Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Weston Words, with Candace Savage

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Candace Savage

Today is the conclusion of our 2012 Weston Words series! We're speaking with finalist Candace Savage about her book A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape (Douglas & McIntyre).

The Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction is the country's newest and biggest non-fiction prize. To be awarded on November 12, 2012, the prize honours the country's finest work of non-fiction with a $60,000 prize purse. Now in its second year, the prize has emerged as a tastemaker for readers and a career highlight for its winners and nominees.

Candace talks to Open Book about going first-person, taking risks by telling the truth and her very first book of (beloved) non-fiction.

Check out all of the interviews in our Weston Words series. Congratulations and good luck to all the finalists on November 12!

Open Book:

Tell us about the book for which you were shortlisted.

Candace Savage:

It’s called A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape. You could describe it as the story of a love affair between a woman (that’s me) and a wild rise of land in back-of-beyond Saskatchewan. In all the books I’ve written — something over two dozen at last count — this is the first time I’ve experimented with a first-person voice. Yet despite the book’s intimate, personal focus, it also offers a critical re-telling of the colonization of the western plains and the making of Canada. It's lyrical and devastating by turns and, unexpectedly, tentatively, optimistic.


Where were you when you received news of your nomination? Did you celebrate your nomination in any way?


I was sitting at my desk, doing whatever I was doing, when an email from the Writers’ Trust popped up with a cryptic offer of “important news.” My first thought, irrationally, was to wonder what I might have forgotten to do, which probably tells you more than you want to know about my state of mind at the moment! When the phone rang and all was revealed, I rushed upstairs to tell my partner and burst into tears.

Trying to tell the truth often means taking risks, so to receive this affirmation from the Weston Prize jury was immensely gratifying and reassuring.


What unique experience or benefit does non-fiction provide for readers?


Nonfiction is an expansive genre but I think it is at its best when it charms us into facing uncomfortable facts. Early on in A Geography of Blood, I pose a question: “Do you suppose it’s really true that what you don’t know can’t hurt you?” By and large, I suspect that readers of nonfiction, though alert to the limits of human truth-telling, are hoping to encounter something recognizable and real. They want to rap their knuckles on the hard, resistant surfaces of actuality.


Tell us about a favourite non-fiction book.


As nearly as I can recall, the first nonfiction book I ever purchased was Old Man’s Garden, by Annora Brown, first published in 1954 and reissued twice since, with text and illustrations by the author. My annotation on the fly leaf reads, “To us from us, a valentine, 1978.” Brown describes her work as “a book of gossip about the flowers of the west.” I’ve just pulled it off my shelf for the first time in years and, even flipping through, I am reminded of how much pleasure she has given me. This is where I learned the “Indian” name for the prairie crocus: “Ears of the Earth.” It’s where I began to understand that the grasslands are an old, old country, rich in life and stories and language. Does her retelling of Blackfoot stories rate as cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation? I’m not sure. But now that her garden is back in my hands, I’m going to enjoy giving it a re-read and reconsideration.


What can you tell us about your next project?


I have a couple of ideas “in development” as they say, but it’s too soon to talk about them. Beginnings are so vaporous that the less said about them the better.

Candace Savage splits her time between Saskatoon and Eastend. She is a celebrated writer of dozens of books and essays, many of which have been translated into multiple languages. In 2010, Savage was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in recognition of her scholarly and artistic achievements.

For more information about A Geography of Blood, please visit the Douglas & McIntyre website.

For more information about the Writers' Trust of Canada, please visit their website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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