Monday, November 22nd, 2010
Here’s a terrific exploration of the essayistic “I” from Carl H. Klaus, founding director of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction program and author of The Made Up Self: Impersonation in the Personal Essay. A sample:
“In some sense, of course, the voice in a personal essay does put one in connection with its author, more directly and closely than any other form of writing, except a personal letter. But the nature of that connection is inherently so tangled and indefinite, so variable from one essay or essayist to the next, that despite the inclination of Oates and others to talk about “authentic voice,” one cannot substantiate the connection beyond asserting that it exists. To determine the authenticity of an essayist’s voice, one would have to know as much about that essayist’s inner life, public behavior, and personal experience as the essayist herself. Yet the temptation to equate essayists with their essayistic selves is seemingly irrepressible.
How else to account for a friend’s response to my new book: “Your essays sound just like you! You’re there in every one of them.” Which me? I wondered. The academic me? The confessional me? The whimsical me? Or one of the others I contrived, figuring that a book about the made-up self ought to embody a few of my own. I had created so many different voices that I decided my friend must have been joking—or paying tribute to my protean “I.” On the other hand, when my partner, Jackie, finished reading the book, she exclaimed, “I sure wish you could talk like that.” Which me? I wondered once again.”
Thursday, November 18th, 2010
I recently contributed a piece to the Annick anthology, What My Father Gave Me, reviewed at Quill and Quire, here, and also at Word of Mouse Reviews.
What My Father Gave Me is edited by the brilliant Melanie Little, and includes essays by Lisa Moore, Saleema Nawaz, Shannon McFerran, Jessica Raya, Cathy Stonehouse, and the editor herself.
Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
I’m proud to say that an essay of mine, “Library Haunting” has placed in The New Quarterly’s first essay contest, named in honour of Edna Staebler. You can find it in the latest issue, along with first place winner Theresa Kishkan’s magnificent piece. It’s called “Arbutus menziesii: The make-up secrets of the Byzantine Madonnas,” and if that doesn’t pique your interest, you’re crazy. Her essay is beautiful, thoughtful, surprising, and deep—everything an essay ought to be. You’ll also find a fresh, funny, and honest piece on early motherhood by Kerry Clare, whose reviews and interviews with authors I’ve been following with interest for some time. It’s an honour to appear here with both of them.
The entire issue is packed with great stuff, including prize-winning poems by Jeanette Lynes, Patricia Young, and Kerry Ryan, fiction by Isabel Huggan, Holley Rubinsky, and Jessica Westhead, a reminiscence by the wonderful Sarah Selecky, an introduction to A.J. Somerset, winner of this year’s Metcalf Rooke award, and a series of amazing portraits of writers by Alan Drayton.
I was fortunate enough to win the inaugural Edna Staebler prize from TNQ in 2008. Then, it was not a contest; instead, judges chose from a selection of nonfiction published in the journal during the previous year. So the prize came as a total shock.
It was just before Christmas, a Friday evening, and I was sitting down to supper with my family, when the doorbell rang. With some irritation (imagining it was somebody soliciting for something or other) I went to answer. The mailman handed me a package. I looked at the return address and wondered why in heaven’s name Kim Jernigan would be sending me something at this time of year. I was pretty sure I had already received my issue of the magazine, and besides, this was heavier.
I opened it up to find two cookbooks by Edna Staebler. Two cookbooks that my mother’s friends had used back in the 80s. What the heck?
And then I found the envelope. In it, the most generous letter imaginable from Kim, generous words from that year’s judge, Elizabeth Ruth, and an even more generous cheque.
What better Christmas gift, for a writer?
Thank you, again, New Quarterly, for the continuously evolving gift of new and exciting writing.