Fall is traditionally book prize season and, as with most years, our Department of Writing has a fresh crop of alumni and faculty currently up for prizes.
Alumna Eden Robinson is a Giller Prize finalist for her latest novel, Son of A Trickster (Penguin Random House). This is Robinson’s second Giller nomination, following her debut Monkey Beach back in 2000. Robinson is one of five finalists chosen from a longlist of 12 books — which also included alumna Deborah Willis for her story collection The Dark and Other Love Stories (Hamish Hamilton) — and the winner will be announced on November 20.
Robinson was also announced on November 7 as the recipient of the 2017 Writers’ Trust Fellowship, which comes with a $50,000 award. “I’m a little stunned,” Robinson told the Globe & Mail in reaction to the news.
Writing professor emeritus and beloved poet Lorna Crozier is a finalist — again — for the Governor General’s Literary Awards, this time for her poetry collection, What the Soul Doesn’t Want (Broadview Press). Crozier won her first Governor-General’s Award back in 1992, and we’ll find out on November 1 if she wins again.
MFA alumna Yasuko Thanh took home the 2017 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize on October 11. She was awarded the $5,000 cash prize for her first novel, Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains (Hamish Hamilton Canada), which was reported in both this Times Colonist article and this CHEK news broadcast, while Thanh spoke about the writing life in this CFAX 1070 Radio interview.
Jurors described Yellow Mountains as “a haunting book that explores the harsh impact of colonialism, the blind, random damage it drags in its wake, and the puny nature of ill-thought out resistance versus the well-oiled wheels of imperialism. Thanh’s book is a sensory treat, a complex collage of images and themes. Original sharp and spiky language brings the reader fully into the narrative moment.”
Also nominated for the 2017 Victoria Book Prize were fellow alumni Patricia Young for her poetry collection Short Takes on the Apocalypse (Biblioasis) and Steven Price for his novel By Gaslight (McClelland & Stewart).
Theatre alumna Carleigh Baker was announced as the winner of the 2017 Vancouver Book Award on October 13 for her short story collection Bad Endings (Anvil Press), which explores a range of human experiences, from the death of a relationship to struggles with mental health. The $3,000 prize recognizes authors of any genre, who evoke an appreciation and understanding of Vancouver’s history and people. Bad Endings is also nominated for the $50,000 Rogers’ Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and Baker was named one of CBC Books’ writers to watch in 2017.
Congratulations also go out to current Writing undergrad Kade Bound, who was recently announced as the winner of the Lambda Foundation’s annual Candis Graham Writing Scholarship.
Finally, Writing professor Tim Lilburn was named the first Canadian recipient of the prestigious European Medal of Poetry & Art on October 10. Commonly referred to as the “Homer Medal,” Lilburn was presented the award by visiting Chinese poet and editor Zhao Si at a small reception on campus.
Rande Cook at UVic (Photo Services)
It has been a busy couple of years for Rande Cook. Beyond his duties as chief of Vancouver Island’s ’Namgis Nation and his commitments as an in-demand contemporary artist with an international practice, Cook just completed two back-to-back terms as the Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest with the Visual Arts department.
“Two years in the position allowed me to really reach students,” says Cook. “I was able to delve into the role art plays in politics, and got them to dive deep within themselves. I pushed my students a lot and they seemed to appreciate that — the feedback at the end of the year said it was one of the more profound classes they had ever taken, because it challenged them internally.”
More than just creating a challenging course, however, Cook found the Audain Professorship provided him with the chance to bring his own artistic training into play.
Viewers at Cook’s Audain Exhibition
“Having the opportunity to share what I do from a strong First Nations background was key,” he explains. “Bringing that knowledge into an institution where students don’t really understand traditional teaching gave me the chance to share the real foundation of what the art is: that it comes from a sacred place, that the teachings are sacred.”
Cook is the sixth artist to hold the Audain Professorship, following the likes of Jackson 2Bears, Michael Nicol Yahgulanaas, Nicholas Galanin and Governor General’s Award-winner Rebecca Belmore.
As he reflected in this interview following his first year in the position, “I wanted to design a course around the work I’m doing right now, which means looking at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the murdered and missing Indigenous women, Idle No More, the REDress project, the round dance movement . . . about healing and bridging.”
Rande Cook speaking at the art education conference
Now he feels two years in the position allowed him greater freedom to explore key concepts. “I could break down the art form into its elements and show them how to put it back together. It was like dissecting a symphony: a violin can play anything, once you learn it, but it’s up to you to decide the song and how it should be played.”
Beyond his time in the classroom, Cook was also frequently seen around UVic in his role as chief, participating in events at First Peoples House, drumming for ceremonial openings, speaking at educational conferences, and taking part in discussions about greater indigenization on campus.
Cook also presented a retrospective of his work in October 2016 as the annual Audain Exhibition. Held each fall in the Audain Gallery, Cook’s Accumulation was timed to coincide with Intersections, a combined conference by the BC Art Teachers Association and the Canadian Society for Education through Art. A highlight of the event, Accumulation also provided context for remarks by Cook, who led a workshop at the conference — which also featured a keynote address by Michael Nicoll Yahgulaanas, a former Audain Professor himself.
Collaboration Mask, seen at the Audain Exhibition
Among the pieces on display at Accumulation was a mask collaboratively created with local artist Carollyne Yardley. Aptly titled “/kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n / Collaboration Mask,” the piece is a good example of both Cook’s connections with Victoria’s greater arts community and his contemporary take on traditional art forms.
“in an era of reconciliation, art has once again become a node through which native and non-native engagement is flourishing through agendas of healing, understanding and respect . . . ‘/kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n / Collaboration Mask’ is an aesthetic response to this cultural resurgence in Canada,” writes Fine Arts alumna Dr. Andrea Walsh in this short essay about the piece.
And does he think an important part of the Audain Professorship is to have a presence both in the community and across campus? “I really do,” he says. “I don’t find there’s a lot of true Northwest Coast representation in Fine Arts — there are people who study and teach it, but authentic Northwest Coast artists like myself are rare. Having people in those positions who can speak to that is important.”
Cook also feels it’s important to transcend academia’s traditional definitions. “There are no walls within our culture. I sat in a lot of meetings where people were saying, ‘We want to indigenize the university, how can we incorporate more indigeneity?’ But we don’t have walls between history and music and practice . . . if someone in the Audain position could keep that idea alive, it would be very beneficial.”
Cook (centre) at the opening of UVic’s Michael Williams building
Much like the bridges he builds with his art, Cook feels reaching new communities is an important part of his role as chief and educator.
“Overall, the Audain position gave me the opportunity to share a deeper, profound understanding with everyone — not just the art form, but where it comes from and what it’s about. You can see native art all over the place now, but there’s a deeper meaning to it . . . especially when you’re wanting to learn, to develop the skills.”
The UVic Orchestra honours the extraordinary Canadian mezzo-soprano Maureen Forrester in a concert on October 27 in UVic’s Farquhar Auditorium. Often described as one of the world’s leading contraltos, Forrester was an artist who not only achieved great acclaim but was also a generous teacher whose legacy carries on through her many students. As a superstar who brought international attention to Canada, this is a fitting way to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial.
The program features a new work commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra by Howard Shore, Canada’s acclaimed film composer well-known for his scores for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. L’Aube (Dawn) — which will be premiered by the TSO on October 19 — is a song cycle for mezzo soprano and orchestra with text by writer, producer and documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Cotnoir. Also on the program is one of Forrester’s signature works, Gustav Mahler’s masterpiece, Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), as well as Richard Wagner’s Rienzi Overture.
Israeli contralto Noa Frenkel and Victoria’s beloved tenor, Benjamin Butterfield, will be guest soloists with the orchestra. Frenkel is a versatile artist with an extensive vocal range and an affinity for many musical styles. Her repertoire reaches from Renaissance to contemporary music. Co-head of performance at the School of Music, Butterfield enjoys an international career as one of Canada’s most successful and sought-after artists. He has performed to critical acclaim throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and New Zealand.
“Performing a huge Mahler piece with two incredible singers who are driving forces in the world of singing, is an exceptional opportunity for the students in the orchestra,” says conductor and School of Music professor Ajtony Csaba.
This special concert, presented in partnership with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, received financial assistance from the Government of Canada.
Don’t miss this special UVic Orchestra Concert, 8pm Friday, October 27 at the University Centre Farquhar Auditorium. Tickets $10-$20 from the UVic Ticket Centre (250-721-8480 or online) and at the door.
Distinguished poet and respected Department of Writing professor Tim Lilburn has become the first Canadian to receive the European Medal of Poetry and Art.
Tim Lilburn with the Homer Medal and visiting poet Zhao Si
Commonly referred to as the “Homer Medal,” Lilburn was presented with the 2017 prize by visiting Beijing poet and editor Dr. Zhao Si Fang, vice-president of the award committee. Following the tradition of presenting the medal in the country where the writer resides, Zhao Si traveled to Victoria to present the award at a small on-campus reception on October 10.
“The members of the council wish to emphasize the importance of your poetry for contemporary Canadian culture and the world,” noted Zhao Si in her presentation. “You belong to a group that includes some of the greatest poets of our time.”
A prominent Chinese poet, Fang has been translating Lilburn’s work since 2008, including his acclaimed 2012 collection, Assiniboia. She is also the editor of the Chinese magazine Contemporary International Poetry in Translation; their special 2016 Canadian issue included Lilburn’s work, as well as that of retired Writing professors Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane.
“To be part of a group that includes [former winners] like the Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova, who would complain?” Lilburn told the Times Colonist in this September 29 interview. “It is a great honour.” Lilburn was also interviewed on October 8 on the provincial CBC Radio show North By Northwest about his award.
Created in 2015 in association with the European Union, the Homer Medal is awarded annually by a jury to outstanding creators in the worlds of literature and the visual arts. Previous winners include Turkish poet Ataol Behramoğlu, Armenian poet Gagik Davtyan, Iraqi poet Gulala Nouri and American poet Stanley H. Barkan.
The Homer Medal now joins Lilburn’s other prestigious awards, including the Governor General’s Award for Literature, the Canadian Authors Association Award and the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award, among others. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2014, Lilburn is the author of 12 books of poetry and essays, and his work has been translated into French, Chinese, Serbian, German, Spanish, and Polish.
“I can think of no more worthy a recipient for this international award,” said Writing chair David Leach at the reception.
Dr. Susan Lewis, Dean of Fine Arts, was quick to praise Lilburn’s work. “The quality and depth of Tim’s poetry create a model of excellence in research and creative activity for faculty, and it’s through his teaching that he provides a strong example for how our artistic practice informs the learning process for our students,” she said before a group that included Writing professor emeritus Lorna Crozier, Governor General’s Award winner Arleen Paré, visiting American poet GC Waldrep, award-winning MFA alumnus and WSÁ,NEC Nation poet Kevin Paul, Writing alumnus and Malahat Review editor John Barton, and a number of Writing department colleagues.
“Tim’s accomplishments and commitment to our students and community exemplify the mission of the Faculty of Fine Arts to provide the finest training and learning environment for artists, professionals and students through the integration of the creation of art in a dynamic learning environment.”
After receiving his award, a clearly moved Lilburn spoke briefly but emotionally about the role of poetry in society.
“We are in a historical moment, where poets can be especially conflicted about what they do. Poetry can seem ineffectual before climate change, the rise of fascism, the need to decolonize and work toward reconciliation with First Nations,” he said. “Some poets could be tempted to set poetry aside in favour of activism, or make their poetry overtly political and turn it into pages of declaration and denunciation . . . . but we should not be so quick to abandon poetry in these extreme, dire times.”
Citing the works of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda — who was himself influenced by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera — Lilburn used the example of Neruda’s poem Let the Woodcutter Awaken, which was written while in exile from Chilean totalitarianism, to describe the impact poetry can have on people’s lives. “He learned from Rivera that if you present large, sweeping depictions of society and history, you can free people and give them a sense of power . . . . he also learned to describe in detail distinct lives, which helps to establish empathy, love, respect and a commonwealth of courtesy, civility and solidarity in his readers.”
Zhao Si presents Tim Lilburn with the Homer Medal
The small room was quiet as Lilburn spoke, his voice embodying poetry’s simple power. “I believe the act of poetry-making itself . . . can have deep, social effect. In my books, poetry is not relegated to the social margins; it is not an adjunct to life and politics. It stands in the very centre of both, quietly and anonymously; in its empathy, imagination, narrative range, and commitment to the assemblage of beautiful, arresting patterns, it creates the political centre.”
In addition to receiving the Homer Medal, Lilburn has two news books coming out shortly: The Larger Conversation: Contemplation and Place, an essay collection being released in November by University of Alberta Press, and The House of Charlemagne, a book-length poem being released in Spring 2018 by the University of Regina Press.
Alumni Danette Boucher and James Douglas
Each fall, Phoenix Theatre’s Spotlight on Alumni offers the chance for returning alumni to share their experiences with both audiences and current students alike. This year’s spotlight features a pair of performers who are currently living their dreams, every day, as writers, performers, directors and filmmakers—as well as husband and wife: Danette Boucher and James Douglas.
These two talented UVic alumni are making history — literally — every day, working in BC’s fabled Barkerville Historic Town. And now, on stage at the Phoenix from October 10 to 21, Boucher and Douglas will present the stories of two BC pioneers who traveled west in search of a new future: Lady Overlander and The Fred Wells Show. But whether backstage or in the classroom, Boucher and Douglas will mentor current students, offering guidance on how they too can navigate life’s journey and achieve their dreams.
Donning hoops, petticoats, bonnet and a classic Victorian cotton dress, actor and playwright Danette Boucher’s “office” looks like a 19th-century ghost town, albeit bustling daily with tourists from across Canada. In truth, Barkerville is one of BC’s most frequented and important heritage sites — and has a long history of hiring Phoenix students and alumni to perform in the park. Together with her husband — actor, director and filmmaker James Douglas — Boucher has spent decades telling the stories of Barkerville’s past, and they are now both part of the park’s artistic and management team.
Their passion for history also led Boucher and Douglas to create Histrionics Theatre Company to better tell their favourite dramatic stories from our past — including current productions Lady Overlander and The Fred Wells Show, each featuring actual historical characters on their own quest for gold.
A scene from Lady Overlander
“I first stumbled into museum theatre in 1989 while auditioning to play Emily Carr at her childhood home in James Bay,” says Boucher. “I didn’t know then that it would lead to an exciting career in museum theatre and historical interpretation.” Beyond Barkerville, Boucher has also developed programming for the Royal BC Museum, Helmcken House, Craigflower Farm and Schoolhouse, Point Ellice House and Tod House. Many may also remember her as the “unsinkable” Margaret Brown, a character that she performed for the RBCM’s Titanic: The Artifacts exhibit.
“Over the years of interpreting BC’s history, it has given me great joy to watch stories and ideas morph as we mature and strive to understand who we are, as a result of who we have been,” she reflects. “At the start of my career, we celebrated our pioneer stories and often neglected the darker, less well known, aspects of our founding. 30 years later, we are eager to question and reframe our stories, considering many angles and experiences.”
Her play, Lady Overlander, is a dramatic first-person account of the legendary Catherine O’Hare Schubert, who — while pregnant! — walked from Winnipeg to Kamloops in 1862 in search of a new life in a tantalizing new land. Meanwhile, The Fred Wells Show also tells a fascinating but little-known story from a gold rush during the Great Depression: Wells, an introverted yet charismatic American prospector, persevered against the odds until he finally struck gold just outside of Barkerville. The ensuing 1930s gold rush saw thousands of fortune seekers flock to the town named in his honour, and saved countless BC families from poverty during very desperate times.
A scene from The Fred Wells Show
“These scripts were written with love for my home province, but are also part of a desire to understand what happened when BC was first defining itself,” says Boucher. “BC history is like the best book I have ever read, with chapters that are celebratory and adventurous, and chapters that are gut wrenching and painful. When I write, I am driven by the idea of home, how we find it, and what it means to each of us.”
The couple make their year-round home in Wells, just outside of Barkerville, with their twin daughters. Although both Danette and James attended UVic’s Department of Theatre — twice each — remarkably, the couple didn’t meet until they worked together in Barkerville. You can read more about Boucher and Douglas in this October 5 Times Colonist interview.
Despite their lives up north, Victoria and UVic are still a big part of both their lives and their work. “Victoria has a really strong heritage and theatre community that work together well,” says Boucher. “The Phoenix is a special place for us both, a place we both called home for an important time in our lives. Even though we attended at different times, we still share many common experiences . . . and so, so many common friends.”
Both Lady Overlander and The Fred Wells Show run at 8pm till October 21 (no show Sundays) at Phoenix Theatre, with a 2pm matinee on October 21 and a bonus 7pm pre-show lecture on October 13. Tickets are $15 to $26 and are available at the box office or by phone at 250-721-8000.
—With files from Adrienne Holierhoek