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.

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. Judges praised his ability to move “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.