By Nicholas Köhler - Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 0 Comments
She was an avant-garde artist who once practised striptease for a book, but she longed to write a novel for a bigger audience
Susan Angela Ann Harrison was born on March 7, 1948, in Toronto, to Douglas, a chemical engineer, and Angela, a homemaker and photographer. In suburban North York she grew into a tall, intensely bright, inquisitive young woman with a flare for rebellion. “My father was a logical man,” her brother Brian says. “We had a very conventional family.” Nevertheless, when Harrison showed an interest in drawing and painting, her parents agreed to finance her studies at the Ontario College of Art. Soon she’d joined Toronto’s vibrant avant garde, then dominated by the artists’ collective General Idea, which adopted theatrical dress, pseudonyms and an ironic stance to lend the group’s subversive politics a playful edge. “It was a magnificent pageant,” one Toronto artist recalls.
After two years of art school, Harrison quit, announcing her intention to become a writer. Her pen name, A.S.A. Harrison, was a riff on stuffiness, and masked her gender. With the artist AA Bronson she wrote a porn novel, Lena, under the name A.C. McWhortle; published in 1970, it was quickly banned. She married the video artist Rodney Werden and, armed with a reel-to-reel recorder, began interviewing women for her 1974 book Orgasms, a series of Q&As that dealt frankly with women and sexual climax. Its cover, designed by Bronson, depicts the inner workings of the female sex; the back flap features a snapshot of someone other than Harrison, an inside joke but also part of a serious artistic project to make the ordinary strange. Another photo from the period shows the real Harrison as full-bodied, wearing a tuxedo, great owl glasses and the stern expression of a Dadaist prankster. “She deconstructed prettiness,” says the author Susan Swan, a friend. “She wanted to be larger than life, and she was.” She yearned too for a large audience—to put “new wine in old wine skins” by revamping pop culture forms. Under the guidance of the performance artist and stripteaser Margaret Dragu she experimented with striptease herself, and toured Quebec. In a book written with Dragu, Revelations: essays on striptease and sexuality, she used clipped prose to explore the topic: “Canada has the best striptease in the world,” she began.
By Ken MacQueen - Monday, January 7, 2013 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
The former soldier survived an axe attack in Afghanistan, now he’s defying the limits of science in his recovery
It has been 25 years since Trevor Greene gave up competitive rowing for other pursuits: journalism, travel, soldiering, fatherhood, marriage. But today, at age 48, sitting in a wheelchair in his Nanaimo, B.C., home, the forcibly retired army captain is rowing as hard as he’s trained for any event in his life.
Today he rows only in his mind, where he also visualizes walking. The frustrations are enormous for a man once thought of as invincible. He used to be part of the men’s eight crew at King’s College in Halifax, and at the elite club level, pulling until his muscles screamed and the callouses were thick on his hands. Now he makes perfect strokes with his mind, the neurons firing along a familiar course as he stirs up long-remembered sensations: the feel of oar in hand and boat in water. “All that stuff: the sound and the heat and the pain,” he says. When the oar enters the water, “I imagine the tug on my shoulders, because it’s a very good feeling. Very distinctive.” Continue…
By Charles Foran - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 4:00 PM - 0 Comments
Biographer Charles Foran on finding notes and scenes for the novel Mordecai Richler did not live to finish
March 2001. He’d had a notion for an 11th novel as far back as fall 1999. Starting then, he had asked [his wife] Florence to help find and clip newspaper articles of an unusually dark hue.
“More body parts found in Toronto park” was a headline from Dec. 9, 1999, that interested him. The same was true for “Affair with youth led to axe killing,” from a February 2000 edition of the Daily Telegraph, which opened with the line: “A father beheaded his neighbour with an axe after she gave birth to his teenage son’s baby, Birmingham crown court was told yesterday.” On March 27 he was fascinated enough by a Times piece about a man who killed a transsexual married to his daughter, and then “tied the body in chains and padlocks and weighed it down with dumbbells before pushing it out to sea on an airbed at Covehithe, Suffolk” to add it to the file. Florence knew better than to ask his reasons, but she had noted his deepening fascination with plastic surgery in recent years. An old friend who had had a facelift had approached him at a hotel, and he hadn’t recognized her at first. Another time, greeting the wife of a prominent film agent—a woman straining to look half her age through successive cosmetic procedures—Florence observed him kissing the waxy cheeks with clinical attention. Her suspicions were confirmed when he asked if she would ever consider having work done. She said no, and when he added, questioningly, “Why alter yourself?” she was fairly certain that he was indeed “novelizing,” as he had told [his editor] Louise Dennys. But then On Snooker came along, costing him nearly a year.
By Brian Bethune - Monday, October 4, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
The author of the Millennium trilogy was once a crusading journalist, but no saint
Kurdo Baksi is 45 now, and taking better care of his health than in his youth, eating his vegetables, exercising, even quitting smoking. It’s the sort of thing you do when one of your closest friends—a 60-cigarettes, 20-cups-of-coffee-a-day man—drops dead of a heart attack at age 50. The death of Stieg Larsson in 2004, just as the publishing phenomenon known as the Millennium trilogy—The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its successors—began building steam, also provoked another response in Baksi.
The Kurdish-born Swedish author and anti-racism activist decided to write Stieg Larsson, My Friend.
The new book is Baksi’s attempt to capture for the record Larsson as he was when they campaigned together for racial equality, long before Larsson’s novels sold 23 million copies worldwide, including one million in Canada. My Friend is eye-opening for any foreigner who still thinks of Sweden as a sublimely tolerant, feminist-ruled egalitarian state, and contentious at home, where Baksi is not the only one of Larsson’s intimates to lay claim to his legacy, or to a piece of a posthumous fortune worth $50 million. (So far: that’s just the print profits to date. The Swedish-language film versions have generated over $160 million in worldwide box office—even though the third has yet to be released in North America—with the Hollywood remakes still to come. In December, Penguin Canada will issue a $110 boxed set of the novels plus On Stieg Larsson, a volume of commentary.)
By Kate Fillion - Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 12:20 PM - 0 Comments
Gail Parent on boomer parents and how to kick a 28-year-old out of the nest
A bestselling author and television screenwriter, Gail Parent has won two Emmys and was nominated for 12 more for her work on shows ranging from The Golden Girls to Tracey Ullman’s comedy specials. In her new book, How to Raise Your Adult Children, co-authored with psychotherapist Susan Ende, she offers advice to parents of “big kids with even bigger problems.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 4:15 PM - 2 Comments
His plan for his long-awaited follow-up to ‘Life of Pi’ didn’t quite work out
It’s been almost nine years now since Life of Pi turned Yann Martel into the most famous male Canadian author in the world. A head-scratching combination of dense religious allegory, zoological lore and enthralling adventure tale, written with warmth and grace, Pi hit the sweet spot with English-language readers, capturing the 2002 Booker prize and going on to sell seven million copies. Hardly prolific before—one novel and a short-story collection during the 1990s—Martel, 46, has spent the decade since as a literary celebrity and somewhat enigmatic public intellectual, sparking a chattering-class storm by proclaiming Canada “the greatest hotel on earth,” and, since 2007, sending Prime Minister Stephen Harper two books a month (for fear our leader doesn’t read). And wrestling with his Holocaust “project” (his word), now finally in print with his just-released third novel, Beatrice & Virgil.
It was no easy task, as Martel cheerfully allows in an interview. He might as well admit it, of course, since the book centres around Henry L’Hôte, a very Martel-like writer—right down to his baby son, Theo (Martel began his interview by pulling out a photo of his eight-month-old boy, Theo). Henry is invited to lunch by his publishers; a celebration, he thinks, of the new book he is so proud of, a work in two parts: an allegorical novel of the Holocaust and an essay on why there is so little fiction about an event virtually always dealt with in ways “historical, factual, literal.” But lunch turns into “a firing squad,” as four editors, backed by a historian and a skeptical bookseller, spend the meal demolishing Henry’s “complete, unpublishable failure.”
“The real lunch was nowhere near as brutal,” laughs Martel, recalling his editors’ response to his identical proposal. “But they did convince me publishing the essay—which I have finished—with the novel would limit the ways readers could approach the novel. It would be telling them how they should read it, putting blinkers on their eyes.” Henry responds to the rejection by abandoning writing; just another author, Martel writes, silenced by the Holocaust. (Martel, made of sterner stuff, went back to work on the fictional part.)