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Small Courage: Parenting Memoirs

Book Cover Small Courage

Jane Byers' book is Small Courage: A Queer Memoir of Finding Love and Conceiving Family, a thoughtful and heart-warming examination of love, queerness and what it means to be a family.

Here, she shares other parenting memoirs that have inspired her.

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Home Ice, by Angie Abdou

This memoir by Fernie, BC–based novelist struck a chord with me. Both Angie Abdou and I are parents of sporty kids. Her romp through a year of her 10-year-old son playing minor hockey resonated with me, having played recreational hockey, but I hadn’t navigated the pitfalls of that mythical Canadian hockey-parent culture. I found myself bristling at the same things Abdou bristled at, and, as a former athlete, also being conflicted acknowledging the great things about sports and specifically team sports, but recognizing also the detrimental effects on our youth of a sport’s particular culture.

This memoir follows one hockey season, the divide-and-conquer parenting that often accompanies having a child in hockey, and the toll it takes on a relationship.

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Shameless: Marilyn Churley on Finding her Son and Reforming Adoption Disclosure

In the late 1960s, at the age of 19 and living far from home amid the thriving counterculture of Ottawa, Marilyn Churley got pregnant. Like thousands of other women of the time she kept the event a secret. Faced with few options, she gave the baby up for adoption.

Over 20 years later, as the Ontario NDP government's minister responsible for all birth, death, and adoption records, including those of her own child, Churley found herself in a surprising and powerful position—fully engaged in the long and difficult battle to reform adoption disclosure laws and find her son.

Both a personal and political story, her memoir, Shameless, is a powerful book about a mother's struggle with loss, love, secrets, andlies—and an adoption system shrouded in shame.

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49th Shelf: Shameless makes clear that issues around adoption are feminist issues. What has changed since your experiences in the 1960s in terms of stigma around unplanned or unwanted pregnancies? What has stayed the same?

Marilyn Churley: Adoption is a feminist issue for many reasons. As I said in the introduction to Shameless, history shows that women have always been coerced into living their lives as society deems appropriate, and tormented, punished and shamed when they didn’t comply. The double standard aro …

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Detachment: Maurice Mierau on Family, Adoption, and Memoir

Book Cover Detachmen

November is Adoption Awareness Month, which puts the spotlight on issues facing families with adopted children. And so this month is also the perfect time for a conversation with Maurice Mierau, author of Detachment: An Adoption Memoir. Detachment tells the story of Mierau and his wife's journey to Ukraine in 2005 to adopt two small boys, and describes the joys and challenges of their early days as a family of four. With humour and honestly, Mierau writes about the process of learning to be a father, and also about how this experience affected his marriage, his relationship with his own father, and that with his son from a previous relationship. 

Maurice Mierau lives in Winnipeg, and is author of the poetry collections, Ending With Music and Fear Not

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49th Shelf: I love the line that comes early in the memoir, delivered by a psychologist: “So you’re writing a book about people you ignore.” It highlights the contradiction inherent for anyone writing about family life—children can be so inspiring, but they keep you away from the actual work. Detachment is very much about your evolution as a father and a husband, but can you tell me about the evolution of the book itself? What was the book that you set out to write and how did it become this one?

Maurice …

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Lisa Bird-Wilson: Short Story Sensation

Book Cover Just Pretending

The stories in Metis writer Lisa Bird-Wilson's short story collection, Just Pretending, are searing portraits of life on the margins of family and of society in general, and the book is a remarkable literary debut. The collection was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award, and it took home four prizes this year at the Saskatchewan Book Awards. Fresh on the heels of a busy and exciting spring awards season, Bird-Wilson spoke to 49th Shelf about her own impressions of literary prize culture, about the mothers portrayed in her book, and to tell us more about that place where fact and fiction connect to create the stories we tell. 

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49th Shelf: In Canada and farther afield, there is a lot of debate about the merits and problems of literary prize culture. Your book is proof, though, that sometimes the system works. Just Pretending took four prizes at the Saskatchewan Book Awards, and it was nominated for the Danuta Gleed Award. What has this experience been like for you and your book? 

Lisa Bird-Wilson: I would be lying if I said it was anything less than thrilling to see my book compete for these prizes and bring a few home. I understand some of the debate about literary prizes, in that it is felt some of them sort of lose their meaning or become trivialized by way …

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