On April 20, 2021 club member Helle K. gave a presentation on the works of Australian (Tasmanian) author Richard Flanagan. The Zoom presentation brought to a close the regular meetings of the CWLC until autumn 2021.
Helle talked about the fictional works of Mr. Flanagan – she has read most of novels. Through readings and discussion, Helle showed his fiction to be complex with intertwined narratives and difficult subject matter. She highlighted her favourite of his works, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, which focuses on the challenges of Slovenian immigrants coming to Australia in the aftermath of WWII. It was described as a sad, poignant book that shows how we hurt the ones we love the most. It ends with the possibility of healing and redemption even after great pain.
I am interested in reading in a more recent work by Richard Flanagan: A Narrow Road to the Deep North, which won the 2014 Man Booker Prize. It is about an Australian prisoner of war forced by the Japanese to work on the Burma Death Railway during WWII. While the book is fictional, the author’s father was one such POW.
The first meeting in April was a guest speaker event, with Canadian playwright Meg Braem. Ms. Braem is currently the Canadian Calgary Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of Calgary Faculty of Arts. Ms. Braem was introduced by Alexandra Handley, who is a member of the Distinguished Writer program Steering Committee.
Ms. Braem gave an entertaining reading from a production draft of her play The Resurrectionist. The play shows the intersection of two bits of Canadian history: the exclusion of women from medical schools in the 19th century and the stealing of bodies from graveyards by medical students in Kingston.
After the reading, the author answered club members questions about her influences and her writing process.
Via a well-attended Zoom call on March 30, 2021, member Anne T. presented on the New Zealand crime writer Ngaio Marsh. I learned that Ms. Marsh was a rival author to Agatha Christie, writing 32 whodunit’s, mostly set in England. She shared a birthday with Shakespeare, and used that as motivation in a successful backstage career in Shakespearean theatre.
Anne’s favourite of Dame Ngaio Marsh’s novels was “A Surfeit of Lampreys” AKA “Death of a Peer”, which I hope to read in the near future. (I also learned that the Ngaio is a tree native to New Zealand).
Continuing with this year’s theme of “Writers of Australia and New Zealand,” on March 9, 2021 Betty S. presented Australian author Shirley Hazzard whose works, both fiction and non-fiction, reflect her fascinating life experiences particularly with respect to character and setting. Betty’s comprehensive and critical overview, especially of Hazzard’s award-winning novels The Transit of Venus (1980) and The Great Fire (2003), highlighted her biting wit and the quality of her prose. Celebrated for her vivid descriptions of both the natural world and the inner lives of her characters, Hazzard’s writing explores some of the major themes of the mid-20th century from the horror and displacement of war to the mysteries of love and friendship and the importance of luck and accidents in life.
With sadness, the Calgary Women’s Literary Club informs you of the passing of honorary member Lois Alger on January 6, 2021. Lois was a club member for more than 60 years and served as president in 1964-1965.
Lois lived in the era when a woman’s role centered on service to family and community. She actively supported husband Ross Alger in his position as Calgary mayor in the late 70s. Lois, the intellectual and lover of literature and ideas found her own personal haven with the Calgary Women’s Literary Club as an active member from 1950 to 2010. Club records show she researched and authored 28 presentations several of which extended over 2 to 3 weeks. There was some very serious literary analysis in those days. For example, in 1988 Lois presented William Falkner over a two-week period. Other authors of note that she presented on include Jane Austen, Virginia & Leonard Woolf, Toni Morrison, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
There was a a gap in Lois’s presentation activity between 1976 and 1981 corresponding to her husband Ross’s term as Calgary mayor. Even Lois Alger could not ‘do it all’.
Lois will remain a role model of personal friendliness and dedicated service to Calgary Women’s Literary Club.
On November 24, 2020 the club held the annual Winter Party by Zoom. For the first time ever, the party included a secret book exchange. Members gave a book from their shelf anonymously to another member and the gifts and givers were revealed during the Zoom call. This may be the start of a winter tradition.
The books, along with tea and cookies were delivered to member’s houses by couriers from the Executive. Many thanks to President Robin Stanford and all the Executive for making this happen seamlessly. Helen was a wizard at devising the exchange and the courier routes to minimize travel and keep anonymity up.
The Winter Party marks the end of CWLC meetings in 2020. We will resume in the spring of 2021 with the topic “Cultural Awareness/ Writers of Australia and New Zealand”. Greetings and best wishes to all CWLC members, their friends, their families, and other followers of this webpage, as 2020 – a year like no other -draws to a close.
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.
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.