W.O. Mitchell Book Prize winner sheds light on Calgary's class divides
Darwin's Moving examines a slice of the city where unskilled labourers and the one per cent collide
Each year, Calgary's W.O. Mitchell Book Prize celebrates the literary work of a local author in genres ranging from poetry to fiction to drama and this year's winner of the $5,000 prize takes a look at the city's class divides through a work of non-fiction.
In Darwin's Moving, author Taylor Lambert examines a corner of Calgary few ever see and where the largely unskilled labourers of the moving industry collide with the one per cent in some of the city's wealthiest homes.
Lambert spoke to The Homestretch on Thursday about the inspiration behind his award-winning book.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. You can listen to the complete interview here.
Q: Why did you focus on a moving company and the employees working there to tell this story?
A: I actually have a fairly long background in moving furniture.
I started working for Darwin's Moving when I was in university at journalism school in Montreal. I would come back to Calgary in the summer and make enough money to pay my tuition and on-and-off I did that job for about 10 years.
When I was freelancing as a journalist it helped pay my bills when I was writing books, and eventually I came to see it as a very interesting lens through which to explore the class divides in Calgary and it just seemed like a natural book.
Q: And what did you learn about Calgary's class differences?
A: I think they're the same class differences that you see anywhere else in the country but Calgary is a city that has quite a bit of money in it, and so I think the divide is more stark than in other places.
Calgary gets a lot of attention for being a boomtown, a very affluent city but there's also a flip side to that, there's a lot of people who struggle to make ends meet.
And the moving industry in particular, I refer to as the lowest rung of unskilled labour, because you don't need any sort of training, you don't need anything. It attracts a lot of drug addicts, drug dealers, guys with criminal records, sometimes homeless guys.
And at the same time we go into some of the most affluent homes in the city, and it's a rather intimate bridging of the divide that you don't see in many other contexts in the city.
Q: Were there feelings of jealousy working around these wealthy environments?
A: Well, I can't speak for myself personally, I come from a middle class background, I'm sort of the exception among the workers.
But most of the guys, there was envy, there was jealousy, but they didn't see it as necessarily unattainable for themselves, they liked to dream big.
I say in the beginning of the book upfront, that none of this is unique to Darwin's Moving, which is a very reputable company. Literally, every moving company you hire will have guys drawn from the same well.
Q: You wrote that you felt a degree of discomfort when you first started working with these people.
A: I come from a middle class background so a lot of these guys were not people I would have interacted with closely under other circumstances. And so I had to get over my own prejudices and that sort of opened my eyes a great deal to my own shortcomings.
Q: What was the main takeaway for you from this experience?
A: I think what the book tries to do is reveal the humanity behind the stereotypes that we often cling to.
These folks don't walk out of central casting and into your life. They've got their own backstory of many years of how they got there and some of it's bad and some of it's good.
And I think the more we take the time to see people as complete human beings, the better off we all will be in society.
Q: At the end of the book you use one of the movers as an example when looking at our justice system. You say he is the definition of a person our system is supposed to help, but didn't.
A: That guy in particular is in his mid-50s and has had a very, very difficult life. He had a life of crime, served time, various drug addictions, but it all stemmed from childhood trauma. Most of it was not his fault, per se.
I tried very much to avoid making any sort of political argument throughout the book, it's more of a character study, but it's clear that his particular life, when you get to the end of it, is a bit of a tragedy.
All he needed was some intervention somewhere along the way and it could have been completely different, and the lives he affected negatively could also have been completely different.
Q: Have you talked to some of these people you portray in the book?
A: Yes I have, generally they're very happy with it. They were happy to speak with me and share their stories with me.
All of these guys I knew for many years before I ventured to write the book, so they already trusted me and were willing to share their stories with me.
Q: What do you think winning this award will mean to you?
A: For me, personally, I've never even been nominated for an award for any of my books so I guess I'm batting a thousand and that's certainly a good feeling.
But really what I hope it does is give the book some more profile. I'm very pleased not just that it's my book that won, but that it's a book about class divides that won and I hope it prompts us to talk more about the things that divide us.
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With files from The Homestretch