In fall 2023 we embark on our new theme, the diverse Authors Who Have Never Been Presented.
Our program starts with a guest speaker on October 3: Mr. Tim Fox, Vice-President, Indigenous Relations & Equity Strategy, Calgary Foundation. Mr. Fox is the author of the children’s story, Napi kii Imitaa (Napi and the Dogs) and a contributing author of the children’s book “Siksikaitsitapi: Stories of the Blackfoot People” (2002).
As in previous years, our meeting will start at 1:30 pm with social time, followed by club business and the speaker from 2 pm until 3 pm.
As I’ve been working in the archives and reading about the history of CWLC, I’ve often wondered where our early club members obtained their books. Did they have personal libraries? Were they ordered by mail? Were there bookstores in Calgary in 1906?
I read (again) the minutes of the first meeting, 1906 February 9: “The 1st Vice President [Mrs MacDonald] was instructed to make arrangements with Osborne Bros Booksellers for the procuring of books.”
Later, in the minutes of the first meeting in 1909, October 9: “The question of books for the club was brought up….It was decided that each one should get hers at DJ [or PJ] Young’s bookstore.”
“Bookstores on 8th Avenue like Linton’s, Mackie’s and Osborne’s vied to satisfy Calgarians’ thirst for newspapers, magazines, books and educational texts. Citizens had their own private libraries, perhaps the most impressive being James and Isabella Lougheed’s, a collection said to have included 10,000 books.
Newspapers like the Weekly Herald, the Morning Albertan and the Eye Opener would have noted the progress of the city’s new public library in the final stages of construction in Central Memorial Park. The project was spearheaded not by city politicians, but by a group of avid readers: members of the Calgary Literary Women’s Club established in 1906. When the library opened in January 1912, chief librarian Alexander Calhoun noted that ‘the cupboard was bare in a few days.’ Over the decades, this jewel of a library would become a mecca for aspiring and established writers.“
Mackies Bookstore: Located on north side of Stephen Avenue in Thompson block (112A – 8th Avenue East). Shop also contained gunsmith business started in 1886 in partnership with Walter Grant Mackay. Bookstore begun in 1901; J. S Mackie was mayor of Calgary from 1901-1903. Image sourced from the Glenbow Archives.
Shaun Hunter spoke at our AGM (via Zoom) in 2021. She is the author of Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers and generously donated a copy of her book as the draw prize. More about Ms. Hunter and her work on literature and history can be found at http://shaunhunter.ca/.
On this April afternoon, snow was falling gently but steadily outside the Glencoe Club windows. Inside was nothing but cheer, as we still don’t take for granted the pleasure of meeting in person! Spring bouquets graced our tables. Our special guests were Calgary Public Library friends Sarah Meilleur (CEO) and Brin Bugo (Manager, Memorial Park Branch,) along with award-winning Calgary writer Sharon Butala. Cecilia read the 1927 poem “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann. Without knowing our guest speaker’s theme today, it was to be a perfect example of writing that remains relevant through time. Our buffet lunch was as delectable as it was a feast for the eyes!
Sharon Butala, a prolific author of fiction, essays, articles, poetry, and plays, has just published This Strange Visible Air: Essays on Aging and the Writing Life. Sharon began her talk by describing a time years ago when a press agent rejected her book for publication because it was “old-fashioned.” Feeling dismissed, then angry, this spurred her to publish an article in The Walrus, and since then she actively writes and speaks against “ageism.” She gave an overview of how writing styles have evolved from the 18th Century to contemporary authors. She concluded that she needn’t be apologetic for choosing to write in a style she prefers to call “traditional” rather than “old fashioned” (a term which has more to do with outdated words and syntax.) Personally, she is not fond of some current trends in writing and believes “traditional” humanistic stories will still be read with great pleasure by a multitude of readers today and in the future.
The Annual General Meeting was a celebration and a tribute. We surmounted the challenge of Covid this year by pivoting from in-person, to online, to in-person meetings. Our presenters introduced us to fascinating 21st Century authors, with lively discussions ensuing. Our Principles and Guidelines document was updated. Our website drew in 30% more visitors, resulting in some new members. This year, we began using online storage for Minutes and other important documents. Our Archivist ensures we continue to learn more about – and add to – our “story” in the Glenbow Archives. In short, the Club remains current, while honoring its past and traditions. We closed with our thanks to Helen who is leaving our executive team, to Natashia who is taking over as Program Chair, to all those who served last year, and to those who will serve on the new executive team. Our 2023-24 program will be “Authors who have never been presented to the Club, focusing on Canadian women writers.”
On April 18th, 2023, long serving CWLC member Cecilia K. gave an eloquent and engaging presentation on both Ukrainian-Canadian culture and on the works of Ukrainian author and journalist Andrey Kurkov. Cecilia is currently a Member-at-Large on the CWLC Executive and has been Social Chair and Vice-President in the past. She has previously presented on the authors Harper Lee, William Shakespeare, Diana Gabaldon and Miles Franklin.
Cecilia started her presentation with a reading about a childhood Christmas in her Ukrainian-Canadian household in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. The reading highlighted the Christmas traditions of sighting the first evening star and serving 12 meatless dishes. The story included the legend that animals could talk amongst themselves on Christmas Eve. The reading was a moving reminder of the link between this now embattled country and families across Canada.
Next, Cecilia discussed the life and works of Andrey Kurkov, who has become a leading advocate for Ukraine since the Russian invasion in 2022. Kurkov has been a prison warden, a cameraman, a screenplay writer, a journalist, and a write of fiction for adults and children. Since the invasion of Ukraine, Kurkov has dedicated himself to keeping the eyes of the world on the war.
Readings were given from Kurkov’s novels Death and the Penguin, Penguin Lost, and Grey Bees. These books mix culture and politics with humor and satire.
Cecilia quoted Kurkov: “As long as Ukrainian culture is alive, Ukraine is invincible”. Her presentation shows that Ukraine lives not just in the hearts of its people, but also in the traditions kept by people of Ukrainian descent wherever they call home, and in the others they touch.
Kurkov recently gave an interview to the CBC – link here.
Calgary is host to an annual Ukrainian Festival, which will be held June 3rd and 4th, 2023.
At the closing of the presentation, members kindly donated children’s books for refugee children who are learning English. This was our last member presentation on the theme “Authors of the 21st Century”. Our new theme was announced at our Annual General Meeting on April 20, 2023, which will be discussed in my next post.
On April 11, 2023 member Mary Liz Q. presented on the works of Canadian author Joseph Boyden. Mary Liz is currently CWLC Treasurer. Prior to retiring, she was a librarian and still loves the library.
Boyden’s novels Three Day Road, Through Black Spruce, Orenda, and Wenjack present the resilience of Indigenous culture in the face of state brutality in Canadian history and today. He uses violent situations to create tension in the reader and that tension ideally provokes the reader to learn more about Indigenous and Canadian history. Pain, brutality and drug use fill his works, alongside beautiful nature imagery that ties characters back to the land.
Mary Liz does not like an easy read – and with these books she didn’t get one. Three Day Road is the story of Indigenous men who enlist and become snipers in The Great War. The book recognizes the significant contribution of Indigenous Canadians in the military, and how they were treated before, during and after the war. Boyden posits that military service allowed Indigenous men to rediscover a warrior’s path. It also offers the hope that traditional culture can help returning veterans heal from a devastating war.
Through Black Spruce continues the story of the Indigenous family introduced in Three Day Road. In this book, the city is portrayed as a dangerous place with substance abuse and violence awaiting Indigenous men and women. Themes include the fading of tradition, the abuses of residential schools, and the power of family and friendship.
Orenda take the reader back to the early settlement of Canada, with conflict between the Huron (Wendat) and Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) First Nations and with early Catholic missionaries. Mary Liz notes that torture is at the heart of this book and it is not for the faint of heart. The role of violence in each of these cultures and how it is used to shape manhood is explored. The title refers to a certain spirit or energy that the Haudenosaunee believe is present in all things (to learn more, see wikipedia). This belief is anathema to the missionary. Violence and torture create tension in this book, offset by Boyden’s use of beautiful simile and metaphor.
Wenjack is a fictional retelling of the death of 12 year old boy who escapes residential school, only to die on the railway tracks leading 600 km back to his home. The novel is based on the life of Chanie Wenjack, who died age 12 in 1966 after fleeing residential school. Reporting of Chanie Wenjack’s story also resulted in the late Gordon Downie establishing the charitable organization: the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund.
Despite the challenging themes and graphically violent story-telling, Joseph Boyden is a compelling author. In recognition of this, he was awarded the Order Of Canada in 2015.
Next week, member Cecillia K. will present on the works of Andrey Kurkov (Grey Bees, Ukraine Diaries: Dispatches from Kiev). Members are reminded that donations of children’s books will be accepted after the meeting to be distributed to Ukrainian refugee families.
Margaret S., the presenting member on April 4, 2023, joined CWLC in 2010. She was introduced to the club by member Janet S. while they were both volunteering with the Calgary Police Service. Margaret has held various positions in the club Executive, including President (2016-2018). She has presented on a variety of authors in the past including Charles Dickens.
Margaret presented on selected works of the author Emma Donoghue. Ms. Donoghue’s extensive body of work have seemingly disparate characters and settings, but the novels Margaret discussed all portray characters pushed to their breaking point. For Margaret, Donoghue is a wonderful writer made outstanding by her curiosity and fascination with the human spirit.
The first reading was from Haven (2022), a novel about monks settling on a remote Irish island in the first millenium CE. The passage showed Donoghue’s skill in transporting the reader to a place that is strange, hostile and yet compelling. Next, Margaret read from The Pull of the Stars (2020), which is set in a few days of the “Great Flu Epidemic” of 1918. Like the characters, the reader is forced to confront their preconceived ideas and ingrained prejudices. For Margaret, the clear message was that we cannot assign our life experiences to others.
Room (2010) is Emma Donoghue’s best known work – it won a number of prizes and was made into a movie. Margaret discussed the book and what it really means to be imprisoned.
Margaret next discussed Slammerkin (2000), which is based on the life and death of Mary Saunders – a teen prostitute in 18th Century England. While little is known of the real Mary Saunders, Donoghue brings her to life along with the sordid underside of Georgian England.
Margaret finished with another reading from Haven, when the struggle between faith and starvation has driven one of the characters to a moral breaking point.
Next week, member Maryliz Q. will present on the works of Joseph Boyden.
On March 28, 2023 CWLC was pleased to host guest speaker Dr. Robert Boschman. Dr. Boschman (read more here), discussed his 2021 autobiography White Coal City. This is the book he has been working on “since he was child”, his life story – and his family’s story – wrapped in the history and culture of rural Saskatchewan.
The focal point of White Coal City is “the grandmother he never knew he had”, a grandmother lost tragically young to a senseless accident. The book tells of his experience coming into consciousness as a child becomes an adult – he ends the story in his mid-teen years. He also wanted to tell of the place he grew up in.
Dr. Boschman found he could not tell the story of his grandmother without telling the story of his large Mennonite family. He also wanted to discuss his parent’s loving and thoughtful decision to adopt an Indigenous child, his beloved sister, although this is his story not her story. Overall, he wanted to tell the truth without hurting anyone’s feelings and his parent supported this.
The author read 2 passages from the book. The first told of the moment he discovered his “missing” grandmother in 1970. The second reading told of the adoption of his sister and the bond he quickly formed with her.
Following the readings, Dr. Boschman answered questions from the group about his definition of place, his feelings about the hockey system, inherited trauma, and other topics. The readings and his answers demonstrated his passionate search for truth and healing in his family and in the world.
Next Tuesday member Margaret S. will present on author Emma Donoghue. Ms. Donoghue is the author of the novel Room and other works.
Wondering what to do with your Tuesday afternoons?
On March 21, 2023 member Helle K. presented on Canadian author Mary Lawson. Helle has been a member of the CWLC since 2010, when she was introduced to the club by member Ritta V. She discovered the works of Lawson through our program theme and fell in love with the way the author writes, reading some of her books twice.
Mary Lawson uses the isolation of small town Northern Ontario to create tensions and interactions between characters that would not occur in the big city. While the author has lived in London (UK) for many years, she draws inspiration from the landscape of her youth, setting her novels in the 1960’s and 70’s. Helle read a passage from Crow Lake, which described the setting of the story, which for Helle evoked memories of the northern Canada town where her own father worked.
After writing the very successful Crow Lake at the age of 55, Ms. Lawson wrote 2 additional books in the same setting, using some of the same characters. While not billed as such, Helle sees these first three books as a trilogy. The Other Side of the Bridge and Road Ends are page turners that highlight family dynamics and how people move forward from life’s tragedies. The plots come together as a result of how characters develop. Helle found that Road Ends is an apt title for the last of these three books, as this expression can mean the end of a journey, the end of a story, or the end of a life.
Helle next read from A Town Called Solace, the author’s fourth book. The books plot was inspired by a glimpse of 4 boxes through a window. The novel shows how three characters come together, and shows the reader what’s in the packing boxes.
While no one knows what the future holds, Helle hopes that more works are forthcoming from Ms. Lawson, perhaps even a novel set in London.
Next week, we welcome guest speaker Dr. Robert Boschman. Dr. Boschman currently chairs the department of English, Languages, and Cultures at Mount Royal University. Along with essay anthologies, he has published a book entitled White Coal City: A Memoir of Place and Family (2021).
At this meeting we welcomed a new member. We love to meet new people who enjoy literature. Will you be the next new member?
On March 14, member Anita M. presented on the works of Elizabeth Strout. Anita’s career as a psychologist likely explains her love for this author and her works. Anita found herself curious about Elizabeth Strout’s characters. They seemed like neighbours that one gets to know over the years, sharing everyday things and significant events in their lives.
Like Joan Didion, at a young age, Ms. Strout’s mother gave her scribblers in which to write down her observations of people. For Strout (and Didion) this resulted in an exceptional career in literature. Strout continues to write daily, by hand, arranging words that “fall on her ears the right way.”
Elizabeth Strout obtained degrees in English and Law, worked at a New York college, raised a family, and continued to write. Her observations of people came to fruition when at age 42 she published her first novel: Amy & Isabelle(1998). Like Strout’s subsequent books, it is situated in a fictional small town in Maine, similar to the ones she grew up in. The book became a bestseller and later a movie.
The author’s third book, Olive Kitteridge (2008,)won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize and has been turned into an HBO series. This book is an interconnected series of short stories depicting life’s journey. In 2014, Ms. Strout moved to a more conventional novel form with The Burgess Boys, which has also become a movie.
Anita’s favorite book is Oh William!, which takes place on a road trip that the protagonist Lucy takes with her first (now ex) husband William, a year after her second husband dies.
Anita shared many excerpts from the author’s books highlighting her writing style and characterizations. She shared that the author creates scenes in which she sees herself in each character. Major or minor characters, such as Olive Kitteridge, may crop up in later books, and these characters evolve with time. However, Anita noted that each book can be read on its own. Overall, Ms. Strout deals with the complexities of life in a way that is not sentimental or judgmental, and which doesn’t offer solutions.
As in her previous presentations to the club, Anita showed her own natural ease, grace and depth of understanding, while covering a large body of work.
Janet H. (and Shawna M.)
Join us on March 21, 2023 when member Helle K. will present on the works of Canadian author Mary Lawson.
On March 7, we gathered at the Library with old and new friends for the first CWLC meeting of 2023. It was great to see everyone.
Member Betty S. gave the a presentation on author Gary Shteyngart. Mr. Shteyngart’s work includes nonfiction, fiction, and scripts for television (Succession). Betty described his novels as screwball comedies of the 21st Century, but noted that they provide insight into the pitfalls of our time that may not be funny at all.
Betty started reading this author after she read a New York Times Book Review of Lake Success (2018). Her favourite Shteyngart work was his memoir Little Failure, which was what his parent’s called him. Betty discussed the author’s early years in the USSR, followed by his life in the “Technicolor pool” of the USA. She also gave a reading from Lake Success.
The author’s other novels are: The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (2002), Absurdistan (2006), and Our Country Friends (2021). In answer to an audience question, Betty said that if she was giving this author an award, it would be for his use of language, “clever, and when not clever, funny”.
Thanks to Betty for a great introduction to Gary Shteyngart and a great start to the year.