Posts made in July, 2009

Reprieved

Posted by on Jul 31, 2021 in Brian's Blog | 0 comments

It’s a great day for Alberta writers. The listeners have pledged money and CKUA, the province’s listener-supported public broadcaster, has granted a stay of execution to Bookmark, the weekly half-hour radio program dedicated to exploring Alberta’s literary scene. For a while there, it looked as if the two-year-old Bookmark would have to be cancelled due to lack of funding. CKUA announced in late June 2009 that it couldn’t afford to keep the program on the air for a third season. “Spoken-word programs are more time consuming, and therefore more expensive to produce, than music programs,” said the press release. If funding for twenty of the thirty-five Bookmark programs planned for 2009-10 could not be found by the end of July, the program would be terminated. Bookmark’s host, Ken Davis, immediately launched a province-wide campaign to save this program that has made an important contribution to the provincial conversation about books and writing. Over the past several months, it has featured lengthy interviews with such well-known Alberta writers as Thomas Wharton, Sheri-D Wilson, Fred Stenson, Marina Endicott, Linda Goyette, Andrew Nikiforuk, Shirlee Smith Matheson and Alice Major. Davis set himself what seemed at first like an impossible goal. He undertook to raise $20,000 in a matter of weeks. He invited Bookmark fans to donate $500 to sponsor one broadcast of the program, or $900 to sponsor two programs, or $1,300 to sponsor three programs, and so on. After one week of campaigning, Davis had good news and bad to report. Corporate donors had pledged $10,000 and individuals had contributed $5,000. “The not-quite-so-good news is that we have two weeks left to get over the $20,000 mark or CKUA management will have to announce cancellation of the program,” said Davis. “So we’re not quite out of the woods yet.” At the eleventh hour, on July 23, Davis and his supporters received word from CKUA that they had met their fundraising target, and that Bookmark would be on the air for another year. The new season begins Sept. 13, after the summer repeats. “Bookmark is not just a unilateral initiative by a few people,” said a grateful Davis. “It is a broad-based co-operative effort by literally hundreds of people across Alberta to ensure the literary community and book trade in this province have a forum and a communication platform for reaching out to each other, and to Albertans, and to the world.” Like I say, it’s a great day for Alberta...

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Rap on!

Posted by on Jul 17, 2021 in Brian's Blog | 0 comments

Edmonton has boldly claimed the title of Canada’s capital of literary cool by naming an underground hip-hop artist as the city’s latest poet laureate. Cadence Weapon (real name, Roland Pemberton) is a 23-year-old rapper who identifies more with Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and other “songwriters-slash-poet-type guys” than with Keats or Sylvia Plath. He succeeds outgoing laureate E. D. (Ted) Blodgett, a professor emeritus of comparative literature at the University of Alberta, who reacted to the surprise Cadence appointment by telling The Globe and Mail he “didn’t think that this was how a poet laureate was to be defined.” Cadence acknowledges that the city of Edmonton took a risk by appointing him to a two-year position previously held by what The Globe calls “esteemed veteran poets.” Blodgett has published 17 collections of poetry and won the Governor General’s Award twice. Blodgett’s predecessor, Alice Major, has published eight collections of poetry, and is this year’s winner of the League of Canadian Poets’ Pat Lowther Award for best book of poetry by a Canadian woman. Cadence wondered at first if he needed “a staff and a big grey beard” because laureate jobs have traditionally gone to what The Globe calls the “stodgier, tenured, grey-haired crowd.” He also wondered if he had the right literary qualifications. “I never really considered myself a poet or anything,” he told The Globe. But Cadence then realized that his work as an Edmonton-based rap artist gives him the regional focus, if not the poetic sensibility, to become a worthy literary ambassador for his city. “Most of my content is about Edmonton,” Cadence told the Edmonton Journal. “Most of the music I’ve put together comes from a very specific regional source. And I feel like I can just expand that into the poetry as well. It’s basically another outlet for the writing I’m already doing, and I can focus it even more now.” Born and raised in Edmonton, Cadence is the son of the late Teddy Pemberton, a pioneering hip-hop deejay with Edmonton’s campus-based CJSR during the 1980s. Cadence’s maternal grandfather, Rollie Miles, was a versatile professional footballer who won three Grey Cup championships with the Edmonton Eskimos during the 1950s. Cadence dropped out of journalism school at age 18 to pursue a career in rap music and has since released three remixed-tape albums, all lyrically infused with a strong sense of home. “Where I’m from has really inspired me,” Cadence tells a British hip-hop website. “The people there are special, but it’s also the place too.” As poet laureate, a largely ceremonial job that comes with an annual honorarium of $5,000, Cadence hopes to promote his city to the world as a place where performance poetry and hip-hop music really matter. “If people see me as representing Edmonton, maybe it will give them an overall different perception,” he tells the Journal. “I think that’s a positive thing. And it’s getting people talking. I’m...

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Death of a bookstore

Posted by on Jul 4, 2021 in Brian's Blog | 3 comments

Canadian book sales may be on the rise again, as BookNet Canada reported earlier this year, but independent booksellers are still feeling the pinch. The recent death of the Banff Book & Art Den —the only indie bookseller in the mountain resort town — proves that not even in oil-rich Alberta are retailers immune from the lethal impact of the economic downturn. Besides being a local bookselling institution, the family-owned Book & Art Den was an important community gathering place and —for more than 40 years — an important independent publisher. Founded in 1965 by Peter and Barbara Steiner, the store made its mark as a literary mecca during the early 1970s when the poet Jon Whyte took over as manager. He claimed —with some justification —that the Book & Art Den was one of the three best bookstores west of Toronto. Whyte was gently adept at offering unsolicited advice; steering customers away from escapist literature toward more serious work. He didn’t think it at all unusual that the Book & Art Den sold more Dostoevsky and Jorge Luis Borges than Raymond Chandler or Erle Stanley Gardner. “There’s no condescension here because this is a resort area,” Whyte said. “Our main customers are not the tourists who go shopping for shirts on Banff Avenue. They’re the students who attend the Banff School of Fine Arts or work at the Banff Springs Hotel.” Whyte and Peter Steiner established the publishing arm of the bookstore, Summerthought Press, in 1970 when two of the Book & Art Den employees, writers Brian Patton and Bart Robinson, went looking for someone to publish their hiking guide to the mountain parks. The resulting book, The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, became a runaway bestseller. Whyte edited and designed the book. Thirty-five years later, it was into its seventh edition, with more than 230,000 copies sold. As well as putting out a series of popular mountain guides and histories, Summerthought also published collections of poetry by Whyte. “Poetry is concerned with the quality of life,” he said. “If we’re ever going to get the tribal history of this country done, it’s going to be by the poets.” Aside from the poetry, his own contribution to the “tribal history” included non-fiction books about the Natives of the Rockies, the wildlife painter Carl Rungius, Lake Louise, and Lake O’Hara. In 2006, Summerthought parted company, amicably, with the Book & Art Den. It was sold to a Banff-based travel writer, Andrew Hempstead, and his wife, Dianne. Two years later, in June 2008, the store itself was put up for sale. But after six months of trying, the owners couldn’t find any takers. “It’s very difficult to be an independent bookstore,” said Neil Wedin, who had taken over the running of the store with his wife, Gabi, the daughter of founders Peter and Barbara Steiner. The Book & Art Den shut its doors at the end of February. “We’re certainly sad. We wish we could have found a buyer,” said Neil Wedin. “An independent bookstore is such an integral part of a city or town.” The last straw for Wedin was a decision by town council—in the face of a 500-signature protest petition he launched—to let a well-known chain store, IndigoSpirit, move in down the street. “That really hurt us,” said Wedin. “It will be very difficult, but now we have to move on.” The closure of the Book & Art Den follows the shuttering in the past year of such other independent Canadian bookselling institutions as The Book Room in Halifax and Laurie Greenwood’s Volume II in...

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