I was born in Earls Barton, an English village famous for its Saxon tower and shoe factories. My father was a right Barton lad, my mother a putella Veneziana, an Italian war bride. I’m told that as soon as I could talk, I became my mother’s translator. I suspect that learning both languages simultaneously encouraged my later distrust of a singular approach or point of view. We immigrated to Alberta just before my eighth birthday. I grew up in Calgary, but most summers I visited my mother’s family in Venice. The contrast in cultures led me to understand at a young age that identity is not fragmentary but multiple. I’m also impatient with the traditional categories of genre, crossing boundaries whenever I can.
University brought me to Edmonton and – to my surprise – I still live here. I’ve always been a writer, at least, I’ve always told myself stories, so I decided to study English literature, receiving a B.A. Honours from the University of Alberta and then a Master of Arts. I took as many courses in Creative Writing and Italian literature as I could. (The latter, taught by Dr. Enrico Musacchio, were particularly influential.) My thesis was a creative one, a collection of stories; I was lucky to study with two iconic Canadian writers: Sheila Watson and Rudy Wiebe.
After graduation, I began to publish short stories in literary magazines and, now and then, an anthology. I wrote when I could snatch an hour or two. I was teaching full time at Grant MacEwan College on three campuses – I was in the English department from its beginning – and was busy at home with my two daughters. Soon after the birth of the second, I published my first novel, The Lion’s Mouth, with NuWest Press. Next came a play, Homeground, which was professionally produced, a collection of short stories, Island of the Nightingales, two novellas, Whiter Shade of Pale/Becoming Emma and more stories and essays. I also wrote a docudrama, The Great Antonio, for CBC Radio’s Sunday Showcase. Despite a taste for nonfiction, I used to define myself as a fiction writer until I co-edited with Kay Stewart two collections of life writing by women. I became fascinated with how to express the complexity of lived experience, the jumble of the individual and the universal, and the private and the public. My experience with the collections led me to my most recent book, Finding Rosa, which is a work of creative non-fiction.
In an attempt to find more time for writing, I eventually left the college. Over the years, I taught literature and writing at almost every post-secondary institution in Edmonton. I worked as a freelance editor and as a grants officer for the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. I was a writer-in-residence at both the University of Alberta and MacEwan College. I love teaching and helping to nurture a new generation of writers, but since 2007, I have been writing full time.
When I was eighteen, Robert Kroetsch told me: “It doesn’t matter what you’re writing now. What matters is if you are still writing thirty years from now.” Perseverance is an essential characteristic for a writer. When I was little, I told myself stories for reassurance and companionship. My motivation now is different: it is my way of exploring and understanding the world. But I continue to write because I’m compelled to.
I am looking forward to taking on all the projects I had to put off when I was juggling my writing with teaching, child-rearing, and looking after either ailing in-laws or parents.
I have been in the same house for 26 years and with the same husband even longer. And I’m still obsessed with multiple selves and cultures, with private memory and public history, with here and there.
Awards and Nominations
Wilfred Eggleston Award for Nonfiction (Writers Guild of Alberta) 2009 for “Finding Rosa”
Bressani Prize for Writing about Immigration 2010 for “Finding Rosa”
Howard O’Hagan (Writers Guild of Alberta) Short Fiction Award 2001 for “Island of the Nightingales”
Finalist for the Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award (WGA) for Drama 1990 for “Homeground”
The CBC Alberta Anthology Creative Non-fiction prize, professional category, 2006 for the piece “Who Remembers?”
Radio Play “The Great Antonio”, broadcast on CBC Radio in February of 2006, was the official Canadian entry for the interantional competition for radio plays at the New York Radio Festival in 2006.
Fellowship in the Literary Journalism program at the Banff Centre for the Arts 2003
First Prize, Jon Whyte Essay Competition First Prize 2002, for “What Remains”