Local literati remember settler’s perspective in latest anthology
Four local writers will converge at The Mercury Room on Wednesday to discuss their work on a non-fiction anthology celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday from an Edmonton perspective.
High Level Lit: Musings on YEG for Canada’s Sesquicentennial will feature essays and poetry from 12 local authors and be published as a special issue of Eighteen Bridges Magazine this October. The project is organized by the Edmonton Community Foundation in tandem with LitFest Alberta.
The High Level Lit Salon Series spotlights the anthology’s contributors with a live event, and the second salon will feature food culture writer Jennifer Cockrall-King, former Edmonton poet laureate Anna Marie Sewell, and local playwright Darrin Hagen. Malcom “Minister Faust” Azania also returns to host the event, after he read excerpts of his anthology contribution at the first salon on Mar. 1. He says the anthology focuses mostly on the Canadian settler perspective.
“It’s important that we’ve had a culture shift in Canada in the last few years to recognize that Canada is made up of everybody who is here—and that’s more than just an Anglo-Saxon or a French story,” Azania says. “If it were Canadian history from indigenous Canadian perspectives, it would be more like Canada 15,000, rather than 150.”
Sewell views the anthology as a chance to celebrate Canada’s authentic past.
“The sesquicentennial, as a milestone, is an opportunity to discard the musty myths of terra nullius (oh, the empty wilderness of Canada) and make some strong strides towards recovering from a legacy of amnesia, of pretending there was no history here,” she says. “Instead, we can commit to learning, sharing, and owning that history.
“There are so many stories to tell; telling them well, as accurately as we can, helps us know and cherish each other.”
As we look at the ways our history has been shared over the last 150 years, Cockrall-King says sometimes it’s best examined through what we eat.
“To me, culinary is culture,” says Cockrall-King, who writes about food from a perspective of identifying societal and cultural trends. “Edmonton expresses its many layers of various ethnicities, and various layers of how long generations have been in Alberta and in Edmonton through food.”
That cultural lens extends to the origins of food too, Sewell says.
“When I came to Edmonton in 1985, gardens and gardeners were one major force that oriented me,” she says. “Gardens affirm and reaffirm that this is a world of wonders … cultural continuation, transplantation, interdependence, accepting limitations, war and genocide—you name it, you can find a way to learn about it in a garden.”
While she’d already decided to write about gardening, Sewell’s mother passed away on May 5 so her essay has taken on an even deeper personal meaning.
“I’d hoped to share it with her, as a way to let her know how much her steadfast gardening, through so many challenges, means to me,” Sewell says. “Now this is both a tribute, and, I guess, a pledge, to carry on trying to grow from the best of what she gave me.”
Azania’s story for the anthology focuses on his ancestors who moved to Alberta in 1910, and eventually owned a small candy factory and a farm. Through oral research with his late uncle, he discovered agricultural information that documents the changing times.
“I wanted to know what kind of animals they had on the farm, and he included geese,” Azania says.
His uncle explained that goose eggs used to be a staple, even though many people today might balk at the idea. Tidbits like that will end up in his final piece for the anthology.
Wed., May 31 (6 – 8 pm)
High Level Lit Salon #2
The Mercury Room, free