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STARFest leading up to grand finale

Can-Lit is St. Albert's hot ticket as the St. Albert Readers Festival continues on a rolling wave of star-studded events. This is the third and final feature previewing STARFest's list of authors set to make appearances.

Can-Lit is St. Albert's hot ticket as the St. Albert Readers Festival continues on a rolling wave of star-studded events. Right now, literature lovers are smack dab in the middle of a series of author appearances one after another, night after night, until the closing night grand finale with Jean Teillet on Oct. 28.

This is the third and final feature previewing these upcoming events but don't forget about the special event planned for Oct. 23. That's when host Diana Davidson offers a stage to Wendy McGrath, Lauren Carter, Randy Nikkel Schroeder, and Michelle Kaeser as they participate in a panel discussion on the Book Publishers Association of Alberta’s Read Alberta eBooks project.

Most events will take place in Forsyth Hall at the library, with a select few set to grace the Arden Theatre stage. Tickets for all ($7 for Forsyth Hall, $15 for Arden Theatre) can be purchased in advance through or at the customer service desk at the library. Call 780-459-1530 for more information.

Please note the events for Ann Hui on Oct. 25 and Winnie Yeung with Abu Bakr al Rabeeah (Homes) on Oct. 27 are both now sold out.

Ann Hui – Friday, Oct. 25, at Forsyth Hall, hosted by Marty Chan

Drumheller, Vulcan, and Glendon ... these are but a few of the many stops on Globe and Mail food reporter Ann Hui’s cross-Canada tour of Chinese restaurants. It wasn't just because she was hungry. It was research. The astute observer doesn't critique the cuisine or comment on the chef's techniques in her newspaper writing; she explores the aspects of food that are affected by broader issues of politics and law, health governance, the environment, science and technology.

“I look at questions like where it comes from, why do we eat the way that we do now? I'm writing a lot about food policy, a lot about the intersection between food and environmental health in trying to approach all of these issues with the same kind of rigor as we would with any other kind of a national news beat,” she elaborated. “It's one of those issues that touches on pretty much every aspect of our lives.”

Her non-fiction book Chop Suey Nation explores the commonality of the small town Chinese restaurant and the history that preceded it. Growing up in a Chinese Canadian family in Vancouver meant she was raised to understand some of the best classic Old World Chinese food in the country, but that's not necessarily the case for the majority of Canadians.

"Chinese food ... it's in my blood, obviously, but it's always been a subject of fascination and almost an obsession in my family and certainly in our community," she said, explaining her fascination with small town Chinese restaurants and chop suey food. 

"Maybe when I became school age and started to first become aware of this other kind of Chinese food – this kind of 'chop suey' Chinese food in these restaurants that were usually in places outside of Vancouver, usually in smaller towns across Canada – we would leave Vancouver and go on a road trip to Banff or drive out to visit family friends out in Kamloops or something, we would stop in these small towns and I would see these restaurants. It was so different from what I was used to in Vancouver. In the small towns, there were often Chinese restaurants that all looked more or less the same. A lot of them have this kind of sameness to them that I was really fascinated by. I was intrigued by these menus that were filled with dishes that I wasn't used to: many of them I had never heard of before." 

While the food certainly was a revelation, it was the history and even the mythology surrounding these restaurants and chop suey itself that was rich territory for her to explore. Chop Suey Nation is described as part family history, part social history, and part culinary narrative. It serves to not only improve your appetite for knowledge about our country but might also make you more than a bit hungry as well.

Waubgeshig Rice – Saturday, Oct. 26, at Forsyth Hall, hosted by Richard van Camp

Don't worry about stumbling over this author's name – call him Waub (rhymes with cob) if you must. One of the most approachable authors to make this year's STARFest, Waubgeshig (pronounced 'wobGEESH-ik,' according to a Maclean's article he wrote in 2005) is an Anishinaabe writer and journalist whose short story collection Midnight Sweatlodge came out in 2011 and his first novel Legacy a few years later.

He has returned in fine form with Moon of the Crusted Snow, proving both that his literary star is on the rise and that his STARFest appearance is not to be missed.

Writing has always been a lifelong passion, something that was instilled in him by his parents and English teachers. 

"I've always been really compelled by the written word, not necessarily knowing though the connection between that and my own culture. Growing up in the '80s and '90s, I didn't see a lot of Indigenous representation in the literary world," he began.

Thanks to an aunt, he soon grew to become more familiar with some Indigenous authors: Richard Wagamese, Thomas King, Lee Maracle and Richard van Camp among them.

"I became interested in trying to write my own story and maybe pursuing that dream of eventually being published someday."

Moon of the Crusted Snow combines the best of parable with the most inspiring elements of literary fiction. It's a post-apocalyptic thriller set in a small northern Anishinaabe community that's cut off from the rest of the world after all the power goes out. There's panic and food shortages as you might expect but the story twists wonderfully first when a visitor arrives, bringing news of the decay of the rest of society. Others soon follow and the community becomes a place for salvation though it has to go through hell first to get there. 

Rice was always a fan of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, none of which ever came from the Indigenous perspective, he said. That voice and those characters were always missing in his reading list. It was only after the big blackout of 2003 throughout much of eastern North America that the author came upon the idea for the plot and the setting for this tale.

"I know what it's like to feel like an outsider when there's this prosperous country rising up on the world stage while a lot of First Nations issues at home tend to be neglected by that particular country," he said.

"In that sense, it's very intentional to flip the script, I guess you could say, and show how reserve life is beneficial in a lot of ways. I think it was really important for me to get that across and also to open people's eyes to what that perspective really is. In some ways it reflects history in a different way too, because a lot of First Nations and people from Indigenous backgrounds have already endured these pretty major catastrophic events in their lifetimes. It's easily arguable that First Nations have already endured apocalypse in the modern sense."

He said he's very eager to make his STARFest appearance because he's heard how wonderful the festival is, plus he's keen to be hosted by Richard van Camp, one of his literary idols.

Winnie Yeung with Abu Bakr al Rabeeah – Sunday, Oct. 27, at the St. Albert Public Library, hosted by Stephen Womack

Homes: A Refugee Story is the story of Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and his family as they struggled to find stable home life in an unstable world. Originally from Iraq, they sought to escape religious persecution by first moving to Syria. After only a few years, the Syrian Civil War forced them and tens of thousands of others to flee that country. The young boy and his family ended up in Edmonton where he first came to be an ESL student of Winnie Yeung.

Yeung, who did a stellar job of writing al Rabeeah’s life for Homes, admits she bit off more than she could chew when she took on the task. As his teacher, she encouraged him to talk more to improve his English speaking skills. That’s when he revealed he wanted people to understand where he came from and accept him as they would anyone else.

“He just wanted to be treated like any other junior high kid: teenager, fresh, new to school. He just wanted to make friends and he thought he could help his friends understand what was going on in his life because he didn't really have the English ability to do that. That's where I felt really compelled to step in and help him tell his story,” she said.

The process involved his parents as well as his translator, so you can easily imagine how arduous the task of detailing out the events of his tumultuous life could be. Arduous, yes, but no less important. She said at first she thought it would just turn out to be a little after-school project. The story, however, revealed itself to be a bigger human story in the end, which is why they originally self-published the book.

Homes is about family. It’s about struggle and survival. It’s about love and living no matter where in the world you come from and where in the world you have to run away to.

Yeung said the book also helps to break down a lot of social barriers. We live in a world of refugees and we all deserve the world’s understanding of what that means.

“He thought that by helping them understand who he was and where he came from, they could just become friends because he wouldn't be this other person. I think when we think about the word ‘refugee,’ it has so much emotional baggage tied to it. Oftentimes you go, ‘Oh, no, how do we treat this person?’ ” she continued.

“He's an incredible young man and what I really, really love about Abu Bakr and his family is they don't really wear themselves like victims. What I found most profound about their stories is that through everything, they just thought, ‘This is not going to define who we are. Yes, horrible things happen.’ This family held together through just really by sticking together and thinking, ‘Let's find ways to focus on what's going well within our family.’ They were among the lucky ones because they get did get out earlier and they didn't have to spend time in a refugee camp, but at the same time, it's really quite lovely to see that their past hasn't defined the beautiful, bright people that they are nowadays.”

It turns out al Rabeeah is now a bright, intelligent, engaging 18-year-old with a part-time job and a thriving social life, while Yeung is now teaching his younger siblings. St. Albert is lucky the two co-authors will share the stage with host Stephen Womack for their joint appearance on Sunday, Oct. 27.

Jean Teillet – Monday, Oct. 28, at Forsyth Hall, hosted by Celina Loyer

Jean Teillet is a well-known Vancouver-based Indigenous rights lawyer. She’s also the great-grandniece of Louis Riel. When she talks, people should listen. Likewise, when she writes, people should read, especially when the subject is Métis history.

The North-West is Our Mother is her astute, scholarly and authoritative attempt to fill in one of the country’s biggest gaps in its historical record: the story of the Métis Nation, a distinct group of Canada’s Indigenous population.

Her book brings to life the Métis story starting from the late 18th century, through the Riel Rebellion and up to the modern day. It’s a book that should have a firm place in Social Studies classes. Until then, it’s considered optional but highly recommended and entirely worthwhile.

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ecology and Environment Reporter at the Fitzhugh Newspaper since July 2022 under Local Journalism Initiative funding provided by News Media Canada.
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