My debut novel Looking for Jane explores multiple facets of motherhood over the course of several decades, as well as the feminist movement for reproductive choice in Canada. So I'll begin with one of my favourite feminist reads, and one that undoubtedly shaped my interest in reading and writing about the lives of women.
Unless, by Carol Shields
This was probably my first adult feminist read during my formative years. My mother recommended it to me, and it's always stood as an example of truly outstanding, exceptional writing talent to which I can only dream of aspiring! It's also a profound example of the power that exists in writing about the lives of ordinary women. My debut novel Looking for Jane is about exactly that: a group of everyday women who exhibited extraordinary courage in standing up to an unjust system. Unless is also what we would today call a bit "meta" in that it explores the ways in which "women's fiction"—which really translates to any book in any genre that features and speaks primarily to women—is sidelined as lesser than in …
“Hannah Moscovitch’s play is an articulate, poetic, beautifully written play with characters who are complex and complicated. A superb piece of writing that shines as a play, as a living piece of theatre, and no doubt, literature that will endure. The committee could not be more thrilled to have chosen this winning play.”—2021 Peer Assessment Citation
Hannah Moscovitch is an acclaimed Canadian playwright, TV writer, and librettist whose work has been widely produced in Canada and around the world. Recent stage work includes Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes and Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story (co-created with Christian Barry and Ben Caplan). Hannah has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Trillium Book Award, the Nova Scotia Masterworks Arts Award, the Scotsman Fringe First and the Herald Angel Awards at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize administered by Yale University. She has been nominated for the international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the Drama Desk Award, Canada’s Siminovitch Prize in Theatre, and the Governor General’s Literary Award. She is a playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto. She lives in Halifax.
Congrats on your Governor General’s Award, Hannah … among …
Katherine Ashenburg's second novel, Her Turn, is out this week, a complex, funny and poignant portrayal of a woman at midlife.
49th Shelf: I loved this smart, funny and very sly novel. I have a few theories about its literary foremothers, but I’d love to know your take. Who are the authors who inspired you to write a book like Her Turn?
Katherine Ashenburg: In the 1990s, I had Liz’s job at The Globe and Mail, editing the Facts & Arguments page, which gave pride of place at the top of the page to a personal essay. As happens with Liz, no one outside the Globe except my close friends and family knew who edited the page, and I would receive submissions from acquaintances and out-of-touch friends who had no idea they were submitting pieces to me. That, and the fact that strangers all over the country were writing to me about their hopes and fears, their love lives and more mundane things, made me think at the time that a woman with my job would be a perfect Carol Shields heroine. Shields would have done something brilliant with such a character. Little did I dream that I would go on to write novels, including one inspired by that very job.
I think as I wrote Her Turn I wanted to combine Shields’ dry wit and a certain ironic distance from her character …
Anne Carson's Norma Jeane Baker of Troy (New Directions) is this year’s recipient of the Governor General’s Literature Award for Poetry.
According to the Governor General's Peer Assessment Committee, “Norma Jeane Baker of Troy leverages a millennia-old story of beauty and war to animate a history of the male gaze and the nature of power wielded by privilege. Tracing its origins from ancient and modern forms, the book inquires into the history of language and being. It exposes the uncertainty and vulnerability that underpin our desire for ‘the precision of command.’ The oceanic pull of Carson’s poetry uses irreverence to lure and wreck our concepts of time, place and subject.”
Anne Carson is a Toronto-born poet, essayist, classicist, and translator who has also taught at Canadian and American universities including McGill and Princeton. A Member of the Order of Canada with more than 20 titles to her name, she recently received a Princess of Asturias Award. Throughout her career, Carson’s work has earned her Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships, two Griffin Poetry Prizes, the T. S. Eliot Prize, and the Lannan Literary Award, among many other honours. Anne Carson now divides her time between the US and Iceland.
Norma Jeane Baker of Troy is a performa …
We are pleased to present three poems from the important new collection Resistance: Righteous Rage in the Age of #MeToo (University of Regina Press) edited by Griffin Poetry Prize finalist Sue Goyette.
PLEASE NOTE: This poetry anthology deals with sexual assault and abuse in its many forms and the following poems may be disturbing to some readers.
Among the many responses to the anthology is Jennifer Musial's (New Jersey City University):
“Seventy-eight soul-shattering voices that refuse to be silenced or ashamed. Resistance provides the megaphone.”
Lisa Richter, author of Closer to Where We Began, writes, “The poems in Resistance do more than resist: they testify and bear witness, grieve and lament, howl and spark… A deeply moving and urgently necessary collection.”
In her Foreword, Goyette writes,
"I began writing this foreword five years ago, but the words resonate with the same urgency today. The injustice that sparked the #MeToo movement remains an ongoing challenge we face and endure in the systemic, patriarchal, white-bodied, late-capitalist times we find ourselves in. And in the midst of this global pandemic, the climate crisis, and overt and violent racist and oppressive events, may your vitality activate and embody the change we need for a more equi …
The Queer Evangelist is Cheri DiNovo's story of her life as a queer minister, politician and staunch activist for LGBTQ rights. She shares how she went from living on the streets as a teenager to performing the first legalized same-sex marriage registered in Canada in 2001. From rights for queer parents to banning conversion therapy, her story will inspire people (queer or ally) to not only resist the system—but change it.
The following excerpt takes place during her time as an MPP for Parkdale-High Park in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, where she served from 2006 to 2017.
There’s an old saying, “If you’re going to dine with the Devil, you’d better have a very long spoon.” The maneuvering included timing the introduction of bills, getting the press involved if an important human rights bill wasn’t going to be put forward, and as always bringing activist pressure to bear on the process. It all took a lot of work and my terrific team to carry it off. In that regard, politics, like most careers, involves, well, politics. Once you lose your idealism about partisanship, you can actually accomplish an amazing amount on behalf of the marginalized. As a socialist, I should have had no illusions about capitalist governments, and I only really harbo …
Erika Thorkelson's "Me and Bridget Jones (20 Years Later)" is one of the essays in Midlife, which is a giveaway right now! Written and published during COVID quarantine, Midlife features the collected works of former members of the Gateway, the student newspaper at the University of Alberta. This crew of 27 writers and creators from the late 1990s/early 2000s now find themselves navigating midlife, and it turns out adulting isn’t necessarily as straightforward as anyone imagined. Enter for a chance to win!
The first time I saw Bridget Jones’s Diary, I cried. It was a weekday afternoon sometime after the end of my first year of university, and I’d decided to hide for a couple of hours in the comforting darkness of a mall cinema. I’d chosen a movie that would allow me to check out—I hadn’t expected to like it, let alone be moved to tears.
Twenty years later, I’m still trying to make sense of that over-the-top reaction. Other than us both being blondish, shortish white women, I didn’t have much in common with Jones. She was a 32-year-old Brit with a posh accent and an odd but traditional middle-class family. I was in my early 20s, born on the Canadian Prairies, raised by a single mother. In 2001, I was surviving on student loans and a job making burr …
We, Jane is the debut novel from Aimee Wall, a writer and translator from Newfoundland who now lives in Montreal. In the novel she tells the story of a young woman who, inspired by "the Jane Collective" that helped women find abortion access in 1960s' Chicago, returns to rural Newfoundland with the intention of being part of a similar movement.
Aimee Wall spoke to us about abortion activism, the narrative challenges of writing abortion, how being a translator influences her writing, and more!
49th Shelf: A part of We, Jane that fascinated me, and which I could relate to so personally, was Marthe’s yearning to be part of a larger story, in particular in regard to her own abortion and the story of abortion in general. “She went looking for a fleet,” you write. Can you talk more about that impulse?
Aimee Wall: Something I was struck by when I was first reading about the Jane collective in Chicago was that some of the women in the group joined after having an abortion through the service. A lot of them weren’t coming from any kind of activist background, they were ordinary women who were kind of radicalized by this experience, and empowered in a new way, and it’s like they wanted to turn that feeli …
Can you hear them now? If you can't, you're not listening. Recent memoirs and biographies about remarkable women would make great picks for International Women's Day.
Can You Hear Me Now?: How I Found My Voice and Learned to Live with Passion and Purpose, by Celina Caesar-Chavannes
About the book: Celina Caesar-Chavannes, already a breaker of boundaries as a Black woman in business, got into politics because she wanted to make a bigger difference in the world. But when she became the first Black person elected to represent the federal riding of Whitby, Ontario, she hadn't really thought about the fact that Ottawa wasn't designed for someone like her. Celina soon found herself both making waves and breaking down, confronting at night, alone in her Ottawa apartment, all the painful beauty of her childhood and her troubled early adult life. She paid the price for speaking out about micro-aggressions and speaking up for her community and her riding, but she also felt exhilaration and empowerment. As she writes, "This is not your typical leadership book where the person is placed in a situation and miraculously comes up with the right response for the wicked problem. This is the story of me falling in love, at last, with who I am, and finding my voice in the unlike …
The Abortion Caravan, intent on bearding prime minister Pierre Trudeau in his den and removing abortion from the Criminal Code, set off for Vancouver on April 27, 1970. There were 17 women crammed into three vehicles—a great big Pontiac Parisienne convertible, a pickup truck and a Volkswagen van. On top of the van was a big black home made coffin.
Learn more in this excerpt from Karin Wells' celebrated new book The Abortion Caravan: When Women Shut Down Government in the Battle for the Right to Choose, out now.
That coffin was featured in every newspaper story as they went across the country. It became the symbol of the Caravan and epitomized their primary argument: as long as clean, safe, medically supervised, legal abortions were unavailable—or after the 1969 reforms, barely available—women had to resort to backstreet abortionists. That meant unsanitary conditions and abortionists who hardly knew what they were doing and were not going to stick around to make sure that things turned out well. It meant risk and too many deaths.
Women who could not find or could not afford any sort of abortion provider were aborting themselves. They were flushing themselves out with Lysol or Drano, inserting knitting needles or wire coat hangers into their bodies, drinki …
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 and great insight 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 Grandmother School, by Rina Singh and Ellen Rooney, which comes highly recommended from CM: Canadian Review of Materials. Their reviewer writes, "How great a treat it will be to read this book in a grandmother’s lap."
The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence:
Rina Singh and Ellen Rooney: It's a story about grandmothers in a village in India who go to school for the first time in their lives.
Describe your ideal reader.
Rina Singh: A six or a seven year old who will …
At a moment when so many of us are looking for inspiration and longing for visionary leadership, Kids Can Press and their YA imprint KCPLoft are delivering with two extraordinary new releases.
Canadian Women Now and Then: More Than 100 Stories of Fearless Trailblazers, by Elizabeth MacLeod and Maia Faddoul
To the newish tradition of biographical anthologies of women whose stories deserve to be better known (think Rad Women Worldwide, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, and the excellent and Canadian-grown The Girl Who Rode a Shark) comes Canadian Women Now and Then, which puts a fresh twist on the genre by pairing Canadian legends (think Roberta Bondar, Karen Kain, Emily Carr) with inspiring contemporary examples (introducing astronaut Jennifer Sidney-Gibbons, dancer Santee Smith (Tekaronkiahkhwa) and artist Christi Belcourt). Sometimes the contemporary women are the better known of the pair—journalist Sook-Yin Lee is profiled alongside Mary Ann Shadd, who in 1853 became the first Black woman in Canada to run a newspaper; Olympic swimmer Penny Oleksiak appears with Fanny "Bobbie" Rosenfeld, who competed as a runner in the 1928 Olympics. The Canadian-specific focus of this book is novel, and it's the connections between the women profiled that is especially m …