Bill Gaston wins Victoria Book Prize

Department of Writing professor Bill Gaston has won the 2018 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for his short-story collection The Mariner’s Guide to Self Sabotage (Douglas & McIntyre).

Gaston (centre) with Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Brian Butler (photo: Victoria Book Prize Society)

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and co-sponsor Brian Butler presented Gaston with his $5,000 prize at a gala October 17 event at downtown’s Union Club.

A set of 10 cautionary tales showcasing the author’s range and narrative versatility, The Mariner’s Guide to Self Sabotage effectively captures Gaston’s gift for making ordinary moments feel transcendent, moving seamlessly from the funny to the poignant to the surprising and absurd. Judges praised his “range and narrative versatility, moving seamlessly from the funny to the poignant to the surprising and absurd.”

The author of seven novels, seven short-story collections, three plays, two nonfiction books and a poetry collection, Gaston also released the memoir Just Let Me Look At You: On Fatherhood (Penguin Random House) in 2018. He previously won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize in 2007 for the short-story collection Gargoyles (House of Anansi), which was also shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and won the ReLit Award. In 2002, Gaston was a finalist for the Giller Prize with Mount Appetite (Raincoast), as well as the inaugural recipient of the Timothy Findley Prize, awarded by the Writer’s Trust of Canada.

2018 was a strong year for the Writing department at the Victoria Book Prize, given that fellow nominees included professor emerita Lorna Crozier (What the Soul Doesn’t Want), longtime instructor Patrick Friesen (Songen) and longtime Faculty of Fine Arts colleague Maria Tippett (Sculpture in Canada: A History).

Also winning that night was author Monique Gray Smith, who picked up the $5,000 Bolen Books Children’s Book Prize for Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation (Orca).

“This is our 15th year awarding the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize and we are still going strong,” says Victoria Book Prize President Alyssa Polinsky. “We couldn’t do this without the support of our generous sponsors, an engaged community of readers and all the talented writers and illustrators we celebrate each year.”

The awards gala was hosted by CBC Radio’s Gregor Craigie, with Victoria’s Poet Laureate Yvonne Blomer opening the evening with a reading from her recent works.

Established in 2004, the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize is a partnership between the City of Victoria and Brian Butler of Butler Brothers Supplies. The prize is named for UVic alumnus Brian H. Butler (BA, Philosophy), a generous and longtime contributor to the Greater Victoria arts community. Past president of the Victoria Symphony Society, he has served on numerous community boards and for United Way campaigns.

It’s that time of year for This Side of West

No question, UVic’s Department of Writing has produced scores on notable alumni — see the current success of writers like the 2018 Man Booker finalist & Giller Prize shortlisted Esi Edugyan for one — but this week, current students will be in the spotlight when the Writing student anthology This Side of West hosts their annual Editors’ Reading.

Starting at 6:30pm on Saturday, Oct 20, TSOW will be kicking off a new year at a special event at Hillside Coffee & Tea (details below). Come hear this year’s staff read their work from across all genres, and get a taste for what they’ll be interested in when it comes to new work.

Running since 2003, TSOW publishes an annual collection each spring featuring the best student work coming out of the Writing department.

This Side of West is a student-run service of the Writing department course union, which is the school-funded student organization that represents any student enrolled in one or more Writing class at UVic,” explains editor-in-chief Riley Smith. “The course union has worked and will continue to work with the department to make the student experience the best it can be, but we make a point of keeping any decisions about pieces and publication independent of faculty involvement.”

It’s this sense of independence that helps Writing students cut their teeth with the editorial process.

“Student publications are important because they give students an opportunity to go through both sides of the publications process on a lower-stakes stage than when publications credits and national distribution are involved,” says Smith, now on his second term as TSOW editor-in-chief.

Indeed, given the steady stream talent coming out of the Writing dept, it’s no surprise that past TSOW issues have featured future published authors and editors, including the likes of poet Garth Martens (2011 Governor General’s Award finalist, winner of the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award), novelist Marjorie Celona (2012 Giller Prize nominee, winner of the prestigious Waterstones 11 literary prize, shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award) and poet Emily McGiffin (finalist for the CBC Literary Awards in 2004 and 2005, winner of the 2008 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers from the Writers’ Trust of Canada).

This year’s group of student editors — including Karine Hack & Jennifer Landrey (creative nonfiction), Marley Sterner & Emma de Blois (drama), Kim Dias & Hana Mason (fiction), and Kai Conradi & Naomi Duska (poetry) — is clearly keen to keep that winning streak going, and they’re hoping this reading will generate interest among current Writing students.

“If anyone is interested in submitting to This Side of West, our submissions will open at 10pm on Saturday,” says Smith. “We accept literary work in all four genres—creative nonfiction, drama, fiction, and poetry—and comics in any of those genres are great! I’ve yet to see a screenplay comic, but if anyone’s made one work, we want it.”

Submissions guidelines and the online submission form are available on their website.

At Saturday’s Editors’ Reading, expect to hear work by the current editorial team ranging from fiction and creative nonfiction to drama and poetry. A published anthology of the editors’ work will also be available for purchase at the event.

This Side of West Editors’ Reading, 6:30pm Saturday, Oct 20, at Hillside Coffee & Tea, 1633 Hillside (across from Hillside Centre). Admission is $10.

Wind & song highlighted in Faculty Chamber Music Series

Welcome the fall breezes with this special Faculty Chamber Music concert on Saturday, October 13. Wind and Song will highlight the School of Music’s brass, woodwind and voice faculty, along with some special guests, with a bold and surprising lineup of pieces.

From duos to large chamber works, the diverse and entertaining program features Fisher Tull’s Concerto da Camera for alto saxophone and brass quintet, Sonatine en trio by Florent Schmitt, James Barnes’ Divertissement, Op. 50 for brass quintet, and Partita in G by Don Sweete. Tenor Benjamin Butterfield will also sing a few favourites from the songbook of contemporary American composer Randy Newman, including “Marie” and “Lonely At The Top.”

The impressive line-up of performers also includes faculty members Merrie Klazek (trumpet), Scott MacInnes (trombone), Paul Beauchesne (tuba), Suzanne Snizek (flute), Shawn Earle (clarinet), Wendell Clanton (saxophone), Alex Olson (bass), and Arthur Rowe (piano), plus guests including current Masters candidate Marianne Ing (trumpet), alumnus Kelby MacNayr (percussion), and guests Yoomi Kim (piano). Allison Zaichkowski (horn) and Simon MacDonald (violin).

You can learn more about the music on the program in a special pre-concert talk at 7pm.

Wind and Song starts at 8pm Saturday, October 13, in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall (UVic’s MacLaurin Building B-wing). Tickets range from $10-$25.

Flute concert offers rare & daring program

Prize-winning flutist Suzanne Snizek has a dedicated practice of bringing lesser-known and previously suppressed music to the concert stage. In a noon-hour Faculty Concert on Tuesday, October 9, Dr. Snizek will present a rare selection of music by Czech, Korean, Jewish and Soviet composers.

Dr Suzanne Snizek

The concert will be rich in quality, diverse in musical styles and includes challenging solo flute pieces by Korean composer Isang Yun and Soviet composer Edison Denisov. “Both works are highly expressive although the styles differ greatly,” says Snizek.

She compares Denisov’s writing to that of Shostakovich’s “angularity and melancholy, with hints of humour,” while Yun’s work is explosive and daring and challenges the flutist to play at the extreme ranges of dynamics and colour.

Her concert was previewed in this October 4 Times Colonist article.

Snizek is an expert in suppressed music, has published on the topic and performed this repertoire extensively. She is the 2017 REACH award recipient for Excellence in Creative Expression at UVic, where she recently recorded her first CD devoted to suppressed music, titled Chamber Music (Re)Discoveries.

Guest pianist Yoomi Kim will join Snizek in works by Sylvie Bodorová and Gunter Raphael. A Jewish composer who survived the Holocaust, Raphael’s music suffered as a result of the political suppression he experienced during that time.

Kim is a pianist, conductor, composer and teacher at the Victoria Conservatory of Music.

The Faculty Concert Series featuring Suzanne Snizek (flute) and Yoomi Kim (piano) runs from 12:30–1:20 pm Tuesday, Oct. 9, in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall in UVic’s MacLaurin Building B-wing. Admission is by donation.

Alumni show spotlights the ups & downs of new motherhood

From Jedi knights and gold-rush explorers to doomed puppets and romantic clowns, over the past 15 years Phoenix Theatre’s annual Spotlight on Alumni has presented a range of shows as diverse and accomplished as the graduates themselves. But this month, Phoenix is entering a world as strange and terrifying as any yet imagined: motherhood.

Just ask Department of Theatre alumna Nicolle Nattrass, whose solo show, Mamahood: Bursting Into Light, courageously chronicles the journey of becoming a mother at age 40 . . . complete with a rock ‘n roll soundtrack.

“I don’t like to be bound by restrictions like ‘comedy’ or ‘drama’,” Nattrass explains. “I really believe life is full of both, so I’ve always written to connect with the audience, using comedy to talk about more serious things.”

This is the first time Mamahoodrunning October 9 to 20 at the Phoenix — will be fully mounted in Victoria, following a staged reading in 2014. “I’m so glad I get to come back to my alma mater to perform this,” says Nattrass, who graduated in 1991. “UVic has been a big part of my journey as an artist and I’m constantly collaborating with other Phoenix alum, including this show’s director, TJ Dawe.”

Life into art

With nine plays and a busy life as an actress, director, dramaturge, certified addiction counselor and parent, Nattrass is a great example of how Fine Arts alumni can transform life experiences into art. Indeed, with Mamahood, she’s using her own story to reach out to other moms (and dads and grandparents) and deconstruct some prevailing motherhood myths.

“Parenting is really an individual experience: the only one who can define how you’re going to be as a mother is you,” she says. “We’re told it should look like a Pamper’s commercial — all the right outfits, everything is good — but that excludes a lot of moms. It’s okay to not have an ideal experience every day of the week . . . or at all. Whether you’re a co-parent, step-parent or foster parent, it’s all about accepting your own story.”

Nicolle Nattrass

Like so many alumni, Nattrass birthed Mamahood through her fusion of teaching and creative practice. “I was asked to teach a course on ‘Mama Memoirs’ at Camosun College and I realized I hadn’t written down my own story yet,” she says. “There’s this romantic idea that we only write at perfect times — four hours with a latte at your favourite coffee shop — but the reality of motherhood is getting up at 4:30 in the morning when you’re exhausted from breast feeding and trying to get inspired.”

The realities of the birth experience

Nattrass also doesn’t hesitate to talk about postpartum realities in her play, which sets it apart from straight-up comedies like the Mom’s The Word series. “The postpartum experience can be anything from anxiety, fear and sleep deprivation to issues surrounding the pregnancy or birth itself.”

With that in mind, she makes a point of connecting with local birth educators and support networks wherever Mamahood tours — in Victoria, she’s working with Mothering Touch Centre — and builds that into the theatrical experience. “I always do a talkback session at the end of each show, so people can not only ask me questions but also connect with resources in their community.”

Not just for moms

Not that Mamahood is only for mothers. “The biggest surprise to me are the men’s reactions,” says Nattrass of her audiences that frequently include partners, grandparents, teenagers, doctors, midwives, nurses, doulas and dudelas. “The director isn’t a dad, and a lot of men who come to the show aren’t dads, but they’ve all been so supportive.” Nor is the play only for laughs. “I’ve had people come out who are dealing with issues other than parenting — like anxiety and depression — and they can really relate to the show, because it’s funny but it’s also talking about serious issues.”

The public is also invited to a free preshow lecture with UVic English professor Sheila Rabillard on “Motherhood Out Loud”, discussing the changing face of motherhood in theatre (7pm Friday, October 12).

Ultimately, Mamahood is a comedic story about her own journey . . . so far. “The core message is that motherhood is a rock ‘n roll ride,” she laughs. “My son is nine now and the ride is definitely not over! My whole journey really has been about bursting into light.”

Mamahood: Bursting into Light runs October 10 – 20, 2018 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre. Tickets are $16 – $26 at 250-721-8000 or phoenixtheatres.ca. Note: there is also an October 9 preview, offering $8 tickets only after 5pm on the day-of the show.