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About Books

Local books, universal journeys: The 2018 Newfoundland & Labrador Book Awards

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There is a strength to local writing grounded in, but not limited to, connections to Newfoundland and Labrador. You can see this in the six books nominated for the 2018 Newfoundland and Labrador Book Awards, in the categories of Fiction and Children’s/Young Adult this year. There’s something about recognizing place. Now that I have come to know the streets of St. John’s, I can walk in Wanda Jaynes’ footsteps through Georgestown to Sobeys, thanks to Bridget Canning. I know someone who lives near the street Maureen grew up on and I recognize the significance of her desire to get away, as Mary Walsh did when she came up with Maureen’s story. And like Johnny, I am familiar with the bizarre connections that can be formed with strangers on the road here, as Joel Thomas Hynes writes.   Reading the three children’s books, I saw what Lar’s Fruit Stand looked like through…

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The year of Newfoundland’s triumph

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1974. For most of us, it’s just a year – either one buried in distant memory, or one we are too young to have even experienced. Places have a longer memory, however, and for Newfoundland and Labrador, the year was a momentous one. It marked the province’s twenty-fifth anniversary of Confederation with Canada: an event celebrated with awkward abandon, including a series of disastrous dinners and fishing expeditions with the country’s premiers. For a new generation that had grown up after the entire Confederation imbroglio, it was an exciting time, and one aptly reflected in the province’s first big national game-show triumph. Reach For the Top was a quiz-style trivia program broadcast nationally on CBC television from 1966 to 1989 (with a brief revival in the mid 2000s). Teams of high school students across the country competed for prominence, and no Newfoundland team had ever won. But that year—1974—a team…

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Waste, weeds, and poetry

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Waste defines not only the modern era, but modern humanity, according to some writers. We are what we throw away. Or: we are because we throw away. Yet, waste has been invisible to many of us most of the time. No longer. Today waste is appearing everywhere. It isn’t staying neatly out of the sight of the middle and upper classes. It’s on our streets; it’s on our beaches; it’s in our fish and in our birds. There’s a waste research fund here at MUN. Researchers are grappling with questions about social justice and micro plastics in our oceans and mapping e-waste as it travels around the globe. Amidst all this, one small book of poetry appears on the scene in Newfoundland and Labrador: Mary Dalton’s Waste Ground, a book of short poems from the point of view of local plants that have been categorized as weeds. Defined as waste,…

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Science fiction helps us understand the future as well as past and present

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When I started reading science fiction, in my teens, it was widely regarded as a disreputable form of literature. This was not surprising, since at that time—the early 1940s—sci-fi was confined to pulp magazines with lurid covers, often depicting scantily-clad heroines shooting ray-guns at BEMS (bug-eyed monsters). Living in Newfoundland at the time, while it was still a British colony, I had to order sci-fi periodicals from the United States. They had to be cleared by customs officers, who also doubled as the colony’s censors. The censor who examined the magazines mailed to me from New York was Mr. Howell, who happened to be our nearby neighbour. Shocked by the trashy cover art, he spent an hour or more leafing page by page through Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Weird Tales, searching for evidence of pornography or obscenity, all the while shooting suspicious glances at me. Fortunately, the stories…

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‘You’re not this and you’re not that’: author Lorri Neilsen Glenn

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A few years ago, an aunt told writer Lorri Neilsen Glenn  about her great-grandmother’s tragic death in a steamboat fire in 1908 in northern Manitoba. Wanting to know more, she started a journey that led her to histories she didn’t know were hers. Neilsen Glenn learned that she had roots in northern Indigenous and prairie Métis communities. The haunting account of her journey became Following the River: Traces of Red River Women, a book that gives the reader insight into uncelebrated histories, including the stories of Neilsen Glenn’s ancestors and their contemporaries. The book mirrors the fragmented nature of these women’s lives, Neilsen Glenn says. She shows us who these women are in a mix of evocative poetry, documentary material, and narrative prose. Together, these pieces offer the reader incredible glimpses of the lives of Neilsen Glenn’s ancestors based on what she could find in newspaper reports, archives, and museums. I wanted…

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War in Comics: ‘the training, the waiting, and the growing fear of the approaching invasion’

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Given the chance to interview Canadian cartoonist Scott Chantler, I was both thrilled and filled with angst. Scott has made quite a name for himself in the comics world. His most recent work, Two Generals, (the graphic biography of his grandfather’s experiences in WW2) was nominated for two Eisner Awards, distinguished by the CBC as one of the 40 best Canadian non-fiction books of all time, and was selected by comics powerhouse Françoise Mouly as one of the Best American Comics of 2012. And his comic series for children, The Three Thieves and his graphic novel Northwest Passage were also nominated for multiple prestigious awards. Chantler agreed to chat with me about Two Generals, a comic, based on the 1943 diary of his grandfather, Law Chantler. It tells the story of Law and his best friend Jack Chrysler during World War Two. At the beginning of the book, the two young men from Ontario travel to England…

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Bypassing Dystopia could free Canada from the clutches of neoliberalism

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The people in Canada who are intelligent, open-minded, and not ideologically conservative would probably number at least a million. But if only one in twenty of them—50,000—were to read Joyce Nelson’s latest book—Bypassing Dystopia: Hope-filled Challenges to Corporate Rule—the outcome could be a grassroots uprising that would free Canada from the corrosive clutches of neoliberalism. Canada would become the idyllic country of economic, social, and environmental well-being that our corporate and political leaders hypocritically boast it already is. For anyone who hasn’t read this book and doesn’t intend to do so, my prediction of its revolutionary effects may seem impossibly grandiose. Most of those who do read it, however, will almost certainly share my enthusiasm. Its stunning exposure of how neoliberalism has worsened poverty and inequality, while supplanting democracy with plutocracy, will both infuriate and motivate readers not yet aware of these and many other “free market” iniquities. A brief…

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“There’s no worse feeling in the world than feeling all alone in a city of seven and a half million people.”

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Seamus Heffernan is not the first Newfoundlander whose background in journalism led him eventually to fiction. But finding his home in crime writing has been the culmination of a long-held dream. “Some kids dream of wanting to be an astronaut, some kids dream of scoring a Stanley Cup overtime winning goal, but for me, I always wanted to be a writer,” he recalled, the day after the launch of his debut novel Napalm Hearts. “So I guess last night was my overtime winning moment.” Throughout years of working for newspapers, magazines, and policy think-tanks, Heffernan yearned to write a serious piece of fiction. “I knew if I did that it was going to be in the crime genre, it was always the one I was drawn to. That was the format I was most comfortable with and I thought you can have fun with it while also saying an awful…

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Does your voice chafe? A book launch, a crowd of people, and two dentist appointments

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I went to the book launch to see what Helen Fogwill Porter had to do with the the world I lived in. It was one of those things. I’d clicked ‘going’ on a facebook invite without actually knowing if I’d be able to attend. Like a lot of people, I have a lot on the go and I never know how my day will shape up until it arrives. But when my husband stepped up to take our daughters to their dentist appointments, that Thursday afternoon became unexpectedly clear. So I went.  I googled her name on my phone in the cab on the way there. She was born on the Southside  of St. John’s (and wrote a memoir about it). She’s been writing since the 1960s, novels, stories, and poetry. She’s a feminist. She was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2016. The year before that,…

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What could happen if the province increased funding to libraries?

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An event featuring three of the city’s top poets last week doubled as an occasion for library supporters to raise their voices in demanding an improved public library system for the capital city—and the province. The second event in The Once and Future Library series—organized by the St. John’s Public Library Board—took place on March 14 in the AC Hunter Public Library, and proved to be as lively as it was literary. All three poets, and the writers and librarians who introduced them, read from their works but also reflected on the value of libraries to themselves personally, as well as the role libraries play in the broader community. George Murray is a well-established poet. Author of eight books of poetry, as well as a published author of fiction and children’s literature, Murray has served as poetry editor for the Literary Review of Canada and contributing editor with Maisonneuve. In…

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‘Wounds don’t need to be closed’

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Mi’kmaq poet and writer Shannon Webb-Campbell was living in Halifax in 2014, the February that Loretta Saunders, a 26-year-old Inuk woman from Labrador, was murdered. “I felt devastated and I wondered how I could help in any way. And so I started thinking maybe I could write a poetry book about this,” Webb-Campbell said. Who Took My Sister? explores the different kinds of trauma Indigenous women live through, with, and alongside. I invited Webb-Campbell to join myself and two other women as we talked about her new book (to be released March 20). So, in the middle of February, at an office in the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre, three women met to talk with Webb-Campbell by phone about trauma, murdered and missing Indigenous women, and love. Métis cultural support worker with the Friendship Centre, Amelia Reimer, musician and community arts organizer Kate Lahey, and myself, a Métis writer and…

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From Newfoundland to the edge of the galaxy: Encountering Ursula K. Le Guin

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Le Guin’s worlds reshaped our own

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