Fine Arts is full-on during Alumni Week 2019

UVic celebrates graduates old and new with our annual Alumni Week, running Feb 1- 8 across campus. From film screenings and fascinating talks to concerts, a curling bonspiel, Vikes basketball and the annual Distinguished Alumni Awards night, there will be over a dozen special events to check out. Better still, most are free, although you may have to register in advance.

And Fine Arts is a big part of Alumni Week this year, as we participate in five different events showcasing the talents of a number of our alumni. Here’s what’s coming up:

Film screening with Connor Gaston

Connor Gaston

Did you know that 1 in 3 UVic staff and faculty are UVic alumni? It’s true, and you can meet many of them as we celebrate our campus alumni  and kick off Alumni Week at an exclusive event at Cinecenta. Join us at noon on Feb 1 for a screening of the short film, ‘Til Death, by director and campus alumnus Connor Gaston.

About the film: After losing his soul mate in a fatal bicycle accident, 10-year-old Zachary sets out on a journey to bring Samantha back to life in this magical, modern fairy tale.

Gaston, who holds both a BFA and MFA from the Writing department, is an award-winning filmmaker whose work has screened at film festivals around the world, including the Toronto International Film Festival. Gaston’s first feature film, 2015’s The Devout, earned him five Leo Awards (including Best Picture), the BC Emerging Filmmaker Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and a Canadian Screen Award nomination for Best First Feature. He is also a current sessional instructor in UVic’s Writing department.

Pizza, popcorn and soda will be provided at the screening for just $5, plus everyone will receive a free gift! (Tickets at the door.) Following the film screening, there will be a Q&A with the director.

This event runs noon to 1pm Friday, Feb 1, at Cinecenta in UVic’s SUB. Film starts at 12:15pm, so come early to get your pizza!

Fifth Street

Emerging Alumni concert with Fifth Street

Victoria-based vocal quintet Fifth Street combines the worlds of pop, jazz and R&B in perfect five-part harmony. The sublime voices of Natasha Penfield, Jilaine Orton, Ryan Narciso, Kenji Lee and Taylor Caswell found a groove together while students and as members of UVic’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble. You’ll enjoy their original a cappella arrangements of pop hits by the likes of Imogen Heap and Justin Timberlake as well as fresh takes on timeless classics.

UVic Music alumni are invited to an exclusive pre-concert reception with tasty hors d’oeuvres, door prizes, plus a special pre-concert appearance by Fifth Street. Hear them in action at 8pm Saturday, Feb 2, in the School of Music’s Phillip T Young Recital Hall, in UVic’s MacLaurin building B-wing. Entrance is by donation.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

Come join UVic’s annual celebration recognizing and honouring Distinguished Alumni Award winners that have been chosen from the faculties, UVic Libraries and Continuing Studies. This year, Fine Arts is honouring Theatre alumnus Nathan Medd —a cultural non-profit leader whose work is devoted to developing the performing arts in Canada.

Now the managing director of performing arts for the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity — the nation’s largest arts training institution and incubator of new works — Medd was also the managing director of English Theatre at Canada’s National Arts Centre, where his team successfully championed Canadian creators and initiated a new national stage for Indigenous performance.

Join us at 7:30pm Tuesday, Feb 5, in the Songhees Wellness Centre, 1100 Admirals Rd. Free, but registration is required.

Nathan Medd on Creative Placemaking

Nathan Medd (photo: Andrew Alexander)

Join 2019 Fine Arts Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Nathan Medd for this lively discussion about the ins and outs (and ups and downs) of creative placemaking. From development and gentrification to funding and accessibility for artists and audiences, get ready to “nerd out” about the business of the arts. Joining Medd on the panel will be long-time colleagues Kevin Kerr, Writing professor and co-founder of Vancouver’s Electric Company, Janet Munsil, former Intrepid Theatre artistic director and Metro Studio co-founder (also a Phoenix alumna and current MFA candidate in Writing), and Ian Case, Theatre alumnus, director of The Farquhar at UVic and former general manager of Intrepid Theatre.

In addition to his current position at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Medd was previously the managing director of English Theatre at Canada’s National Arts Centre. As managing producer of Electric Company, he produced original works for the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad and co-founded East Vancouver’s Progress Lab performing arts creation studio in 2009. In Victoria, he worked for Intrepid Theatre, where he co-founded Metro Studio — a flagship venue for Vancouver Island — and held positions with both the Belfry Theatre and the BC Arts Council.

This free talk runs from 12:45-1:45pm Wed, Feb 6, in the Bishop Theatre at UVic’s Phoenix Building.

Esi Edugyan with Shelagh Rogers

Join UVic Chancellor and CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers as she has a frank and fascinating live conversation with two-time Giller-prize winning novelist and Writing alumnus Esi Edugyan. The internationally acclaimed author of Washington Black, her latest novel, Edugyan is also the author of the Giller Prize-winning Half-Blood Blues and The Second Life of Samuel Tyne.

Join us at 7pm Thursday, Feb 7, in the Michelle Pujol Room at UVic’s SUB. Copies of Washington Black will also be for sale, courtesy of UVic’s Bookstore. Update: this event is now sold out, although a waiting list is being taken.

UVic is accessible by sustainable travel options including transit and cycling. For those arriving by car, pay parking is in effect. Evening parking is $3.

But wait, there’s more!

While Alumni Week only runs Feb 1-8, our Fine Arts alumni are busy throughout the year with their own creative endeavours. Here’s a quick rundown of some other alumni who are active around town in the next couple of weeks:

Victoria Film Festival

The 25th annual Victoria Film Festival features work by both Writing and Visual Arts alumni and students, running throughout the festival. Writing alum Connor Gaston is showing the short film Encore as part of the shorts program “Beautiful Obsessions” on Feb 4.  The Safe Space Panorama exhibition runs Feb 2-10 at the Atrium and features work & talks by Visual Arts MFA candidate Levi Glass (talk: 3pm Feb 3), undergrads Laura Gildner (3pm Feb 4),Jordan Hill (3pm Feb 6) and Jake Hrubizna (3pm Feb 8), plus MFA alumni Leah McInnis (3pm Feb 7) & sessional instructor Emily Geen (5pm Feb 5), as well as the 25th anniversary multimedia installation States of Play, curated by recent Visual Arts alumna Gina Luke.

Cry-Baby

Phoenix alumna & musical theatre teacher Kim Sholinder and the student cast & crew of Victoria High School will perform the Broadway musical Cry-Baby — based on the hit 1990 John Waters film of the same name, which starred a young Johnny Depp! This upbeat, campy musical provides a fun twist on 1950s star-crossed young lovers. Cry-Baby runs Feb 5-9 at Victoria High School, 1260 Grant. Tickets are $10-$12.

For Ground; Background  

The Victoria Arts Council is pleased to be working with Visual Arts MFA alumnus Hjalmer Wenstob on a new solo exhibition. For Ground; Background is a culmination of selected sculptures from over the last four years, as well as new works and installations. For Ground; Background hosts works of question, concern and education, in regards to environment, urban relationships to the land, and treaties. Wenstob is an interdisciplinary artist who specializes in sculpture, installation, and carving; he speaks of three dialects of his work — contemporary, traditional, and community-based.

Through his contemporary dialect, he completed both an undergraduate and master’s degree at UVic, exploring the relationships between cultures and art, and the balance between traditional and contemporary. His work is at times highly political and uses humour and irony to pose difficult questions of respect, reconciliation, and environmental issues. Nuu-Chah-Nulth from the Tla-O-Qui-Aht First Nations on his father’s side, and Norwegian and English on his mother’s side, Wenstob and his family recently opened Cedar House Gallery in Ucluelet, B.C. where he is exploring ways of weaving his contemporary/political work with more traditional materials and styles.

For Ground; Background runs until Feb 16 at the new Victoria Arts Council space at 1800 Store St. Open 11am-5pm Tues-Sat.

Todd Lambeth: Night Moves

Visual Arts instructor & MFA alumnus Todd Lambeth presents Night Moves, a series of paintings that investigates the abstract relationship between space and colour. Influenced by Cubism, hard-edged Modernist painting, comic books and candy wrappers, the colours in these paintings reference the world of advertising and design. These visually stimulating works express the artist’s interest in perceptions of pictorial space and are a direct response to the proliferation of digital imagery and imaging technology.

These paintings explore optical perceptions of space; emphasizing the formal properties of structure and design, Lambeth’s images present the viewer with a sense of visual pleasure. With their bright, welcoming colours and forms the paintings in Night Moves foreground ideas of beauty and express Lambeth’s desire to create optimistic works that distract the viewer from the difficult times in which we live.

Night Moves runs through to March 2 at Deluge Contemporary Art, 636 Yates. There will be an artist talk at 3pm Sat, Feb 16.

 John Barton: New Poet Laureate

Writing alumnus and former longtime Malahat Review editor John Barton has been named the new Poet Laureate of Victoria. Barton has written 26 books and is currently working on his first book of prose; his appointment was reported in this Times Colonist article and this piece from Monday Magazine.

Fowler (in yellow)

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

The Victoria Theatre Guild offers a lively version of this 2005 Tony-winning show — a clever, charming and sweet-natured musical comedy about six quirky tweens competing in the spelling bee of a lifetime. While candidly disclosing hilarious and touching stories from their home lives, they spell their way through a series of words, hoping never to hear the soul-crushing ding of the bell that signals a mistake. In the end, the youth learn that winning isn’t everything, and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser.

Featuring a fantastic performance by Phoenix alumni Hailey Fowler and an outstanding set by Barbara Clerihue.

Spelling Bee runs until Feb 2 at Langham Court Theatre. Tickets are $25-$35 . . . if you can find one!

 

 

Top 10 Fine Arts stories of 2018

There was certainly no shortage of Fine Arts news in 2018, given that we tracked nearly 300 local, national and international media stories about the creative activities of our faculty, alumni, students and staff . . . and those are just the stories we know about.

From our new faculty members—including Rick Leong, Sasha Kovacs, Deborah Campbell, Katharina Clausius and Michael Elliott—to a new batch of websites for our departments of Art History & Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing and the School of Music, Fine Arts continues to grow and evolve as we move closer to our 50th anniversary in 2019/20.

While it was hard to choose favourites from amongst the many stories that appeared in both traditional and social media, here (in no particular order) are our choices for the top 10 Fine Arts stories from our faculty blog.

Benjamin Butterfield named to the Royal Society of Canada

Benjamin Butterfield (UVic Photo Services)

Three UVic faculty members received the country’s highest academic honour by being named 2018 fellows of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) in September—and among those joining the distinguished ranks was School of Music professor Benjamin Butterfield.

While Butterfield has won international plaudits as one of Canada’s best operatic tenors, he is equally passionate about his role as head of voice for UVic’s School of Music.

“With a performance career, the more you’re in the game, the more you’ll be asked to be in the game,” he explains. “But my obligation is really to teaching . . . for me, it’s less about pursuing my ‘career’ and more about being here for students who sing, and who want to learn to sing—that’s my day job, that’s my real life, that’s what’s most important.”

Butterfield is now the eighth Fine Arts faculty member to be inducted into the RSC, including Fellows Mary Kerr (Theatre), Harald Krebs (Music), Tim Lilburn (Writing), Joan MacLeod (Writing) and Sandra Meigs (Visual Arts), as well as RSC College member Dániel Péter Biró (Music) and RSC Medal winner Jack Hodgins (Writing, retired).

Read more about Butterfield’s RSC appointment here.

Esi Edugyan wins second Giller Prize

Fine Arts has no shortage of alumni success stories, but it’s hard to top internationally acclaimed Department of Writing alumna Esi Edugyan, who won her second Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2018 for her latest novel, Washington Black.

Edugyan won $100,000 on the 25th anniversary of Canada’s richest literary award, and also earns the distinction of being one of only three authors to twice win the Giller Prize, alongside M.G. Vassanji and Alice Munro.

Washington Black was also nominated for the Man Booker Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize—as was her previous 2011 Giller Prize-winning novel Half-Blood Blues. Indeed, having only published three novels (including her debut, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne), Edugyan’s back-to-back wins for Washington Black and Half-Blood Blues is doubly remarkable, especially when you consider both were shortlisted for the coveted trifecta of fiction awards.

Read more about Edugyan’s Giller win here.

Carey Newman is the new Audain Professor

Carey Newman receiving his Order of BC from
Lieutenant Governor the Honourable Janet Austin and Premier John Horgan in September

When Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman’s Witness Blanket was unveiled at the University of Victoria in 2014, it was clear the large-scale installation would quickly become a national monument and spark reflection and conversation about residential schools, settler-Indigenous relations and reconciliation. Now, Newman will continue the conversation as the sixth Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest with the Visual Arts department

“This is breaking new ground for me,” said Newman in June. “I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to convert the experience of mentorship into a more formal educational setting.”

It’s been a big year for Newman: on top of being declared the Audian Professor for the next three years, he was granted the Order of BC, was named the inaugural recipient of the Professional Arts Alliance of Greater Victoria’s Regional Arts Award, played a role in the Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs program with the Gustavson School of Business, received a Saanich150 art commission and debuted his new “Witness Blanket” documentary at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Read more about Newman’s Audain position here.

Carolyn Butler Palmer advises on new $10 bill

When Art History & Visual Studies professor Carolyn Butler-Palmer received an email from the Bank of Canada back in 2017, she didn’t put much stock in it. “To be honest, I thought it was a scam email,” she laughs, “but in fact they wanted to speak to me as an art historian.”

While it’s no secret now that Canada’s new vertical $10 bill features Nova Scotia civil libertarian Viola Desmond, Butler-Palmer was under a strict confidentiality order for several months starting in summer 2017 while she was consulted by the Bank of Canada about the proposed design. One of a number of experts contacted, Butler-Palmer came to their attention due to the Globe and Mail coverage of her early 2017 exhibit Ellen Neel: The First Woman Totem Pole Carver at UVic’s Legacy Gallery.

“It was a real honour to be asked and to be able to work on such an important change in our currency,” Butler-Palmer said in this recent interview with the Martlet. “I think the change is really reflected too, [particularly] that they changed the orientation as well . . . to signify the change in the way that they represent Viola Desmond on that bill.”

Find out more about Butler Palmer’s involvement in the $10 bill here.

The Drowsy Chaperone a stunning success

Douglas Peerless as the Man in the Chair (photo: Dean Kalyan)

The response to Phoenix’s fall mainstage production of The Drowsy Chaperone, directed by Jacques Lemay, was fantastic. Audiences and reviewers alike praised this production as one of the finest in Phoenix’s 50-plus year history.

“This is one of the best shows staged by the university’s theatre department in recent years and should not be missed,” notes thisTimes Colonist review by Adrian Chamberlain. “Everything about this elegant, detailed production works well: the excellent costumes, set, acting, dancing, choreography . . . . [this is] a truly superior piece of theatre that will undoubtedly be a highlight of the season.”

It was such a hit, in fact, that they ended up adding two additional shows after the entire run was essentially sold out in November!

Read more about the amazing success of The Drowsy Chaperone here.

The Orontes Guitar Quartet welcomed as Visiting Artists

(l-r) Orwa Al Sharaa, Gaby Al Botros, Nazir Salameh & Mohammed Mir Mahmoud in front of UVic’s Fine Arts Building, November 2018. (UVic Photo Services)

The dramatic story of four musicians escaping daily violence in Syria for a fellowship in UVic’s School of Music caught the attention of The Globe and Mail in December, and became one of UVic’s top news stories of 2018.

Alexander Dunn, an internationally renowned guitarist and UVic music instructor for nearly three decades, played a vital role in bringing the guitar quartet to UVic by working for the past 18 months with two US-based organizations—the Artist Protection Fund (APF), an innovative initiative of the Institute of International Education, and the non-profit organization Remember the River.

Now safely in Victoria as the recipients of a prestigious Artist Protection Fund Fellowship grant, the Orontes quartet offer a remarkable message about the power of music, hope and determination. The quartet told the Globe and Mail that their peaceful lives in Syria had been disrupted by the civil war, and violence and terror became commonplace. But when the ensemble started to play together, “we forgot everything because we just focused on what we are doing,” as recounted to The Globe’s arts reporter Marsha Lederman in a December 8 article in the national edition of the newspaper.

Read more about the Orontes Quartet here—and be sure to watch this Globe and Mail video of the quartet playing together.

Colton Hash named Artist in Residence for Ocean Networks Canada

Colton Hash with his full-size sculpture of an adolescent female orca (photo: Ashton Sciacallo)

Victoria-based artist Colton Hash became the inaugural recipient of an Artist-in-Residence program by the Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a UVic initiative. The new ONC residency will strengthen connections between art and science, and broaden perspectives on major issues ranging from technology and the environment to biodiversity and healthy communities.

A recent graduate of UVic’s combined undergraduate program in Visual Arts and computer science, Hash was selected for the residency from a field of nearly 70 local, national and international applicants. He will hold the position from November 2018 to March 2019 and, following his residency, will provide a public exhibition of the resulting body of work.

“I see this as a great opportunity to collaborate with ocean scientists and experiment with digital media to communicate some of the dynamic processes that play a critical role in coastal waters,” says Hash. “Whether it’s how a kelp forest responds to climate change or how the thawing of frozen methane affects sediment stability of submarine slopes, I hope I can use interactive art to inspire viewers to care more about what is happening beneath the ocean’s surface.”

Read more about Hash’s ONC residency here.

Fine Arts hosts Reconciliation & the Arts forum

There was a capacity audience for the Nov 15 forum at the Baumann Ctr (photo: Fiona Ngai)

The fourth annual Building Reconciliation Forum was hosted at UVic in November and, as part of the two-day event, Fine Arts hosted a panel discussion on First Nations Art Practice & Reconciliation.

Presented in partnership with Universities Canada, the Building Reconciliation Forum brought together close to 250 thought leaders from universities, Indigenous governing bodies and communities, and federal and regional government officials from acorss Canada to consider how universities are answering the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

As part of the Forum, Fine Arts Dean Dr. Susan Lewis hosted a near-capacity panel discussion on First Nations Art Practice & Reconciliation at downtown’s Baumann Centre, featuring a range of local artists, administrators, activists and alumni discussing how Victoria’s arts community can advance decolonization and reconciliation.

Panelists included Visual Arts MFA alumna and the City of Victoria’s inaugural Indigenous Artist in Residence Lindsay Delaronde; the Belfry Theatre’s Indigenous cultural advisor Kristy Charlie and executive director Ivan Habel; Pacific Opera’s director of community engagement Rebecca Hass; Open Space board member and Visual Arts sessional instructor Charles Campbell; Legacy Gallery director Mary Jo Hughes; and Art Gallery of Greater Victoria curator of engagement Nicole Stanbridge.

Also during the forum, the Theatre department hosted Nomad, a musical and visual journey through Inuit history with Inuk singer-songwriter and Order of Canada recipient Susan Aglukark.

Find out more about the First Nations Art Practice & Reconciliation event here.

Bill Gaston wins Victoria Book Prize

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

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 and Dean’s External Advisory Committee member Maria Tippett (Sculpture in Canada: A History).

Gaston is also one of 10 authors nominated for the prestigious RBC Taylor Prize for his 2018 memoir, Just Let Me Look At You (Hamish Hamilton).

Read more about Gaston’s win here.

Twin Kennedy win Distinguished Alumni Award

Twin Kennedy are now Distinguished Alumni (UVic Photo Services)

It’s only been 10 years since sister duo Twin Kennedy graduated from the School of Music, but during that short decade, the acclaimed country/roots duo already released two albums, toured across North America, moved to Nashville and won the hearts of country radio and fans alike. The sisters headed back to UVic in February to be honoured as the Fine Arts winners of UVic’s 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award—an award that’s doubly special this year, given that it was presented during the School of Music’s 50th anniversary.

Know for their distinctly “Canadiana” country roots sound, seamless harmonies and heartfelt songwriting, Carli and Julie Kennedy (BMus ’08) have been dubbed “the next big thing in country music” by the Nashville Music Examiner and Twin Kennedy’s 2017 winter single “Cold Weather” was chosen by Rolling Stone as one of the “10 new country and Americana Christmas songs to hear right now!

“We’re very proud of years at UVic,” says Carli. “Not everyone in the popular-music world has a degree, and it’s an important part of our story. To be recognized for that side of our career is a huge honour; it means a lot to us.”

“And we did it together!” laughs Julie.

They now join the ranks of our previous Fine Arts Distinguished Alumni Award winners: visual artist Althea Thauberger (MFA ’02) director Glynis Leyshon (BFA ’73), author Esi Edugyan (BA ’99), lighting designer Michael J. Whitfield (BA ’67), director and filmmaker Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (BFA ’02), poet Carla Funk (BFA ’97), musician Paul Beauchesne (BMus ’88), author Deborah Willis (BA ’06), environmental designer Valerie Murray (BA ’78), author Eden Robinson (BFA ’92) and visual anthropologist Andrea Walsh (BA ’91).

Find out more about Twin Kennedy’s award here.

Final novel by celebrated Indigenous author Richard Wagamese launched at UVic

From telling stories that helped us understand what it meant to be Canadian to inspiring future generations of writers, Richard Wagamase was one of Canada’s most beloved authors. His death in 2017 at just 61 was a profound loss for our country’s literary culture, and now his final novel, Starlight, is being launched locally at a special event hosted by UVic Chancellor Shelagh Rogers who is also host of CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter and a longtime friend of Wagamese.

The Starlight book launch runs from 7-8:30pm Tuesday, Dec 4, at UVic’s First Peoples House. Admission is free, and all are welcome.

Starlight tells the story of an abused woman who discovers sanctuary on the farm of an Indigenous man, and is an apt conclusion to his literary legacy.

“This book is not only a last gift to his readers, it is a masterpiece,” says Rogers. “It will be wonderful to be among friends to pay tribute to his life and his writing, and it’s wonderful that this event takes place at UVic, as Richard loved the university and his time here.”

Joining Rogers will be 2018 Governor General’s Award winner Darrel J. McLeod (Mamaskatch), 2018 Bolen Book Prize winner Monique Gray Smith (Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation), current Writing MFA candidate Troy Sebastian and Writing professor emerita Lorna Crozier.

Richard Wagamese (photo: John Threlfall)

As one of the Harvey Southam Guest Lecturers in the Department of Writing, Wagamase had a lasting influence on UVic students and the local community by mentoring young writers and sharing his vision of the power of Indigenous storytelling.

“Richard Wagamase had a profound impact on our national culture through his novels, his essays, his memoirs and his memorable readings and talks,” says Writing chair David Leach, moderator of this event.

“As our Southam Lecturer in 2011, he inspired and challenged our students to move out of their comfort zones as writers and explore the power of oral storytelling. It was such a great pleasure to hear Richard’s big-hearted laugh in our hallways and talk with him about books or baseball or the blues. It’s still a shock to realize we will never get another chance to hear him read aloud from his richly detailed and deeply humane novels and essays.”

By drawing upon his work as a journalist and his experiences as a residential school survivor, Wagamese created memorable and award-winning novels such as Indian Horse and Medicine Walk, as well as compelling works of nonfiction, including as One Native Life and Embers.

Copies of Starlight will be available for sale at the event.

UVic is accessible by sustainable travel options including transit and cycling. For those arriving by car, pay parking is in effect. Evening parking is $3.

Writing alumna wins second Giller Prize in seven years

Internationally acclaimed Department of Writing alumna and Greater Victoria-based author Esi Edugyan has won the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her latest novel, Washington Black.

Esi Edugyan wins her second Giller Prize on Nov 19

Edugyan wins $100,000 on this, the 25th anniversary of Canada’s richest literary award, and also earns the distinction of being one of only three authors to twice win the Giller Prize, alongside M.G. Vassanji and Alice Munro.

“I wasn’t expecting to win,” she told the audience as she collected the award & her $100,000 prize. “So I didn’t prepare a speech.” She did, however, go on to say that, “in a climate where so many forms of truth telling are under siege, this feels like a really wonderful and important celebration of words.”

You can congratulate Esi in person at a special Autographing with Esi Edugyan, from noon to 2pm Friday, Dec 7 at Munro’s Books, 1108 Government.

Nominated for the Man Booker Prize, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the winner of this year’s Giller Prize, Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black is a wildly inventive portrayal of a young slave’s flight from Barbados alongside a mysterious inventor.

Edugyan previously won the Giller in 2011 for her sophomore novel, Half-Blood Blues. Indeed, having only published three novels (including her debut, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne), Edugyan’s back-to-back wins for Washington Black and Half-Blood Blues is doubly remarkable, especially when you consider both were shortlisted for the trifecta of fiction awards — not only the Giller but also the Man Booker Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

The announcement was made on November 19 at a black-tie dinner and award ceremony hosted by television personality and author Rick Mercer, and attended by nearly 500 members of the publishing, media and arts communities. This year’s longlist, shortlist, and winner were selected by they five-member jury of Canadian writers Kamal Al-Solaylee, Maxine Bailey and Heather O’Neill, along with American writer John Freeman and English novelist Philip Hensher.

Of Edugyan’s winning novel, the jury wrote, “How often history asks us to underestimate those trapped there. This remarkable novel imagines what happens when a black man escapes history’s inevitable clasp — in his case, in a hot air balloon no less. Washington Black, the hero of Esi Edugyan’s novel, is born in the 1800s in Barbados with a quick mind, a curious eye and a yearning for adventure. In conjuring Black’s vivid and complex world — as cruel empires begin to crumble and the frontiers of science open like astounding vistas — Edugyan has written a supremely engrossing novel about friendship and love and the way identity is sometimes a far more vital act of imagination than the age in which one lives.”

Edugyan earned her BA in Writing department in 1999, and later taught some courses for the department as a sessional instructor. She is also married to fellow Writing alumnus Steven Price, who is also an acclaimed novelist and poet.

“I studied with so many great teachers at UVic,” said Edugyan in this 2012 interview upon being named one of UVic’s Distinguished Alumni. “The caliber of guidance was amazing. Patrick Lane was my first great teacher. I found myself following poetry because he was so inspiring. Jack Hodgins, Lorna Crozier, Bill Gaston . . . there was such a high level of instruction.”

Award-winning author and Writing professor Bill Gaston recalls that both Edugyan and Price were in the very first workshop he ran at UVic in 1998. “I’m sure never to say I ‘taught’ her, though,” he says with a chuckle. “I tried to stay out of her way, and not ruin things.”

The four remaining Giller finalists, who receive $10,000 each, include Patrick deWitt (who also lost to Edugyan in 2011) for French Exit, Thea Lim for An Ocean of Minutes, É​ric Dupont for Songs for the Cold of Heart, and Sheila Heti for Motherhood.

Media coverage of Edugyan’s win was extensive, of course, with notably pieces running in CBC News, the Globe and Mail, the local Times Colonist and CBC Radio’s All Points West, who interviewed Bill Gaston on Nov 20 but has yet to archive the story.

The Globe and Mail also published this interesting post-Giller piece, commenting on the award’s impact for the Canadian publishing industry. “The greatest relief through the room was that the assembled publicists would not have to battle to sell a 600-page book in translation about a small Quebec town,” wrote analyst Russell Smith. “This one sells itself.”

A shifting focus: from photography to film

Like many outstanding students, the term “overachiever” is a good fit for graduating international Visual Arts major Guochen Wang.

Chen Wang (photo: Chorong Kim)

Born & raised in Taiyuan, a mid-sized city in China’s central Shanxi province, Chen went to a local international high school before looking for overseas post-secondary options. Yet his reasons for choosing UVic over an institution in the US, England or Europe may not be surprising, given his home city’s population of 4.2 million. “I visited Victoria when I was 12 and remember really liking it,” he recalls. “I liked the trees and the quiet.”

He was also attracted by the contemporary practice of UVic’s Visual Arts program, as well as its metaphorical appeal. “I was already doing high-fashion commercial photography in China, which I enjoyed, but I wanted to try something new,” he explains. “Visual Arts looks at photography as a tool to go somewhere else.”

An award-winning photographer before leaving China, Chen continued to find success during his undergrad years: not only did he mount two solo exhibits at local galleries, but he also picked up awards at both the Sidney Fine Art Show and the Victoria Arts Council’s LOOK show. “I like taking pictures of people on the street and telling a story through the lens,” he says.

Yet his future interdisciplinary path started to come into focus when he took his first video art course and then enrolled in the Writing department’s popular film production elective, where he worked on the short film Fear or Favour.

“I just fell in love with the medium,” he says. “Visual art is more about the individual—how you approach the work, creating on your own—but film is different. It’s more collaborative, where everyone is working towards the same goal. It feels different when you achieve something together.”

Chen on location (photo: Chorong Kim)

Fusing his artistic passion with tangible career goals, over the past four years Chen has founded the UVic Film Club, joined the CineVic Society of Independent Filmmakers, started his own commercial production company, joined CHEK TV’s production team (where he helped create over 20 commercials), served as the director of photography and camera operator for local company Botega Creative Ltd, worked as a sessional instructor for the Beifang International Education Group and volunteered on a number of independent films shot locally — all while finishing his undergraduate degree.

“I like the freedom to create,” he says. “Everyone in Victoria is very welcoming, and everyone in the independent film community seems to know and like each other, and the crews are very nice.”

Clearly no slacker, Chen applied for and was accepted as a screenwriting major in the Writing department’s MFA program for the 2018 fall session.

His intention is to develop a web series that uses humour to explore cross-cultural understanding. “I believe that comedy — which is itself a kind of international language that helps to connect people — is a good way to express my own feelings, inspire international students and bring together both Canadian and Chinese audiences in an understated way,” he says. “It allows cultural differences to be easily understood and it builds on shared human values by non-threatening means.”

Much like his experience with street photography, Chen finds humour in the reality of everyday observations. “I can give you an example: when I first got here, I made some Canadian friends and they would greet me by saying ‘What’s up?’ — so I would look up. It’s like [the TV series] Fresh Off the Boat, except for me it would be fresh off the plane.”

While working on his MFA, he’s now getting hired for local film shoots, both independent and union (Pupstars: Christmas), as well as writing and directing his own work, like the short film Drownings. “There’s a difference between writing something in visual language as a screenplay than watching the visual language on the screen,” he explains, “but the only way you can see that is to make it.”

Despite Vancouver’s Hollywood North reputation, Chen likes the idea of staying in Victoria. “I can shoot in other cities, but I like it here: I like the environment, and there are so many talented people who work very hard.”

Visiting actor/playwright D’bi.Young Anitafrika focuses on diversity

From addressing the United Nations and touring the world as a dubpoet to being named a Canadian Poet of Honour and being nominated for nine Dora Awards in theatre (and winning three), D’bi.Young Anitafrika has carved her own niche in the world of Canadian arts. She will be the latest author to appear at the long-running Open Word Readings & Ideas series, presented by the Department of Writing and Open Space.

A queer Black feminist artist, Anitafrika is the founding Artistic Director Emeritus of the Watah Theatre and the founding Creative Director of the Anitafrika Retreat Centre. She has curated international residencies for artists in the Caribbean, North/South America, Africa and Europe, and her own form of “Biomyth Monodrama” focuses on solo shows that use music, poetry, dance and drama to chronicle the stories of global peoples and their quests for self-actualization.

The award-winning African-Jamaican-Canadian actor, playwright and performance artist is the published author of nine plays, three collections of poetry, six dub poetry albums, a comic book and a deck of instructional cards containing her Anitafrika Method.

Following her reading at Open Space, Writing professor David Leach will conduct a live interview.

Watch her deliver this powerful performance at the HERstory in Black event at CBC Toronto during Black History Month in Feburary 2018.

D’bi.Young Anitafrika reads from 7pm Tuesday, Nov 6, at Open Space, 510 Fort Street. The public is also welcome at these other free in-class appearances on Monday, Nov 5: from 10-11:20am in UVic’s Cornett 108, and from 2:30-3:50pm in UVic’s ECS 125.