Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Letter to the Minister

It's been too long since my last post in "Tasmania-bound." 

Since I've been back on my home island, I haven't felt quite the same compulsion I had to write about my grand adventure, since I'm home, comfortable, and experiencing what geographer Edward Relph calls "existential insideness." Plus I'm not homesick for the Island and my people, which is always a driver for my writing. I'm still unabashedly Tasmania-bound but at this moment it's "to" rather than "for." I will resume my blog posts shortly once the transcribing is under control and I'm actually writing the thesis. More on that in another post, I promise!

But sometimes you just need to vent. And I thought that this might be the place for it.

As you probably know, I was the publisher of Charlottetown's Acorn Press for 17 years, until I sold it to Terrilee Bulger in 2010 so I could go to Tasmania to do my PhD. (My friend Ann Thurlow tells me there aren't many people who can say that!) Terrilee's been doing a great job of keeping the books coming still focusing on Prince Edward Island manuscripts while doing a few other off-Island titles that are just too good to pass up. 
Terrilee Bulger and me on the day of the handover. I'm the one who's really smiling!
However, we learned earlier this year that the provincial government has cut the publisher support program yet again, making Prince Edward Island the only province to not offer funding support. Last week's Guardian published Richard Lemm's Opinion Piece, calling for the program to be reinstated. The week before that, Island writer Steven Mayoff was interviewed on CBC about how he sent a signed copy of Acorn's latest fiction anthology, Riptides (featuring 23 new short stories by some of the Island's finest writers) to the Minister of Culture and encouraging other authors to do the same. And Terrilee has launched a contest to win a copy of Riptides if you send your own letter of support to the Minister.
Since I already have my copy, AND my letter is too long to meet her guidelines of 3-500 words   here's mine here. It went to the Minister and Premier August 3, and I've yet to receive a response or even an acknowledgement that it's been received.

If you feel inclined to write a letter, please do so! And if you have any comments on what's written below, please send them along.

August 3, 2012

The Hon. Robert Henderson
Minister of Tourism and Culture
Province of Prince Edward Island

The Hon. Robert Ghiz
Province of Prince Edward Island

Dear Mr. Henderson, Mr. Premier,

As the founding and former publisher of Charlottetown’s Acorn Press, I am writing to protest once again the decision to cut the Book Publisher Support Program. It saddens me to know that the success of last year’s lobbying efforts was so short-lived.

I join the voices of other Island writers, illustrators, publishers, and supporters of the arts to implore you to reconsider your decision – especially in light of the very real threat that the Island will lose its only publishing company if the program is not reinstated. After all, why should the new owner of Acorn, Terrilee Bulger, keep the Press here if there are no incentives to do so, when she could simply move the Press to Nova Scotia and receive a grant to help support her publishing activity there? It is an irrefutable fact that should this happen, there will be substantially fewer Island books being published.

Incidentally, the longstanding publisher support program in Nova Scotia offers between $170,000 and $190,000 to its member publishers, which, based on a population of 921,727 people, amounts to between 18 and 20 cents per capita. If your government was to reinstate the $10,000 grant, based on 141,000 people, that's 7 cents per capita. That is a shocking comparison, but this amount will still make the difference between whether the Press stays on the Island or is lost to the mainland.

It would break my heart if Ms. Bulger were to take the Press – which I started from scratch in 1993 – off the Island because of a mere $10,000 a year. It would be a disservice to all the writers and visual artists whose distinctive Island voices would be silenced. And it would be a travesty – and bitter irony – to be recognized once again as the only province in the country to not support its publishing industry, especially since so much of our multimillion-dollar tourism industry is based on a book.

Premier Ghiz and Harry Holman are no doubt familiar with the history of our lobbying efforts from my letter of March 2011. But, Mr, Henderson, I would like to ensure that you know the story, too.

For several years, I, as publisher of Acorn Press, had lobbied the provincial government for a publishing support program. As I reiterated time and time again, Prince Edward Island was the only province in the country NOT to have one. For years, provincial governments across the country have recognized the importance of book publishers in maintaining distinctive cultures and as cultural industries that bring money into the economy.

While Poet Laureate, Frank Ledwell came along with me to meet with two Cultural Affairs ministers on two occasions: first Elmer MacFadyen, then Carolyn Bertram. The meeting with Minister MacFadyen in 2005 was just after Acorn learned that it had been unsuccessful in receiving anticipated Block Grant funding from the Canada Council for the Arts due to comments by the jury that Acorn’s books were too “folksy” and “of uneven literary contribution.” A letter-writing campaign to the Council ensued, arguing the point that publishing distinct regional voices is essential to the cultural mosaic of Canada, and needs to be respected by those at the centre. (I’ve since been told that the Council had never seen such a flurry of letters from outraged writers, publishers, and other Atlantic Canadians – including the PEI Department of Community and Cultural Affairs; Acorn’s file is very, very thick.) Staff at the Council eventually conceded our points, and Acorn went on to receive funding the following year – but, in the meantime, thanks to Minister MacFadyen, the province stepped forward with a $15,000 emergency grant to fill the funding gap for 2005. The understanding was, though, that this was a one-time grant and was not to be thought of as a publishing support program. I was told that the government could not create a program for just one publisher.

The second meeting, with Carolyn Bertram, occurred a few years later, in spring 2008 - one of the last things I did with Frank before he died. Again, Frank and I presented our case for a Prince Edward Island publishing support program. Previously, Joseph Sherman and others had worked with the department to create the Prince Edward Island Book Awards; the first award was given in 2006 to an Acorn book (Catherine Edward’s The Brow of Dawn). Much to the department’s surprise, the first book awards attracted over 30 entries, and not all from Acorn Press. I remember Harry Holman telling me how amazed they were to discover so much publishing activity in the province – much of it self-publishing efforts, but demonstrating strongly that there was more than one publisher on the Island.

As a result of the success of the Book Awards, and, I like to think, our lobbying efforts, in 2008 Minister Bertram announced The Book Publisher Support Program granting up to $10,000 per publisher. (If memory serves, the program’s total amount was approximately $30,000.) The eligibility criteria for the program were quite broad, allowing self-publishing enterprises to apply. Ironically, after being told that the government couldn’t create a program just for Acorn, the first year Acorn received $7,500 instead of the maximum $10,000 because the pot had to be divided up between all the publishers! I think I said something to Harry about the irony, and in 2009 the guidelines were tightened, so fewer publishers were eligible, and Acorn received the full $10,000.

In 2010 I anticipated that the call for applications would happen as usual at the end of June. It did not. I heard reasons such as budget restraint and that old argument that they couldn’t have a program for just one publisher. However, as of 2009, another trade publisher had entered the mix: Larry Resnitzky's Retromedia. David Weale’s Tangle Lane Publishing was publishing books. Island Studies Press was publishing books. (I do know that Harry Holman objected to Island Studies Press qualifying, even though they do NOT receive money from the University of Prince Edward Island to support the publishing program.) As per the eligibility rules, the Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Museum or the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation never received funding from the program. I’m not sure who else qualified.

And even if there WAS just one publisher, why NOT have a program? Especially when there is such a huge amount of literary activity on the Island that benefits the Island in so many ways, such as promoting our distinctiveness as an island province, and ensuring that our voices are heard – especially because we are an equal partner in the Canadian federation and take great pride in being the smallest.  And perhaps a program would encourage others to start publishing.

I would like to reiterate here why a distinctly Island press is so important. Often, big-name authors get their start in small, regional presses like Acorn. They otherwise would not be noticed in the hundreds of manuscripts that are submitted each year. I have often told authors that if they can get their books published off-Island, they should – since mainland presses have more resources to promote and market their books. But then they’ve come back and told me that they’d rather publish locally because Acorn offered excellence in editing and design – and personal attention - that the big presses didn’t. It is thus important that a local press is given the resources to publish these manuscripts.

Because of our small market and economies of scale, it is difficult to ensure that every book breaks even. Some you don’t expect to break even, anyway – they’re published for other reasons, such as the contribution they make to the Island’s cultural understanding. Those books in particular need government backing.

As publishing heads into the world of online and print-on-demand publishing, it’s important to remember that more resources go into publishing book than mere paper, print and bind costs. There is the cost of manuscript development, editing, design, and marketing – and the most basic of these is quality control: self-published books are not peer-reviewed (they’re called “vanity” publications for a reason), and are often poorly edited and designed. Professional book publishers are always striving to improve the quality of their books in order for them to compete in the marketplace.

The reason that Prince Edward Island has a trade publisher at all is because I cared enough to keep it going. My full-time job at UPEI supported my family; Acorn was never big enough to pay a salary. And Terrilee Bulger cared enough to keep it going by purchasing it. She, too, supports herself with a full-time job.

If the reason for cutting the program is "belt-tightening,” why is it that culture always loses out when huge amounts of money are given to other causes that are deemed more worthy? What could be more worthy than ensuring that our culture remains a living, breathing one?  

I said it in my letter to the Canada Council in 2005, and I’ll say it to the provincial government now: it is crucial that Island publishers be supported in order that they produce books by and for Prince Edward Islanders. For too long, we’ve had to listen to others’ perceptions and vision of what Prince Edward Island is and/or should be. If we aren’t in charge of telling our own stories, then we have no one to blame but ourselves if someone else comes in and does it for us – and gets it wrong.

I urge your government to once again reinstate the Book Publisher Support Program. It is too important not to.


Laurie Brinklow
PhD Candidate
School of Geography and Environmental Studies
University of Tasmania

c.c. Harry Holman, Director, Culture, Heritage and Libraries, Department of Tourism and Culture

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Island cultures, island identities – and don’t forget the weather!

There are dozens of things I love about doing a PhD – particularly since my topic is islands –  specifically how artists on the islands of Newfoundland and Tasmania express their "islandness" through their art.

One of the perks is getting to travel to so many wonderful islands – mostly for meetings or conferences or to do my research, but sometimes for pleasure, too. Over the years I’ve noted that most of these islands have been cold-water islands: Iceland, the Faroes, and Ă…land; the Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Herm; Bornholm in Denmark and Ven in Sweden; Kagoshima in Japan; and Tasmania and Bruny Island in Australia. And then there are those closer to my home island of Prince Edward Island: Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island – not to mention the island on which I spent many of growing-up years: Vancouver Island. But in recent years, I managed to find a few warm-water ones, such as Maui; Isla Mujeires and Isla Holbox, off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula; and Hamilton Island, in the Whitsunday Islands in North Queensland. The cold still outnumber the warm, but I keep dreaming. I think it's part of my conditioning that the warm-water islands seem so much more exotic than the cold, but are they really?
Isla Holbox, Mexico

Isla Holbox, Mexico

All these islands have their different and distinctive attractions – but there are a few things – beyond the obvious water that surrounds them – that bind them together. Sometimes it’s difficult or expensive transportation links, isolation, or the insular nature of the island. Other times it’s jobs (or lack thereof), environmental concerns, or migration (mostly “out-“ but sometimes “in-“). Indeed, I first noticed the excitement generated by discovering shared traits of islandness at my first island studies conference, “An Island Living,” which we organized at the Institute of Island Studies back in 1992. The 50-some delegates didn’t stop talking from the time we picked them up at the airport until the time we dropped them off. It’s still the same. Usually the conversation begins with comments about the weather, with the conclusion: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” And it goes from there.

Two weeks ago I was in St. John’s, Newfoundland, attending NorthAtlantic Forum 2011, a biennial conference that focuses on economic development and governance issues of North Atlantic islands. (And it rained most of the time, but at least it didn't snow!) Hosted by the North Atlantic Forum (which is based out of the Leslie Harris Centre for Regional Development at Memorial University of Newfoundland), the national Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF), Cruise Newfoundland and Labrador, and Memorial University, this year’s NAF had the added sponsorship of the Small Island Cultures Research Initiative (SICRI) – which looks at comparative island cultural studies. The theme of the conference was “Culture, Place and Identity at the Heart of Regional Development.” 
Over a hundred delegates came from all over Newfoundland and Labrador, various regions of Canada, as well as Iceland, Denmark, and Tasmania. They included academics and business people, civil servants and rural development practitioners, and artists and musicians. At the heart of the discussion was how to keep our distinctive (mostly island) cultures dynamic in an increasingly globalized world, and how to share those cultures with tourists without ruining what made them special to begin with.

The keynote speaker who generated perhaps the most buzz was Zita Cobb, a native of Joe Batt's Arm on Fogo Island, off the northeast coast of Newfoundland. Zita did what many young Newfoundlanders do: she left for central Canada to get her education and find work, but ended up one of Canada's wealthiest women after leaving a top post at the fibre optic company JDS Uniphase.
Zita Cobb
A multimillionaire, she has now returned to her home to create Shorefast, a registered charity that encourages economic growth and revitalization in Fogo and Change Islands. Shorefast takes its name from the line and mooring used to attach a cod trap to the shore, and “is a strong symbol of the cod fishing heritage of the islands and a metaphor for being bound to place and community.” Zita believes in the power of authentic connections between individuals and their communities, culture, and physical place. She noted that many people suffer from a profound sense of disorientation, having lost meaningful connection to the natural world. Through “geotourism” – tourism that connects with the earth – and by supporting arts and culture by creating such offerings as international artistic residencies in purpose-built studios and an eco-friendly inn with art gallery, she hopes to create a place where, “if ever you feel lost in this world, you go there and you’re instantly found.” Zita Cobb’s efforts have not been without their detractors, but she is the first to admit that she’s continuing to learn about doing things at “the right scale, and the right speed.”

Midway through the conference, Godfrey Baldacchino, Canada Research Chair in Island Studies – and never one to mince words – did a reality check by talking about the pitfalls of place, culture, and identity, taking particular aim at the practice of “place-branding” by asking some searching questions.
Godfrey Baldacchino
Why, for example, are people leaving their place? Why are those most passionate about their place the CFAs or come-from-aways, or those who have left and returned? Why do we malign “the tourist gaze,” yet we construct cultural tourism products and package them for the tourist? Why, if we’re so concerned about the effects of global warming, do we want tourists to travel to us? Why do we encourage everyone to “buy local,” yet we export our goods and expect others to buy them? Why, when we are saddened by our own population decline, do we encourage newcomers, but we don’t question when they’ve left their loved ones behind? And where are the Aboriginal voices in all these discussions? Suddenly people started thinking about their presentations differently – and the final hours of the conference were dedicated to some solid brainstorming about how to be true to place, culture, and identity without sacrificing our integrity.

And, after listening to several presentations about strategies to attract refugees from the city – usually upper-income retirees – by citing quality of life, psychic renewal, and “belonging” in stunningly beautiful rural areas (e.g., Newfoundland’s Fogo Island), I ask: is there a danger that “place” will become the luxury domain of only the very rich?

Hard questions, yes, but ones that even now I ponder as, two weeks on, I find myself on what is almost an island – and a warm-water island at that: a little village called Puerto Morelos just south of Cancun on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. I say “almost an island” because the town is bounded by the turquoise waters of the Caribbean to the east and a government-protected biosphere of mangrove swamps to the north, west, and south – only passable via a three-kilometre stretch of road from the village to the main highway that runs along the Yucatan’s east coast. And occasionally the road becomes impassable when the mangroves flood, making it a 100 per cent island.
Puerto Morelos
We came for the first time last year and fell in love with the small-town feel of a working port that’s been brushed by tourism – unlike the overcrowded and over-indulgent tourist meccas of Cancun’s hotel strip to the north and Playa del Carmen’s Fifth Avenue to the south, and the luxury all-inclusive resorts that are popping up like mushrooms after rain on Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, and along what was in 1999 branded the “Mayan Riviera.” 
Isla Mujeres ("Island of the Women")
Mayan ruins at Ek-Balam
Swimming in a cenote
Whereas some towns in the area showcase Mayan culture through folk dance and music, or offer guided tours to the ruins and cenotes, Puerto Morelos just is what it is: fishing boats tie up to posts along the sugary-soft white-sand beach, with mostly Mayan men alternating between fishing for a living and taking tourists out to snorkel on the second-largest coral reef in the world.
Puerto Morelos
Puerto Morelos
A testament to weather...
Young and old whoop with delight when they catch a particularly big fish off the public pier – because they now know what’s for supper. Children walk home for lunch in their school uniforms and play hide-and-seek in the town square in the evening. A dull-sounding bell calls people to church on Friday night. Dozens of friendly and healthy-looking dogs roam the streets – some with collars but more without. Restaurants showcasing authentic dishes from all over Mexico – Acapulco, Guadalajara, Mexico City – featuring rice and beans and hot sauce, and lots and lots of fish – sit alongside David Lau’s Gourmet Chinese and Pizza. Vegetable markets and butcher shops across the highway at La Colonia is where you do your shopping. On the collectivos over and back to La Colonia you bump into farm workers and fisherfolk, locals and ex-pats, and young women and men on their way to and from work at the resorts that bookend the town, all the while passing air-conditioned tour buses carrying tourists to and from the airport or other tourist attractions – but rarely into the village.
El Cid Resort, south of Puerto Morelos
I’m selfish enough to hope it never changes, but at the same time I’d love to be able to organize my life so I could live here for six months of the year, thus contributing to what would seem to be inevitable. Here in this coastal paradise, it’s even more apparent: is place, culture, and identity a luxury that only the rich can afford? Or is this place resilient enough to hold onto what’s important while still benefiting from people who like it as much as I do?

And then there’s the weather…

We were here only three days before hearing about Hurricane Rina. On Monday morning, October 24, it was going to be a tropical storm. On Tuesday morning they were forecasting a Category 1 hurricane; and by the evening it was up to a Category 3. Wednesday it went back down to a 1, and by Thursday, when it hit, it was a tropical storm again. But all along the beach, and throughout the town, people boarded up their windows, brought in extra water and food, hauled out their boats, and generally prepared for the worst. They'd even evacuated the 3,000 residents of Isla Holbox, where we'd been just last year...
Ready for Rina
The massive sound and light show went on for hours; the rain bucketed and the winds whiplashed the palms. Always one to enjoy a good snowstorm at home, I was excited to see what it would be like – and I wasn’t disappointed. In the end, I was glad it was “just” a tropical storm…

But in the way of small places the world over, on the Friday-morning-after we were walking downtown, surveying the damage – which was pretty much non-existent – when we saw some guys with a TV camera. One of them asked, “Are you by any chance Canadian?”
(l-r) David Agren, CTV's Tom Walters, Brad (the cameraman) and Mike
We ended up on CTV news (October 28, 2011, part 3), one of Canada's leading national broadcasters, being interviewed by Los Angeles Bureau Chief Tom Walters about what it was like to be here during the storm. Only on an (almost) small island would we end up on national TV talking about the weather…

Monday, October 3, 2011

Singing Jane's praises

Last year at this time I was in Tasmania.

I remember it well: the last weekend in September was the Grand Final - where I experienced my first Australian Rules Football championship match, and all the passions that went with it when St. Kilda tied with Collingwood in the last few seconds of the game. Collingwood went on to demolish St. Kilda team the following weekend, much to the dismay of many of my Tasmanian friends. And I just heard this year's result: Collingwood lost to Geelong - much to the delight of those whose credo is "anyone but Collingwood!"
On October 1, 2010, I travelled the Midland Highway to Launceston, in the centre of Tasmania, with friends Ralph Wessman, Jane Williams, and Emily Kelly where we attended the Tasmanian Poetry Festival, described in last year's blog post.
Now I find myself doing similar things on the opposite side of the planet. There was no Grand Final, but I was privileged to be part of the Pen and Inkling Festival in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Organized by the PEI Writers' Guild as part of Charlottetown's 2011 Cultural Capitals designation, the festival featured author readings, workshops, a gala dance, and the 24th annual Island Literary Awards, where dozens of prizes were handed out to islanders of all ages and stages of their careers.

On the Festival's opening night, I was asked to introduce one of my favourite authors, Newfoundland's Wayne Johnston, who was one of the writers whose work I explored for my master's thesis: "'The Circumscribed Geography of Home': Island Identity in the Fiction of Wayne Johnston and Alistair MacLeod." Wayne was on tour with his latest book, A World Elsewhere. I read it and it's hilarious... I recommend it highly. But don't just take my word for it: here's what The Globe and Mail has to say. Unfortunately, Wayne was in a bit of pain for his reading, having broken his toe in St. John's the day before. But despite this, he had the hundred or so audience members in stitches with his droll humour, consummate storytelling, and spot-on imitations of John Crosbie, former Canadian fisheries minister from St. John's. I'm looking forward to interviewing Wayne for my PhD research later in November.
Wayne Johnston
The final event of the Literary Awards is always the Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Arts on Prince Edward Island. This year I had the honour of writing the citation and presenting the award to Jane Ledwell. Here's what I said.
Jane Ledwell

Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Literary Arts on Prince Edward Island 2011

If you grew up with your dad’s words ringing in your ears, “Never do anything practical when you can do something creative,” how would you have turned out?

Writer, editor, reader, music and art and pop culture aficionado, fiercely passionate Islander and supporter of what’s fair and just in the world, and, most importantly, friend… Jane Ledwell is all this and more.

Jane Ledwell tells me of her earliest memories of me: out-to-here pregnant with my first child, Heather, in 1985 – probably at some writing event, maybe at the Faculty Lounge at UPEI, maybe at the first ever Island Literary Awards, where she’d accompanied her dad, writer and UPEI professor Frank Ledwell. She was just a teenager and probably embarrassed because Jane’s mom was pregnant, too, with her youngest brother, Christian. 

A few years later I remember her dad proudly showing me something she wrote – a gorgeous poem about making bread. She may have written it while she was away doing her BA in English at Mount Allison University or her master’s at Waikato University in New Zealand – where she was homesick as anything – but it evoked the feeling of family that has been her touchstone throughout her life.

Jane is the oldest child of six growing up with mom Carolyn and dad Frank on the Loyalist Road, along with Patrick, Thomas, Emily, Danny, and Christian. She talks about being a geek in school, in love with the trumpet section at Bluefield High School and listening to The Police while carrying Sting’s love-child.

I got to know her when she came to work as Conference co-ordinator at the Institute of Island Studies, working on “Message in a Bottle: The Literature of Small Islands.” She went on to succeed Harry Baglole as Institute Director before becoming a researcher and policy analyst at the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women, where she still works. She and I co-edited, with Frank, the conference proceedings, called Message in a Bottle, published in 2000.

I REALLY got to know her when we were band mates in KissinGord, a five-woman music ensemble specializing in Canadian-American-lesbian-feminist-indie folksongs, where she played guitar and sang lead and fantastic harmonies with Sasha Mullally, Janice Ployer, Shannon Hartigan, and me – all of us having worked at the Institute at one time or another. Jane always made sure band practice included wine and baked goods. Jane was the first of us to write her own songs, including “Five Days of Weeping” and “Island,” which Tasmanian Pete Hay says is one of the finest songs ever written about Prince Edward Island; he quotes it often: “Here I stand, here I stay. Among my family and my mistakes. And the people and land have long memories. And forgiveness is slow, but it’s on its way.” We also sang side-by-side in the Holy Redeemer Choir alto section for many years.

Jane was my right-hand person at The Acorn Press from pretty much the beginning in the mid-1990s up until I sold it last summer to Terrilee Bulger. Along with her dad, she helped with manuscript selection; she gave great feedback on grant applications, and edited several Acorn books – rarely for money, but just to get the experience.

Here’s what a few of those authors had to say…

FROM DIANNE HICKS MORROW, author of Long Reach Home, Kindred Spirits, and What Really Happened Is This: Jane inherited her father's diplomacy -- the nicest way of making you see the wisdom of her words. She has profound insight into what makes a poem tick, or bomb! I've never seen anyone else able to hold the lines of a poem in her head, with no printed copy to look at, only hearing workshop participants read aloud, just once. She did this repeatedly in her three-hour workshop on "where to turn the line" in poetry! Now that's one amazing brain!

Jane was respectful, insightful, intelligent, and wise. I think she spoiled me by being so good! She is a real gift to the Island’s writing community.

FROM MARGIE CARMICHAEL, author of And Her Name Is: Stories from the Quilt: Jane’s poet's eye can spot the essence of the piece, but she also has an acute sense of hearing what is not being said in a writer's work, and is gifted in extracting what is missing. She pulled out the best out of me, teaching me so much.

FROM CATHERINE EDWARD: author of The Brow of Dawn: Jane reads the middle and all around the edges. She sees what one meant to say but didn’t; what one did say but could do better. How pleased one is to fix these things. How excited and relieved and honoured. How does she do that? I want to know what her mother Carolyn fed all those little Ledwells for breakfast... it’s seems to be a family thing, this portioning of genius.

FROM KATHLEEN HAMILTON, author of Sex After Baby: Why There Is None: Having Jane Ledwell as your editor is like putting on a tailored suit. She makes you look smarter than you are.

Jane always amazes me with the power of her pen. She writes quickly and elegantly, churning out documents such as the proposal for a Master of Arts in Island Studies (which has changed my life immeasurably); briefs to Standing Committees; letters to the editor – always demonstrating her strong appreciation for the value of using the written word to interpret Prince Edward Island to Islanders. Her creative writing has brought her prizes in the PEI Literary Awards, and BOTH poetry and short story categories in 2001 in the Atlantic Writing Competition. She has been published in anthologies and broadcast on CBC Radio, and is author of Last Tomato, published in 2005 by Acorn Press, which was a finalist for the Prince Edward Island Book Award.

Jane was a researcher, publication co-ordinator, and writer of the literary section for First Hand: Arts, Crafts, and Culture Created byPEI Women of the 20th Century, a public history project featuring Island women's creative works, and created by the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women and PEI Interministerial Women's Secretariat to celebrate women's history at the turn of the millennium. I still find myself referring to it in my own work.

Jane continues to write, edit and publish: indeed, she just finished an essay about Elaine Harrison, soon to be released in an exhibition catalogue co-published by Confederation Centre of the Arts and Acorn Press. And she has agreed to edit my poetry book. I mean, after all the fantastic feedback I got about her editing prowess from my authors, how could I not go to her?

She is also doing artistic collaborations with her husband, artist Stephen McInnis. You may have seen them with their most recent in Rochford Square in August: they were the creators of “The Rumour Mill,” a gossip-powered human machine for generating poetry out of tourism. It was one of the hits of “Art in the Open," part of This Town is Small.

But I leave mentioning her perhaps most important job til last: being mom to Anna, aged 5, and Sam, aged 2. One of the best revenges a mother can have on her child is for that child to grow up and have a child just like she was. Well, Carolyn can correct me if I’m wrong, but I hear Anna is just like Jane was. For example, I understand that she insisted from the age of two that her parents read her the REAL Anne of Green Gables, and NOT the baby version. I just wonder if Sam will grow up refusing to play board games like his Uncle Patrick

I’ll leave you with some of her words echoing in your ears: from her poem, “Why I stay”: “because I have already crushed too much stone to red dust / under my feet and I wear all this sand on my tongue.”

It seems only fitting that we should honour Jane today; coming full circle celebrating the accomplishments of the daughter of Frank Ledwell, the first recipient in 1985 of the Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Literary Arts on Prince Edward Island. He’d be proud of Jane, just like her mom Carolyn and family members and all her authors and friends - including me! - are today.

I present to you Jane Ledwell, the 2011 recipient of the Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Literary Arts on Prince Edward Island.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Follow the Yellow Boat Road

In April I had the privilege of spending a few days with Michaye Boulter and her family – husband Rob Pennicott and children Maya and Noah – at their magnificent house on Bruny Island (for more photos, see an earlier blog post, Abalone for Tea). Michaye is a Tasmanian visual artist who has impeccable Prince Edward Island credentials. Her father, Charlie Boulter, was a Prince Edward Islander who, in his youth, travelled to Australia, where he met and married Irene from Alberta. After building a boat and sailing from Brisbane to British Columbia, then through the Panama Canal to New Brunswick, with their daughters Michaye and Jeanette, they eventually settled in Tasmania. I met Michaye through her aunt, my friend and renowned batik artist Sylvia Ridgway, who lives with her husband Bill in Victoria-by-the-sea, Prince Edward Island. Michaye’s PEI cousins include my fellow Charlottetonians: the Ridgways – Greg and Jennifer (Jennifer runs Moonsnail Soapworks) – and the McCardles – Darcy and Shawn.

Michaye remembers vividly the weeks and months spent daydreaming on the boat – memories that continue to inspire her painting. She very kindly agreed to be one of my interview subjects and we spent a couple hours with my tape recorder in her studio at the Salamanca Arts Centre. I’m looking forward to writing up what she had to say about how her “islandness” comes through in her art, and incorporating it into my PhD thesis.
Michaye Boulter, her paintings, and me at the Handmark Gallery in Hobart
But today I want to bring your attention to an initiative of Rob’s – Follow the Yellow Boat Road – which he enthusiastically told me about on that weekend back in April. In an effort to raise money for Rotary International (along with Bill and Melinda Gates) to eradicate polio from the planet, he and his long-time Bruny Island Cruise fellow skipper Mick Souter set out from Sydney May 31 on a fundraising campaign, circumnavigating Australia in two 18-foot motorized yellow dinghies. The trip will total 12,000 nautical miles. They’re scheduled to arrive back in Sydney September 2.

Documenting the trip is videographer Zorro Gamarnik, who is providing an amazing and inspiring record of the journey. Zorro’s videos are fabulous – giving a rare opportunity to see Australia’s amazing coastline and meet some of the fabulous people who are helping them along the way. (The logistics - fuel, food, and accommodation wherever possible – have been an amazing feat alone – not to mention making the videos onboard a tiny boat and finding an Internet connection to post them!) I’ve been keeping track of the trip through Zorro’s videos on Facebook and through Rob’s website: http://follow.theyellowboatroad.com. But as the crew comes down to the crunch, I'm compelled to use these inter-island connections to help spread the word to whoever will listen!
Tuna-fishing off Bruny Island with Rob and family
To date the crew has raised $144,330 – 92% of which goes to polio eradication and 8% to the Pennicott Foundation for environmental conservation. In addition to the “donate” button on the website, they’ve been auctioning off spots on the boat for the various legs of the journey. So far the highest bid was for the leg from Port Gregory to Geraldton, bringing in $3,000. The next highest is for one of the Tasmanian legs – Strahan to Hobart on August 23 – which is now sitting at $1,500.

If you donate over $10 AU, you’re eligible for a draw for two people to travel on the final leg from Uladulla to Sydney (estimated to be Friday, September 2). This will include flights from anywhere in the world, along with two nights’ accommodation and a five-day holiday in Tasmania. (If you enter the competition, $10 of your donation is not tax deductible as this is your entry into the competition.)
Noah and Rob
Michaye and Maya
Needless to say, I’ve donated… I mean, how often does one get a chance to donate to a worthy cause, hang out with Rob Pennicott on a boat for a day, AND get to travel to Tasmania? (Actually, now that I think about it, I've done it, and can attest to how great all three are!)

For more details, check out Follow the Yellow Boat Road. And if you’re on Facebook, be sure to “like” what they’re doing – Zorro’s videos are worth the click alone!
Rob and Michaye

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The blood of so many tongues

My friends Claire and Julea and I spent the best day of summer so far – August 1 – baking on the beach at St. Peter’s Harbour, one of the few strips of sandy coastline along Prince Edward Island’s North Shore that isn’t part of PEI National Park. We were sitting with a woman whose name was in the news last week: summer resident Joan Butcher, who had been interviewed about a construction project taking place in the dunes between her cottage subdivision – a former farmer’s field – and the beach. Someone was digging into the dune, ripping apart the base of it to make way for a summer cottage.

When I heard the story – first through Facebook and then on the CBC news – I was shocked and appalled – then saddened at yet another example of the stupidity and arrogance of humankind. I wasn’t alone – others who care about the fragile ecosystem that is this glorified sandbar expressed their outrage, too. (Be sure to check out some of the comments below the CBC News story.) Especially when it was reported that the owner planned to put the sand back when he was done. Doesn’t this person know anything about dune systems? Has he never read the interpretation signs on any of the National Park beaches? Does he not know why we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars building boardwalks to take people over the dunes so we don’t destabilize them with our incessant urge to make destructive pathways through them? Does he not realize that the dunes, the beach, and the million-dollar view from his soon-to-be-cottage won’t be there if the marram grass holding the dunes in place is destroyed? Doesn’t he care? Is it one of those classic cases where he thought it was better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission? Or is it yet again about the money, or maybe the centuries-old and centuries-tired argument: “It’s my land and I can do whatever the hell I want with it”?
In their investigation, the media reported that the powers-that-be cited “proper channels” and “grandfathering” – because the lot-owner – who remained nameless – had kept active a building permit issued BEFORE there was legislation protecting our precious dune systems. Government lawyers said there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. There’d be no fines, no rap on the knuckles, no nothing. And because this is a small island, where everyone keeps their mouths shut, he probably won’t even be ostracized for it.

We asked Joan if she knew who this person was. She did. When she said his name I was absolutely mortified to learn that I KNOW – and LIKE – this person. I KNOW – and LIKE – his wife and children and members of his extended family. His mother-in-law is a well-respected former politician whose good works, among other things, include protecting the Island’s land and environment. I thought about what I would say if I bumped into any of them. And I came to the sad realization: probably nothing.

This is a part of island living that gives islands a bad rap. Most of the time I feel happy and secure being an integral part of what historian Ed MacDonald calls a "kinship web." But this example is the downside to everyone knowing everyone else’s business. It’s insular. Parochial. Small-minded. In the face of possible confrontation, we shut down. We close ranks. Let’s face it: too many of us are afraid to rock the boat for fear that someone might not like us. And god forbid that we hurt anyone else’s feelings.

My friend Pete Hay, a feisty poet, academic, and environmentalist from Tasmania, has commented that Prince Edward Islanders are too nice when compared with his fellow islanders. He knows families and communities in Tasmania who have been ripped apart over environmental issues such as land use, forestry practices, and pulp mill construction. They publicly argue with one another, and then they spend the rest of their lives openly criticizing or studiously ignoring one another. Like painter Christopher Pratt when he talks about his island of Newfoundland, “Nobody apologizes for hating anybody here.” Pete won’t come right out and say that we PE Islanders are too nice for our own good, but I will. You’ll notice that I haven’t even named the guy, even though his identity is an open secret around PEI’s water coolers (and I’ve given some pretty darn good hints here, too).

But it’s also an island thing that we only have so much land to begin with. And if we keep destroying the dunes and beaches that protect it, we’ll have even less. No million-dollar view, and probably no cottage either: a couple winters from now and a wild storm could wash it away. It’s easy to say we’ll all be dead before global warming and sea-level-rise claim our beloved island. It’s easy to pass the buck – and our mistakes – on to the next generation. But an island isn’t like other places – if we keep destroying what’s taken centuries to build, there’ll be no island left to pass on at all.
Two of the things that this island has gotten right are the Island Nature Trust, established in 1979 and dedicated to protecting and managing natural areas on Prince Edward Island, and the L. M. Montgomery Land Trust, created in 1994 to “preserve the scenic agricultural coastal lands on Prince Edward Island’s north shore.” Both charitable non-profit Trusts raise money to purchase land in order to protect it. In particular, the L. M. Montgomery Land Trust purchases land from farmers whose “RRSP” or “registered retirement savings plan” is their land – subdivided and sold for big bucks as building lots. (And the irony of Joan’s summer cottage is not lost on me: the Trust wasn’t in existence back when her cottage subdivision was created.) This way, when the Trust buys the land at fair market value, a covenant is put on it so it can’t be developed. Often it’s leased to another farmer who keeps it in agricultural production. It is a way of protecting our most precious resource – the iconic working landscape that we know and love, and which keeps tourists coming back year after year. After this debacle, I have renewed respect for their work, and when I’m no longer a poor PhD student, I’ll be donating money to both their causes.

So our August afternoon at the beach was punctuated by kids climbing up and sliding down the dunes, some on their butts, others on boogie boards. We couldn’t help but marvel at one young fellow doing backflips off the highest dune – he was talented all right, but didn’t he realize the damage he was doing? We wanted to just shake a dad when we saw him hauling his toddler daughter up the dune so she could slide back down… fine role model, that. Joan told us about their efforts over the years to educate the residents of their subdivision on the fragility of the dunes, and about the signs that they’d carefully paint and put up, only to find them torn down and in pieces the next day.
So futile. But Joan is not so jaded that she doesn’t still get angry. After she told us the name of the dune-destroyer, she said, “I wish I knew where he lived. I’d take a front end loader to his foundation.” I almost said, “I know where he lives.” But I looked at my friend Claire and she looked at me, and neither one of us said a thing.

In the words of one of our best-known storytellers, David Weale, Island soil is red from the blood of so many tongues being bitten.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


It’s been four weeks since we landed on Prince Edward Island – which was 28 years to the day since I first set foot on this island and planted my flag declaring “home.”

On June 23, 1983, how could I be so certain? I who had lived all those other places: first Ontario, then British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, then again in Ontario then back to BC, then the Yukon, then Ontario again (21 schools under age 21)… before finally turning left instead of right on the TransCanada Highway and ending up on Prince Edward Island by accident. How, at age 24, could I know this island was home?

All those thoughts wended their circuitous way through my brain as we made our slow descent under a sky that had been scrubbed clean. The short flight from Montreal brought us along the North Shore where we could see New London Bay and the seemingly precarious spit of sand separating the bay from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I tried in vain to pick out Elaine and Allan Hammond’s summer cottage at Stanley Bridge, knowing they’d probably be there by now, meaning that summer could officially begin… We followed the fingernail of beach, bright white sand edging polished blue, before turning inland at Brackley Beach and over ochre-red fields so freshly plowed they looked like they’d been swept just for us.
Through the haze of exhaustion, and the beginnings of a hangover (those three rounds of margaritas in LA where we had an amazing Mexican supper with Thane and Carol were exacting their revenge), the end of our 40-some hours of travel was in sight. 
We’d begun in Katoomba the previous morning, taking the train into Sydney, collecting two of my bags that I’d shipped by Greyhound from Hobart, and catching the shuttle out to the airport. At our snowy dinner the night before, we’d had our first inkling from a fellow diner that the Chilean ash cloud was wreaking havoc yet again on its second pass around the world. And the buzz on the train was confirmed when we saw the newspaper headlines at the bus terminal screaming “20,000 stranded in Sydney.” When we arrived at the airport, our fears were confirmed: our flight, which was supposed to come in from LA, had been cancelled. Fortunately, the wonderful folks at United (I’ll never again play “United Breaks Guitars” onYouTube) were able to book us on a Qantas flight only three hours later.  They apologized to Mike that they couldn’t promise the vegetarian meal he’d requested. No worries, mate…

On the flight from Sydney I had even managed to get a bit of sleep – actually for eight of those fifteen hours – and I slept so soundly and so still that the woman next to me said she had to check every couple hours to make sure I was breathing. (Thank you, Sir Atavan!) We barely had time to make our connection in Montreal, but our bags – all FOUR of them – mercifully kept pace. We got home, eventually found the keys inside one of the bags, and collapsed. We are definitely looking forward to the day when “Beam me up, Scotty” isn’t just a TV show on reruns.
In these intervening weeks since I’ve been back, I’ve been acclimatizing to the new routine. I didn’t dare drive until the jet lag passed about two weeks ago: my brain was still wired for driving on the left-hand side of the road all those months. Even now the windshield wipers invariably go swish-swish when I signal a turn.

I’m back to my early-morning walks around Victoria Park, remembering how it looked when I was home at Christmastime and being thankful for my 29th Island summer. 
I’m seeing familiar faces from last summer: the two 20-something sisters who run together every day – they MUST be basketball players, they’re so tall; the bleached-blond suntanned woman with her three poofy slipper dogs and her black SUV; the dressed-up woman striding purposefully to work in her sneakers, shoebag firmly in hand. Edging the boardwalk is Charlottetown Harbour, rising and falling in the same old way.
I’ve been to the Farmers’ Market where my faithful coffee cup, purchased in the summer of 1993 when my girls were a particularly whiny seven and three, was waiting for me on top of the cappuccino machine. 
I’ve been to the Churchill for trivia and two-for-one curry night (chicken korma, half-and-half) and a few pints of Rickards Red.
I’ve gone for a bike ride along the North Shore, and hung out on Victoria Row with friends.
I’ve answered lots of questions about how Tanzania and New Zealand were. I think I’ve met everyone who knew I was away, with variations on a theme: “Tasmania was fantastic – SUCH a great experience.” “No, I’m not moving to Newfoundland.” “Yes, I plan to go back.” “No, I don’t have to go back to work right now.”

I’m not homesick for this Island anymore. But what HAS surprised me is that I’m missing Tasmania so much: Monday cake day in the Geography tea room, coffee in Sandy Bay with Millie and Anna and Catherine, my meetings with Pete and trips to Bruny with him and Anna, Maddie and Harry and Denbeigh and Stewart, hearing about snow on the mountain… 

Is it disloyal to feel this strongly about TWO islands? Or is it just part of the human condition to always be looking back, to never be satisfied with what you have?

* * *

The first week we were home we felt like Charlottetown was putting on the dog just for us. First it was Canada Day July 1, with fireworks and concerts and a general party atmosphere celebrating the country’s 144th birthday. But, ironically, it was all just a warm-up for the REAL celebration: the Royal Visit July 2-4. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Will and Kate, had people camping out overnight just up the street to get the best view of the newlyweds on historic Great George Street… complete with the RCMP on trusty black steeds riding shotgun. I know that THIS household was more than a little relieved when all the helicopters were gone, and we could get inside our door without having to beg our way through the barricades.
Their visit seemed like a bookend to my arrival 28 years ago, when the City scrubbed up for me the first time… or maybe it was for that other Royal Couple, Prince Charles and Lady Di…