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.”
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 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
The following week, we will continue with our long-awaited Cultural Awareness Through Literature session.
It has been far too long, yes it’s been quite a while, Since we greeted each other with a hug and a smile. And we listened intently to the paper being read, Agreeing to the comments with the nod of our head.
It’s been ages since the minutes were shared, And we nibbled on treats that a member prepared. The silence we feel brings a sigh to our hearts, This nasty Corona still keeps us apart!
But the good news is that we all still keep well, Just imagine the stories we’re saving to tell. Though our luncheon a virus has hauled off in stealth, Let us raise up our glasses with a toast to our health.
In my request for members to enliven our website while we could no longer meet, Janet S. took up the challenge and sent me some photos from Timbuktu, which until recently had a famous library. You must read on, lest we take libraries for granted. Timbuktu represents (or used to?) the most remote location on Planet Earth, wherever you live. Of course, our Janet S. has been there, with pictures to prove it. Two photos show the Timbuktu Library door. (Janet H.)
I visited Timbuktu in 2009, on my way to the Tuareg Festival in the Desert. Touring the dusty town, I was fascinated to hear of the history of this fabled city. It was once a rich trading centre, a crossroads in the trade of salt, gold and slaves, and the site of the first university in the Muslim world, established in 1140. It became famous for the study of sciences such as astronomy and medicine, as well as for literature and religion. I was shown the library, which held the handwritten manuscripts dating back to the establishment of the university. Many of the manuscripts remained in private hands. It was explained to me that many of the families who had passed them down through the generations were uncomfortable having all the precious manuscripts kept in one place. They felt that it was their duty to protect these ancient records of the past.
Their instincts were very good, as I was there at a very uncertain time. The private army of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi had just disbanded, and taking their weapons with them, they were making incursions into Mali. The people of Timbuktu were worried as to what the future would hold for them as they were Sufi Muslims and the fanatic Sharia jihadist Muslims from Qaddafi’s army were on the move south. The governments of all 8 of us in the tour group, Canadian, Australian, British and American sent warnings to us in Timbuktu that we should get out. We were all certain that we would be safe until after the festival. Luckily that was the case, and then we left rapidly. The Festival in the Desert went off well, carrying on the melodic traditions of the Tuaregs that stretched back at least to the times of the founding of Timbuktu. Many tribesmen had travelled hundreds of miles across the Sahara by camel to attend. I found out later that it was at this time that two Canadian diplomats had been kidnapped in Niger, and it turned out later that they were being kept in Mali, about 250 kilometres from where we were. About 2 months after, a tour group was attacked near Timbuktu and a British man and a German lady were killed. However, it was not until three years later that the jihadists burned the library of Timbuktu and destroyed the forty-two tombs of the prophets that were a feature of Timbuktu. Luckily, those manuscripts in private hands were smuggled out of the area.
If you ARE getting through some of those books on your shelves, consider showcasing your favourites here! Your recommendation can be added to the website, and archived in Category “I’m Reading.” (Check out the menu to the right.) These can be short and sweet, as if you’ve been asked to comment for a book sleeve. Just send your draft to the webmaster, Janet Halls.