Category Archives: Literary Causes

A Rewording Life, by Sheryl Gordon

A very special journey celebrating words and memory, in support of research into dementia

When Sheryl Gordon witnessed her mother, Yolande, losing her words to dementia, Sheryl developed a wrenchingly acute appreciation for the meaning of words … and that bittersweet realization inspired the creation of A Rewording Life. Sheryl reached out to over a thousand Canadians for whom words are vital – writers, editors, poets, journalists, performers, musicians, as well as sculptors, fashion designers, teachers, comedians and more – and asked them to contribute vibrant, unforgettable sentences using out of the ordinary words, to fight back against an affliction that makes words disappear.

rewording-bookMany of the contributors are well known, including Yann Martel, Terry Fallis, Miriam Toews, Measha Brueggergosman, Tony Dekker, Emma Donoghue, Joel Plaskett and many more. Some of the contributors are, well, folks like me. Like many, I have family and friends who have been affected by dementia, so it feels particularly gratifying to try to strike back at it with the power of words.

I’m not even sure the title of “writer” really fits, but heck, I wrote this sentence:


Two yoga mats over, the rosy-cheeked zaftig woman energetically, if clumsily yet cheerfully, went with the flow.

Interwoven among the myriad lively contributions are eight essays by Sheryl, the initial letters in the titles spelling out dementia. Scattered as the concept might seem, Sheryl hopes readers will embrace it. As she points out, confusion is, after all, the nature of this disease.

So, embrace it you should. In the process, you can help support organizations battling dementia. Half of the profits of each book will go to the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

Learn more about Sheryl, A Rewording Life, its worthy cause and all its amazing contributors at

Project Bookmark Canada, placing stories and poems right where literary scenes are set

In The Skin Of A Lion, by Michael Ondaatje

When I moved to Toronto in 1983, my enduring romance with the place I chose and still choose to call home started in a small apartment on the edge of the Don Valley, just north of Broadview and Danforth Avenues. My memories of those early days have the rumble of the subway in the soundtrack. Fresh out of university, I always had my nose in a book as I took the TTC downtown to my first job after graduation. Actually, I would drink in a breathtaking view from the Bloor Viaduct – the sun glinting off the CN Tower to the south, or the amazing masses of trees to the north, and yes, traffic mayhem of one sort or another on the DVP – and then my nose would be in my book once we hit the tunnel heading west to Castle Frank station.

I still lived in that neighbourhood in 1988, when my subway book one morning was Michael Ondaatje’s In The Skin Of A Lion. I now live further east of that area, but I still regularly take the subway along that line and over that bridge … and every single time, the phrase “We have to swing” sweeps through my mind and I shiver. I love that the first Project Bookmark plaque captures an unforgettable scene from one of my all-time CanLit favourites, which is linked intimately to an important part of place and time and life for myself … and, I know, for many others.

Canadian literature – poetry and prose – informs our personal and physical terrains. At its best, it both grounds and puts our spirits in flight. Project Bookmark so brilliantly makes manifest this idea, with a dozen plaques (so far) across Canada that mark the places where real and imagined landscapes meet, placing text from imagined stories and poems in the exact, physical locations where literary scenes take place. Writers, readers and those who will become writers and readers need to see more of these essential markers in their communities and in the places they visit across our country.

Please donate to Project Bookmark

I want to see this network of sites and stories expand and capture the imaginations of Canadians young and old, so I’ve donated and become a Project Bookmark Canada Page Turner. Please join me. For $20, less than the cost of the average paperback, you can help create a tribute to Canadian sites and stories, for today’s readers and for generations to come. It’s easy – just click the Donate button here:

If you donate today – April 12th – your name will be entered into a draw to win tickets to the Griffin Poetry Prize 2013 shortlist readings (Wednesday, June 12th at magnificent Koerner Hall in Toronto) and copies of the Griffin Poetry Prize anthology.

Another milestone, a continued commitment to literacy and literary causes

I’ve mused in previous blog posts about the importance of literacy. From those musings, coupled with wise advice and support from book and publishing friends and acquaintances in real life and online, I’ve made a commitment to supporting literacy initiatives and programs … every time I hit a followership milestone on Twitter.

This time, I’ll confess I’ve strayed a bit from literacy causes to literary causes. Inspired by the recent Al Purdy Show, I’ve made my donation as follows:

Al Purdy A-Frame

In 1957, Al and Eurithe Purdy bought the property on “the south shore of Roblin Lake, a mile or so from the village of Ameliasburgh, in Prince Edward County… (the) lot bordered the lake shoreline, a teacup of water nearly two miles long. Dimensions of the lot were 100 feet wide by 265 long.” This became the home where Al Purdy wrote many of his most stirring and influential works. Even while the storied A-frame cottage was being built, it also became a meeting place — for poets, for poetry lovers, for those aspiring to be poets, and for those who wrote and supported Canadian literature in other forms. Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Tom Marshall, George Bowering, Earle Birney, Lynn Crosbie, Steven Heighton, Patrick Lane, Margaret Laurence, Jack McClelland … the CanLit who’s who is too immense to exhaustively list.

Now, in addition to upgrading and preserving this deservedly historical site, supporters envision a Writer-in-Residence Program:

“The residency program for the A-frame was designed by poets David Helwig, Steven Heighton, Karen Solie and Rob Budde. The poets were selected to include a broad poetic sensibility, geographical reach, breadth of experience with residency programs, knowledge of Purdy’s work and personal experience of the property. Both David and Steven were long time friends of the Purdys and spent many decades visiting Roblin Lake.

“To begin, the residency will operate for 8 months, from April 1 to November 30. Later the winter months may be added. The A-frame will provide time and a place to work that is attractive and of historic significance. Writers can apply for a term of one to three months. The residency will be open to all writers, but preference will be given to poetry and poetry projects. The jury will also consider proposals for a one month project in critical writing about Canadian poetry each year and will be open to unusual and creative ideas for residencies.”

Learn more at the Al Purdy A-Frame Association page.

As I’ve mentioned previously on this subject, much more important than numbers of followers or influence scores or whatever is that we are in this social milieu reading and writing and talking … about books and literature and print and digital formats and reading devices, and on to bookstores and libraries and the vital reading and writing experiences in all their forms. I value those who follow me and converse with me, those that I follow and learn from, and those that I come across even fleetingly in this vibrant tweeting, retweeting, chattering, enthusiastic and engaged environment. It’s not the numbers of them (although that there is endless potential for book friends out there continues to take my breath away), but the quality of the discourse and the spirit, dealing with fundamental issues, not to mention myriad delights.

Numbers are just numbers. But then again, we can use those numbers in creative ways to challenge ourselves to remember, to recognize, to give back. Through this exercise, I’ve learned about other organizations and institutions supporting literacy, literary causes and books that I’d like to recognize in future, so I’m going to set a goal to do just that whenever I hit one of those “number” milestones. I challenge other book tweeters and bloggers to do the same.

Yann Martel’s thoughtful, thankless mission

What is Stephen Harper Reading? by Yann Martel

R.K. Narayan’s The Financial Expert is the 71st of a series of titles selected by writer Yann Martel to provide to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to encourage an appreciation of the arts and literature in particular in the PM, and to also help Harper with his stillness and thoughtfulness. Martel has regularly sent books from a wide range of literary traditions to Harper. Martel has devoted a Web site to the reading list and his kind, considered and often poignant covering letters with each volume. (All of his letters can be read at They are also now in printed form, in a book entitled, not surprisingly, What is Stephen Harper Reading?)

Martel’s thoughtful persistence in this quest, started in April 2007, is both heartwrenching and highly commendable. He has never received a direct acknowledgement from Harper, and only some fairly form-letter responses from Harper’s staff, and even one from Industry Minister Tony Clement (although it wasn’t directly related to any of Martel’s book selections).

I’m sure Martel will continue to send well-considered choices (although if I was him, I’d be tempted to send “Going [Pro]Rogue” …) accompanied by articulate letters. I so admire his steadfast commitment.

P.S. Congratulations to Yann Martel for the inclusion of Life of Pi in the National Post’s top 10 Canadian books of the past decade.

Another P.S. There’s a great interview with Yann Martel about the What is Stephen Harper Reading? project on the January 9th episode of CBC Radio’s The House, at

Yet another P.S. (added February 1, 2010) – Yann Martel has outdone himself, recommending the amazing Eunoia by Christian Bok:…. For some reason, that just gets me utterly jazzed, although it’s no more likely than any other book presented by Martel to actually attract Harper’s attention.

Yet another P.S. (added March 1, 2010) – Stephen Harper might not have the good graces to acknowledge Martel, but someone else does.

Another delighted P.S. (added March 17, 2010) – While Yann Martel is off promoting his new book Beatrice & Virgil, Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo, is keeping up the momentum, with the exquisite choice of Paul Quarrington’s King Leary.