Nelson’s Elephant Mountain Literary Festival Announces Lineup for July 2018

Susan Musgrave and Stephen Reid reenact a classic Bonnie and Clyde shot.

Two internationally-renowned literary couples will share the spotlight at the 7th annual Elephant Mountain Literary Festival in Nelson, B.C. July 12 to 15.

“Any intimate relationship takes creativity to make it work,” said EMLF executive director Natasha Smith as she announced this year’s festival lineup. “What is the creative dynamic like when both partners in a relationship are also writers? How does that work? We thought it would be fascinating to find out.

Susan Musgrave has excelled in poetry, fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature, anthology editing and memoir. She teaches in the University of B.C. creative writing department’s Master of Fine Arts program, and in 2014 was awarded the $20,000 Matt Cohen Award for “a lifetime of distinguished work by a Canadian writer.”

Joining Musgrave at EMLF is her husband Stephen Reid, whose most recent collection of essays, A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden: Writing from Prison, won the 2013 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize. He was released in 2015 after serving 18 years in prison for a 1999 Victoria bank robbery.


Esi Edugyan & Steven Price

Victoria, B.C. novelists Esi Edugyan and Steven Price will also take the stage at this year’s EMLF. Edugyan’s 2011 Half-Blood Blues won the Giller Prize, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Governor General’s Award.  Her latest is the non-fiction Dreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home (2014). Steven Price’s 2016 novel Gaslight was longlisted for the Giller, and his poetry has won the 2007 Gerald Lampert Award and the 2013 ReLit Award.

Serving as the Holley Rubinsky Memorial writer-in-residence at this year’s EMLF is Susan Musgrave. Also in the schedule is a Friday afternoon pub crawl involving local emerging writers and three Nelson craft brew pubs, followed by the Friday opening night gala featuring West Kootenay authors paired with Nelson Brewing Company beers. Authors reading at the gala are Griffin Prize winner poet Jordan Abel from Castlegar, New Denver poet, novelist, historian and journalist Sean Arthur Joyce, and Nelson poet Rayya Liebich.

Saturday panels explore themes of creativity and include a crime fiction panel featuring West and East Kootenay mystery writers Dave Butler, Rachel Greenaway, Roz Nay and Judy Toews, moderated by Deryn Collier.

A selection of books by
2018 EMLF presenters:

Susan Musgrave


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)
Given (2012)

For Children

Love You More (2014)
More Blueberries! (2015)


Perfectly Secret (2004)
Force Field: 77 Women Poets of B.C. (2013)

Stephen Reid


A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden: Writing from Prison (2012)


Jackrabbit Parole (1986)


Esi Edyugan:


The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (2004)
Half Blood Blues (2011)


Dreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home (2014)

Steven Price:

Anatomy of Keys (2006)
Into the Darkness (2011)
Omens in the Year of the Ox (2012)

By Gaslight (Penguin Random House 2016)

Jordan Abel:


The Place of Scraps (2013)
Un/inhabited (2015)
Injun (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)


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.


L – R: Richard Lemm, Alistair MacLeod, Holley Rubinsky, Sandra Birdsell at the Banff Publishing Workshop c. 1982.

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)