A five-part column series in the Nelson Star called “Festival Tales” will tell you what’s in store this summer. We’ll post ’em as they run.
Literary brilliance—and resilience
by Anne DeGrace
(appeared in the Nelson Star on Thursday, July 21)
Susan Musgrave and Stephen Reid met when he was serving a 20-year sentence for bank robbery as a former member of the notorious Stopwatch Gang, responsible for more than 100 impeccably-timed bank heists in the 1970s. Stephen sent Susan the manuscript for his novel Jackrabbit Parole; she offered advice, and the two were married at Kent Institution in Agassiz in 1986.
Stephen had suffered abuse as a child and struggled with addiction the rest of his life, returning to prison in 1999 after a botched bank robbery. After his release he published a collection of essays, A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden, and lived a clean life as a family man in his later years.
The Elephant Mountain Literary Festival committee was thrilled when the two agreed to join us for our 2018 theme of “literary couples.” Then, last week, Stephen Reid died of pulmonary edema on Haida Gwaii, where they lived.
At the news, I felt sad for Susan and their children, sorry I would not meet this man with the tragic, fascinating life who could write so beautifully. And then there was the Festival itself.
The Elephant Mountain Literary Festival planning committee aims for resilience, to anticipate every eventuality. But we weren’t anticipating this. Who would blame Susan Musgrave, EMLF writer-in-residence and bereaved partner in a featured “literary couple,” for retreating from everything?
And then we received her email: would we still like her to come?
EMLF committee member Tom Wayman has known Susan Musgrave for decades. “When I was a young writer living in Vancouver I can remember going to a bookstore with a couple of poet pals and all of us leafing through Susan Musgrave’s 1970 collection, Songs of the Sea-Witch. We were all jealous that she had a book of poems out already, at the age of 19, and here we were in our middle 20s with not yet even the hope of a book on the horizon,” he said.
Susan’s website describes the difficult years preceding that publication. “Committed to the local psychiatric ward, assigned to Room 0, she met most of the University of Victoria’s English Department. While she was plotting her eventual escape from the mental hospital, the poet Robin Skelton came to visit her. ‘You’re not mad,’ he said, after reading her poetry, ‘you’re a poet.’”
She was that, and more. Over the years Tom watched as Susan excelled in every literary genre, and in particular praises her 2011 poetry collection Origami Dove, which begins with the love poem, “Magnolia,” to her husband Stephen Reid, “a poem that since his death earlier this month now reads like a achingly poignant elegy.”
“Her command of language, her mastery of poetic form, the amazing scope of her emotional range in her writing ensure her place as one of our nation’s few enduring literary greats.”
When the committee met to discuss Susan’s willingness to attend the Festival despite the circumstances, Tom described her resilience. “She’s had a lot of challenges in her life,” he said. “She’s incredibly tough.” Susan’s bio on her website, susanmusgrave.com, illustrates that comment far better than I can in 600 words.
I am more fascinated than ever to meet this person of brilliance and resilience. You can too, at EMLF’s Saturday Night Live! event on Saturday, July 14 at 7:30pm at the Hume Hotel. The lineup also features literary couple Esi Edyugan (winner of the Giller Prize) and Steven Price (Re-Lit Award winner), all interviewed live on stage after their presentations by Globe and Mail Western Arts correspondent Marsha Lederman.
Writers write in order to make sense of their worlds, which helps all of us make sense of ours. The Elephant Mountain Literary Festival strives to bring those words to the Kootenays, the better for all of us to find places of strength and resilience.
Opening Gala is good for what “ales” you
by Anne DeGrace
(appeared in the Nelson Star on Thursday, July 14)
William Shakespeare wrote “a quart of ale is a dish for a king.” So it stands to reason a taster of locally-brewed beer is a fine way to toast local wordsmiths at the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival’s 100-Mile Opening Gala on Friday, July 13 at 7pm at the Hume Hotel.
An EMLF tradition, the Gala’s glass-raising is always good fun. For years we’ve paired regional wines with local writers, describing similarities between, say, the poet and the plonk, not about the quality of the wine or the writer—always excellent—just fun with alliteration. This year the Festival is pairing local authors with local beer in celebration of the happy proliferation of both.
As with wine, beer descriptors have their own colourful verbiage. Look for notes of leather, gunpowder, or cut grass; aromas of fresh bread; hints of mango, prickly pear, or smoked bacon. Oh, what fun we’ll have with these!
The afternoon of Friday begins with a free pre-event. The “literary craft crawl” involves beer-tastings at three local micro-breweries, each hand-crafted brew paired with an emerging writer from Selkirk College’s creative writing program.
Emma Leslie, Callum David Pengelly, and Whitney Rothwell will each be properly taster-toasted before they read from their work. Check out Backroads Brewing at 3:45, The Savoy Brewery at 4:20, and Torchlight Brewing Company at 5pm. It’s an easy walk between these venues.
Then it’s the Gala in the Hume Room, where the fun begins at 7:30pm (tickets are available at emlfestival.com). Since 1991 Nelson has enjoyed a malty love affair with NBC brews; this is a tryst of a different sort as we pair three exceptional writers and two literary award-winners with Nelson Brewing Company favourites.
Take, for example, NBC’s Happy Camper Summer Ale “with notes of peach, apricot, citrus and a sweet malt finish.” Which writer will be paired with this crowd-pleaser?
Will it be Slocan-valley-born Jordan Mounteer, whose poems have won or been shortlisted for a mittful of awards including CV2’s Young Buck Poetry Prize? Perhaps it makes sense: what happy camper wouldn’t raise a glass to youthful male ungulate? Jordan’s poetry collection, Liminal, would be a great addition to any thoughtful person’s backpack for those summer sunset evenings.
In his novel Mountain Blues, New Denver author Sean Arthur Joyce’s characters are at turns happy, angsty, wishful, and feisty campers as the story unfolds in one of the most pristine locales around. Happy Camper’s “sweet malt finish” and this novel’s ending do have something in common. So Art may well be our Happy Camper pairing—or one of three other “hopful” possibilities.
And what possibilities! Rayya Leibich—essayist, playwright, poet, and teacher, equally at home in a primary school classroom, teaching a teen workshop, or leading an adult writing course—is a multitalented person with a way with words. Rayya might pair well with a complex, velvety brew displaying notes of attitude, assonance, and allegory (and not-so-subtle hints of alliteration).
Also paired will be the Richard Carver Award-winners. This year’s award is an acknowledgement of two literary movers-and-shakers who have made a difference: literary agent Morty Mint and literary publisher Ernest Hekkanen. Both mavericks, pairing a beer with these two will be interesting—a hoppy problem. (Note: feel free to say skål with a club soda if beer’s not your thing).
With emcee (and Nelson City Councillor) Anna Purcell to keep things “hopping” and a bonus interview with Globe and Mail Western Arts Correspondent Marsha Lederman (who will interview our Saturday Night Live! headliners the next evening), expect an unforgettable evening.
One question remains: whose earthy undertones foreshadow a robust finish? There’s only one way to find out.
Announcing the Richard Carver Award recipients!
The Richard Carver Award, which traditionally honours emerging Kootenay writers, is changing in 2019 to recognize emerging artists in all disciplines. As this is the last year that the award will be dedicated solely to the literary arts, the 2018 award will honour two people who have made significant contributions to the literary scene.
The nominating committee is delighted to select Ernest Hekkanen, literary publisher, and Morty Mint, literary agent, as recipients of the 2018 Richard Carver Award. The award will be presented at the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival’s 100-Mile Opening Gala on Friday, July 13, 7:30pm at Hume Hotel.
Ernest Hekkanen served as founder and Editor-in-Chief of The New Orphic Review for 20 years before the literary journal’s retirement in 2018. He is co-curator of the home-based New Orphic Gallery, a Literary Landmark in Alan Twigg’s province-wide literary mapping project. Hekkanen, who has published 47 books, is also a poet, short story writer, novelist, essayist, playwright, publisher, printmaker and painter. He is listed in the Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada, and Contemporary Authors (in the U.S.)
Upon hearing the news, “I felt quite thrilled,” said Hekkanen, who noted that one of Richard Carver’s paintings was featured on a cover of the New Orphic Review. As for acceptance, “it is difficult for an old man of 71 to emerge from his chrysalis without damaging a few body parts,” he said. “All joking aside, I’m very honoured to be a co-awardee.”
Morty Mint has 52 years of experience in publishing, including positions as president of Penguin Canada and Penguin U.S.A. As Mint Publishers, he distributed The Guinness Book of World Records across North America and Ripley’s Believe it or Not worldwide. In 2004 the Nelson-based Mint Literary Agency was formed, representing local writers including Anne DeGrace, Cyndi Sand-Eveland, Jennifer Craig, Vivien Bowers, Antonia Banyard, Judy Toews, Holley Rubinsky, and Donna Macdonald. Mint has served on Nelson’s Cultural Development Committee and as a Director of the Kootenay Writers Society.
“When I first moved to the Kootenays 12 years ago, I was excited to discover the vibrancy of its literary community. It was fulfilling for me to put to use my years of experience in the publishing business in helping its writers find homes with publishers,” said Mint. “This is a lovely surprise and I am truly honoured.”
Since 2013 the Richard Carver Award, created by the Kootenay Writers Society and the Nelson and District Arts Council, has honoured emerging writers. Since 2015, the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival has been a partner with NDAC in presenting the award, which is named for the late Richard Carver, a Nelson resident who embraced the arts and the artistic process with passion and enthusiasm.
Richard Carver’s daughter, Jocelyn Carver, will present the award. “My father never ceased to be amazed by the vibrancy of the arts in Nelson and was inspired by the commitment and creativity of both Ernest and Morty,” she said. “These award recipients show us all how to build a true arts community, each in their own way. Congratulations to them both!”
Elephant Mountain Literary Festival’s 100-Mile-Opening Gala is a fitting backdrop for the award presentation, as it features local writers Art Joyce, Rayya Liebich, and Jordan Mounteer. The writers are paired with Nelson Brewing Company beers for a fun evening of literary appreciation and much merriment. Tickets are available at www.emlfestival.com.
A selection of books by 2018 EMLF presenters:
You’re in Canada Now . . . (2005)
A Taste of Haida Gwaii: Food Gathering and Feasting at the Edge of the World (2015)
When the World is not Our Home: Selected Poems 1985-2000 (2009)
Origami Dove (2011)
Cargo of Orchids (2000)
Love You More (2014)
More Blueberries! (2015)
Perfectly Secret (2004)
Force Field: 77 Women Poets of B.C. (2013)
A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden: Writing from Prison (2012)
Jackrabbit Parole (1986)
The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (2004)
Half Blood Blues (2011)
Dreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home (2014)
Anatomy of Keys (2006)
Into the Darkness (2011)
Omens in the Year of the Ox (2012)
By Gaslight (Penguin Random House 2016)
Liminal (Sono Nis 2016)
Sean Arthur Joyce:
A Perfect Childhood: One Hundred Years of Heritage Homes in Nelson (1997)
Hanging Fire & Heavy Horses: A History of Public Transit in Nelson (2000)
Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West (2014)
The Charlatans of Paradise (2005)
Star Seeds( 2009)
The Price of Transcendence ( 2015)
Mountain Blues (NeWest 2018)
A Legacy of Words: remembering Holley Rubinsky
by Anne DeGrace
This article appeared in the fall 2015 issue of ARTiculate Magazine. Each year the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival offers the Holley Rubinsky Memorial Blue Pencil Sessions, this year with Writer-in-Residence Susan Musgrave.
In Holley Rubinsky’s 2006 novel Beyond This Point, five women find their way to the Kaslo-like town of Ruth during forest fire season.
Holley passed away in Kaslo from cancer on August 1, and in the smoky weeks that followed I thought about the novel, and I thought about Holley. As word spread in the writing community, I suspect that a lot of people were thinking about the fire that was Holley: in her writing, her energy and enthusiasm, her generosity, and her legendary straightforwardness.
In her four published books of fiction Holley displayed a talent for describing complex ideas with a remarkable economy of words. Her style was sophisticated, insightful, sharply drawn and starkly rendered. Her stories could be humorous, difficult, dark, and unforgettable.
Holley moved from California to Kaslo with her daughter Robin in 1976. By then she had won the Samuel Goldwyn Creative Writing Award, acquired a Master’s degree in education and earned her pilot’s license. In Kaslo she taught elementary school and became entrenched in the community. And she wrote.
Attending the Banff Publishing Workshop (BPW) in the early 80s, Holley rubbed shoulders with literary luminaries including Alistair MacLeod, Sandra Birdsell, and W.O. Mitchell. It was there that she met and fell in love with BPW founder Yuri Rubinsky; they married in 1984. And she became friends with Douglas Gibson, who with McClelland & Stewart would publish Beyond This Point 30 years later.
BPW “changed the face of Canadian publishing” explains Doug. “Yuri lured us all out there, where the mountains had an extraordinary effect of everyone. Just as it was wonderful to see Yuri in action, it was even more wonderful to see Yuri and Holley in action. They were wonderfully well suited, and it was exciting to be around them.”
They settled in Toronto, where Holley went on to win the National Magazine Award, the Foundation Award for Fiction, and the Journey Prize for her short story “Rapid Transits,” which became the title story in a collection published by Polestar in 1991. At First I Hope for Rescue (Knopf 1997) was nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.
After Yuri’s untimely death, which Holley drew upon for Beyond This Point, she moved to Arizona. There she gathered the characters and setting that would inform South of Elfrida, published by Brindle & Glass in 2013. But the mountains called, and Holley returned to Kaslo where she found new ways to embrace the literary life.
Holley hosted The Writers’ Show on Kootenay Co-op Radio from 2006 to 2008, interviewing writers and publishing insiders. The list is a who’s who of literary notables, including George Bowering, John Vaillant, Angie Abdou, and Kathy Page. She hosted writing retreats at her Kaslo home, offering support, mentorship and critique, drawing gratitude and occasionally blood; Holley said what she thought. Linda Crosfield describes Holley’s retreats:
“A typical retreat consisted of five or six writers working manuscripts. We’d meet in the morning around her big oak table, share a little of our work and talk about what we planned to do over the next few days. Then we’d go to our various work places and have at it. At the end of the day we’d wind up in her kitchen, put together a communal meal, and unwind over a glass of something,” says Linda, adding that Holley was “an insightful editor and a tireless supporter of emerging writers.”
Holley worked with Mandy Bath on her memoir Disaster in Paradise. “Holley was an exacting and inspiring teacher. Her advice was clear, blunt and sometimes hard to take, but always worth following,” she says. “Our collaboration over more than two years marked one of the most fulfilling periods of my life.”
Author Rita Moir taught writing workshops with Holley, who, she says, “was as brutal with her own work as she was with others. Holley was also exuberant, full of piss and vinegar, generous, always inventing new ways to survive. She was curious, a sprite, a vixen, a hag. I mean that in all the fullness of those terms, for the best and the worst.”
If Holley demanded the best in others, she expected the best in herself. Unhappy with the published version of Beyond This Point, she reworked and self-published her own limited edition version, Weight of the Bear. Self-critical as she may have been, her work drew praise. The Globe and Mail called her writing “incendiary.”
“As with all her writing, Holley was fearless about her material and about showing the prickly, mean and miserable side of humanity,” says author Caroline Woodward. “It takes courage to write with such depth about darkness the way she did and with such clear-eyed compassion for each and every character.”
“I was struck by Holley’s fierceness in arguing for good writing,” says poet Jane Byers, and Holley will be remembered for championing the written word.
It was important to Holley that literary mentorship and critique continue. And so, thanks to a generous bequest, Nelson’s Elephant Mountain Literary Festival will host a Holley Rubinsky blue pencil intensive workshop with an established writer in 2016.
The legacy of a writer lies in the words she leaves behind. In Holley’s case, the legacy can be found not only in her own words, but also in the words she drew from others, sometimes gently, sometimes kicking and screaming, demanding always that the work be the very best. And that’s a legacy indeed.
Holley Rubinsky bibliography:
South of Elfrida (Brindle & Glass 2013)
Weight of the Bear (self-published limited edition, 2008; a shortened and edited version of Beyond This Point.)
Beyond This Point (McClelland & Stewart, 2006)
At First I Hope for Rescue (Knopf Canada, 1997; Picador (USA), 1998)
Rapid Transits and Other Stories (Polestar Press, 1990)