Alice Munro · books · Canadian books · Canadians · short story · Uncategorized

New Canadian Authors to Discover

My recent trip to the Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story in Bayfield and Wingham Ontario earlier this month was a treat.  Although I was only able to attend the sessions on Saturday I was not disappointed.  I heard one of my favourite Canadian voices as Ami McKay took the stage and delighted the audience with her process and a short selection from The Witches of New York.  McKay is fast becoming one of my favourite authors as I have been a fan since her debut novel The Birth House.  Her writing process and her interest in historical events, people and places gives her stories life and the connections to her own relatives is fascinating.  If you have not read McKay’s work yet, please do so because she is one of the best.

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Further I was introduced to new voices including Sarah Meehan Sirk and her debut of short stories called The Dead Husband Project.  Please read my review of this brilliant new Canadian voice in the link.

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In addition to Meehan Sirk, I was introduced to my first transgendered writer Casey Plett.  Plett is a new voice in Canadian literature and her novel, Little Fish tells the tale of a Wendy, who is transgendered coming back home only to learn that her grandfather may have also been transgendered.  Shockingly, the grandfather was from a devout Mennonite background at a time when transgendered would not have been discussed.  Plett offered the audience a little glimpse of her story (see picture above) and I was so intrigued as she started to tell Wendy’s story.  She writes with vivid candour and develops each character’s voice in a unique way.  I look forward to reading more of her work.  Casey was exceptionally gracious and kind as she signed books at the end of the panel.  Always a thrill for a bibliophile like me!

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Lastly during the festival I was so fortunate to hear from established Canadian-Irish writer Emma Donoghue who was so funny and intriguing to listen to.  She had the audience captivated from her first word.  Although slated to read from The Wonder, her latest novel, she opted to instead read to us a hilarious story she had written for radio called The Road Taken (a nod to Robert Frost).  She did not fail in her delivery as the audience laughed out loud at the absurd tale of a mother harshly criticized on social media.  I will never hear the word (#) hashtag the same way again.  Donoghue’s commentary on social media and her insight into writing in general was refreshing and very inspiring.

Overall I am so happy that I took the solo road trip to the festival.  It was well worth my time and what I learned from each author was incredibly invaluable as not just a reader and writer, but as a teacher too.  I look forward to going to the Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story in 2019.

Alice Munro · books · Canadian books · Canadians · short story

The Short Story and my love affair with famed Canadian author Alice Munro

I vividly remember my first look into the literary world of Alice Munro. I was in my first year of university at Brescia College in London, Ontario and my thoughtful professor had enough foresight to include The Lives of Girls and Women on the syllabus. That book was a wonder and changed how I read short stories forever.

For those who do not know about Alice Munro, you should. Most recently I introduced her flavourful writing style to my book club when we read Dear Life published in 2012. I have to admit, I was shocked many of these women who I admire greatly had never read anything by one of my favourite writers. How could this be? The average age of book club members is 65 and I was astonished she had been missed by these well-read women.

Munro is the kind of writer that has a unique voice. Her characters come alive in their simplicity and complicated lives. She writes equally in a woman’s voice or a man’s or a child’s for that matter. Not all writers can successfully pull that off. When I read stories by Munro I am transported to that place and time easily. She writes paying special attention to local colour, dialogue and setting as she tells each story. The details are memorable long after the book closes.

“His tan looked like pancake makeup, though it was probably all real. There was something theatrical about him altogether, tight and glittery and taunting. Something obscene about his skinniness and sweet, hard smile.”
-from the story Mischief from Who Do You Think You Are? (1978)

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Munro is an author I have come to greatly admire as each of her books gets better and better with time. I have always appreciated the characters she creates in her stories. From my first meeting with Munro through her character Del in The Lives of Girls and Women to other characters like Flo and Rose who grappled with the realities and hardships of growing up. Munro was not afraid to write female characters who were challenging sexual stereotypes, engaging in risk-taking behaviour and really, enjoying an odyssey of self-discovery. This is most likely why her stories resonated with me in that first year English class.

As a Canadian, I also have a deep appreciation for the settings that Munro chooses in her stories. Some are just SO Canadian that I can feel like I’ve been there before. Some are reflective of small town Ontario while others venture into bigger cities like Toronto and Vancouver.

“Now there was a village. Or suburb, perhaps you could call it, because she did not see any Post Office or even the most uncompromising convenience store. The settlement lay four or five streets deep along the lake, with small houses strung close together on small lots. Some of them were undoubtedly summer places
— the windows already boarded up, as was always done for
winter season.”
-From Runaway published in 2004.

As much as I admire all of Alice Munro’s books I probably liked Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage the best. Published in 2001, this collection of nine stories is a work of literary art. Each character so uniquely different telling a story that is their own. The dialogue is sharp and quick-witted when called for. Her characters are described in minute detail: “…a woman with a high, freckled forehead and a frizz of reddish hair came into the railway station and inquired about shipping furniture. …Her teeth were crowded to the front of her mouth as if they were ready for an argument.” Amazing. I can see her now. As a reader who readily enjoys descriptive writing, Munro is a marvel.

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One summer my family and I accidentally came across The Alice Munro Literary Gardens in her hometown of Wingham, Ontario. For a bibliophile like me, this was like seeing a rock star. All of her works were there with a beautiful small garden to wander through. Munro has also received numerous awards for her body of work and many of the attributes were on hand to view. She is a much celebrated and admired writer of my country.

As I close this blog post I credit Alice Munro for cultivating my love of the short story. It is not an easy feat as a writer to achieve a successful short story that is engaging and entertaining. Because of her, I have sought out short stories and discovered new authors along the way which is one of the best things about reading. I urge you to find an Alice Munro collection and read it. She is engaging, witty and writes with considerable depth and consideration. I hope you enjoy her as much as I do.

poetry

Glorious Words

Poetry has been long criticized for not appealing to the masses but I tend to disagree.  Poetry can be a very unique voice in the world of words.  Sometimes there are rigid and forced rules and other times, poets reject all forms of rules and write freely.  One thing poetry is or at least should be to all people is voice.  A voice to condemn.  A voice to praise.  A voice to lament and a voice to share joy.

During my university days I indulged in poetry as often as my timetable would allow.  Although some of the courses I signed up for were compulsory, many were not.  I loved and still love the language of poetry.  I had forgotten that until recently.

Rupi Kaur is a Canadian woman of Punjabi descent who has rocked the literary world with her debut book of poems called milk and honey.  How sweet it was as I flowed through each page pausing and absorbing this woman’s voice.  The writing was lovely yet some of the poems were jarring and gave me pause as I murmured in agreement with the poems and their meanings.  It is not a book for everyone as the subject matter can be difficult — abuse, love and loss, violence and feminism.  And yet it is so necessary in our #metoo world to hear this poet’s fresh voice.

Evidently some literary purists have decided that Kaur is not a poet at all but I weep for them because they do not know what they are missing by ignoring this voice.  She paints with her words lovely and raw images of what it is like to be in a relationship both healthy and not.  She paints with those same words depression and sadness yet offers us light.

Kaur’s follow-up to the best-selling milk and honey is a beautiful collection called the sun and her flowers.  I ear-marked many pages in this book of poetry.  Parts of the book are clear declarations of her love for her mother but she also writes about loss and trauma as well as all forms of love.  One of my favourites in this collection is about time.

“…life does not stop for anybody / it drags you by the legs / whether you want to move forward or not / that is the gift…”

As Kaur writes, she gives a message of resilience and strength.  That we are more than we think we are.  Her poetry offers hope in a world of much despair.  the sun and her flowers is a great anthology separated into parts that include: “wilting”, “falling”, “rooting”, “rising” and “blooming”.  The flower(s) becomes this beautiful metaphor for her poetry and her exploration of self.

So I give thanks to Rupi Kaur for re-awakening the word-lover in me for I had forgotten she was there.  Will I still return to the classics like Wordsworth, Shelley, Browning and Keats in my well-worn 2652 page Norton Anthology of English Literature – The Major Authors that I lugged around campus all those years ago?  Yes I will but I will keep my eyes wide open for those new voices that have been calling my name.  It’s time I heard them.