Ma-nee Chacaby's book 'A Two-Spirit Journey"

Ma-nee Chacaby's book 'A Two-Spirit Journey"
Flying off the Book Table

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Launch of A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder by Ma-nee Chacaby with Mary Louise Plummer

Elder Isabelle Mercier (with Joan Baril) who opened and closed the gathering with smudging and prayers

The launch of Ma-nee Chacaby's book, "A Two-Spirit Journey" was attended by laughter and smiles when she read about the antics of her childhood. It was also attended by profound sadness as she spoke about the violence she experienced when she was a child, a married woman and an alcoholic living on the streets. 

I have almost finished reading it (stayed up most of the night) and the contrast between light and dark, a life of brutality and a life of social activism, had me smiling and often, crying. Ma-nee's life was saved by her many friends, by AA and by a firm spiritual belief. Although she managed to survive many trials, she was still beaten on the streets for coming out as a lesbian. This book is an immediate classic on a par with Maria Campbell's book "Halfbreed." Every page trembles with a searing honesty.

The first sentence: "My name is Ma-nee Chacaby. I am an Ojibwa-Cree elder, and I have both a male and female spirit inside me. I have experienced a long, complicated, and sometimes challenging journey over the course of my life."

This is a book about violence and secrets. When a girl was raped in Ma-nee's community or a child was sexually abused, the victims were cautioned to keep quiet. Marital violence was overlooked. Ma-nee is blunt about the alcoholism in her village, her own alcoholism and the alcoholism, drugs and physical and sexual violence on the streets of Thunder Bay where she lived as she said, "as a bum." Pervasive racism worked to keep her there but she also received help from many kindly friends, social workers and members of her family.

The book is a first rate production with many photos and examples of Ma-nee's art work. In the excellent "Afterword," Mary Louise Plumber tells us how the book came about and its place in the broader field of indigenous literature. I was happy to see, at the end, a glossary of Ojibwe words, a list of people mentioned and a strong bibliography. A class act all round. 

The large audience at Lakehead University on Monday afternoon May 16, were spellbound with wonder at Ma-nee's great strength and resilience. Afterwards people  lined up and sold out the books within a few minutes Then they lined up to put their names down on a list to be called as soon as more books came into the University Bookstore.

Ma-nee signing books. One of her paintings lies on the table as an example of her work as an artist.
Ma-nee Chacaby at the Launch
photos Joan M. Baril

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Writers Retreat Here? You bet!!!

Dear Joan, This seems like a good time to introduce myself. 

I currently live in Calgary and write mystery-thriller novels & children's books under a different pen name. My connection to the area is that I grew up in Atikokan and that area is where my heart remains. I have lived in BC and Alberta, where I retired from a career in policing in 2011.

 Things have come full-circle with my recent purchase of lakefront property near Atikokan. With the help of a Thunder Bay librarian friend and her contractor husband, we're working on it this summer to turn it into a small writer's retreat where I hope to live year round. 

The footings for the sauna/writer solarium are in and the structure should take a few weeks. We hope to get the guest cabins built this summer so we can try our first retreat next year.    

I am so looking forward to getting reconnected to the area.

Makenzi Fisk

Thursday, May 12, 2016

18th Annual NOWW Writing Contest Winners

Novel winner Tessa Soderberg with friend 

First Prize: Siobhan Farrell
Second Prize: "Principles of Non-Contradiction" - Holly Haggarty
Third Prize: Sherri Lankinen
Honourable Mention: Sallee Dick

Creative Non-Fiction
First Prize: "One Man's Love: A Memoir" - Sue Blot
Second Prize: "Start with a Shovel" - Roy Blomstrom
Third Prize: "Visits to the Wastelands" - Jack Shedden

Short Fiction
First Prize: "The Sisterhood" - Joan Baril
Second Prize: "Frogs Don't Swim" - Doug Diaczuk

Novel Excerpt
First Prize: "Home Service" - Tessa Soderberg
Second Prize: "Walter Boychuk" - Jim Creighton
Third Prize: "Summer Wages" - Tessa Soderberg

Noww President Jane Crossman presents Michael Christie with the Elizabeth Kouhi Award for outstanding contributions to the literature of Northwestern Ontario 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Wow, double Wow! What a night!

Last night was the NOWW's 18th Annual Awards Party and what a party it was. A full house at the Prince Arthur heard Michael Christie, the keynote speaker talk about growing up in Thunder Bay and feeling isolated and far away from the action. A visit to Alistair MacLeod's writing cabin in Cape Breton changed his mind. He realized isolated and far from the centres of culture had no meaning to a writer. Great art can happen anywhere. Christie ended with a call to join Jane Urquhart (and her book, The Underpainter) and write about where we are, right here.

 The room was bursting with talent. I talked to dozens of people: readers, writers, playwrights, poets and just general literature lovers. Here are just a few. More later.

Amy Jones whose new novel, "We're All in This Together," will be available a Chapters June 11. Amy will be there too, to meet, greet and sign. 

Sue Blott won first prize in the non-fiction category for a memorable  story about her father who, she learned late in life, was not really her biological father at all.

Dave Belrose told me about his upcoming memoir "Answering a Different Call: My (Queer) Thunder Bay Life." Dave has lived an eventful life which will result in a superb memoir.

John Pringle, whose play "No More Jokes," took first place in the recent 10X10 competition. The play was presented to a appreciative audience as part of the after dinner entertainment. 

Linda Golpy Anderson discussed her YA novel and the many pitfalls on the road to publication. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Michael Christie Interview

This interview was posted on TBPL "Off the Shelf." 
Michael Christie is the author of If I Fall, If I Die, which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, won the Northern Lit Award, and was selected as a New York Times Editors’ Choice. His collection of short stories, The Beggar's Garden, was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a finalist for the Writers' Trust Prize for Fiction, and won the Vancouver Book Award. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Globe & Mail. He holds an MFA from the University of British Columbia, and prior to his MFA, he was a sponsored skateboarder and travelled throughout the world skateboarding and writing for skateboard magazines. Born in Thunder Bay, Ontario, he now lives on Galiano Island with his wife and two sons.  You can find him online atMichael Christie Dot Net.  He’ll be presenting a workshop this Saturday at Mary Black; head for more details!
Shauna Kosoris: If I Fall, If I Die is about the son of a woman with crippling agoraphobia who starts to venture Outside of their house.  Why did you write about this relationship, specifically from the son’s perspective?
Michael Christie: My mom suffered from agoraphobia while I was growing up. And Diane, Will's mother in my novel, is partially based on her. I told much of Diane's story from Will's perspective because a child's limited perspective of their parent's behaviour is such a powerful and sad way for the reader to see them. I know from personal experience that any child of a mentally ill parent is very good at watching and observing, and Will is no different.
Your book is written from a third-person limited perspective.  Did you try any other points of view before settling on this one?
That's a very good question! Point of view is something that I talk about a great deal whenever I teach creative writing. And my first book, The Beggar's Garden, featured a good mix of first and third person, told in both present and past tense. But for this novel, it seemed like the third person limited was the best choice. Perhaps, I suspect, because the first person narration of a ten year-old boy is very difficult to pull off, and could really wear the reader down over 300 pages.

Marianne Jones up for Award with The Girl Who Wouldn't Die.

Dear Joan, I’m excited to announce that The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die has been shortlisted in the Books: Life Stories category by The Word Guild! Winners in all categories will be announced at the Word Guild’s Gala Celebration June 24 in Toronto.  Interesting to note that three of the four books short listed are from Word Alive Press.

Marianne Jones

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

At the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory

Every spring, thousands of birds from the south arrive in the boreal forest .The bird banding season at the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory at the tip of the Sleeping Giant will welcome some of them.. One spring, I spent an amazing week there.
At Thunder Cape Bird Observatory
By Joan M. Baril
At  five o’clock in the morning, the mist on the rocks is ankle deep.  Far out across the lake, an island floats above the rosy haze as if levitating.  We three run along the rocks of the shore, leaping from log to rock to patches of sand, clapping our hands.  A song sparrow emerges from the weeds and flies ahead of us straight into the mouth of the trap.
He’s an old customer.  He already has a band on his leg so we lift the back door and shoo him out. Then back and repeat: run, jump, clap, three humans springing like clumsy deer.  Another bird startles out of the underbrush.  Then two more flutter into the wide wire maw, sparrows all.
Again clapping, tired now.  We want breakfast, coffee in the cabin.  No more birds appear. We measure and weigh the sparrows, band and release them, put up the nets, catch an angry blue jay who screams as he is untangled showing us his long tongue. 
The waves kiss the beach slipping between the rocks.  The mist vanishes in an instant and the island settles down into the water. The pink globe turns on its fire.  Another cup of coffee on the deck. Smell of water, dewy grass.  Three mergansers bead the air and are duly noted in the book.  A posse of cormorants wing by full of black intent. The net shimmers and a warbler as golden as the sun lies still as I untangle him and hold him in my palm.  He does not struggle as I slip him into a cloth bag.  When I take him out, he regards me with a dark eye. I weigh and measure him and set the narrow band on his impossibly thin leg. He flies off without a backward look.
After lunch, I walk back into the bush looking for mushrooms.  It’s then I notice a miniscule nest in the crook of a cedar.  The size of a thimble, it contains a single egg like a tiny white candy.  When I lean closer, mama hummingbird appears in a whirr of wings, angry as only hummingbirds can be.  She buzzes around my head as I back away and chases me all the way to the cabin.

Later, I take my colleagues to see the nest.  But once off the path, I’m not sure where it is.  We spend an hour searching, but we do not find it.
photo Damon Dowback

Friday, April 29, 2016

Poem Travesty by Patricia Laster mourns the random cutting of park trees.

Hi fellow lit lovers. I met Pat Laser at the Dairy Hollow Writers Colony in Arkansas and I have been following her blog and poetry ever since. Pat is gifted, I'm sure you will agree. Here is her latest prize winner, "Travesty." This poignant work describes the cutting of trees "for the safety of walkers." Joan M. Baril


The walking trail through Wyndham Park, with oaks
and willows, maples, sycamores and gums:
a splashy autumn show for city folks
in step with robin songs, cicada hums.
One day, sweet woodsmoke in the air, they came:
a droning, giant buzz, like screaming knives
with swishing crashes following. The lame
excuse: obliterate what threatens lives.
They cut two hundred-plus: the young, the old,
the stately, vivid trees. Mimosas spared,
their listless beanpods left to hang like cold
and desiccated tears; but trailside’s bared.
The robins, mockingbirds have taken wing
but I am safe amidst this awful thing.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Night Stages, by Jane Urquart. A Review by poet Margaret Rose Cunningham

The   Night  Stages. A review by Margaret Rose Cunningham
                     Jane Urquhart writes with assurance.  Her imagery is elegant:  Her sense  of time and place authentic. Her characters ring true.   A sadness, however, like a fog,blows through the book,  tinting the tale at almost every turn.   

                     “Night Stages “, set in the remote area of County Kerry, Ireland explores the meaning of separation , and the sorrows of broken families. You will be struck  by the emotional depth of the novel and will not easily forget the problems and agony suffered by the characters. 
                        Each of the main characters, Tam ,Niall and Niall’s brother  Kieran suffer from deep traumas. Tam , because her love for Niall is not returned;  Niall because he failed to help his brother Kieran, and Kieran because of his mother’s suicide at a vulnerable time in his life.  The situation is not helped  when the two brothers fall in love with the same woman. Only Annie , a countrywoman ,and her friends,  are a redeeming presence in Kieran’s life when she takes him into her home.
                          At the conclusion of the book ,we are left  with some hope that the suffering of all of them will be mitigated. Tam has left Ireland only to be stopped in Gander , NFL. by the fog. There she meditates  on Canadian Ken Lochhead’s  mural  for three days.   When the fog dissipates,  the plane can take off.Hope replaces the sadness.   
       Jane Urquhart