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December 12, 2010: A report from Haiti - Only in Sweden? - Willie McGee and the Travelling Electric Chair (Doc)

This week's guest host was Hana Gartner.

Haiti - This week Haiti was on fire again, its streets racked by violent protests against the results of an election that seems to be neither fair nor democratic. The hopes of those looking for a way out of their misery hang in the balance. In our first hour, an update on the situation from our producer David Gutnick, from the capital Port-au-Prince.

Read more about hour one here

Only in Sweden? - A discussion about common law break-ups, which you may find surprising. The laws that govern how couples divide their assets are not what you may think they are.

Read more about hour two here

Willie McGee and the Travelling Electric Chair (Doc) - In 1951, a young black man named Willie McGee was executed in Mississippi's travelling electric chair for raping a white woman. Almost sixty years later, his granddaughter tries to uncover the truth about the grandfather she never knew.

Read more about hour three here

Elsewhere in the program:Actor and director Ted Dykstra will be here to talk about his colleague and friend David French; Writer Gail Caldwell will be here to talk about her new book, Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship; And we will take a look at the forgotten war, the ongoing conflict between North and South Korea. In between skirmishes, we tend to forget about that international hot spot.



Hour 1

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Haiti

When CBC producer David Gutnick first went on assignment to Haiti, he fell in love with the country.

Today, the western hemisphere's unluckiest people are dealing with the fallout from botched reconstruction efforts, botched sanitation projects, and now, a botched election.

In hour one, David Gutnick, on the ground in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Cue the Lights: In Honour of David French

As the unruly actor replied to the theatre director when told to behave like an adult, "we're not adults, we're actors".

It is one of the funniest lines in one of the funniest pieces ever written for the Canadian theatre, "Jitters", about the backstage shenanigans at a small theatre in the throes of rehearsing a new play. It is playwright David French's affectionate look at the world he loved.

That world will never be quite the same. David French died last Saturday at the age of 71.

He was one of our most important playwrights. His early success helped turn Canadian theatre from an oxymoron into a reality. His work was shot through with the VERY adult themes of love and longing, the pain and exhilaration of finding one's place in the world.

David French is best known for his plays featuring the Mercer family of Newfoundland. The first one, "Leaving Home", premiered in 1972. It has since been produced countless times in theatre across the country. It was named one of the 1,000 Essential Plays in English by the Oxford Dictionary.

Ted Dykstra is an actor and director who knew David French and his work very well. He is a founding member of Soulpepper Theatre Company in Toronto. Ted Dykstra was with Hana in our Toronto studio.


Hour 2

Gail Caldwell Takes the Long Way Home

Let's Take the Long Way Home is the kind of book that demands your attention from the very first sentence:

"It's an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too."

Gail Caldwell, award-winning journalist and former book critic for The Boston Globe, calls her book a "memoir of friendship". It chronicles her intense relationship with fellow writer, Caroline Knapp, whom she met in midlife. They shared a history of alcoholism, a deep love for their dogs, writing and rowing, and walking in the woods.

They were soul mates - and became so close they were often mistaken for sisters, lovers and even each other.

But the book is also a story about loss, and the untimely death of Caroline Knapp who, at age 42, died of lung cancer.

When that imagined future was cut short it left Gail Caldwell reeling.

But, she is a writer and so she found herself putting pen to paper. It began with that one sentence, written out longhand on a blank legal pad- and it was a year before she could write another word.

Gail Caldwell was a critic and staff writer for the Boston Globe for more than twenty years. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2001. She is also the author of A Strong West Wind, a memoir of her native Texas.

Gail Caldwell joined us from a studio at WBUR radio in Boston.

An essay by Hana Gartner

Take the Long Way Home is a remarkable story about friendship. And about loss. And, at least a little bit, about the unique human bonding that can result from the shared love of dogs. Which is why Hana loved the book and why the folks at The Sunday Edition asked her to tell you about her Lola.

Only in Sweden?

When the Swedish writer Stieg Larsson died at age 50 in November of 2004, he wasn't very well known, even in his native Sweden. But Mr. Larsson had recently signed a publishing deal for three novels he'd already completed. And after his death, those books went to press.

The rest, as they say, is history. The so-called "Millennium Trilogy" ended up topping bestseller lists all over the world, selling 27 million copies in more than 40 countries The movie rights to the novels were soon bought by a big Hollywood studio and Larsson's estate has now become very valuable indeed.

A few months ago on this program, we talked about the controversy that has erupted over that estate. Mr. Larsson had a thirty-year long common-law relationship with his partner, Eva Gabrielsson. They were a couple at the time of his death. But Stieg Larsson did not leave a valid will, and without a legal marriage, Ms. Gabrielsson was not entitled to a penny of her partner's now considerable fortune. She is now in the midst of a very public battle with Mr. Larsson's father and brother over both the money and the control over Larsson's literary works.

At the time we aired the piece, there was a behind-the-scenes discussion about the backwardness of Swedish family law. If only the couple had been Canadian, we all agreed, Ms. Gabrielsson would have inherited her common-law husband's property, as if they were legally married. On this point, we all seemed to agree. And on this point, we all seem to be dead wrong.

The rules are in fact different in every province - and in some very significant ways.

Karen Busby is a Professor of Law at the University of Manitoba. That province has some of the strongest common-law legislation in the country, and Professor Busby is partly responsible for that. Within the last ten years, Manitoba introduced a series of comprehensive changes to the law, and she was one of the leaders of the reform process. This morning, she's in our Winnipeg studio.

Renee Cochard is a family lawyer with Cochard Johnson in Edmonton. She's also completing a PhD on this issue at the University of British Columbia, but this week, she was in our CBC studio in Edmonton.


Hour 3

Willie McGee and the Traveling Electric Chair - Documentary

On the night of May 7th, 1951, close to a thousand people gathered around the courthouse in the small town of Laurel, Mississippi.

They had come to witness the execution of Willie McGee, a young black man convicted of raping a white woman.

Mississippi's travelling electric chair was set up inside the courthouse. Outside, a local radio station was ready to broadcast the event live.

Over six years, three trials and a series of appeals, the racially-charged case had drawn international attention. Some called it a real life To Kill a Mockingbird. There were protests from William Faulkner, Josephine Baker, even Albert Einstein. But on May 7, 1951, at the dawn of the civil rights movement, Willie McGee was put to death.

And after the execution, the story was largely forgotten.

Until - almost sixty years later - when his granddaughter Bridget decided to try and discover the REAL story of Willie McGee.

She teamed up with the an American production company called Radio Diaries. Here is the fruit of that collaboration - our feature documentary, Willie McGee and the Traveling Electric Chair.

This documentary was produced by Joe Richman and Samara Freemark of Radio Diaries, with help from Anayansi Diaz-Cortes, Deborah George, and Ben Shapiro. Here is a link to the Radio Diaries website.

A Tale of Two Koreas

They call it "the Forgotten War", yet we are reminded of it constantly. The conflict between North and South Korea is in the headlines again of late - the North recently shelled an island under South Korean control and in response, the Americans sent an aircraft carrier to the Yellow Sea. This week, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was in Seoul, standing side-by-side with his South Korean counterpart, offering support - and pointed words for the government of China.

It's sometimes hard to understand why a skirmish on the Korean peninsula still concerns the world's military superpowers. And harder still to understand the motives of the backwards and seemingly irrational North Korean regime. But to figure out what's really behind the latest outbreak of violence and tension, one has go back to the Korean War itself.

That's a trip that even American historians have been reluctant to take. And perhaps one of the reasons for that is the uncomfortable truth of American involvement in the war, which started more than sixty years ago and - technically at least - continues to this day.

Bruce Cumings is one historian who has chosen to tackle the subject. He's chair of the Department of History at the University of Chicago and he specializes in modern Korean history. His latest book, The Korean War: a History came out earlier this year, and this morning, Professor Cumings was in a studio in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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