A Literary Weekend

This weekend was Alberta Arts Days, the time of year when the Texas of the north proves to the rest of Canada it is not a cultural sinkhole. That it is more than just tarsand and delicious beef.

Actually, I don’t think the province cares what the rest of the country thinks – they do this for the sheer enjoyment of it.

And there is plenty to be enjoyed. Friday evening I was sipping wine and noshing at the Telus Centre Atrium at U of A while listening to several Governor General’s Award-winning authors. The Canadian Literature Centre sure knows how to host adult storytime.

First to read was Greg Hollingshead who chose “The Appraiser” from his collection of short stories, The Roaring Girl. I got the chance to chat with Greg quite a bit and I’m sure our paths will cross again at the Banff Centre, where he’s director of the literary arts program.

Next came Gloria Sawai, who read “The Dolphins” from A Song for Nettie Johnson.

Finally Rudy Wiebe took to the podium, reading excerpts from two of his novels, The Temptations of Big Bear and The Discovery of Strangers.
One of the best parts of the night was meeting Carol and two of her book club buddies, who are a writer’s dream: intelligent, generous readers who just adore books. I can only hope that someday my fiction falls into hands like those. And that one (or more?) of my books ends up in the hands of generous GG Awards jurors!
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Sunday afternoon I braved the cold and rain to attend the launch of the Writer’s Guild of Alberta’s Isabel Miller anthology. In this case I was the juror, and it was such a pleasure to meet the talented young writers I helped select for this anthology and for the writing competition’s top prizes.
It was standing-room only in the Stanley Milner library, as winners and family members (and a few curious members of the public) gathered for the event.

After several readings by honorable mentions, third-place winner Sabrina Dahl, 14, read her “exquisitely simple” poem, “The Dancer.”

Next came Laura Hon, 15, who won second place with a “devastatingly true” short story, “Good Enough.” Her reading brought several sniffles to the audience…
Here is first-place winner, Stephanie Li, 17, who penned a riveting short story called “What Comes Between” about a war photographer during the Vietnam War. Next to her (about to eat her cookie) is Erinne Sevigny, Edmonton teen writing group mentor for the WGA, and Rita Espeschit, WGA Program Director.
You can get the whole anthology online by clicking here.

My Secret Life

I can finally reveal my deep, dark secret life: I was a juror for the Isabel Miller Young Writers Award. Whew! There, now you know.

It was very hard for me to keep this secret for so long. Back in May I was approached by the Writers Guild of Alberta and my mission, if I chose to accept it, was to sit on a jury and judge hundreds of submissions of poetry and prose from 12 to 18 year olds. “Sure!” I said without a moment’s hesitation. “I love to judge people!”

But there was one caveat: I couldn’t tell anyone I was on this jury. “Not even my mom?” I asked, incredulous. The WGA rep laughed. “Okay, you can tell your mom – if she can be trusted!”

The need for all this secrecy is understandable. I mean, you wouldn’t want the entrants to know where to send gifts of chocolate, money, or cars. The Isabel Miller Award, after all, is arguably the top prize for young writers in Alberta. They’re in it to win it!

And this attitude showed in the high quality of submissions I received in June. The winner, Stephanie Li, blew me away (no pun intended) with her piece on a war photographer during the Vietnam War, “What Comes Between.” I read it over and over, marvelling at her talent.

The other winners, honorable mentions, and writers chosen for the anthology were similarly inspiring. And they are no hacks: Deana Freitas, 17, has a blog and has been involved in writing and the visual arts for quite some time. Janeen “Simply Jane” Dittmann is another blogster and writer in the making.

Now that the winners have been announced I can cast off my double-identity and tell the world about the talented writers here in Alberta. And I can look forward to meeting-and-greeting many of them September 19th at the launch at the Stanley Milner Library here in Edmonton.

But first I need to get back to work so I can keep pace with these up-and-comers!

Aviation, Writing and the Best Bud Light Ever: Conference Season 2010

While many were working on their yards and tans the past few weeks, I’ve been making the rounds of conferences. Which, in weather-changeable Alberta, is probably a safer bet.

The Creative Nonfiction Collective conference back in April started off the 2010 season. Held at the gorgeous Banff Centre, I let myself be inspired by the immensely talented writers around me and delighted in the deer grazing in the courtyards.

A couple of weeks later the Writers Guild of Alberta’s mini-conference and Literary Awards gala was just up the street at the Delta hotel. I sat at the back of the room both days – you know, where the troublemakers end up – and talked chicken fried steak with author David Poulsen, globalization with Gordon Laird, and diamonds with my new geologist friend, Michelle Tappert (who just wrote a book with her husband, brave girl!).

Other than the chance to hang out with other writers, the main thrill for me was hearing Will Ferguson’s keynote address. Not many people can have me crying with laughter at 9 a.m. But he’s also the only person who’s made Canada’s political history palatable to me (Bastards & Boneheads). Amazing!

By June 1st I was all the way over in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec for the 16th Annual Air Force Historical Workshop. When I first heard about this event, I thanked my lucky stars. After all, the theme was “De-Icing Required: The Canadian Air Force in the Arctic” and my next nonfiction project just happens to be a history of aviation north of 60. Kind of eerie, actually…

The ‘cool’ topic sure helped keep my mind off the fact it was humid, 30 degrees celsius, and I was staying in a ‘vintage’ dorm room at John Abbott College. Even so, I was the envy of the other non-military attendees (who had swanky lodgings at the Chateau Vaudreuil) because I had brought my own personal rotating fan. Thanks, mum!

By the second day of intent listening and notetaking, I was antsy and decided to skip on the dinner out. After a jog I ate cold leftover pizza (which my friend and RCAF historian Carl Christie protected in gallant style as you can see above) and drank an icy Bud Light. Normally I’m a bit of a beer snob, but at that moment I was in heaven. This Bud’s for ME!

By morningI was recharged and ready for the next conference, also held at the John Abbott campus. The Canadian Aviation Historical Society’s Montreal chapter hosted this year’s event and scheduled it to coincide with the Air Force one. Lovely! I got to reconnect with members from across Canada and meet some new folks.

And it’s a good thing I paid such close attention at all these conferences because it looks like I’ll be co-organizing the CAHS one in Edmonton next year! I certainly picked up some valuable tips:
  • make sure people can get coffee first thing in the morning
  • make sure there are plenty of cookies at the coffee breaks (I could never seem to get to them in time!)
  • and make sure there’s plenty of time for people to shoot the breeze while sipping an adult beverage (or two)
You know, the important stuff!

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.