Alberta Highlights

Last week I was in Alberta for two events at Litfest in Edmonton, a launch in Calgary, and readings with Clem and Olivier Martini (authors of Bitter Medicine) in Red Deer and Lethbridge. I’ve never spent much time in Alberta, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that my publisher, Freehand Books, is in Calgary and their two staff members, Sarah Ivany and Robyn Read, appear to be the hardest-working, nerdiest CanLit fans ever to memorize the key points of The Perilous Trade by Roy Macskimming.

Well, now that I’ve spent a week with Alberta literary types, I can say that Sarah and Robyn are not anomalies — they’re part of a warm, welcoming, vibrant arts community. In Edmonton I met Alice Major, author of the intense, perfect collection of poems about her dad’s dementia, Memory’s Daughter, and devoured the first issue of Eighteen Bridges, the new literary magazine. The Litfest events — Writer Jam and A Brunch of Authors — were fun and dynamic, and I had great conversations, laughs and some tears with people afterwards. I cannot begin to express how wonderful it is to connect with people through my book and hear their stories about dementia and mothers and families and grief and joy/humour within pain.

And thanks to Litfest Director David Chereos for mentioning me in his list of festival highlights: “Hearing Sarah Leavitt mix self-deprecating humour, powerful memories and a keen understanding of craft in her Writer Jam presentation on the nature of the graphic novel.”

In Calgary I wandered through the restaurants and shops of 17th Avenue, Kensington and Inglewood, and walked across Prince’s Island through frosty grass and black wiry trees. I didn’t expect to be so captivated by the crisp weather and old buildings and pretty parks and lovely cafes, but I was (not to mention the heart-stoppingly gorgeous landscape between Calgary and Lethbridge). And meanwhile every day I learned something new from Sarah Ivany about the poets and novelists and non-fiction writers and publishing history of Alberta, and we went to the opening of a beautiful new independent bookstore, Shelf Life. We held the Calgary launch of Tangles at groovy Cafe Koi, and the audience was a great mix of writers, comics fans, Alzheimer’s Society folks and nurses — and we sold 70 books!

Then I travelled and read with brothers Clem and Olivier Martini, authors of Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness, which meant I got a peek inside the amazing relationship that they’ve developed over years of dealing with the impact of schizophrenia on their family. Clem is a passionate advocate for mental health services, and Olivier is an incredible artist with a wicked sense of humour. A super bonus extra was sharing the two-hour car ride from Lethbridge to Calgary with Clem’s partner Cheryl Foggo, a writer, filmmaker and historian. We had this epic talk about grief and loss and family and the songs in Tangles and black pioneers in Alberta and living the writing life (which is a pretty new topic for me) … Meeting Cheryl was a real gift and I keep thinking about things she said to me.

I did a few interviews with Alberta media while I was there — check out the links in the Tangles News and Reviews section.

Thanks for coming with me on this lovely book publishing adventure…