I don't think there's any doubt that coming of age in Winnipeg both opened my eyes and made me hungry - if I can subvert all claims to be a real writer by mixing metaphors like that.
—Guy Gavriel Kay, writer
Guy Gavriel Kay is an international bestselling author whose books have been translated into 25 languages.
He's back in his hometown to promote his latest fantasy fiction novel, River of Stars.
SCENE asked him to share some of his favourite memories of growing up in the middle of the prairies.
Author Guy Gavriel Kay (Beth Gwinn)
According to family lore, when I was four years old there was a touring Van Gogh exhibition at the old Winnipeg Auditorium (long gone). My parents took me, operating doubtless on the theory that great art will penetrate through the aesthetic walls of a pre-schooler.
Apparently, confronted with the majesty of Van Gogh, I showed early evidence of suave cultural sophistication. I said (loudly, reports my mother) 'Boy, was he a good artist. He didn't go out of the lines once!'
My point (I do have one!) is that Van Gogh was in Winnipeg. My home town, then and now, punched above its weight. Because of location and its place in the development of Canada, it was a city that could tease and tempt with the glories of a wider world. There was a lot on offer for a young person to become aware of, in terms of what might lie beyond the forks of the two great rivers.
We are all shaped by where we grow up, though that shaping takes different forms. I don't think there's any doubt that coming of age in Winnipeg both opened my eyes and made me hungry - if I can subvert all claims to be a real writer by mixing metaphors like that.
I could be flippant and write about how the lifelong desire to live some of my days in the south of France was formed slowly as I watched an icicle form slowly on my hitchhiking thumb in Februarys, heading out to U of M down a then-desolate Waverly Street.
But instead - leaving levity behind in a snowbank - I'll say very seriously that I've always felt I won in the lottery of 'where to grow up'. The city, for my generation, nurtured us, let us sense options and opportunities, didn't overwhelm with scale or scope, then sent some of us hurtling out from home with energy, training - and that hunger I mentioned.
"River of Stars" by Guy Gavriel Kay (Penguin Group)
I come back now, on tour for a new novel, and feel a time warp, as always, an overlay of present and past, eliciting real emotion. The young saplings planted on the boulevard in front of our old house are fully grown now.
Guy Gavriel Kay launches River of Stars, Monday April 15 at 7 p.m. at McNally Robinson Books.
Related: Connie Kaldor recommends Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay