Shortlist for 2015 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction

The shortlist for the 2015 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction, as administered by Wilfrid Laurier University, has been announced.Staebler

The finalists, in alphabetical order by surname, are:

The winner will be announced in September, with award ceremonies to follow later in the fall. You can read more about the award and the finalists here.

Talking about life without kids

I had the pleasure of taking part in a discussion about life without kids on TVO’s The Agenda With Steve Paikin a few weeks ago, which aired last night. I was there to talk about my own experience as a childless guy as well as my book Nobody’s Father: Life Without Kids. I joined journalist Liane Kotler and writer Molly Peacock (whose The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 I highly recommend). It was a great discussion, sensitively and thoughtfully moderated by Paikin. You can watch our discussion in the above video.

Edna Staebler, literary journalist

I’m pleased to share some research I’ve been working on for the past couple of years about Edna Staebler’s legacy as a pioneering female literary journalist in Canada.

Edna StaeblerMost Canadians who know of Staebler probably think of her as a cookbook writer or philanthropist–and rightly so. That’s how I used to think of her, too. But before that, she was a magazine writer.

That was a part of her career I didn’t know about until I started judging the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction at Wilfrid Laurier University. At the award ceremony each fall, someone reads out Staebler’s biography, which mentions the writing she did for Maclean’s and Chatelaine before becoming a celebrated cookbook writer. After hearing about this for a couple of years, I finally thought I should see if I could find this work, given that I teach magazine writing.

Although her work isn’t readily available electronically (her magazine work was published between the late 1940s and early 1960s), hard copies are available in Staebler’s archives at the University of Guelph Library. And what a treasure they are: they are beautifully written, richly detailed stories about ordinary Canadians across the country that stand up as well today as they did when she first wrote them.

If you’re interested in learning more about this part of Staebler’s career, you can read all about it in my article “The Works of Edna Staebler: Using Literary Journalism to Celebrate the Lives of Ordinary Canadians” in the new issue of Literary Journalism Studies.

Here’s the abstract:

Edna Staebler’s legacy as one of Canada’s early, mainstream literary journalists has been overshadowed by her later success as a cookbook writer and philanthropist. But her magazine profiles from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s deserve more recognition for their richly detailed narrative style and focus on ordinary Canadian families that lived in isolated communities or were members of marginalized cultural, ethic, and/or religious groups.

You can read the article here.

Laurier digital media and journalism hiring journalism instructors

Wilfrid Laurier University’s Digital Media and Journalism program is now accepting instructor applications for Fall 2015 and Winter 2016. The following courses are available:

JN202: Cross-Media Storytelling

JN204: Media, Law and Ethics

JN211: Introduction to Media Studies

JN213: Reading Media

JN214: Political Journalism

JN253: Introduction to Public and Media Relations

JN261: News Photography

JN312: Advocacy Journalism: Principles and Practice

JN423: Journalism Capstone

Full details are available here (click on Faculty of Liberal Arts). The deadline for applications is June 4.

We won an IPPY!

I had some great news from my publisher, TouchWood Editions, this week: A Family by Any Other Name has received a national medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards (known as the IPPYs).

IPPY silver medalWe received a silver medal in the Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans Non-Fiction category.

The IPPYs were launched in 1996 “to bring increased recognition to the deserving but often unsung titles published by independent authors and publishers,” according to the program’s website. “This year’s IPPY medalists represent 45 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia, six Canadian provinces, and ten countries overseas: Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom.”

This was a lovely surprise, since I hadn’t realized we were even nominated, and it feels great to receive an award from a program that celebrates independent book publishers considering all of the support and encouragement I’ve received from TouchWood Editions over the years in sharing the kinds of stories that often go untold.

So, thanks to my wonderful publisher and my talented writers for all of their dedication–this is an award for all of us!

Lambda Literary Award finalist

LammyFinalist_Small_Web_v3Big news: A Family by Any Other Name is a finalist in the LGBT anthology category of the 27th annual Lambda Literary Awards! For those who are unaware, the Lammys, as they’re affectionately known, are the preeminent awards for LGBT and queer literature. As Quill and Quire reported, I’m one of 16 Canadians up for a prize (and by I, in this case, I of course mean my 21 amazing contributors, without whom there would be no book).

Winners will be announced at a ceremony in New York City on June 1.

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 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 (so far, at least) 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.