presented South African Afrikaaner author Laurens van der Post whose many works of fiction and non-fiction alike reflect his real-life experiences as a farmer, journalist, soldier, prisoner of war, and student of Carl Jung.  Using photographs from her own travels to southern Africa, Janet introduced members to the fascinating world of the Kalahari Bushmen, the indigenous people of that part of the continent. The Bushmen were of passionate interest and concern to van der Post who, in writing The Lost World of the Kalahari, sought to raise awareness about these original hunter-gatherers and the genocide threatening their existence.  In so doing, he reminds us all of our common humanity.

H. Tubrett

See Janet’s presentation summary here https://calgarywomensliteraryclub.com/laurens-van-der-post/

Khaled Hosseini – The Refugee Experience

Photo by Umut YILMAN on Unsplash

On October 27 2020, member Elaine Buckman gave a presentation on the works of modern Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini.

For Elaine, Mr. Hosseini makes the refugee immigrant experience personal in his two novels. The ancient and recent history of Afghanistan is one of resistance to foreign conquest. Culturally, Afghanistan has conservative tribal and class distinctions that are a contrast with the values of Western society.

Mr. Hosseini’s father was a diplomat, who emigrated to the United States after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. His family settled into an immigrant community and Mr. Hosseini became a doctor and married a law student who was also in the Afghan immigrant community.

While working as a doctor, Mr. Hosseini wrote his first novel “The Kite Runner”. It is a tale of both Afghanistan and immigrants who have left Afghanistan. The characters struggle to meet traditional family expectations while respecting individual rights in a modern social setting. The novel was met with widespread commercial success and has been made into a movie and a play.

A second novel  “A Thousand Splendid Suns”; a book of short stories “ And Now the Mountains Echo; and a poem “ Sea Prayer” have followed “The Kite Runner”. These works continue the themes of the immigrant experience, grief, class & poverty, and the status of women in Afghan society.

S.Mattison

SEE ELAINE’S SUMMARY HERE https://calgarywomensliteraryclub.com/khaled-hosseini-1965/

Alan Paton – Agape love

File:Alan Paton.jpg
South African Author Alan Paton. Image: Wikimedia.

Denise Doz chose this South African author for his masterful and influential use of literature to plea for compassionate love, or agapé, for those suffering under South Africa’s apartheid system. She noted that institutionalized apartheid has regrettably been replaced with something new in South Africa, and racism isn’t restricted to that country. Shamefully, Apartheid was informed by Canada’s Indian Act. His books remain relevant today with the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and across the world in our current news cycle.

“(Agapé) embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance.” (Wikipedia)

Alan Paton wrote from the soul, and with faith that his own society could change through non-violence. He wanted to motivate readers to compassion and change. Cry, the Beloved Country, his first novel, dug deep to expose the implications of apartheid on individuals, family and society. It was groundbreaking, bringing the faces of apartheid to readers worldwide. Paton became a prolific author thereafter.

Denise’s first reading was of his description of his birthplace, Durban, demonstrating his exquisite “wordscapes” that incorporate all senses. She ended her presentation with a video clip: We saw a rugby stadium and the singing of the new South African anthem in Zulu, Afrikaans and English in the post-apartheid “Rainbow Nation.” Transformation is happening.

In-between, Denise shared so much more.

FIND DENISE’S PRESENTATION SUMMARY HERE

J. Halls & S. Mattison

Chaim Potok: Rabbi, American Author, Mensch

Photo Deborah Thomas on Wikimedia Commons

Ritta used the word mensch, a particularly good person, to describe author Chaim Potok. Ritta discovered his novels through her curiosity about religions.

Chaim Potok was raised in the Bronx in a conservative Jewish family, received a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature, then became a rabbi. It was his three years as a chaplain in Japan and Korea after the Korean war that transformed his beliefs. He obtained a master’s and doctorate degree, led an active life as a Jewish academic and teacher, as a magazine editor and writer, in addition to being a novelist.

Not unlike Potok himself, his characters struggle to manage the tensions inherent in wanting to live for themselves against the backdrop of their families’ expectations and their traditional religious beliefs.

My name is Asher Lev, is Ritta’s favourite.

For much more, READ RITTA’S SUMMARY BY CLICKING HERE

Janet H & Helen