Friday, May 1, 2009

Creative Nonfiction in Banff

The Canadian Way

Welcome to the annual Creative Nonfiction Collective Conference at the Banff Centre. Decorated with music rehearsal huts separated by deer browse (the little brown huts behind the oh-so-out-of-place truck in the above photograph) and famous for mountains hidden behind buildings meant to look like mountains,

The Mountains of Banff

the Banff Centre is a little piece of Canada tucked into an ancient, sacred aboriginal site in the Alberta Rocky Mountains.

This year, I gave a talk there, called Truth and Myth in Creative Nonfiction. To make a long story short, here is my thesis:

The Truth About Creative Nonfiction

My talk cast a wide net, between John Dee and Goethe, between Newton and Terry Glavin, to argue that the literary genre otherwise known as Creative Nonfiction has the potential to be more than journalism or memoir or even literature, and certainly more than 'the use of fictional techniques in nonfiction.'

Monica Meneghetti added the important gloss that it's more than a genre. It's a mode of writing in the world. I sure do look forward to exploring this idea with her more.

Monica Meneghetti Hanging Out at Banff

And then, west of Edmonton, on my long way home again, I found this:

Nonsense in Northern Alberta

I was on my way to McCleese Lake, where deep in the bush outside of the Gibraltar Mine I spent two days with the horse logger and poet Lorne Dufour, editing his new book of creative nonfiction Jacob's Prayer.

Here's a teaser from the publisher's teaser:

In 1974 Lorne Dufour moved to Alkali Lake Reserve, a Shuswap community near Williams Lake in British Columbia, to help reopen the local elementary school. Like many First Nation communities across Canada, Alkali Lake had been ravaged by decades of residential schools and forced religion. Colonialism had robbed them of their language and culture and had left a legacy of abuse and alcoholism.

We're all on this path, I think. Other paths? I think Banff wants the last word on that:

The State of the Status Quo

Mountains, you might say, take up a lot of space. And that, too, is the Banff way.

Monday, February 9, 2009


The Hanging Tree of Dog Creek

In 1871, in the town of Dog Creek, six Secwepemc sisters fell in love with the same stranger, probably a M├ętis packer working for the Hudson's Bay Company. Since none of them could have him, and all of them couldn't have him, they settled the matter by hanging themselves from this tree on the edge of the grasslands north of town. Their father cut them down in the morning and buried them on the hillside in behind.

That's the story. Given that British Columbia joined confederation in 1871, given that the Indian Act was radically altered, and that the ranching economy had collapsed and was being consolidated, I really think there was a lot more power involved in this story than that.

The play, Pox!which won in Theatre B.C.'s National Playwriting Competition explores white/native relations in the context of ongoing land claims struggles in the B.C. Interior. It is a black comedy, a trickster and gambling comedy, in which Smallpox and The Hanging Judge change places as they struggle for control over the ghosts of the six Secwempemc girls, and it's going to be workshopped in Kamloops on the Easter Weekend. It's kind of a love story for fifteen years that I spent on those grasslands, and was two years in the making. I'm looking forward to seeing how it looks as it starts to climb onto the stage.

Here's the shadow the tree casts into the bunchgrass.