As Author or Co-author
The Laughing One — A Journey to Emily Carr. Toronto: HarperCollins Flamingo, 2001.
Short listed for The 2001 Governor General’s Literary Award in Non-fiction, The Drainie- Taylor Award for Biography, The City of Toronto Book Award, The Torgi Award (CNIB Talking Book). Winner: Hubert Evans Non-fiction Award (BC)
In the early 1990s I moved to British Columbia and brought with me an obscure painting by Carr of a tree overhanging a canal, painted in France in 1911. It was by fluke that I came to have the painting; I was in fact, only minding it, and it has long since returned to its owner. Living with it, looking at it daily, I came to see it not just as a fragment of Carr’s artistic life, but as an artefact with its own story. Europe could teach Carr about painting, but her inspiration was rooted in the landscape of B.C. (not France or anywhere else), and by the art of the First Nations in communities she visited at Alert Bay, Haida Gwaii and up the Skeena and Nass Rivers. I decided to follow her trail up the coast, and in the course of the journey, to investigate Carr’s cultural legacy in terms of history and the relations between Aboriginal communities and the White newcomers, the guests who came and never left. It was a self-directed course on the true history of Canada, and I am forever indebted to two First Nation women artists who showed me the way: Shirley Bear, and the late Freda Diesing.
Grace Hartman — A Woman for Her Time. Vancouver: New Star Books, 1995.
This book began as a project of the National Women’s Task Force in the months following Grace Hartman’s retirement as president of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) in 1983. Interviews were done with Grace in subsequent years, most especially a wide-ranging series by Wayne Roberts in 1989. I was approached to write the book that year, and in 1993, shortly before Grace died, CUPE’s national executive Board agreed to fund it and allow me access to the CUPE archives. I’d heard horror stories of writers commissioned to write union histories, and the difficulties with having to satisfy all concerned sometimes even ended with a manuscript never published. My experience was nothing like that; there was fulsome help and advice from Judy Darcy (then CUPE president) and the people in her office. A good part of the pleasure of writing the book was exploring labour history with people who had been part of the struggle and had stories to tell. It was also getting to know Grace’s son Warren who was in theatre and teaching at Brock University at the time, and her husband Joe. Both remarkable people who talked to me at length about her life. There were two other key advisors: Gil Levine who had been director of research for many years was an admirable back up on history and politics, and Louise Leclair then in the BC Regional Office. Commissioned books like this only happen when someone is committed and bloody-minded enough to see it through. In this case that person was Louise.
In the Name of the Fathers — the Story Behind Child Custody. Toronto: Amanita Publications (Second Story Press), 1988.
This book began as a feature story for Toronto Life and when it could not be squeezed into 2500 words, became a book. A new Family Law Reform Act had recently been passed in Ontario, and along with the advent of no-fault divorce had seemed to lead to ever more — and ever more acrimonious — battles between couples over the custody of their children. This was the era of the fathers’ rights movement, featuring accusations that family court judges discriminating against men, and men taking the law into their own hands to the point of kidnapping their children and terrorizing their ex-wives; but also of sky-rocketing numbers of deadbeat-dads who were refusing to pay child support. The book looks at the history of women’s rights as mothers, and recent trends in the courts where, in fact, women almost always lost. Lost support, lost their children, lost their homes.
Newsworthy — the Lives of Media Women. Toronto: Stoddart, 1984 and Halifax: Goodread Biographies, 1985.
I’d been working as a freelance journalist for over a decade when I began researching this book. It is largely based on interviews with women working in newspaper, magazine, radio and television journalism as reporters, editors, presenters, and producers. However, the back story includes the contributions of early pioneers like newswomen Cora Hind and Kit Coleman, and radio personalisties Claire Wallace, Helen James and Judith Jasmin whose stories I gleaned from archives, and the memories of the younger women they’d mentored. Among the major figures featured are Barbara Frum, Adrienne Clarkson, Jan Tennant, June Callwood and Michele Landsberg, Barbara Amiel and Margaret Trudeau. The model I used was Giorgio Vasari’s The Live of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, a collection of biographies published in 1550. Vasari, who was himself a painter and architect, is still read but was not highly regarded by my art history professors who considered the book more gossip than scholarship. I see The Lives as documentary, actually. Primary source material. The sketches of the artists living and working in Italy in the 16th Century constitute a firsthand account by someone who was part of the scene when the Renaissance was happening. We’d call it cultural history, or creative non-fiction today. Or first-person journalism.
Avec Marcel Rioux. Deux pays pour vivre: un plaidoyer. Montréal: éditions Albert Saint-Martin, 1980.
With Marcel Rioux. Two Nations: an Essay on the Culture and Politics of Canada and Quebec in a World of American Pre-eminence. Toronto: Lorimer, 1983.
I met Marcel Rioux in 1978 at a meeting of museum and art gallery professionals convened by the Canada Council. Included among the curators and directors were a couple of artists who been active in the founding of the artists’ union CAR/FAC, myself and Gary Greenwood. The meeting was a weeklong session held at Stanley House (which the Council owned) in the Gaspésie not far from Amqui where Rioux was born. A sociologist and militant in the révolution tranquille (a professor at the Université de Montréal and author of Quebec in Question), I was amazed to recognize in him someone who sympathized with the history and the politics of Who’s Afraid. We began a collaboration, in essence a long conversation, that resulted in these two books. One is not a translation of the other as they were written together; I wrote the first draft of some sections, and Marcel of others which we’d then each translated, fleshing them out in various places. The two introductions are distinct as Marcel introduces me to his Quebec audience in one, and I introduce him to an (English-speaking) Canadian audience in the other.
Both volumes are out of print. Used copies are available at AbeBooks of Deux pays pour vivre and also of Two Nations. Or check a nearby library’s holdings for Two Nations and for Deux pays pour vivre.
Who’s Afraid of Canadian Culture? Toronto: General Publishing, 1976.
The idea for this book was originally suggested to me by James Lorimer, who had seen the report I produced for the Programme in Art Administration at York University analysing the work preformed and promoted of arts organizations across the country. In the book, I expanded the list to include film, broadcasting and universities as well as the arts (theatre, music, dance and the visual arts). It is a snapshot of the state of Canadian culture at the time, detailing the entrenched indifference in official circles to the work created by Canadian artists. I wrote about the colonial mentality and American cultural imperialism, the history of cultural institutions and public policy, and the movement then afoot then to build Canadian-oriented institutions that would promote Canadian work. The book was trashed from coast to coast when it was published, but a lot has changed since then. What I was censored for saying on CBC radio in 1976 by 2005 had become the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity which Canada was instrumental in launching.
As editor. Opposite Contraries — The Unknown Journals of Emily Carr and Other Writings. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 2003.
The Laughing One involved extensive archival research which left me with notes on the unpublished sections of Carr’s Journals. Having completed two-thirds of the job of transcribing the expurgated entries, it was an easy decision to publish them, along with a section in Klee Wyck that had been cut, the 1913 Talk on Totems and a series of letters between Carr and her Coast Salish friend Sophie Frank. It was also my great fortune to work with the late Saeko Usukawa, who originally suggested the project. She was and one of Canada’s truly great editors, and still much missed.
In print. Ask for it at your local bookseller. Or find it at a local library.
As editor. Twist and Shout — a Decade of Feminist Writing in This Magazine. Toronto: Second Story Press, 1992.
Most of the articles in this anthology were published in the 1980s. The subjects range from science to culture, from Native Rights to international affairs to Hollywood movies, but all have a feminist bent. Eleven are features by writers like Margaret Atwood (“Nationalism, Socialism and Feminism”), Carole Corbeil (“Ivan’s Adventures in Babyland”) Linda McQuaig (“A Canadian Reporter in the West Bank”) and Lenore Keeshig-Tobias (“For as Long as the Rivers Flow”), with other features by Sandy Frances Duncan, Moira Farr, Katherine Govier, Lee Lakeman, Fauzia Rafiq and Libby Scheier. Between 1986 and 1991 I edited a column for the magazine which we cheekily called Female Complaints. Unlike most columns, this one had no resident writer and was meant to circulate so that “its voice would be plural, its personal an amalgam of the attitudes and pre-occupations of all those joining the circle.” Twenty-one women (and Timothy Findley) created it and eighteen of the articles are found here. Contributors included: Rosemary Sullivan, Heather Menzies, Susan G. Cole, Maggie Helwig, Alison Dickie, Dionne Brand and Joyce Nelson.