I have always wanted to write about Alberta, and specifically the parts of northern Alberta where my family settled. I haven’t managed to do so until now. Or, at least, I haven’t managed to do so successfully (though I won’t get ahead of my readers, who will be the ones to tell me whether or not I’ve been successful this time). Like so many settlers in Canada, I come from complicated landscapes and families, and thinking through those has involved a long process of trying to attune my listening. My shelves are a mess of books about listening, about land, and about the stories that we tell. I turn to my books often for solace and comfort. As I put it in my book, social awkwardness since my youth has meant that my best friends have always been bookish humans and books themselves. So I relish any chance to talk about the books that have influenced my work.
Field Notes on Listening could not exist, first and foremost, without other writers who have gone ahead of me in writing about northern Alberta. Jenna Butler is a wonderful example of one such …
"For those willing to put in the work, this is a treasure," writes Publisher's Weekly of Darcy Tamayose's Ezra's Ghosts, a collection of stories set in a quiet prairie town.
It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, by Seth
My first introduction to cartoonist, Seth (a pen name for Gregory Gallant) was in the winter of 2014 when the exhibit, Seth: Dominion was presented at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery. I was captivated by the sprawling Canadian cardboard-box town that included over 70 buildings along with related cultural, social, and political art pieces that collectively produced imagined urban space. This experience led to Seth’s graphic novels. It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken: A Picture Novella follows the main character who is in search of an obscure cartoonist from the 1940s timeframe while struggling with the meaning of his simple life. At the end of the book: Seth’s Kalo collection and a wonderful glossary.
"Tainna: The Unseen Ones is an explosive force of sadness, anger, humour and beauty, full of moments that surprise and pummel and still provide hope. This collection is both vivid and raw but infused with a sparkling poetry and the wisdom of the old ways. Like the spirits Norma Dunning describes in these stunning and original stories, this is a book that will never leave you.” – 2021 Peer Assessment Committee
Dr. Norma Dunning is a writer as well as a scholar, researcher, professor, and grandmother. Her first book, the short story collection, Annie Muktuk and Other Stories (University of Alberta Press, 2017), received the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, the Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Story and the Bronze for short stories in the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards. She is also the author of the bestselling poetry collection, Eskimo Pie (Bookland Press, 2020). She lives in Edmonton, AB.
Tainna: The Unseen Ones is a collection of stories featuring a range of Inuk characters who “meet the prejudice, misogyny and inequity of the Canadian South with humour and tenacity.” Tell us more about how the collection and how it came together.
This collection was written in opposition to Annie Muktuk and Other Stories, in that, it was intentional to have modern-da …
Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.
LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.
Today, Ariel Gordon is championing Revery, by Jenna Butler. Gordon writes, "Books are built on the backs and shoulders of other books. I wouldn’t have written my book Treed: Walking in Canada’s Urban Forests, if I hadn’t read Jenna Butler’s A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail back in 2015. Back then, I loved Jenna’s stories about building an off-grid farm an hour and a half north of Edmonton. But I needed to read about Jenna’s commitment to her land in an era when the effects of climate change were beginning to make themselves felt in Alberta, where she is, and in Manitoba, where I am.
Five years later, Jenna and her husband Thomas are still on the land, but everything has changed. They’ve moved the farm to higher ground after five years of flooding and are having to re-build their market gardens from scratch, both in terms of plants and the soil bene …
Katie Bickell’s first novel, Always Brave, Sometimes Kind features a cast of Albertan characters whose lives intersect through the years 1990 - 2016. Set in the urban and rural reaches of Alberta, “Bickell writes an ode to home and community that is both warm and gritty, well-defined and utterly complicated.” Here, Bickell lists 18 novels that pay homage to the contemporary stories, landmarks, events, people, and communities associated with the land and larger community now known as Alberta.
(Author's note: All books are novels set in and referencing Alberta, and all take place within —or can be assumed to take place—within the last 50 years. Sorry in advance to any I might have missed!)
A Rhinestone Button, by Gail Anderson Dargatz
In the rough-and-tumble farming community of Godsfinger, Alberta, Job Sunstrum lives a solitary existence, raising cattle and farming the land, like his father and grandfather before him. Yet the surrounding pasture do not old much attraction for him. Instead he prefers his humble farmhouse kitchen, where cooking …
My latest poetry collection, Gaptoothed, is about my own bashful, lusty Wife of Bath smile. Yet it is also about gaps in identity, memory, history—flaws, holes, spaces and absences, that when looked at from a certain angle, become powerful instruments of poetic expression. The collection, released by Gaspereau Press this past spring, is also about gender, girlhood, and the unconventional and vulnerable girls who too often fall through the cracks—or gaps—in a system that was never built to help the likes of them. The collection is dedicated to my late grandmother; she was supposed to be one of forgotten, cast-aside girls, but her tremendous wit, her razor-sharp tongue, her vitality made her unforgettable. The book is about the beauty of the one-of-a-kind that tells you off for not noticing sooner.
The books listed below have filled in the gaps for me over the years on a literary landscape that so often seemed full of holes—that still seems to be short so many vibrant and vital stories and poems and voices.
Monkey Beach, by Eden Robinson
This is …
This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter, great insight, and short and snappy readings to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.
Today we're launching Alexis Kienlen's debut novel Mad Cow, the perfect literary fiction debut for a published poet who spends her days working as an agricultural journalist.
The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.
Mad Cow is a novel about how bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, devastates and nearly destroys a beef ranching family living in rural Alberta in the early 2000s.
Describe your ideal reader.
People who want to le …
2019 Amazon Canada First Novel Award winner Casey Plett calls the book, "A queer prairie novel of my dreams—electric, funny, hot, heartbreaking, scathing, like a mix of Sarah Schulman and Chandra Mayor. The Western Alienation Merit Badge flashes effortlessly back and forth between four decades of sisterhood, poverty, estrangement, grief, queerness and, well, alienation. And the ache, the ache of queer people and family."
Nancy Jo Cullen is the fourth recipient of the Writers’ Trust Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Emerging Writers. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph-Humber and her short story collection, Canary, was the winner of the 2012 Metcalf-Rooke Award. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award, the Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s Stephan G. Stephansson Award and the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize. She lived in Calgary for ove …
Edmonton mystery author Janice MacDonald is back with Condemned to Repeat, the latest instalment in the Randy Craig Mystery series. For anyone other than Randy Craig, a contract to do archival research and web development for Alberta’s famed Rutherford House should have been a quiet gig. But when she discovers an unsolved mystery linked to Rutherford House in the Alberta Archives and the bodies begin to pile up, Randy can’t help but wonder if her modern-day troubles are linked to the intrigues of the past...
Stephen Dafoe was not really what I had expected from what Marni had told me about him. First off, since he had been such a child prodigy and local icon, I sort of expected more ego to be emanating from the man. Instead, when I went out to the curb to see if I could help him with his equipment, he introduced himself with a bright smile and a firm handshake.
“I’d love some help. You know, most magicians have assistants just to help schlep equipment. Fishnets and a Vanna White presentation arm are incidental.”
We propped the front door open with one of the bins and began hauling the rest in, straight to the kitchen hall. We were going to have to close one of the public doors for this event, which had already been agreed to when they were negotiatin …
Writing your way into (toward) a landscape is a tricky thing, a continual process of navigation, negotiation, re-visioning. I’m in awe of those who do it well, and turn often to the likes of Candace Savage and Sharon Butala, Robert Kroetsch, John Newlove, and Di Brandt.
I was talking with poet Nora Gould about this a handful of months back; her book I see my love more clearly from a distance, set in the ranching country of southeastern Alberta, has become a touchstone for me. We were deep into a conversation about the similarities between farming and ranching life, mostly the close attention to the natural world in all weather. I’ve spoken of this before with other rural friends, and usually the discussion shifts to the differences between ranching and farming: mobility versus stasis, that certain hardship out on a cattle drive versus the farmhouse just back over the rise if anything goes wrong. But with Nora, I felt the deep companionship inherent in setting those dividing lines aside and focusing on commonality: the weather, the seasons, the sto …