2017 Alberta Literary Awards winners

R. Ross Annett Award for Children’s Literature 

  • Georgia Graham (Lacombe) – Cub’s Journey Home, Red Deer Press

Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction 

  • Gisèle Villeneuve (Calgary) – Rising Abruptly, University of Alberta Press

Wilfrid Eggleston Award for Nonfiction 

  • Sydney Sharpe and Don Braid (Calgary) – Notley Nation: How Alberta’s Political Upheaval Swept the Country, Dundurn Press

Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award for Drama 

  • Vern Thiessen (Edmonton) – Of Human Bondage, Playwrights Canada Press 

Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry 

  • Richard Harrison (Calgary) – On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood, Wolsak and Wynn

James H. Gray Award for Short Nonfiction

  • Austen Lee (Edmonton) – “Among Cougars and Men,” Glass Buffalo 

Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Story 

  • Laurie MacFayden (Edmonton) – “Haircut,” Alberta Views

Jon Whyte Memorial Essay Award 

  • Rona Altrows (Calgary) – “Letter of Intent”

WGA Golden Pen Award for Lifetime Achievement 

  • Candas Jane Dorsey

Youth/Emerging Writing Award

  • Katie Bickell, “Angels in the Snow”

Dear Younger Me: Relax, you’ll turn out OK


What would you say to your younger self?

Dear Younger Me … A letter to myself
Sunday, Nov. 6, 2-3:30 p.m.
Latitude 53, 10242 106 St, Edmonton

Six area writers have been invited to pen letters to their younger selves, whether as children or as young adults, and share these aloud with the audience, followed by a Q & A session. The event includes a silent auction, cash bar, and desserts from Cafe Reinette donated by The Writers’ Union of Canada. Proceeds go to our kids camps and sponsoring youth in financial need from Edmonton and rural Alberta to attend.

Marilyn Dumont, Minister Faust, Mieko Ouchi, Thomas Trofimuk, Thomas Wharton and Laurie MacFayden are the featured literati letter writers and presenters. They’ll have copies of their books available for purchase.

Tickets are available at the door for $25.


My brother started collecting squirrel skulls at the age of seven. But it is not yet time for madness to enter the story.

My mother found a ring at the Canadian National Exhibition Princess Gates. But it is not yet time for turquoise to enter the story.

I fell in love on the Paris Metro. But it is not time for Trocadero to enter the story.

Still, we have to enter somehow, with the story of something. So how about the story of the thimble in my jewelry box – and how it is the only thing left from my father’s house. He burned mom’s recipes and gave away her coats. Who would want them? he asked the daughter, seriously.

So I rescued her thimble and keep it preserved. And I guess that in itself is a little bit of madness and, in fact, is proof that it’s never too early for madness to enter a story.

Collecting squirrel skulls is certainly madness. My brother didn’t kill the squirrels, I hope you didn’t think that; that would be seriously mad. No, he just saved and preserved skulls he found in the woods; he had good eyes, good skills for such a thing. Our father had been a naturalist and taxidermist from the age of 13 so in our family this sort of thing was considered not even close to madness. When my father’s mother, my grandmother Clem, killed herself at 38, her madness was swept under the rug. His collections of bird and small animal skulls provided some kind of intricate, earthy solace.

The ring? Why did I save my mother’s thimble instead of the turquoise ring? I don’t know, really. The thimble seemed more her to me. She sewed some clothes for me with it. If you know what I mean.

trocadero-2I’m starting to think the turquoise ring would fit better inside a story about love on the Paris Metro. So now it is time to introduce Trocadero to the story.

There is no Eiffel Tower stop, you see; you have to know that you get off at Trocadero if you want the best view of the tower. There is a flat plane leading up to it, and always lots of people selling Eiffel Tower trinkets. Key chains. Pens. Sunglasses. Statuettes. Bottled mineral water that says Evian on the label but you suspect has been replaced with tap water. Counterfeit Evian. Paris is just that kind of place. You love and trust it even as you are suspicious of everything.

Trocadero. Did I really find love there? Seriously? No.

But I really love the sound of Trocadero. Troc-a-de-ro. Trocadero. I also love the sound of Vavin – which is a Metro stop close to another Paris tower – the less famous, big black monolith of Montparnasse that’s world-class ugly and completely soul-less. Apparently there is a view, but why would you go up to see that when you can just sit in the Odessa Cafe and enjoy the swirling sepia tones of the City of Light?

Vavin. Va-vin … Va va va voom … TROCADEEEEEEERO!

I fell in love with a boy on the Paris Metro. He was wearing a turquoise ring and reminded me a bit of my little brother. He made art that induced madness in squirrels.

Etown Top 30: #2, Folk Fest

(This Top 30 comes to you courtesy of Edmonton Winter. It’s a list of things that keep me here despite weather like, well, like the royal blizzarding we’ve had this week. Today’s item is a true summer gem: The Edmonton Folk Music Festival.)

I lived in Edmonton for almost a decade before I ventured to Gallagher Park on the second weekend in August. Friends had gushed on about Edmonton’s storied folk music festival, yet for some reason I steered clear of it until the early ’90s.
Then I got my first taste … and have been hooked ever since.

Weather movin' in, main hill, 2011

The Topp Twins. Jennifer Berezan. Ferron. Catie Curtis. Melissa Ferrick. Janis Ian. Ani. The Waifs. The Nields. Serena Ryder. Sarah Harmer. Iris Dement. Long John Baldry.
The Stage 3 Gospel Hour on any given Sunday morning…

My fave year remains 1996. That heavenly lineup featured Jann Arden. Joan Armatrading. Laura Love. Roseanne Cash. The Flirtations with Suede. (One of my favourite FF workshop memories is Suede recalling being asked if the Flirtations ever played at weddings. ‘Our people aren’t allowed to HAVE weddings,’ she replied with a grin. My, how times have changed.) k.d. lang in a dashing white suit belting ’em out during the Sunday finale. (Garth Brooks was also in town that weekend, and he stole the front page spotlight in the local tabloid. Twice. Harumph.)

Other highlights from over the years: Mary Gauthier rockin’ Wheel Inside the Wheel with Buffy Sainte-Marie’s band. A Stage 6 folkapalooza with Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Nancy Griffith, Tom Russell, plus Greg Brown if memory serves (and it doesn’t always). The northern lights dancing across the eastern sky as the Indigo Girls closed out the 2002 festival …

Melanie and her son lay down Candles in the Rain

There have been amazing blasts from my teenaged past (Melanie,
Al Stewart, Linda Ronstadt, Joan Baez, Bruce Cockburn …)

There have been marriage proposals … and actual weddings … and a whole lotta flirtin’ in between. Oh yeah, baby.

Each August I heard things that caused me to race to the ‘record tent’ to purchase music by artists I’d never heard of and who now, years later, still feature prominently on my iPod.

Of course, I’ve missed a few folkfests here and there – we always seem to be out of town when Emmylou Harris drops in. And family commitments prevented me from hearing Joni Mitchell and Elvis Costello in ’94. Chris Isaak shuttin’ her down a couple of years ago? I was, I confess, too tired to stay around for the finale that year. But managed to stick for the return of k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang this year; another outstanding lineup from three decades of outstanding lineups. Other 2011 notables (for me) were Imelda May, Lissie, Angelique Kidjo, Lyall Lovett and Jeremy Fisher, to name just a handful.

Rather than gush on and on about how wonderful this festival is — I haven’t even mentioned the green onion cakes, chickpea curry, getting all folked up in the beer garden on more than one occasion, eating lunch with Dar Williams (still kicking myself that I didn’t have the guts to introduce myself and my partner as Jane and Amber), or the legendary tarp races of last century — I’ll just sign off with a gallery of snapshots from over the years.

torontosaurus wrecks

News item, February 2011:
Toronto the Good ditches longtime nicknames T.O., T.Dot and Hogtown; dubs itself ‘El Toro.’
Dear Toronto,
Please refer to Seinfeld episode #175: You cannot give yourself a nickname. It must be bestowed upon you by others. As George Costanza discovered, when you try to get people to call you ‘T-Bone’ you end up being called ‘Koko.’

Ironically (or was it a cry-for-attention cheeky collective nod to Seinfeld?), ‘T-Bone’ was runner-up in the Eye Weekly contest that unleashed ‘El Toro.’
Whatever. Nine months have passed since CBC television host Evan Solomon, one of the celebrity judges, proclaimed the winning moniker has ‘a delightfully multicultural tinge.’ Right. So … Is anyone actually referring to Toronto
as El Toro?

Didn’t think so.

two bruised peaches on the subway platform
samuel taylor coleridge on the TTC
two new moleskin notebooks
to match your bergundy chick-magnet blundstones
whispering around the henry moore
gourmet popcorn on the menu at starbucks
man on crutches to litterer: you dropped something.
litterer: thank you.
man on crutches: you dropped something.
litterer: you’re welcome.
man on crutches: so why don’t you pick it up?
litterer: fuck you.
man on crutches: aren’t you going to pick it up?
litterer: fuck you!
man on crutches: pick it up!
litterer: go fuck yourself!
you miss chagall at the AGO by one week
dark green centre

lochhead . riopelle . borduas
shamanic art ^^^ automatist painting ^^ ahhhhh ^
canadian landscape (NFB movie
featuring a.y. jackson, 1941
you know, the year your grandmother
killed herself)
‘can paradise ever be achieved?
A) damnshit right it can. got some of it right here ahhhh ahhhh ^^^^^ ahhhhh ^^
B) not without modern appliances
robert motherwell says art = an experience, not an object.
general idea says poodles = “the hairdresser’s little friend”
(which of course = code for “SO GAY!”) ^~^~^~^
it’s obvious you’ve been wondering:
what is it about the poet brain?
what sets those sad captains apart?
is it hope?
belief in miracles?
in true love in daffodils in forever?

you may not be ready to hear this but the truth is
when we myopic fools finish deep wrestling with a particularly obstreperous line
or recalcitrant couplet
we more frequently than we care to admit
wake up in a strange hotel room days later
lying next to stanzas smeared with blood and mascara
exclamation marks reeking the sweaty sour reek of vodka
hungover commas retching into the morning-after porcelain
(which act of punctuational thuggery
tore the bathroom door off its hinges this time?)
the fetid stench of onomatopoeia
hanging in the air
like stale pizza
oh look look at the clever hipster youngster
being wicked funny on queen street
‘donation? donation?’ he giggles, waving an empty coffee cup
under the noses of saturday night flaneurs and leafs fans.
the genius is wearing a $200 gap sweater and shiny italian shoes.
begging as a lark, it’s such a joke, will anyone toss a coin
into his blatantly un-needy cup?
(true homelessness has become just so banal …)
three blocks later another sharp dresser grabs your arm and asks for change.
no but i’ll give you five bucks for that leather jacket
— what? fuck. no. seriously, lady. i need it for food. i haven’t eaten in three days.
you start walking away so he accosts the person behind you
with even more hostility in his voice.
— for food! PLEASE!
then he leans against a brick wall and (blatantly, defiantly) lights up a joint.
someone yells:
geez, pal, if you can afford weed surely you can afford a cheeseburger

miss e

she landed in our cornfield.
not, like you may have heard, in the bermuda triangle or somewhere in the pacific,
but in a soft patch in auntie’s north 40.

and she liked it so much, she just stayed.

our house was small, and nothing fancy; just some wood and brick and not even indoor plumbing — but there was always room for one more, auntie said. and feeding another mouth? heck, back then, we all knew how to stretch a meal.

at first she didn’t talk much. not at all, really.
so we made sure she wasn’t hurt and then we left her alone.

we fed her air and light and quiet time when she seemed to need it — which was often — and soup and bread and hot, hot tea, with honey.

auntie told me to let her be, to not follow her around or disturb her with talk unless she spoke to me first. i was full of questions, but tried hard to be patient and waited for the answers to float down from the sky.

she slept on a cot in the tool shed — one tattered blanket was all we could spare — and she seemed to like being close to the ground. but she looked up a lot, squinting & frowning at the clouds.

our dog lucky was drawn to her. she smiled when he would come around, and let him sleep at her feet.

after the first week miss e started to talk. by then we’d figured out who she was but didn’t let on we knew anything except what she’d told us. which was nothing much, ‘cept that a storm came up, she lost her bearings, prayed hard, and … woke up in our corn.

auntie thinks she lost her confidence along with her bearings, but she didn’t say that out loud to her, just to me. “people sometimes go from bold to bashful overnight. ‘specially women,” is how she put it. “this gal, she’s known false comfort, and betrayal, and lately she’s known more pain than anyone else. the pain of losing herself. she got caught up in something, and is trying to find her way back.”

back to where? i wanted to ask. but auntie just shushed me and told me to go get a nicer pillow from the couch for mel’s head. that’s what auntie had taken to calling her, and she called auntie a dear, and eventually she called auntie a lifesaver, and eventually auntie called mel to her bed.

and lucky’s heart took flight ’cause after that he got to keep both their sets of feet warm.

and i breathed easier, though i wasn’t sure why. i still missed my dearly departed uncle jake, but never since the day he died had i seen a grin on auntie’s face like the one miss e put there.

it wasn’t hard, keeping miss e a secret from the neighbours. we said she was auntie’s long-lost cousin, recently widowed, penniless and heartbroken. and that we’d put her up ’til she got back on her feet. everyone knew that mean forever, ’cause where else was she gonna go?

and my grinning aunt continued to feed her soup and tea with honey. miss e, er, mel helped her with the corn. she detested the cows. said they wasted the wings that god gave them. whatever that meant.

she taught me to catch a baseball, patch a tire, and could mend the tractor even better than uncle jake used to do.

she told me that the answer to just about anything would come to you if you stared at the clouds long enough. sometimes she would walk to the end of the lane at night, look up at the stars and just sigh.

she and auntie always seemed to get along real fine. the closest they ever came to having an argument happened one day when auntie came home from town with a newspaper tucked under her arm. she showed it to mel and they tried not to let me see, but i made out the words “called off” and “presumed dead.” they talked for a while in low voices, stern but calm.

i asked what was going on and they sent me to the pump for water.

when i got back, auntie was at the stove and mel was sweeping up the shards of our brown betty teapot that lay broken on the kitchen floor.

then she took lucky for a long walk, and they didn’t return until suppertime.

auntie didn’t say a word, just cut her a slice of bread, set a bowl of soup in front of her, and went to bed.

mel picked up her spoon, twirled it in her hand a few times, set it back down and then followed auntie into the bedroom. lucky and i went out on the porch and sat until the stars came out.

the low murmur of their voices wafted through the window. i didn’t want to eavesdrop so i threw stones at the shed and tried not to hear what sounded like my auntie crying.

i curled up on the porch swing and was whistling an unhappy tune when mel came out a little while later. she told me she had decided it would be best for all of us if she left.

auntie came out and said the only thing that was best for all of us would be if mel stayed.

i looked from auntie to mel and back to auntie.

mel took her hands out of her trouser pockets and placed them gently on my auntie’s shoulders.

“you sure?” she asked softly.

“absolutely,” auntie whispered.

“then i guess i’m not goin’ anywhere,” mel smiled.

“except to town tomorrow, to buy a new teapot,” auntie grinned.

lucky howled at the moon.


I am seven years old.
This is the first lie.
And so it begins.

The first time was the hardest. I told my new classmates that I was royalty.
That we had moved here from across the sea. That my father was a duke
and my mother a duchess with a huge fortune. The other kids did not want
to believe me at first but they were young and easy to fool.

I showed them a ring I found in the dirt. I said it was a thousand years old,
handed down through gypsy grandmothers until it was mine. They believed me.

The lying got easier. I said I was born with two hearts; that there was nothing
they could do; that even all the duke’s money couldn’t fix it until I was much older;
and that each day my mother the duchess cried and prayed that I would live
long enough to have the operation. They believed me.

I said that as a baby I was taught a special ancient language that only certain people could know; that you had to have a magic kind of tonsil to speak this mystical language. They believed me — and begged to hear me speak to them in this special tongue.
I said I could, but that they would all be struck dead if their common ears heard it.
They believed me … and begged me not to speak it.

I said I had a horse with wings that could only be seen at night; that came to my window at midnight and spirited me away to the stars, and brought me back home just in time for breakfast each morning. They believed me.

I said I had a cat with three heads and three tails that transformed into my bed at night; that purred me to sleep and tickled me with its whiskers. They believed me.

I said I had a wise old aunt with a magic mirror that could tell the future —
and that it had told her a big, red ball would fall out of the sky and destroy the earth before three more moons had come and gone. They believed that, too.

They believed and became frightened and told their parents about all the things
I had said. Their parents said I was a witch and that I must be punished.
They came for me with stones. And sticks. And fire.

I told them it was all lies — that there was no duke and duchess, no gypsy ring,
no double heart. There was no magic language, no winged horse, no catbed,
no all-knowing mirror and, especially, no big red ball about to fall from the sky.

They did not believe me.

barrie me not

“how can a free spirit ever possibly take flight living in a place called BARRIE?”

i scream this at my mother who cannot seem to understand why i am packing up my ’75 datsun b210 rustbucket and driving 2,000 miles away to take a job in alberta.

my mother isn’t getting it, but my 22-year-old gut knows that after three years as darkroom technician and general reporter at the bi-weekly bugle, it’s time to move on.

barrie soccer shirtbarrie is suffocatingly safe. it’s vanilla. it’s boiled potatoes and wonder bread and piano lessons on monday afternoons. it’s church rummage sales and junior B hockey. vodka smuggled into high school dances, labatt’s blue at the underage skating parties. april wine and foot in coldwater at the college pub night piss-ups. it’s an excruciating hour’s drive from toronto, which at least has a pulse. it’s waking up greasy and groggy after all-night poker games with the guys in the bullpen.

barrie is so boring that we don’t actually play poker at our poker parties — we play hearts and euchre. but we do eat chips and drink beer and smoke cigars in an attempt to invoke the sleaziness quotient of poker. still, barrie is so boring that we don’t even smoke real cigars, we smoke colts — which involves very little actual smoking and is more about sucking on the wine-flavoured tips.

my mom doesn’t seem to get this but barrie is so boring, we drag ourselves down to the lake and sit on the dock and just sit — sit and watch motorboats pull up to the docks and wonder why anyone with money enough to buy a boat would bother to come aboard at kempenfart bay. because there is sure nothing to do in our sleepy little town. no good restaurants — unless you LIKE cigarette ashes with your sweet & sour chicken balls from lem cho’s — and only two rinky-dink movie theatres — the roxy and the imperial, which never show anything good, just sappy walt disney stuff like hayley mills fighting off some guy trying to kiss her, or hayley mills smoking cigars in the boiler room of a convent. four-star bopperfests.

barrie is so boring, there isn’t even a mall. all we have is mother’s pizza and towers department store. when i was in high school we didn’t even have a freakin’ mcdonald’s, just root beer and teenburgers at the dub; and it was all we could do to convince the waitresses at the crock & block to serve us draft beer in their frosted mugs, because we were only 16 but not bad enough girls to have fake I.D.

back then it was firenze pizza and tom collins chasers, and midnight tokin’ with our steve miller LPs in molly jackson’s basement. back then the air was always oppressively humid and even the liberals were frighteningly conservative. now it’s jogging on the track at the Y after work, and lunch with harris and timer and richie every wednesday at the town & country lounge — where the soup is always french onion and the special is always beef dip — except on fridays, when god help you if you don’t want fish & chips.

no, a free spirit couldn’t possibly take flight in a boring place called BARRIE.

but my mom still doesn’t get it.

“you remind me of me,” she says. “when i was your age i wanted to move to alaska and have six kids. i never did that. but you …. you figure out what you want and you go after it.”

then why won’t she let me go?

i may not know exactly what it is i want, but i do know what i DON’T want: i don’t want to live my entire life in a white-bread, tim hortons-and-beef-dip town and end up sixty years later being buried in a place called barrie.

i don’t want alaska or six kids, either, to be sure … but whatever it is i do want might just be waiting for me in alberta.

i hear the weather’s good there in the fall.