& occasionally about other things, too...

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Katherine Govier

Among the many people who have helped me make Canada my home is Katherine Govier,
renowned author and immigration activist. I first met her when I was a student at Sheridan College’s now defunct program in Canadian journalism for internationally qualified writers. Patricia Bradbury invited her to interact with students.

And with that uncanny knack that I have of turning near-perfect strangers into near-perfect enemies, we got off on a wrong start. But it was Katherine’s magnanimity that she overlooked my transgressions, and continued to extend a cordial but firm support.  

Her exquisite collection of short stories The Immaculate Conception Photography Gallery introduced me to her writing, and I was to discover that she began her career as a writer in 1979. Earlier this month, Katherine published her eleventh novel The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel.

In 2009 she started sending periodic Postcards to a select group of “correspondents”, and I was privileged to be amongst the recipients. Always personal, often idiosyncratic, these Postcards give a rare insight into the life of a prominent Canadian author.

Writing recently in her Postcards series, Katherine reminisced:

My first book, Random Descent, made its debut in February, 1979. The novel was hardcover, and priced at $12.99. I did a reading at 21 McGill Street with Robertson Davies, who taught me how to autograph:  you sat at a desk and your wife stood off to the left, ushering people into an orderly line and ensuring that each of them had one – and only one – freshly purchased book for signing.  You took a good quality fountain pen, opened the proffered book to the half title page, carefully crossed out your own name where it is printed under the title and with “by” above it, and wrote your signature in a beautiful, cursive script, before the awestruck crowd.

Ah yes, well much has changed.

In addition to be a renowned author, Katherine is an ardent advocate for newcomer integration into the Canadian mainstream, and has been working tirelessly for this cause.
About four years ago she launched the Shoe Project to create a platform for immigrant women to share their stories. 

Writing recently as a guest blogger on Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s blog, she explained her involvement with this path-breaking activism:

People ask me why I have taken on this work—why when I’m busy, why when I could be doing my own writing, why when I could be holidaying in Mexico, why when adult immigrants to Canada whose first language is, say, Tamil, are so difficult to coach as writers in English.

Here’s the reason: I love it. Meeting women aged 18, 30 or 65 from China, Croatia and Syria and Afghanistan and South Sudan and Brazil and Russia is huge fun. It’s travel without the security lineups; instead of at Pearson Airport I’m lining up for the butcher at 5 am in Poland in the 1980’s in minus twenty degree Fahrenheit weather—and I’ve got Relaks boots on my feet. (Look it up!)…

The Shoe Project is literacy. The novel is literary. These are considered in our country to be two entirely different things.

I’d like to introduce a new thought: this distinction is a form of discrimination. It is like racism. The writing of a person who does not use the correct adverb or misses the past tense of a verb or chooses a generality because she doesn’t have the broad vocabulary of a native English speaker is deemed not publishable, not artistic, not worthy of support of the literary establishment, the granting agencies, not worthy of the time spent to fix it by newspapers or radio. It is pushed downwind into “literacy”— which means “there are ESL issues”; it doesn’t count, and can’t be published. But with advice from peers around a workshop table, coaching, editing, and copyediting- which, frankly, native English speakers need too- That same story becomes vital, informative and urgently to the point. Great stories get lost between languages.

We’re all in this together. And here’s another thought: new writers bring new readers.”

The Three Sisters is a “story of an unlikely marriage, a century of a life in a mountain park, and a collection of runaway aristocrats, wildlife artists and cowboys who made history — but did not make it into the history books.”

The launch event at Ben McNally bookshop in downtown Toronto was a grand success. 

Recently, I interviewed Katherine and two Shoe Project participants on my show Living Multiculturalism. Here's the video of the interview:




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