In the right hands,Della Mae
these 26 letters
dance into words,
that teach you,
and time and again
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.”
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.
Helle’s summary can be found here: https://calgarywomensliteraryclub.com/richard-flannigan/
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.
More information about Meg Braem and the Distinguished Writer program can be found on their web page: https://arts.ucalgary.ca/calgary-distinguished-writers-program.
The response to the reading was summed up by one member as: “I loved every minute of it”. I hope to see The Resurrectionist when we can meet in theatres again.
On March 23, 2021 Margaret S. introduced the club to the works of Lloyd David Jones, a contemporary New Zealand author. Jone’s novel “Mister Pip” was the recipient of a Commonwealth Writer’s prize and was short-listed for the Booker Prize.
Margaret demonstrated how Mr. Jones sees people in a different lens, sensitive to the complexity of human relationships. She discussed “Mister Pip”, “Paint Your Wife”, short stories from “The Man in the Shed”, and his memoir “A History of Silence”. Her emphasis on Jones’s ability to hear silence made me want to discover more about his work.
If you want to learn more, a summary of Margaret’s presentation can be found here: http://calgarywomensliteraryclub.com/lloyd-david-jones/
On March 16, 2021 Flora’s presentation on Joy Cowley’s literature for children and adults showed us how the author uses everyday situations to shed light on intimate relationships.
Joy Cowley is contemporary New Zealand author who writes adult and children’s fiction, and works of spiritual reflection. In her youth, she was apprenticed to a pharmacist – then married a dairy farmer and raised a family of 4 children. Her children’s character “Mrs. Wishy-Washy” is based on a dairy farmer’s wife.
Flora used a clip from “The Silk”, a short film Rodrigo Films based on Cowley’s novel, to show the quiet impact of her work for adults. (More information on the clip here: http://www.rodrigofilms.com/thesilk/.)
Flora’s presentation summary is coming soon.
Cecilia started our 2021 session by bringing to life the personal and professional successes and struggles of Miles Franklin. Ms. Franklin rejected her rural Australian upbringing in 1901 to product her first book, “My Brilliant Career”. Semi-autobiographical, it divided her family members, but found widespread success in Australia and across the world.
Ms. Franklin found a way to live a literary life, travelling to other countries, but returning to Australia in the 1930’s. Her estate established the Miles Franklin Literary Award, a lasting legacy recognizing excellence in Australian literature.
Cecilia’s presentation summary is HERE http://calgarywomensliteraryclub.com/miles-franklin/
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)
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.
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.
J. Halls & S. Mattison