Writers on a mission — 3 high-stakes stories from award-winning authors

Three Canadian writers read and reflect on the theme of troubled missions: Joan Thomas on her childhood as an evangelical Christian, Erin Bow on the self-sacrificing dedication of scientists, and Don Gillmor on the whys of suicide. All are winners of 2019 Governor General’s Awards.

'Listen to me, something terrible is about to happen, and I can save you,' writes Joan Thomas in 'Called'

Three Canadian writers reflect on the theme of troubled missions: Joan Thomas (left) on her childhood as an evangelical Christian, Don Gillmor (middle) on the whys of suicide, and Erin Bow (right) on the self-sacrificing dedication of scientists. (Bruce Thomas Barr, Ryan Szulc, Studio J)
Listen to the full episode53:59

IDEAS teams up annually with CBC Books and the Canada Council for the Arts, to present new writing on a theme, by winners of 2019 Governor General's Awards.

This year, the challenge was to imagine a troubled quest — a mission gone wrong.

Joan Thomas on her childhood as an evangelical Christian

Fiction winner Joan Thomas writes a searching personal essay about the agitated fervour that she felt as a child. She was eager to convert others to her family's evangelical Christian faith, in order to save them from damnation.

"Something in me made me willing to stand apart, like a bearded prophet with a REPENT OR PERISH sign. Something in me relished the thought of going up to people and saying, 'Listen to me, something terrible is about to happen, and I can save you.'" — From "Called," by Joan Thomas

Don Gillmor on the whys of suicide

Don Gillmor, the 2019 Nonfiction award recipient, reflects on the aftermath of suicide*, and the questions that friends and family grapple with in the wake of a loss.

"We who are left behind are sometimes termed 'survivors of suicide.'  Citizens of suicide may be more accurate, though we are like immigrants who stand on the periphery of their new country, unsure of the customs, not fitting in." — From "Suicide's Citizens," by Don Gillmor

* If you're experiencing emotional distress and want to talk, The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention has a list of local crisis centres which can be viewed here. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 or the number for emergency services in your community.

Erin Bow on the dedication of scientists

Young People's Literature winner Erin Bow gives us a fictional take on the mission theme, writing a tense tale of a scientific expedition bound for an ice-encrusted moon of Jupiter, in search of life. 

"There are risks to going faster.  How likely is a sudden breach, a deadly eruption of pressurized water?  Does it matter?  They still have transmitters.  If they could sample the ocean directly – if they could finish the mission – they could still get the data out." — From "They are Here," by Erin Bow

Bow is inspired by the dedication of the scientists she works with at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Guests in this episode:

  • Erin Bow is a Waterloo, Ontario author. She topped the Young People's Literature, English - Text category of the 2019 Governor General's Literary Awards with her book, Stand on the Sky.
  • Don Gillmor is a Toronto author, and winner of the Nonfiction (English) prize of the 2019  Governor General's Literary Awards for his memoir, To the River: Losing My Brother.
  • Joan Thomas is a Winnipeg author. Her novel, Five Wives, was awarded the 2019 Governor General's LIterary Award for Fiction (English).

This episode was produced by Lisa Godfrey.


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