Celebrating LGBT families at Laurier Brantford

Join us for an evening of discussion and readings from the new book A Family by Any Other Name: Exploring Queer Relationships, with editor Bruce Gillespie and local contributors Jason Dale and Ellen Russell.

Reading at Laurier BrantfordAt no other time in history have lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender relationships and families been more visible or numerous. A Family by Any Other Name recognizes and celebrates this advance by exploring what “family” means to people today. The anthology includes a wide range of perspectives on queer relationships and families; there are stories about coming out, same-sex marriage, adopting, having biological kids, polyamorous relationships, families without kids, divorce, and dealing with the death of a spouse, as well as essays by straight writers about having a gay parent or child. These personal essays are by turns funny, provocative, and intelligent, but all are moving and honest. Including writers from across North America, this collection offers honest and moving real-life stories about relationships and creating families in the twenty-first century.

WHEN: Wednesday, October 1
WHERE: Room CB 100 (Read Lounge), Carnegie Building
TIME: 6:30 to 8 pm

This is a free, public event and everyone is welcome. Copies of the book are available for sale at the Stedman Community Bookstore.

Shortlist announced for 2014 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction

The shortlist for the 2014 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction was just announced by Wilfrid Laurier University.

The three nominees are (in alphabetical order): Arno Kopecky for The Oil Man and the Sea, Allen Smutylo for The Memory of Water and Alison Wearing for Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter.

You can find out more about the books here. The winner will be announced in early September.

In praise of long, slow reads

With the publication of Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard’s multi-volume diary, My Struggle, in English this spring, there have been lots of pieces written about the value of reading long, challenging books, including this one by the Globe’s Ian Brown. Knausgaard’s diaries don’t particularly interest me as pleasure reading, but the stories about them set me thinking about my own picks for long, slow reads.

I’m not the first to observe that at a time when most of us monitor some sort of news feed for most of the day — be it an actual news feed, a social media stream or something else along those lines — our ability to concentrate on longer, more demanding writing seems to be shrinking. That’s my own experience, anyway. Our ability to focus on one thing and pay attention to it is like a muscle that doesn’t get as much of a work out as it once did, unlike our ability to scan.

So, when I feel like all I’m doing is scanning during the day, I switch up my usual pleasure reading habits and take on a longer, more demanding project — something that requires a lot of my attention and isn’t a quick read. Getting started on this type of reading is the hardest part, since it feels like such a different experience than most of the reading (scanning) I do during the day. But once I make it over that initial hump, I’m usually hooked.

I usually take on these long, slow reads during the holidays, both in the winter and during the summer, when I feel like I have a bit more energy and attention to devote to it (whether this is true not is another matter). Often, I use it as an opportunity to read a classic of some description, since making my way through older English grammar and punctuation is enough to slow me down from my usual quick pace of reading.

A few summers ago, I decided to read through the works of Jane Austen. I’d read Pride and Prejudice in school and picked up Sense and Sensibility at one point on my own (maybe after the movie?). I remembered enjoying them and being surprised by how funny they were (actually funny, not just funny-for-a-classic-English-novel kind of way), so I dove into the rest of the Austen canon (except for her juvenilia). As far as classics go, Austen’s books proved to be a fairly easy read. Punctuation is used differently than we use it today, so that makes it for a bit of a slower read, but overall, I found them quite straightforward. My favourites of Austen’s new-to-me books: Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

After my Austen reading ended up being less challenging (read: onerous) than I had expected, I thought I’d up my game and move on to George Eliot’s (aka Mary Ann Evans’s) Middlemarch, a book that I’d often read about, particularly in comparison to Austen, but never actually read. It’s a longer read than Austen’s novels and a bit more realistic and darker, but once again, I quite enjoyed it, once I got past the opening essay and into the actual plot.

After that, I moved into something quite a bit different: Cao Xueqin’s series The Story of the Stone (the first of the five volumes is called The Golden Days). This was my first foray into Chinese literature of any sort, let alone Chinese literature from the 18th century. But I’d read this piece about the series in The Telegraph, about how seminal the books are in China but more or less unheard of in the western world, and decided to give them a shot, especially as they were readily available an inexpensive, attractive Penguin translation.

Briefly, the books are about one family’s dramatic rise to and fall, told in exquisite detail. It took me a while to get into the books — I know little about Chinese literature or history, so a lot of the allusions were lost on me — but just as with Middlemarch, once the plot picked up and I came to recognize the characters (there are lots of them), I was hooked and made my way through all five volumes quite quickly and was sad to see them end (to say nothing of the family members’ mostly tragic ends). A lot of the action takes place in the main family’s “garden,” essentially park built inside an enormous courtyard, with different types of gardens and lakes and even a mountain. The description of the garden being built and its many features were entrancing. I keep telling people I know to try out these books, and even gave my brother a copy of them for Christmas one year, but so far, I think I’m the only person I know who’s read them. I hope that changes, because they’re a great read.

After tackling Chinese literature, I thought I’d go in a different direction this year. Knowing that I’d be making my first visit to Paris in the spring, I picked up Marcel Proust’s six-volume In Search of Lost Time. So far, I’ve made it through the first two books. I’d always heard that Proust made for a tough read, and I thought it was because his writing was particularly complicated, but it isn’t. Especially for a translation, his writing is easy to follow and much more modern-feeling than I’d expected. But it is slow going: written as a long stream of consciousness, the books recount the main character’s memories of childhood, and the writing is so lovely that, for me at least, it becomes quite mesmerizing, so that it’s easy to find yourself at the end of the page, wondering what you just read. So, it takes a lot of attention, but the reward is great. The writing is some of the loveliest I’ve encountered, and Proust had a wonderful eye and mind for imagery. Although the one of the madeleine is the one that I heard most about, it was his description of moonlight coming in through his bedroom window’s shutters, casting a ladder of moonlight across his bed, that captured me from the opening chapter. I’ve taken a break from Proust for the moment, as I have some other books I’d like to get caught up on, but I’m looking forward to returning to him.

 

 

Food for thought

I came across this wonderful quotation in Tracy Kidder’s book Among Schoolchildren, about the year he spent in a Grade 5 classroom in Holyoke, Massachusetts (which I’m auditioning for the literary journalism course I’ll be teaching this winter):

Many people find it easy to imagine unseen webs of malevolent conspiracy in the world, and they are not always wrong. But there is also an innocence that conspires to hold humanity together, and it is made of people who can never fully know the good that they have done.

The book is masterful, both in terms of Kidder’s writing and his research. It’s one tiny heartbreak after another but a great read for anyone who spends time in a classroom.

Scenes from a convocation

One of my favourite parts of the academic year is convocation. Not just because it signals the beginning of summer, but because of the opportunity to celebrate our students’ years of hard work. I forget from one year to the next how excited students are at convocation: they recognize what a milestone it is and that it marks the beginning of the next stage of their lives, even if, in some cases, they aren’t sure what that is just yet.

For the third year in a row, I was privileged to be the marshal at all three ceremonies at Laurier’s Brantford campus (one co-hosted with Nipissing University for our Concurrent Education students and then one each for our Faculty of Liberal Arts and Faculty of Human and Social Sciences students). While most, if not all, of the other faculty present at convocation sit on stage, with the rest of the platform party (the university chancellor, president and various distinguished guests), the marshal leads the student procession to convocation (and gets to wield the marshal’s baton, which students always say looks like something from Hogwarts. Expecto, alumni!). At the Brantford campus, this involves a walk through downtown to the Sanderson Centre.

The Laurier Alumni association did a great job of documenting convocation on social media. Here’s a short video of me leading students in the procession to the Sanderson Centre:
We’re always led by a piper:

It’s students as far as the eye can during the procession along Dalhousie Street:
Some of the alumni photographers were really getting into the spirit of celebration with photos of convocation shoes:

They even captured some of the gentlemen’s shoes, which I thought was a nice touch:

Honourary degrees were presented at each of the ceremonies. The Expositor has great write-ups about each of the recipients: Ron Jamieson, co-chair of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal business; Walter Gretzky, Canada’s foremost hockey dad and noted philanthropist and Ursula Franklin, a pioneering scientist, pacifist and feminist.

There’s also a good write-up (and a front-page photo!) about convocation in the new issue of The Sputnik:

 

Review in Curve magazine

Thanks to the many folks who let me know that A Family by Any Other Name was recently reviewed in Curve, the best-selling lesbian magazine. The review wasn’t online last week, when I first heard about it, but I managed to snag a print copy while in Toronto this weekend.

Naturally, the review is now available online, and you can read it here. In the review, William Northup says:

This collection comes from a sometimes brutal but consistently affirming place of honesty, which makes it both fascinating and essential reading.

It’s also nice to see that we’re reviewed alongside another great Canadian title: Natalie Meisner‘s Double Pregnant: Two Lesbians Make a Family.

Teach digital media and journalism at Laurier Brantford

It’s that time of year again, when the digital media and journalism program at Laurier Brantford posts its part-time teaching positions for the next academic year.

We’re currently looking to staff 12 courses:

  • JN202: Cross-Media Storytelling
  • JN204: Media, Law and Ethics
  • JN208: Issue-Based Research
  • JN/MX211: Introduction to Media Studies
  • JN214: Political Journalism: Principles and Practice
  • JN252: Designing Digital and Social Media
  • JN253: Introduction to Public and Media Relations
  • JN261: News Photography
  • JN/HR312: Advocacy Journalism: Principles and Practice
  • JN318: Newsroom I
  • JN/MX327: Social Documentary
  • JN423: Journalism Capstone

You can find links to job details and course descriptions here (click on postings in the Faculty of Liberal Arts). The deadline to apply is June 9.

Reviewed in Quill & Quire

In my recent review round-up, I somehow forgot to mention that A Family by Any Other Name was also reviewed in Quill & Quire (I blame two weeks of easy access to French wine: see previous post).

In a review that does not appear to be online, author Stacey May Fowles (Infidelity, Be Good) writes:

The rigid expectation of what a “family” should look like is something many of us find stifling as we move toward creating our own. Nowhere is this struggle more keenly felt than in the queer community, which faces social and legal hurdles that make the pursuit of family difficult, impossible, or even dangerous. For this reason, a collection of first-person narratives on queer family is liberating and necessary.

She goes on to write:

In one particularly stunning piece, Dorianne Emmerton candidly reveals the fact that she never had a desire to be a mother, but through a unique set of circumstances is able to be an integral part of a child’s life. “I’m more comfortable now because I realize that, while some people change their lives to focus on their child, it is possible to integrate a child into your life instead.” This book is about exactly that — what is possible in the face of what you’re told is not.

I learned today that the book also got a good review in the new issue of Curve, North America’s best-selling lesbian magazine, but I haven’t seen it yet, so I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE: The Quill & Quire review is now available online!

Catching up with more great reviews

While I was in France for the past two weeks, two more great reviews came out for A Family by Any Other Name. (I’m sorry: there’s just no way to write “I was in France for two weeks” without implying “…and you weren’t. Ha!” I tried. I really did.)

The first was in Bunch, a Toronto-based online magazine for “parents everywhere living an exuberant, urban, connected family life.” In her review, journalist Meri Perra said

The stories are beautiful, without shying away from intelligent critique. They are by turns tragic and joyful….The essays in A Family By Any Other Name are stories of choosing family, of liberation and of acceptance, and all the ways that through work and love we are better off through this thing that we define as family.

The second review was in the Library Journal, a highly respected American magazine by and for librarians. Unfortunately, this review hasn’t made it online yet, but in the print edition, New York librarian Jessica Spears calls the book:

A well-written, inspirational, and light read, recommended especially for those questioning how their queer or non-traditional family fits into society.