SPG Book Reviews - Literary History of Saskatchewan Volume Two

Reviewed by: Keith Foster

The Literary History of Saskatchewan. Volume 2 – Progressions
edited by David Carpenter
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Keith Foster
$24.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-567-2 (v. 2)

The Literary History of Saskatchewan continues its analysis of the province’s literary pioneers in this second volume –Progressions.

This collection of essays brings insights into Saskatchewan writers and their writing styles from the 1980s to the end of the twentieth century. This period brought the Saskatchewan Book Awards and the Saskatchewan Festival of Words into being, and strengthened the literary presses like Coteau Books.

With the demise of the Saskatchewan School of the Arts came the closing of Fort San, which Ken Mitchell describes as “a prairie legend, a Woodstock on the Qu’Appelle River.” But rising like a phoenix on the prairie, the Sage Hill Writing Experience took its place.

In an ironic twist, Mitchell had been turned down by W.O. Mitchell for a workshop because he “wasn’t good enough.” The younger Mitchell was determined to prove him wrong, and did, becoming an instructor at Fort San and a professor at the University of Regina.

This 290-page book contains four tributes and eleven essays, each referenced, including one devoted entirely to Saskatchewan’s new women poets. It also has an index and fifteen black and white photos of some of Saskatchewan’s literary giants.

Saskatchewan’s former poet laureate, Robert Currie, in writing a tribute to Pat Krause, describes her as “a writer at the top of her craft, transforming life into art.” Proving that talent often flows in the family, her daughter, Judith Krause, became Saskatchewan’s Poet Laureate in 2014.

The Literary History of Saskatchewan quotes excerpts from authors’ works, such as Lorna Crozier’s classic collection of sensual, erotically charged garden poems. After digging into this fertile soil, readers will never look at gardening in the same way again.

The essays cite examples of extraordinary literary achievements by Saskatchewan authors that may serve as inspiration for emerging writers. Martha Blum, for instance, was eighty-six by the time her first novel was published. The remarkable thing about her writing is that English was not her first language; she was more fluent in at least six other languages.

David Carpenter, the book’s editor, is no slouch of a writer himself. He has more than a dozen books – including novels, short story collections, essays, memoirs, and poetry – to his credit.

The front covers of the first and second volumes of The Literary History of Saskatchewan depict the shift from typewriters to computers. Whether one uses a computer, typewriter, pen or pencil, today’s writers have the benefit of standing on the shoulders of giants.

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