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    Confessions of a GG Judge

    photo (23)It was a tremendous honour to be one of the judges of the 2015 Governor General’s Literary Awards and an absolute delight to be able to congratulate Mark Winston, winner in the Non-Fiction category, at the awards ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

    As the three of us on the jury collectively wrote, “In Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive, Mark Winston distills a life’s devotion to the study of bees into a powerful and lyrical meditation on humanity. This compelling book inspires us to reevaluate our relationships with each other and the natural world. Vital reading for our time.”

    Please ask about it at your local bookstore and consider giving this book as a gift–along with a jar of local non-pasteurised honey! (I never thought I’d be offering holiday gift suggestions, but I’ll stop at nothing to help great writers sell great books.)

    Now that I’ve admitted that, I’ll also enthusiastically recommend the rest of the books on the non-fiction shortlist, as well as a couple of others from among the 198 books under consideration.

    The Social Life of Ink by Ted Bishop

    This is a fabulous romp through the history of ink, how it has shaped culture, history, our minds and hearts. I rushed out and bought a Lamy fountain pen as soon as I finished this book and I’ve been writing with it, blissfully, ever since. [Look at that, another gift suggestion: this book + a nice fountain pen. Here’s one good site: www.stylo.ca]

    Norval Morrisseau by Armand Garnet Ruffo

    A mesmerising, dreamlike biography of the important and complex Aboriginal artist. The language of this work is so finely and richly textured, I would almost call it a literary painting. It is at once the story of a man and a people, a personal biography and a vast history. I will never look at a Morrisseau painting, or any painting, the same way again. [Leave your holiday shopping to me! This book + a Morrisseau print or set of Morrisseau cards or set of paints or a sketch pad.]

    Dispatches from the Front by David Halton

    I must admit that I did not pick this book up expecting great literature (because I had only known and admired David Halton as a television journalist), but it impressed and astonished me from the earliest pages and continued to enchant me to the end. Like his father’s extraordinary dispatches, David Halton’s writing soars. This book is captivating, engrossing and surprisingly moving. Even if it’s not your kind of book, you won’t be disappointed. And the history buffs in your lives would all like you to get them a copy.

    Party of One by Michael Harris

    Fortunately, this book is no longer relevant in any pressing or immediate way. Historians may turn to it to try to understand how Canada was nearly strangled within an inch of its essential values, but I am delighted to say that it is now a historical work. Buy it for your diehard Tory friends who still believe Stephen Harper had the country’s best interests at heart.

    Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan

    Shortly after our shortlist appeared (without this book on it), Stalin’s Daughter was awarded the prestigious Hilary Weston Prize for Nonfiction. I cannot tell you how loudly I whooped when I saw that news, as I was still losing sleep over this magnificent book’s puzzling omission from our list. Extremely well-written, impeccably researched, this is a tender and enthralling account of Stalin’s only daughter and her incredible–at times almost unbelievable–life. [Gift suggestion: this book + some contraption that will turn it into a hand weight; it’s over 600 pages]

    The House with the Parapet Wall by John Terpstra

    My final words to my partner and son before heading to Ottawa for the jury meeting that would decide the shortlist and winner of the Governor General’s Award were these: “I won’t be back until House with the Parapet Wall is on the shortlist at the very least!”

    Well, I was. Or rather, it wasn’t. Or rather, while I made several impassioned (and convincing, I thought) pleas for the book, the decisions of the jury must be made by consensus, and while there is always a modicum of compromise and concession, there is no out-and-out bargaining allowed, no I’ll scratch your book if you scratch mine. Ultimately, as we all know, these lists and prizes come down to the personal tastes and preferences of the judges and a slight change to a jury might result in a radically different list of finalists. (Witness how varied the shortlists of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Giller Prize were this year, for example.)

    Though I was unable to sway the other two jurors and the book is, admittedly, not for everyone, I found The House with the Parapet Wall to be a work of exceptional artistry, crystalline beauty and transcendence. The architecture of language alone makes the book worth savouring, but its resonant themes of love and loss and place and home are also explored with a masterful grace. One of the many notes I had stuck to frontispiece was, “this book calls to us from the greater possibilities of literature.” And the last note I wrote to myself was this: “Be prepared to go on a hunger strike for this book.”

    After the shortlist was announced and some time had passed, I wrote to the author to tell him how much I had adored his book and what it had meant to me. He was grateful, humble, and said he was glad I didn’t have to miss a meal.

    Gift suggestion: buy this book for someone you love, someone who adores great poetic writing and who views books as works of quietly majestic art. Even better, buy it for two people. The author is also a cabinetmaker, so you could always get in touch with him and order a table to go with it. [www.johnterpstra.com ]

    I hope this was helpful. I realise that buying books means adding to the craze of holiday consumerism, but it also means giving a few writers a much-deserved lift.

    Cheers & Merry Reading ~


    Sold Out in New York

    Thank you to everyone who helped spread the word and sell out the show at the legendary Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City. What a delight and honour it was to perform there. And how fantastic to be back in New York.

    cornelia street

    New Trailer

    Many thanks to Megan Laughton, David Doyle, Raymond Knight & Susan Taylor,
    all of whom contributed to the making of this snazzy new reel.


    What writing is and what it means, in the most eloquent words imaginable.

    Confessions in New York City

    I’m delighted to be performing at the legendary Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village in November. Cornelia Street is where Eve Ensler premiered The Vagina Monologues, Suzanne Vega got her start, where Oliver Sachs would do readings, and the Monty Python boys occasionally perform, so I am tickled at the prospect of spending next Friday the 13th on that stage. Please join me!

    Reservations are essential: 212-989-9319.


    Judging the GGs

    I am honoured to have been one of the jurors for this year’s Governor General’s Literary Awards. Congratulations to all of the books and authors on the shortlists!

    There were 198 books under consideration in the Non-Fiction category, meaning that I spent much of the summer in a rocking chair reading biographies, histories, memoirs, essay collections, scientific enquiries, technological explorations, political treatises, travel literature, and books that didn’t fit into any category at all. The non-fiction prize is not so much about comparing apples to oranges as it is pears to bicycles.

    The process of selection was by turns fascinating and excruciating, and while I am thrilled for our finalists, I cannot help but feel a bit heartbroken for the books that would have been featured and celebrated on a longlist were this prize to include one.

    The names of the jurors for this prize are kept confidential (until the day the shortlists are announced), so when people would ask what I was up to this summer, I was required to be vague. “Oh, just doing a bit of reading,” I’d say, the stack of books beside me bursting with sticky notes that I would occasionally shield with my hand.

    “I wish I were a writer,” a neighbour commented, eyeing the books, the rocking chair, my pot of tea. “It looks so relaxing.”

    photo (22)



    Next Up: Suchitoto

    The Stratford Festival’s 6th annual Suchitoto Cabaret will take place on October 5 at the Tom Patterson Theatre in Stratford, Ontario. The cabaret is a fundraiser for the Festival’s Suchitoto Project, which supports theatre projects for youth in the town of Suchitoto, El Salvador. I’ll be singing and hamming it up alongside my sisters in soul and song, Barbara Fulton and Glynis Ranney.

    For tickets, please contact the Stratford Festival Box Office: 1-800-567-1600



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