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Victoria writer lays it bare for fundraiser

Victoria writer Yasuko Thanh stirred ripples in Canadian’s literary community with her superb short-story collection, Floating Like the Dead. This week the book was shortlisted for the prestigious Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, part of the B.C.

Victoria writer Yasuko Thanh stirred ripples in Canadian’s literary community with her superb short-story collection, Floating Like the Dead. This week the book was shortlisted for the prestigious Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, part of the B.C. Book Prizes.

Those aren’t the only waves Thanh is making. Last Sunday, she had her sans-clothing photo shoot for Bare It For Books. The campaign publishes a nude calendar with proceeds benefiting PEN Canada.

The 2014 calendar goes sale in October. And Thanh will be featured as Miss July.

For the shoot at her home, photographer Anastasia Andrews and stylist Alisa Shebib proposed several themes. In one, Thanh is answering a retro-style rotary phone. In another pose, she is in her tub, with pages from her rough drafts artfully arranged.

“We had this idea to put me in the bathtub and have this paper floating around,” she said. “You could almost imagine they were lily pads.”

The experience, Thanh says, was a good one. “If they do another fundraiser next year, I’m there.”

The Malahat Review hopes its first-ever literary symposium will shatter the journal’s “ivory tower” image for good.

Its editor, John Barton, says the inaugural WordsThaw 2013 symposium on March 23 may “explode that idea — without losing the connection to our core values.” He added: “We do kind of have a reputation for being ivory-towerish.”

The WordsThaw symposium takes place from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the University of Victoria. It offers three daytime panel discussions open to the public.

• Zoom in, Zoom Out: Focus on Fiction will discuss whether fiction needs to be linked to social/historical commentary in order to maintain its relevancy. The panel is writers John Gould, Daniel Griffin and Yasuko Thanh.

• A Sustainable Feast: The New Food Writing features Kimberley Veness, a UVic student active in the sustainable food movement, and poet/food writer Rhona McAdam. McAdam is the author of Digging the City: An Urban Agriculture Manifesto.

• In Our Names: Writers on Poverty will have writers Patrick Lane, Madeline Sonik and Sylvia Olsen discussing the issue of writing about — and experiencing — poverty.

There will also be an evening reading, Words on Ice, showcasing writers Bill Gaston, Lorna Crozier, Marilyn Bowering, Lee Henderson and C.P. Boyko. The reading also hosts winners of the UVic 50th Anniversary Writing Contest: Pamela Porter, Laura Kraemer and Kathrin Edwards.

Details on the WordsThaw symposium, including times and ticket information, are available at A full event pass (costing $50 or $40 for students) includes a subscription to The Malahat Review. The symposium takes place at the Human and Social Development Building in room A240.

The Malahat Review, founded in 1967, is considered one of Canada’s leading literary journals. Annual circulation for the UVic-based quarterly journal is about 5,000, Barton said.

The magazine has had public launches and seminars in recent years. The Malahat Review hatched the idea of the symposium — which it aims to make an annual event — to further boost its local presence.

“This is our first attempt. If it’s successful, we’ll hopefully have a bigger program next year, offering more and bringing people from other places as well,” Barton said.

The phrase “man of letters” is widely applied to George Fetherling (or Douglas Fetherling, as he was known up to 1999).

Hugely prolific, Fetherling, 64, has published more than 50 books, including poetry, fiction, criticism and history. He’s a widely admired critic of literature and visual art whose commentaries have appeared in newspapers across Canada.

Next month, McGill-Queen’s University Press will publish three decades’ worth of excerpts from Fetherling’s journals. The book is The Writing Life: Journals, 1975-2005. It will be launched April 30 at Vancouver’s Sylvia Hotel. Fetherling will do an on-stage question-and-answer session with literary journalist Rebecca Wigod.

Fetherling has encountered many famous folk in Canada’s arts community and beyond. His observations offer a vital slice of cultural life. Here are three entries regarding figures familiar to Victorians.

Writers Stephen Reid and Susan Musgrave. Reid was sentenced to 18 years for a 1999 bank robbery in Victoria. Musgrave, formerly of North Saanich, now lives on Haida Gwaii.

June 12, 1999: “The nation is all atwitter over Stephen Reid, who has pulled a Red Ryan on the establishment. Formerly part of the so-called Stopwatch Gang credited with 140 bank robberies and the largest gold heist in Canadian history, he was converted to literature and domesticity by Susan Musgrave, who married him while he was still in prison… He is on the board of PEN, for God’s sake. But anyone with the least sensitivity to these matters knew that he was still in the life… Something Susan said to me when she was writer-in-residence at the U of T suggested to me that she knew too, though she’s forced to deny such knowledge in all the papers today, following his arrest after a bungled bank job and gun battle in Victoria.”

The late poet Al Purdy, who lived near Sidney.

Oct. 14, 1987: “On my way up Yonge [Street] … I bump into Al Purdy. We do coffee. He tells me that Avie Bennett (chair of McClelland & Stewart at the time), meeting him for the first time, played a comedic role and said something like: ‘So you like baseball. You’re a real person after all, not one of these arty people I have to deal with around here.’ He invited Al to the next Jays game. A big box with 25 or 30 people eating and drinking. ‘I’d never been to a place like that,’ Al says.

“He also tells a funny story of being asked by the protocol people at Queen’s Park whether he would allow himself to be inducted into the Order of Ontario, of which he had never heard. He thought it was some practical joke, but no… ‘I needed a dress suit and was going to rent one but it cost $75 and we found I could buy one for $110. I also needed dress shoes and found a second-hand pair but they were two sizes too small and made noise. I took them off under the banquet table and left them there.’”

The late poet P. K. Page, who lived in Victoria.

June 22, 2004: “I go to the boardroom of the [Vancouver Public Library] to see P.K. Page inducted into the city’s literary walk of fame. She looks and sounds very well indeed, and I ask her if she’s lonely. “No, not lonely,” she says. “I have my work, though I don’t think it’s very good. I’m writing a bad long poem. Everybody needs one.” She reminds me that I interviewed her about [anarchist historian and man of letters George] Woodcock perhaps 10 years ago. “I was so angry when he died. It was as though a big hole was torn in the sky. He was such an extraordinary man… when we were together we really clicked.

“Then the ceremony began … with the guest of honour of course outcharming everyone, for she has few rivals when she turns on the fountain. What a diplomatic hostess she must have been when she was posted abroad with Arthur [her husband]. She speaks with easy eloquence of the importance of poetry to learning.”

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