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Not Another Afghan Immigrant Story

Logo for the WIWF, a pair of glasses with 2021 in the lenses

Every September since 1997, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival presents THIN AIR, a celebration of books and ideas. Their curated line-up is a perfect fit for curious readers who are ready to discover strong voices and great storytelling in practically every genre. This year, they're presenting a hybrid festival featuring 60 writers, live events, and a dynamic website.

To watch video content Rahela Nayebzadah has prepared for them, visit the festival website.

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#FreeAfghanistan, #BlackLivesMatter, #EveryChildMatters, and #StopAsianHate are only some of the hashtags that have been taking over social media in the past year or so. And, only recently has there been an interest in BIPOC voices. What took so long? Don’t get me wrong—BIPOC voices are still underrepresented in literature and popular media. But, at least now, as a mother, I don’t have to worry about my children reading books written only by white authors.

When I wrote Monster Child, it was important that I not only appeal to the Afghan immigrant community, but to immigrants in gen …

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Eavesdropping on Other Lives, Real and Imagined

Most of the books I write are set at least partly in the past, so my reading often takes me back—back into social history and into novels and poems written or set historically. It can be research, but since these are also the type of books I love, work becomes a pleasure. (I try not to think about the pleasure being partly work.)

As a writer, I’m preoccupied with why things happen. How did we get where we find ourselves? We all know the answer sometimes lies in the moment. Impulse. But of course we often act out of long-term beliefs, traumas or societal expectations, whether we’re fulfilling them or fighting them. These eight books by Canadian authors have taken me deep into the question of "Why?"

I also love the way they let me eavesdrop on other lives, real and imagined, since eavesdropping is surely part of reading, too.

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They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada, by Cecil Foster

Cecil Foster is a distinguished academic, and his meticulously-researched book about the lives and struggles of Black …

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8 Books that Explore Memory and Place

Fawn Parker—whose latest novel Dumb-Show has been described by Adnan Khan as “vivid and vicious”—recommends eight books of fiction, memoir, and poetry exploring themes of memory and physical place.

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Householders, by Kate Cayley

The stories in Householders are haunting and enigmatic, with a clarity of emotion that cuts through the dreamlike atmosphere Cayley has crafted. With the first sentence of the opening story, “A Crooked Man,” we are introduced to the feeling of isolation that runs throughout the book: “Martha regarded herself skeptically and assumed skepticism from the other mothers at the table.” In “A Beautiful Bare Room” a strange infectious rash spreads among Palo Alto. A woman in a bunker considers whether she is “there to be amusing to languid virtual people, if the distinction between virtual and actual was meaningful anymore.” With incredible attention to the nuance of interpersonal relationships—whether familial, romantic, situational, dysfunctional—each story in Householders is a window into an eerie but …

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Green and White Threads: Nigerian-Canadian Writers

From sea to sea, Canadian communities offer immigrants welcoming inclusive spaces. While I started writing as a preteen, I became a published author after our family moved to Canada 17 years ago. As I look forward to the September publication of my seventh book, A Good Name, I remain thankful for the many opportunities this land bestows on newcomers. 

Writers of Nigerian descent are world-renowned for the breadth and vibrancy of their art. I am proud of this heritage. Therefore, I am honoured to shine a spotlight on the following writers whose works add invaluable green and white threads to the grand tapestry of Canadian literature. 

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Butter Honey Pig Bread, by Francesca Ekwuyasi

Ekwuyasi’s debut novel is a story about choices and their consequences, of motherhood, of the malleable line between the spirit and the mind, of finding new homes and mending old ones, of voracious appetites, of queer love, of friendship, faith, and above all, family.

Longlisted for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize, this novel is a reader’s treat. I’ve always been a fa …

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Islands: Perfect Settings for Stories

Islands offer wonderful settings for stories, real and imagined. They’re enisled, separate, away. They inspire intriguing metaphors. They attract interesting, some might say “quirky,” people. Surrounding waters present lulling beauty and hidden danger. And when things happen on islands, insularity stirs up complex social dynamics and demands local solutions. With islands on three coasts and scattered throughout rivers and lakes, it’s hardly surprising that these compelling literary devices have a powerful presence in Canadian fiction and creative non-fiction.

As a rule of thumb (grounded in observation, rather than any systematic analysis) the size of an island tends to shape the nature of the story. Large islands are settings for tales of distinctive communities, defined at least in part by their distance from urbanity. Lucy Maude Montgomery placed her stories of Anne of Green Gables on Prince Edward Island as it encapsulates a nurturing rural lifestyle preserved in a changing world by its sandy shorelines. As Anne says, “Look at that sea, …

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On the Road Again: Literary Road Trips

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that my first novel, The List of Last Chances, features a road trip across Canada. My childhood was filled with such travels—some out of necessity, as we moved from province to province—and some for low-cost holidays, exploring the country in a station wagon filled to the brim with tents, sleeping bags, and coolers full of egg-salad sandwiches. We traversed the country more than once with four kids, two adults, sometimes a dog – and had our share of breakdowns, ripped maps, roadside meltdowns and more.

Along the way we saw the beaches of PEI, the long empty prairies which are not really so empty at all, the heights of the Rocky Mountains, and the coastal inlets of BC. As an adult, I’m still fascinated by the possibilities that road trips present (and I take them, either solo or with my own children, as often as I can) and perpetually curious about the unique and diverse personalities of the different regions in Canada.

I’m not the only one: road trips and national identity have always been a popular theme for Canadian writers. Here’s a few titles, both fiction and nonfiction that go exploring: 

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8 Books for Fans of Fabulism

The books I’ve always loved the most are those that are grounded in the real world with fantastical elements—stories that hold space for the more ineffable experiences in life. My debut novel, The Memory Collectors, falls into this category, landing somewhere between contemporary fantasy and literary fiction. Below are some books in that same vein by other great Canadian authors. Each of these is either a favorite of mine or a new release at the top of my reading list. If you crave stories that play with our understanding of reality, that incorporate myth and folklore into everyday existence, or that make you feel as though magic might just be real, these are absolutely worth checking out.

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Empire of Wild, by Cherie Dimaline

From the author of the incredibly powerful book The Marrow Thieves, this is a modern supernatural thriller that plays with traditional Métis stories of the werewolf-like Rogarou. A beautifully written page-turner, it follows the struggles of Joan as she discovers her missing husband at a revival tent in a Walmart parking l …

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Exciting Fiction to Read This Spring

New books by Camilla Gibb, Marissa Stapley, Wayne Grady, Uzma Jalaluddin, and more! These are some of the novels and short fiction collections we're excited about reading this spring

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Bleeding Light, by Rob Benvie

About the book: A howl into the void, a ghost story, and a bit of a metaphysical hellride.

A misanthropic ghostwriter roams an island off the Kenyan coast. An Arizona teenager awaits the next stage in a secretive covenant. A renowned poet retraces her past amid a baffling netherworld. An international arms dealer’s son drifts through time, atoning for the death of the man he loved.

For readers who take their contemporary fiction with a tinge of the otherworldly, Bleeding Light is about mystical experiences, the symbolic fabric connecting us all, and desperate people seeking affirmation—through religious, cosmic, chemical and other means—of a world beyond their own. It’s a grimly funny and often trippy take on transcendence in a hypercommodified age.

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Constant Nobody, by Michelle Butler Hallett

About the book: The time is 1937. The pla …

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9 Canadian Writers Who Run with the Night

Instructor is a new novel by Beth Follett, founder and publisher of Pedlar Press, a Canadian literary house. Her first novel, Tell It Slant, a retelling of Djuna Barnes’s 1936 novel Nightwood, met with critical acclaim. Her poetry, prose and nonfiction work have appeared in BrickBest Canadian Poetry 2019, and elsewhere. She lives in St John’s, NL.

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The Double Hook, by Sheila Watson

I love Watson’s book first and foremost for breaking literary ground in Canada. Her subjects include marginalization, poverty, murder, suicide, destruction.

About the book: In spare, allusive prose, Sheila Watson charts the destiny of a small, tightly knit community nestled in the BC Interior. Here, among the hills of Cariboo country, men and women are caught upon the double hook of existence, unaware that the flight from danger and the search for glory are both part of the same journey.

In Watson's compelling novel, cruelty and kindness, betrayal and faith shape a pattern of enduring significance.

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The Chat with Eva Crocker

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This week we’re in conversation with author Eva Crocker. Her debut novel, All I Ask, (House of Anansi Press) was published to rave reviews last year and was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. The Star calls the novel “wickedly funny, sexy joyous ... with heart.”

Eva Crocker (she/her) is a writer and a PhD student at Concordia University where she is researching visual art in Newfoundland and Labrador. Her short story collection, Barrelling Forward, won the Alistair MacLeod Award for Short Fiction and the CAA Emerging Author’s Award.

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Trevor Corkum: From what I understand, All I Ask was partly inspired by an event that happened to you personally. Can you talk more about that, and how the novel progressed from there?

Eva Crocker: I began working on this story in 2017 after a group of about ten police officers, all heavily armed men, forced entry into my home in St. John’s early one morning. They told me I was under arrest for transmission of child pornography and began searching the house.
 
I was home alone and terrified, I asked several times to use a phone and was told I wasn’t allowed. I wasn’t given a chance to get dressed and had to go alone to my bedroom with a young man wearing a gun. They wanted to collect all my electronics to comb …

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For Fans of Grisham, Munro, Wolitzer, Shriver, and More

Isn't it great when you find a new author or series that fits your reading taste to a tee? Here are a few new books that might be just what you're looking for right now.

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FOR FANS OF JOHN GRISHAM

Thirst for Justice, by David R. Boyd

"Fast and fierce."—Kirkus Reviews

Michael MacDougall is a talented trauma surgeon whose life in Seattle is slowly unravelling. Frustrated as an ER doctor and with his marriage in trouble, he volunteers with a medical aid charity in the Congo. Disconsolate at the lives he cannot save in the desperate conditions of the region, he is shattered by a roadside confrontation with the mercenary Mai Mai that results in unthinkable losses.

Back home in Seattle, he is haunted by his experiences in Africa and what he sees as society’s failure to provide humanitarian aid to those who most desperately need it. Locked in a downward spiral, he becomes obsessed with making his government listen to him and dreams up an act of terrorism to shock his nation awake.

Activist and lawyer David Boyd’s debut novel is a taut political thriller that begs the question: how far is too far when you’re seeking justice?

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ICYMI: Don't Miss These Beauties

tagged: Fiction, reviews

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on our attention spans, making it possible to miss really great fiction. These books caught the attention of some of Canada's foremost reviewers and we're happy to shine even more deserved light on them.

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Even that Wildest Hope, by Seyward Goodhand

What It's About

Even that Wildest Hope bursts with vibrant, otherworldly characters—wax girls and gods-among-men, artists on opposite sides of a war, aimless plutocrats and anarchist urchins—who are sometimes wondrous, often grotesque, and always driven by passions and yearnings common to us all. Each story is an untamed territory unto itself: where characters are both victims and predators, the settings are antique and futuristic, and where our intimacies—with friends, lovers, enemies, and even our food—reveal a deeply human desire for beauty and abjection. Stylistic and primordial, Even That Wildest Hope is a chaotic and always satisfying fabulist journey in the baroque tradition of Angela Carter, Carmen Maria Machado, and Ted Chiang.

Reviews

“Some of these stories, such as the opening 'Enkidu' (The Epic of Gilgamesh, redux) and 'So I Can Win,' the 'Galatrax Must Die,' bring to mind the off-kilter worlds of Paige Cooper. But my favourites here are the maybe quieter but still pleas …

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