WGA Blog: Meet the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize Nominees (Q & A)

Joan Crate at Mardi Gras!

Meet Joan Crate! She was born in Yellowknife Northwest Territories and has lived in various towns and cities in B.C., Saskatchewan and Alberta, though Calgary has been her longest place of residence. She taught literature courses and creative writing at Red Deer College for over twenty years and has produced award-winning poetry and prose in that time. Last year, she published the novel Black Apple (Simon & Schuster) and has had an incredible time reading from it across Canada. Joan Crate has been nominated for Black Apple.

Q: What book or books have made a profound impact on you and why (at any time in your life)?  

JC: My grandmother used to tell me stories and read to me, but the first book I read by myself that really impacted me was the Canadian novel Fog Magic by Julia L. Sauer. That was followed a year later by The Golden Pine Cone by Catherine Anthony Clark, a novel my teacher gave me. Both introduce mythical worlds that exist within our own, and The Golden Pine Cone brings an Indigenous presence and stories about British Columbia, which was where I lived at the time. I’ve always been intrigued by what exists beyond the concrete everyday world we live in. As far as novels I’ve read as an adult that really impact(ed) me go, there are simply too many to go into. However, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life comes to mind. Again, various realities within our own are introduced and Atkinson is such a great writer that they are all completely plausible. But I simply cannot forget to mention Dr. Seus’s On Beyond Zebra. It’s magnificent!

Q: What is the best creative (or life) advice you have ever received?

 JC: This is a really tough one because I think that every writer has to learn what works best for him/her, and other people’s epiphanies don’t necessarily apply. Definitely the worst advice I received is the very common pearl of wisdom: establish a writing routine and stick to it. While it’s great advice for all kinds of people, it just makes me want to go to a bar, drink Tequila and eat chocolate. Maybe the best advice I ever had was to be open, not to pre-edit wonky ideas and approaches; just try them out. Yes, be open. That’s it.

Q: The #1 destination you would like to travel to/visit – and why? 

 JC: I want to go EVERYWHERE! But if I had to choose just one last place I could go to, I’ll choose a continent: Europe, all the parts I haven’t been to from Northern Italy straight north. Then east. As well as all the natural beauty, I love the art, history and architecture. Having said that, Canada is where I feel most at home.

“Out of the head and into the hands.” Beth Everest at work in her studio making silver jewellery.

Beth Everest is an award-winning teacher and writer of poetry and fiction. She has twice been shortlisted for Alberta Magazine Publishers Association, won second place in the Freefall Fiction contest, and been short-listed for this year’s Raymond Souster poetry award along with the WO Mitchell. She publishes essays, literary criticism, poetry and fiction, and has had plays produced. To get out other head, she makes silver jewellery. Beth is nominated for her third collection of poetry—silent sister: the mastectomy poems (Frontenac House). This collection was on the Calgary bestseller list for several weeks.

Q: What book or books have made a profound impact on you and why (at any time in your life)?  

BE: Timothy Findley’s not Wanted on the Voyage—and the CBC documentary on the writing of this book. He was asked if he felt like he would run out of materials to write about, and his answer was that he was more afraid of dying and all the characters in his head going down with him.

Q: What is the best creative (or life) advice you have ever received?

BE: Best creative or life advice: the only way to be a writer is to write. People forget this. Sometimes it’s one of the most difficult things to do, to just sit down and write. The sitting down is the easy part.

Q: The #1 destination you would like to travel to/visit – and why? 

I’d like to go to Fogo Island and stay at the Inn. It’s so decadently deliciously extravagant, and set in the most ruggedly wild landscape.

At Poets’ House, New York City: at over 60,000 volumes, the biggest collection of poetry in America

Richard Harrison has lived in Calgary since he arrived here 22 years ago to be the 3rd Resident in the University of Calgary’s Distinguished Writers Program. He is the author of 6 books of poetry, among them he award-winning Big Breath of a Wish, and Hero of the Play, the first book of poetry launched at the Hockey Hall of Fame, which will be re-released in 2019 by Wolsak and Wynn in a 25th Anniversary edition. Worldwide, his poetry has been read, published, or exhibited across Canada, in Paris, London, Cairo, Baghdad, Washington, and New York. In 2001, Richard founded the Thursday Group Poetry Workshop, whose members have published over a dozen books and scores of poems, many of these award-finalists or winners themselves. He also teaches writing at Mount Royal University.

Q: What book or books have made a profound impact on you and why (at any time in your life)? 

RH: Patrick Lane’s New and Selected Poems, (1978): I was an undergrad at Trent, and Patrick came to read from that newly-published book, and reading from it, he suspended all animation in the room; there was nothing but his voice and his words. I pored over that book afterwards and had the same experience: My God, you can write about this! My God, you can write about this! It was the first book (though not the last) to show me that poetry could find a profoundly moving beauty in language that reached wherever human experience took it.

Peter Elbow’s Writing with Power (1981). I found this book a few years after it was published. I was just starting my first real job as a teacher in the Academic Skills Centre at Trent, and a crew of us fresh writing instructors were sent to Bard College in New York to learn the latest techniques. This book was the touchstone for what they taught there: the core of free writing and all its ramifications and uses. The book, and the lessons, tore down everything I thought I knew about how writing works—it was devastating—and rebuilt it. It rebuilt me as a writer and teacher of writing. I’ve used its methods ever since, and they continue to surprise and show me what people can do.

Sharon Olds’ The Father (1992, though I could put others of her works in here, too). See above in terms of what I learned from Patrick, and turn it inwards, away from what we do to each other in the world, to what happens to us in the small places we live—and where we sometimes engage in our deepest and longest-standing struggles with illness and frailty and death and sex and joy and sorrow. Her poems “The Glass” and “The Connoisseuse of Slugs” are amazing examples of what you can do as a poet if you just look at one thing long enough, as Rodin said, to see it.

And lastly, the earliest book in the list, McElligott’s Pool (1947), a book I didn’t realize until recently had been as profoundly predictive of everything I’d love in life and why. It’s Dr. Seuss’s map of the unconscious, defense of the imagination, love of the making of a world and the sets of creatures within it. It’s an excellent primer for those interested in understanding Alexander Pope and the rhyming couplet. And while I’m in the land of extreme praise, it could be the picture-book companion to Bach’s Prelude. It is, for me, his masterpiece, though an almost never mentioned one.

Q: What is the best creative (or life) advice you have ever received?

There’s lots of bests, but here’s one of the shortest, from John Sears, a Mohawk carver: “If you are working on the head, and thinking about the hand, go and work on the hand.”

Q: The #1 destination you would like to travel to/visit—and why? 

RH: Here’s what I’ve found out about myself: The best thing for me about travelling is telling people back home the stories I have from the places I’ve been. On that logic, my favourite destination is Calgary. The question is, what would #1 place I want to come back home from? Let me try this: Egypt. I don’t know if you can do this, but I’d love to see what it feels like to be inside a pyramid, where the Egyptians buried the pharaoh or the royal couple whose existence was identical with their time, and whose memories were inscribed all around so that when they woke up from death, it would be to all the memories their life had contained.

Tonight (April 19) we Present Joan Crate, Beth Everest and Richard Harrison at Shelf Life Books (with food and wine!)
Wednesday, April 19th, 7:00—9:00pm, Shelf Life Books (1302 4 St SW, Calgary), Seating: first-come, first-served.

The City of Calgary and the Writers’ Guild of Alberta are pleased to announce the shortlisted authors for the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize, one of 13 awards presented as part of The Calgary Awards. The City of Calgary established the W.O. Mitchell Book Prize in honour of the late Calgary writer W.O. Mitchell to recognize literary achievement by Calgary authors. The $5000 prize is awarded each year for an outstanding book published in the award year. The 2015 recipient was Eugene Stickland for The Piano Teacher (BHouse Publications). The recipient of The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize will be recognized at the Calgary Awards presentation on June 28, 2017. The Calgary Awards will be televised live on Shaw TV.

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