All subjects under the stars

0

DETAILS
STARFest tickets are on sale now. With a few exceptions, all presentations will be in Forsyth Hall at the library and will cost $5. Tickets for events at the Arden Theatre are $10 each.

Tickets for all events are available through the main floor desk at the St. Albert Public Library, by calling the library at 780-459-1530, or via www.eventbrite.ca.

Full details on all presentations are available at www.STARFest.ca

 

The St. Albert Readers’ Festival is now right in the thick of the plot, having introduced some compelling characters with incredible stories to the stage. There have even been a few sold out appearances.

As we move into week three of STARFest, there has been one major edit. One author, originally scheduled to make her return to the city on Monday, had to bow out.

“Unfortunately, Eden Robinson had to cancel due to circumstances out of our control but we were thrilled to be able to line up Tanya Talaga in her place,” explained festival director Heather Dolman, offering praise to the replacement’s first work on a subject that everyone should invest time in learning about.

“Tanya’s book is so very timely and important for all of us to read and discuss with respect to all the issues around truth and reconciliation. And now, Seven Fallen Feathers has also been shortlisted for the prestigious Hilary Weston Writers Trust Prize for Non-fiction so it’s not just a work to be shared for the discussion and understanding that it provides on indigenous issues but to be appreciated for its literary excellence as well.”

Telling seven tough stories between two covers

Tanya Talaga is probably the best fill-in to replace Eden Robinson. Talaga is an award-winning investigative journalist who has been nominated five times for the Michener Award in public service journalism and has been on the winning writing teams for National Newspaper Awards for working on the Bangladesh Rana Plaza disaster and a series of stories on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Those are pretty good credits, especially for someone who doesn’t even have a journalism degree.

“I always loved to write and to read from the time I was a really little girl. It was always my thing. I always hoped to make a career out of writing. I loved the fact that we could tell people stories,” she began, adding an amusing personal anecdote with a chuckle. “My father wanted me to become a pharmaceutical salesman just like him. We had a bit of a tug of war, but luckily, I was able to pull through.”

That’s lucky for all of us too. She specializes in Indigenous affairs, which first brought her attention to the fallout of the abuses of residential schools. More than 50 years ago, 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack froze to death on the railway tracks after running away from the residential school he was forced to go to. He was trying to return to his Anishinaabe home. Four recommendations were made so that the tragedy would never be repeated, yet none of them were applied.

Between 2000 and 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, hundreds of kilometres away from their families and their homes. Five of the children were found in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, including Jordan Wabasse, who was known as much for his gentle disposition as his immense talent at hockey, and Kyle Morrisseau, the grandson of celebrated artist Norval Morrisseau. Others were found dead in the rivers or inside their schools. Their names were Curran Strang, Robyn Harper, Paul Panacheese, Reggie Bushie, and Jethro Anderson.

Talaga’s long history in newspaper reporting, starting with her campus newspaper, led her to the Toronto Star where she has been for more than two decades. Taking the leap from even a 2000-word feature piece for the paper to long-form non-fiction book writing is a daunting one indeed. Finding a compelling story that needed to be told sure helped convince her.

“It was greater than what I could do in a newspaper article. I knew there was far more context and more to the story than I could possibly fit in a larger newspaper feature.”

The whole project has been in the works for several years now but she only crunched out the writing at the beginning of last summer. It all started when she proposed a story about why Indigenous people weren’t voting during the federal election back in 2011. Her research took her to talking with then Grand Chief Stan Beardy of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation.

“In the course of asking him about the election, he was talking to me about Jordan (Wabasse). We did this back and forward: I would ask a question about the election and he would tell me something about Jordan, and ask me why aren’t I writing a story about him. After roughly 10 or 15 minutes of back and forward, I stopped and remembered where I was and who I was speaking with. I needed to be respectful and just listen to him.”

Once he told her that there were seven children who had met the same fate, she understood that it was an issue that couldn’t remain untold. Telling it properly, however, meant more time.

“I knew I couldn’t do it justice until I was ready. It takes a lot when you write a book, and I am very emotionally invested in the place and the story.”

There was another major factor that resulted in the success of her pursuing what would eventually become Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City. Trust was – and still is – the key to such matters, she said. There was so much trust that they placed in her that they developed a relationship that has transcended the book’s publication. She still speaks often with some of them too.

“I really respect and love the people that I spoke to for the book. Not everyone participated, but those that did … they really gave of themselves and … shared their stories with me. I really do hope that … the one thing that comes out of this book is that I honour the kids and their memory: that people realize that their lives meant something. They were all very much loved by their families.”

She ended by saying how inspired she was by the resiliency, strength and love of all of the families.

She looks forward to her time here and was pleased by how receptive the Edmonton community has been to the book, just released on Sept. 30. Talaga will be in conversation with Metro Edmonton Libraries writer in residence Richard Van Camp on the Arden Theatre stage.

The triumph of historical novel trilogy

Buffalo-born Roberta Rich used to be a divorce lawyer, a nurse’s aide, and a factory assembly line worker.

Maybe there’s something to the notion that life experiences either lend themselves to your writing, or lead you to writing in the first place.

Rich has since given up those professions to devote to her new love: the fictional world of Hannah Levi, a 16th century midwife in the Venetian ghetto. The author has taken her heroine through two popular adventures, The Midwife of Venice and The Harem Midwife, both filled with politics, drama and well-researched historical detail.

She has now returned with the thrilling conclusion called A Trial in Venice.

Rich will be in conversation with author Caterina Edwards on Wed., Oct. 25.

Go ahead, laugh

You might know Bill Richardson’s face from his work on CBC Radio. That, sadly, is as close as I can get to humour.

Richardson, on the other hand, is no stranger to the laughter or how to make it. From his radio show Richardson’s Roundup to his Stephen Leacock Medal-winning book Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast, he seems to have his fingers on the pulse of our collective funny bone, or something like that.

He’s back with a series of musings on what it’s like to take on the golden years. The First Little Bastard to Call Me Gramps: Poems of the Late Middle Ages is a paean to aging with all of its aches, groans, and embarrassments covering all topics from retirement homes, tours on cruise ships, and grandchildren, to liver spots, memory problems and geriatric sex. To put an even greater slant on his comedy, he wrote it in the style of A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young. They’re “Ogden Nash-y,” he offered.

“They’re very deliberately meant to be kind of like adult versions of nursery rhymes, but dealing with the indignities of aging,” he said, being careful to point out that almost none of them are reflective of his own experiences.

He is only in his early 60s after all, he remarked, with rat-a-tat-tat hilarious self-deprecation.

“In a way, it was kind of like writing fiction, although often they’re cast in the first person, but that’s just the way of it. I think that people do imagine that they are about my own life. Certainly that’s if anybody actually reads the damn things. I don’t think anybody does. Why would they?”

Thankfully, Richardson is set to have the Forsyth Hall stage all to himself when he arrives next Friday.

Share.

About Author

Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.