Birds Art Life

Kyo Maclear's search for inspiration, beauty and solace leads her to birds in this intimate meditation on creativity and life.

Kyo Maclear

When it comes to birds, Kyo Maclear isn't seeking the exotic. Rather she discovers joy in the seasonal birds that find their way into view in city parks and harbours, along eaves and on wires. In a world that values big and fast, Maclear looks to the small, the steady, the slow accumulations of knowledge and the lulls that leave room for contemplation.

A distilled, crystal-like companion to H Is for Hawk, Birds Art Life celebrates the particular madness of chasing after birds in the urban environment and explores what happens when the core lessons of birding are applied to other aspects of art and life.

Moving with ease between the granular and the grand, peering into the inner landscape as much as the outer one, this is a deeply personal year-long inquiry into big themes: love, waiting, regrets, endings. If Birds Art Life was sprung from Maclear's sense of disconnection, her passions faltering under the strain of daily existence, this book is ultimately about the value of reconnection — and how the act of seeking engagement and beauty in small ways can lead us to discover our most satisfying and meaningful lives. (From Doubleday Canada)

With elegant, evocative prose, roaming curiosity, and quietly wild erudition, Birds Art Life is a beautiful book—lucid, exalting, and true.- 2017 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction jury

Birds Art Life was a finalist for the 2017 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Why Kyo Maclear wrote Birds Art Life

 I heard about this musician in Toronto through a documentary called 15 Reasons to Live by a director named Alan Zweig. He followed 15 different people around, and one of them was a musician from Toronto named Jack Breakfast. Jack had been in a creative depression, struggled with alcohol and had, according to the documentary, lost his heart to city birds. For some reason, I found that story really compelling and I think that was partly because I was feeling so squeezed and almost suffocated. I really wanted to wander.

You can see incredible birds that connect you to really distant parts of the world.- Kyo Maclear

"Jack Breakfast is not your typical birdwatcher. He's very un-pious about birds — super funny and not reverential. I realized that maybe I felt disconnected from nature because of my notions about who belonged in nature, who was an environmental citizen. Jack opened the gate for me in this way because his idea that nature exists so profusely in the city was completely incredible to me. I thought maybe there were sparrows and pigeons, a few ducks, but I learned there are hundreds of species of birds in the city — not to mention so many migratory birds that pass over the city and stop in Toronto during spring migration. Around 50 million birds will fly over Toronto every year, many stopping to refuel. You can see incredible birds that connect you to really distant parts of the world."

Read more in Kyo Maclear's interview with CBC Books.

From the book

One winter, not so long ago, I met a musician who loved birds. This musician, who was then in his mid-thirties, had found he could not always cope with the pressures and disappoint­ments of being an artist in a big city. He liked banging away on his piano like Fats Waller but performing and promoting himself made him feel anxious and de­pressed. Very occasionally his depression served him well and allowed him to write lonesome songs of love but most of the time it just ate at him. When he fell in love with birds and began to photograph them, his anxieties dissipated. The sound of birdsong reminded him to look outwards at the world.

From Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear ©2017. Published by Penguin Random House Canada.

Interviews with Kyo Maclear

Author Kerri Sakamoto on why she loves Kyo Mclear's memoir

More about Birds Art Life

Other books by Kyo Maclear