On November 17, 2020 Anne-Marie Duma presented the two Norwegian 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.
The Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s magazine Westword published an article about our Club in their October-December 2019 issue. Moorea Gray wrote the article, and we have been granted kind permission to post this article on our website.
Further information about the Club can be found by clicking on ABOUT US
THE CALGARY WOMEN’S LITERARY CLUB A book club with a difference (then and now) Moorea Gray
The Calgary Women’s Literary Club (CWLC) — founded in 1906 by Annie Davidson — is a self-described “book club with a difference.” With the diversity of book clubs emerging among friends and in communities, libraries and schools — some led by television and Internet celebrities — you might wonder what makes CWLC different. Although some elements of the club evolved over the past 113 years, the structured program, dedicated membership and rich legacy of literary study and community involvement all contribute to the club’s distinctiveness and long-lasting success.
Club meetings don’t consist of members reading and discussing the same book. Instead, one member prepares a 30-35-minute talk based on her choice of an author. Every two years, the executive committee selects a theme upon which presentations are based. This year, for example, the theme is “Cultural Awareness Through Literature” and presentations include the works of Richard Wagamese and Susanna Moodie, among others. In addition to member presentations, guest speakers make appearances. Distinguished guest authors have included W.O. Mitchell (1966) and Grant MacEwan (1981).
Membership comes with a yearly fee of $40 ($0.25 in 1906). Like Davidson and her fellow readers, CWLC members are creative, well-read, interesting and passionate about literature and learning. Members are expected to attend regularly and present every other year.
Since 1906, presentation summaries, meeting minutes and other documents of interest have been housed in the Glenbow Museum’s Library and Archives. Soon, the materials will move to the University of Calgary. These archives provide details of club activities and literary trends, community events, women’s rights and world history.
Although community engagement is not the purpose of the guild, when the opportunity arises, the CWLC gets busy. In 1915, members helped to pay for seamstresses for the Military Chapter of the Red Cross. In 2018, the club purchased a window in support of the Calgary Public Library’s Windows of Opportunity fundraising program with a bequeathed sum of money from a past member. Members take pride in honouring Davidson’s legacy; it’s not uncommon for the executive to ask, “What would Annie do?”
A widow in her late sixties, New Brunswick-born Davidson (née McKean) held the first CWLC meeting in her home on February 9, 1906. ” At the first meeting, by-laws were drawn up, officers elected and program topics chosen. Early meetings were devoted to rather heavy works, e.g. Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V, and world affairs and current events. By the 1920’s they were devoted to pure literature. Attendance ranged from 25 to 30.” (Source: “Our History,” CWLC website, calgarywomensliteraryclub.com)
Davidson, aware that the growing city of Calgary would profit significantly from a library, applied for a Carnegie Foundation library grant. From 1883 to 1929, Andrew Carnegie — a Scottish-American philanthropist — helped fund the building of more than 2,500 libraries worldwide, of which 125 are in Canada. “A library outranks any other thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never-failing spring in the desert,” said Carnegie. To obtain funding from the foundation, Calgary was required to provide land for the library site, and a petition of one-tenth of the male electorate’s signatures was needed. Thanks to Davidson’s leadership and determination, the foundation provided a grant of $80,000, and the Central Memorial Library opened in 1912. The first CWLC meeting held in the beautiful sandstone building was on February 6 of the same year. Unfortunately, Davidson died in 1910 — a few years before the library’s opening.
The CWLC is the oldest club of its kind in Canada. Today, the club meets every Tuesday afternoon in March, April, and October and November at the Memorial Park Library (previously named Central Memorial Library). Coffee and treats are served at 1:30 P.M. A welcome and administrative note from the club president is followed by the presentation and a question and answer period.
The CWLC has a current membership of 35 women. New members are welcomed and encouraged, and men are welcome to attend as guests. For more information and to submit an online membership application, please visit our website (calgarywomensliteraryclubcom). No longer are two written references required — as in the early years — but only a keen interest in literature.
Mooréa Gray holds degrees in English literature and education. She has been a member of the CWLC since 2016. Along with raising her family and teaching, Gray has devoted much of the last decade to researching Icelandic-Canadian poet Stephan G. Stephansson and published an anthology of his translated poetry in August 2019. She is a native of Calgary, where she lives with her family.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 2018, between one CWLC presidency and the next, Margaret Sparkes and Doloris Duval shared the honour of joining the Calgary Public Library CEO Bill Ptacek as he dedicated a plaque to the Memorial Park Library.
I have a hunch that being a President of our club is never dull, but Doloris had a few unique challenges (Ahem! opportunities.) Her presidency was book-ended by a blizzard requiring her to cancel the first meeting (ever!) in Fall 2018, and the pandemic which meant CWLC’s Spring 2020 season and all its fine plans were nipped in the bud. All in all, Doloris led us in times that often required more than the usual CWLC presidential intelligence, steady hands, grace and fortitude. Thanks so much from all of us, Doloris!
It is always with sorrow that we announce a passing of one of our members. Kay Coutts was an enthusiastic member of the Calgary Women’s Literary Club. From 1989 to 2010, she entertained and educated us with presentations on a wide range of authors including Pearl S. Buck, Susanna Moodie, Sir Winston Churchill, Leo Tolstoy, and Doris Lessing to name a few. She did about fifteen talks in ten years! She continued to join our meetings thereafter. She will be missed.
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.
At 114 years young, the Calgary Women’s Literary Club will be meeting for the first time ever on Zoom, and not in our beloved Memorial Park Library.
If you are new to Zoom and need help getting started, please let us know. One of us will provide support and/or extra practise with Zoom, prior to the first meeting.
Our first meeting on Tuesday, October 6 will be an informal one, to let members visit and try out the technology. So… no commute, no parking woes! Instead, about 1:45-1:50 pm, take a last look in the mirror, grab a nice beverage and snack, and settle into a comfy chair at home across from your computer screen. Find the email you will have received from us containing the Zoom link. Click on it, optionally hold your breath or (better yet) take a sip, and you should be ushered in.
Guests are welcome: Email us at email@example.com
The following week, we will continue with our long-awaited Cultural Awareness Through Literature session.