Alissa York on The Naturalist
Profile Jael Ealey Richardson on The Stone Thrower
Highlights Helen Kubiw’s CanLit for LittleCanadians
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Eden Mills Writers' Festival
September 16-18th 2016

August 2016

The Millwright:

Musings from the Eden Mills Writers' Festival

Vol. 27 No. 5


This month, The Millwright is thrilled to share a Q&A with Alissa York on her new novel, The Naturalist (Random House), a profile of Jael Richardson, author of children’s book The Stone Thrower (Groundwood) and artistic director of FOLD (Festival Of Literary Diversity) in Brampton, Ontario.  We’ve also linked to the EMWF YA stage coordinator Helen Kubiw’s blog, CanLit for LittleCanadians where you can peruse her acclaimed reviews of Canadian young peoples’ books.  As usual, don’t miss the full interview with Alissa York on our podcast where she discusses her writing process and the role of the arts in a time of climate change. The podcast also features music from Canadian folk-icon Old Man Luedecke. We are thrilled to have Jael Richardson discuss the need for more diverse CanLit and how important it is to make Canada’s literary festivals both accessible and diverse.  August will host a double podcast and we’ll release Richardson’s podcast later this month. Next month, watch for a profile of festival guests Liz Howard and a Q&A and podcast with Lisa Moore leading up to the festival.


Alissa York on The Naturalist

By Anna Bowen

Listen to the podcast here.
Alissa York is the author of three previous novels, including Fauna, Effigy (short-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize) and Mercy. York is also the author of the short story collection Any Given Power, whose stories have won both the Journey Prize and the Bronwen Wallace Award. The Naturalist tells the story of an expedition to the Amazon in the mid-1800s by a trio -- Rachel, Iris and Paul -- who embark on the trip despite the death of the naturalist patriarch who planned it.
“The role of this book is to contribute to the side of the struggle that is helping people to be alive and awake as opposed to being the walking dead.”

MW: Was removing this patriarch something that you knew would happen from the start?
AY: It came to me later actually. The sources I was using included these accounts of 19th-century naturalists who were absolutely fascinating to me and I began to develop my own naturalist -- and at the same time this other kind of shadow naturalist started to grow up and claim space for herself … I was interested in not only how grief was working for that trio but also what parts of them could develop and evolve given that space when he was removed from the mix.

MW: Where did your fascination with the natural world come from?
AY: My childhood in Northern Alberta is a big part of it. My parents came from Australia to Northern Alberta.  As small kids, we spent a lot of time in nature and I also grew up with a lot of stories about Australian nature … animals loomed large in the stories I grew up with.

MW: How did you end up doing research along the Rio Negro?
AY: I was applying for the Chalmers Fellowship which is given out to artists of all kinds in Ontario for artists to really stretch and grow. When I asked myself that question the answer that immediately came back was the Amazon. 

MW: What kind of writing did you do on the boat?  
AY: I was taking notes and ideas for scenes, noting down what I was thinking about, what was catching my eye and ear and asking a lot of questions to my guide. I did a lot of staring into the jungle… 

MW: What was the most striking thing you saw?
AY: Our guide took us to see a gargantuan bird-eating tarantula.  He lured it up out of its den with a little piece of raw chicken and I could marvel at it because I was far enough away from it. If one of those jumped on me I would completely lose it, but I could marvel at how huge and beautiful it was.  

We weren’t in primeval forest that has never been cut, but even the secondary jungle –at the center of biodiversity on the planet-- you do have this pulsing sense of life force around you everywhere so that I was really delighted to see that that is still there in spite of everything that we humans have done.

MW: What is the role of a book like this in the context of climate change?
AY: I feel like the role of this book and maybe everything I’ve ever written is to contribute to the side of the struggle that is helping people to be alive and awake as opposed to being the walking dead; to be connected to themselves and the world around them.  For me one of the major sources that I draw on for that sense of connection -- but also for hope -- is art, be it literary or otherwise. More specifically with The Naturalist, there is an arc that happens for Rachel where she starts by being the old kind of naturalist, where the eye of the naturalist is something separate from the specimen, and she moves toward a place of living-with rather than living-over these creatures.

Don’t miss the rest of the interview, where Alissa discusses more on climate change, how she pieces together a novel, and what her writing routine is like on OUR PODCAST.

Author Profile

Jael Ealey Richardson on The Stone Thrower for kids

By Anna Bowen

“Reading somebody who was from my community was such a sweet treasure.”

Jael Richardson is the author of The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, A Father’s Life, a memoir that explores the story of her father, CFL quarterback Chuck Ealey, and his move from a segregated neighbourhood in Portsmouth, Ohio, to Canada.  She recently turned that memoir into a children’s book illustrated by Matt James and published by Groundwood Books. 

A teacher-librarian friend of Richardson’s suggested the adaptation because of the lack of children’s books about Black Canadians. “Reading somebody who is from my community and my background was such a gift, such a sweet treasure,” says Richardson, that she wanted to help others have that experience.  Richardson is thrilled with the way the book turned out: “I’m so proud of it, I think the illustrations look gorgeous.” 

“I always think about what it would be like to introduce a child to the right book at an early age because I think that’s what builds lifelong readers.” Richardson is now working on a graphic novel and a YA novel, hoping to bring that experience to young adult readers. 

Richardson is also the artistic director of FOLD, The Festival for Literary Diversity, in Brampton Ontario. “If you are a person of colour there are added challenges when coming out with a book. That experience made me realize there is a space that needs to be made.” Authors of colour, she says, are often seen as “experts on what it means to be different,” but in order to change that, literary festivals can start from a place of diversity in their planning.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and don’t miss the release of our PODCAST with Jael Richardson, coming out soon.
Helen Kubiw and CanLit for LittleCanadians

By Anna Bowen

If you haven’t yet been introduced to Helen Kubiw’s renowned blog, CanLit for Little Canadians, now’s the time. Helen Kubiw is a teacher-librarian, former chair of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading, and is the EMWF YA coordinator.  She was a children’s author co-coordinator at the festival from 2006-2009 and became the YA venue coordinator after Clare Hitchens in 2013.  Right now she is reading Morgan Rhodes' The Darkest Magic (Razorbill), Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles by Shari Green (Pajama Press) and Riel Nason's All the Things We Leave Behind (Goose Lane Editions). 

Don’t miss Kubiw’s review of Liane Shaw’s Don't Tell, Don't Tell, Don't Tell (Second Story), and her review of Lisa Moore’s Flannery (House of Anansi), authors featured at this year’s festival.

The Millwright Bookclub

Looking for something to read?
Take a look at these 2016 Eden Mills Writers' Festival reads.
George Elliott Clarke​
The Motorcyclist
Alexandre Trudeau​
Barbarian Lost
Maureen Jennings​
Murdoch Mysteries
Copyright © 2016 Eden Mills Writers' Festival, All rights reserved.

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