13 April 2011

Bowling up for Two Alberta Literary Awards

Gaspereau Press is pleased to announce that Tim Bowling has been shortlisted for two Alberta Literary Awards, organized by the Writers Guild of Alberta.

Bowling’s memoir, In The Suicide’s Library, has been shortlisted for the 2011 Wilfrid Eggleston Award for Nonfiction. In the meantime, his poetry collection The Annotated Bee and Me has been nominated for the Stephan G. Stephansson Award.

Awards jurors have deliberated 164 submissions to select 25 finalists in eight categories. Finalists represent extraordinary literary work written by Alberta authors and published in 2010. Winners will be announced and awards presented at the Alberta Book Awards Gala on Saturday June 11, 2011.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the Writers Guild of Alberta is the largest provincial writers’ organization in Canada, and was formed in 1980 to provide a meeting ground and collective voice for the writers of the province. Its mission is to inspire, connect, support, encourage and promote writers and writing, to safeguard the freedom to write and to read, and to advocate for the well-being of writers.

I’m quite fond of both of Tim’s nominated books, and am pleased to see them recognized in his home province. But I’m especially excited about In The Suicide’s Library, which I think is one of the most engaging and original books of prose Bowling has produced to date. It’s release was somewhat overshadowed by the clattering for The Sentimentalist, but somehow I suspect that that Bowling’s book might have a more lasting impact and a longer shelf life, building its audience slowly by actually being read more than by being read about.

Why do I think so? Well, In The Suicide’s Library is as good a book about books and the literary life as I’ve ever read, and everyone I’ve recommended it to agrees. It chronicles Bowling’s strange eight-month quest into American literature of the 1940s and ’50s and the world of book collecting, a journey branching into a wealth of subjects ranging from the relationship between fathers and daughters, suicide, masculinity, the Internet, the history of printing, bibliomania and the strange effects of midlife and obsession on an otherwise rational mind. At the book’s centre is Bowling’s astonishing discovery of a particular book. One day, alone in the Modern Literature stacks of a university library, Bowling opens a tattered copy of Wallace Stevens’s poetry collection Ideas of Order and, on the front flyleaf, finds the elegant ownership signature of Weldon Kees—an obscure American poet, painter, photographer, filmmaker and musician who vanished mysteriously in 1955, an apparent suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge. As the story unfolds, Bowling faces two central questions: the one that Weldon Kees put to his friend, Pauline Kael, on the day before he vanished—“What keeps you going?”—and, perhaps even more important, is it ever acceptable to steal a book for your own collection?

Not to overshadow The Annotated Bee and Me! Interestingly, it also takes another book as its departure point, this time, a slim volume which Bowling’s great aunt had privately printed in 1961—a memoir of her family’s beekeeping adventures in Edmonton between 1906 and 1929. The first section of the book weaves Bowling’s own verse together with excerpts from The Bee and Me, resulting in a sort of long poem which is part tribute to kin and part lament for modern life. In the second section, titled “Out of the Hive, Into the World” Bowling wrestling with the “confusion of loving too much the world.” Its poems touch on family, literature, salmon fishing and beekeeping lore, hinting at how in facing the unvarnished facts of one’s brief life one might honestly annotate their experience: “You build an immunity over time to Time / or you fall among the dried husks of the bees / on the grass.”


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