P.E.I. author earns writer-in-residence spot at Pierre Berton's Yukon home

Summerside author Debra Komar will have a rare opportunity to step into the life of legendary Canadian writer Pierre Berton this fall thanks to a prestigious writer-in-residence program.

Non-fiction history writer, forensic scientist Debra Komar one of four chosen for prestigious honour this year

Summerside author Debra Komar will live in Pierre Berton's Dawson City home from October to December 2016. (Dan Froese)

P.E.I. author Debra Komar will have a rare opportunity to step into the life of legendary Canadian writer Pierre Berton this fall thanks to a prestigious writer-in-residence program.

Komar, who is from Summerside, is one of four Canadian authors chosen out of 120 applicants to spend three months in the house in Dawson City, Yukon, where Berton lived in until he was 12.

"I was thrilled. This particular residency means a lot to me," said Komar, who will live in Berton's home from October to December.

The Writers' Trust of Canada administers the award, which began in 1996. Travel costs and living expenses, both at home and in Dawson City, are covered. Writers also receive a per diem allowance and a cash award of $6,000.

Community volunteers will drive Komar where she wants to go, show her the sights and help her to engage with the community.

Pierre Berton, the celebrated author, journalist and television personality, died in 2004. (CBC Still Photo Collection)

Researching a case

"They hand you the keys to Pierre's house and it's a very nice house," said Komar of her small temporary home in the centre of Dawson City.

"It's sort of a classic Canadian house. I mean, it's not an architectural marvel ... It's more the sentimental attachment of who he was and what that place meant to him and how it informed his writing. And that's sort of the appeal of it."

In return for the honour, Komar is required to do two public readings, one in Whitehorse and another in Dawson City, and to write a summary of her stay.

The broad range of writers including novelists, poets and playwrights chosen to participate in the program are also encouraged to become involved in Dawson City happenings, particularly the active arts scene.

"They're trying to get as much diversity as they can into this community to stimulate what they're doing," said Komar.

Although writers aren't required to produce work about the Yukon to be accepted to the program or during their tenure, Komar said she will be researching a case from 1923 in which a First Nations person was accused with murder. She said he hopes to define for her readers what constitutes reasonable doubt.

Komar spent 22 years working internationally as a forensic anthropologist before returning to Canada to write non-fiction about Canadian cold cases using modern forensic techniques. She is about to publish her fourth book in September and then hopes to publish her first novel.

Berton lived in the Dawson City home until he was 12. (Berton House Writers' Retreat)


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