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Christie Allarie interviews Rudy Wiebe

Rudy Wiebe has found great success writing several novels including The Temptations of Big Bear and A Discovery of Strangers both of which received The Governor General’s Award. As well as his memoir Of This Earth: A Mennonite Boyhood in the Boreal Forest which received The Charles Taylor Prize. He is currently a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta in the English department; he says his students have taught him as much about writing as he has taught them.

 

CA: Having grown up in a very small Mennonite community how has that religious upbringing influenced your work?

RW: when you grow into self-awareness in an enormous natural world barely affected by human activity, one basic teaching of Christianity makes complete sense: a divine Creator made this world, and you are a tiny part of that creation.

 

CA: You say a person’s place of birth is often more important than blood ancestry. Does this ever affect your writing?

RW: My blood ancestry is Dutch-Mennonite European, but I was born and for years lived in a glacier-shaped aspen parkland of boreal Canada. I love the stories of my ancestors, and have written a good many of them, but when I walk between aspen along the cliffs above Strawberry Creek southwest of Edmonton, I feel close to Cree Chief Maskepetoon, whose 19th century travois trails cross this land. Here, on this spot of land which the Province of Alberta says in mine, I can contemplate the remains of a campsite; one ash-blackened stone is in my hand. Here: people ate and cried, and slept and laughed, together; here.

 

CA: I know you thoroughly enjoy reading, even as a young child. Is this what started your interest in writing?

RW: “Human beings are the world-making animals. At birth they hear words – talk – and as they grow older they see words – read. I cannot imagine a writer who does not love to read, that is, make words (worlds!) visible.”

 

CA: What are your main influences in your writing?

RW:

-The place where I was born: the glacier-haunted boreal forest of northern Saskatchewan where Indigenous peoples had hunted and gathered since ice melted.”

-Jesus Christ; his life and his stories;

-My mother: her living motto: “work and hope”;

-Reading: endless reading, about 80 years of it now.

 

CA: As a successful writer what’s your biggest gain being a member of the Writers Guild?

RW: Writing is, at its best, a solitary activity, and in today’s complex technological world writers must be organized to, among, many other things, promote their work and maintain public copyright control. I was elected the founding chair of The Writer’s Guild of Alberta (1980) and have always found the Guild highly informative and encouraging; especially in the sense of keeping in touch and reminding me, by it’s ongoing, imaginative work: “keep on writing; you are not along.”

 

When I first researched Rudy I felt intimidated by how incredibly accomplished he is. Then, when I read his responses to my many questions and emails I was blown away by how wonderfully kind and thoughtful he truly is. He provoked me to reflect upon my own upbringing and place of birth and how those things have influenced my life and who I am today. His incites and ability of true self refection is inspiring to many. He said “[my intention for writing] is to make a story so good you cannot but desire to read it”. This really shows the kind of highly skilled writer he is, and it makes me want to read more of his many amazing novels.

 

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