Thursday December 07, 2017
Award-winning authors on balancing chaos and control
A parent's fear. A child coping. The final stops of life. These are the ways that some top Canadian writers — all winners of 2017 Governor General's Literary Awards — addressed our challenge to create an original piece of writing on the theme of chaos and control. They reveal where their imaginations travelled, from the most intimate moments of family life, to the largest of cultural questions. Featuring talk and readings from: Hiro Kanagawa, Cherie Dimaline, Richard Harrison, and Oana Avasilichioaei. Presented by IDEAS and CBC Books, with the Canada Council for the Arts.
Chaos features prominently in many recent news headlines, in stories about climate change, the aftermath of sexual assault allegations, the state of things in Yemen, and the White House. When it came down to writing creatively on the idea of chaos and control, however, these GG authors, found themselves working through subjects a little closer to home. The ordering possibilities of language — at once dynamic, comforting, and alienating — is a repeated motif in their writing. They also focus in on the ways we seek order in the messiest of human moments, and relationships.
Writers featured in this episode:
Cherie Dimaline is a Toronto author and editor from the Georgian Bay Métis community. Her novel The Marrow Thieves has won several prizes, including the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for Young People's Literature–Text, in English.
Cherie brought our chaos and control theme into her original short story, After 'While. It's about an intelligent young girl named Lucky, whose hobby of collecting printed words helps her work through questions in her life — with and without Arnya, her charismatic rebel of a mother.
"As kids, we spend a lot of time making order out of what's around us. And I think school, and our families...really try to make that order and make that sense for us...The beautiful thing about childhood is..that we'll put it together for what makes sense to us When I think about when I was young, my parents gave me everything… But even in and amongst all of this great order that they tried to give me, I created my own sense of cadence and my own nomenclature...and I think that's where the stories came from, finding the extraordinary inside those ordinary moments…"
- The Marrow Thieves is published by Dancing Cat Books/Cormorant Books.
- Read After 'While, Cherie Dimaline's short story.
Oana Avasilichioaei is a poet, artist, and translator in Montreal. Readopolis, her translation of a novel by Bertrand Laverdure (Lectodôme), won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for Translation in English.
Oana's essay Chaotics looks at language through the scientific lens of chaos theory: the notion that small changes can cause big reactions. She sees language evolving at the "molecular level of thought," in contrast to the top-down sloganeering of advertising or politics.
"My reaction to coercive ways that language may be being used in the world is to keep trying to write or work with language in ways that act against that. Ways that try to inspire."
- Readopolis — the translation of Bernard Laverdure's novel Lectodôme — is published by BookThug.
- Read Oana Avasilichioaei's essay, Chaotics.
Indian Arm is inspired by the Ibsen play Little Eyolf, and looks at a family thrown into chaos. For our assignment, Hiro Kanagawa wrote about a real-life episode of chaos that happened when his young son's fever resulted in irrational behaviour. That event set off deep fears for the mental health of his child. Although the behaviour had a rational explanation, Hiro notes that is not the case for all of us:
"As we all do, I know people...who suffer from varying degrees of mental illness, and what's always struck me is how fine the line really is… You know, it's really on the order of a few parts-per-million of some neurochemical that makes all the difference between being able to cope in society, or not being able to cope."
Some of those poems remember the poet's father, a poetry-loving former soldier, who suffered in his final years from vascular dementia. For Richard's piece on chaos and control, he writes a personal essay reflecting on his mother's experience of medically-assisted death, which ultimately brought her a sense of order and calm. Richard says:
"The debate about medically-assisted dying has been about how we've pushed our control over the powers that destroy our body -- disease and death -- to the point now where, what was an extension of our human control, has become an inhuman suffering (for some)…"
- On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood is published by Buckrider Books/Wolsak and Wynn.
- Read Richard Harrison's essay, It is to that bedside I go.
**This episode was produced by Lisa Godfrey.