Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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We all need mentors. If we are lucky, we find one or two, generous enough to share the odd illuminating remark or spare the odd hour or two to go over something we've written. Don Coles was an early one for me, but a better term might be "encourager." He was one of my poetry profs in the 1980s at York University, although poetry prof hardly describes his blend of humour, kindness and erudition. The guy got around in his youth, lived in Sweden and England and Western Europe, and it showed in his world view, which was more nuanced than the usual thing on that windswept campus.

Over the years I would send him the occasional poem or letter and and he always took the time to respond, which I thought was wonderfully kind, for a busy guy with a family and a teaching career and a new book of poetry always in the pipeline (he didn't publish his first book till he was 47; he won the Governor-General's award for FORESTS OF THE MEDIEVAL WORLD when he was 65; and then he wrote a novel, DR. BLOOM'S STORY, after that).

The details of age I didn't know until I read the notes at the back of his latest book, THE ESSENTIAL DON COLES, selected by Robyn Sarah for The Porcupine's Quill. And I realized that was something else we had in common (besides time lived in Europe): the late start.

My first chapbook came out in my 40s and my novel SAILOR GIRL after 50 -- and that seemed okay to me, to do it late and without much fanfare but to do it because you had to do it and could do it.

When I went to Don's launch at Ben McNally Books on Tuesday night, I learned we had something else in common -- an aversion to the spotlight. While I've done my best to keep my book afloat since it came out last June -- cold-calling bookstores and reviewers, doing readings and bookclubs, doing this blog -- I've found it difficult.

The fact is, I would rather be home writing.

Don apparently feels the same. He didn't show up on Tuesday, though he sent a gracious note to be read by Robyn Sarah -- she also read some lovely, very Colesian poems for those gathered.

As I swilled red wine afterwards, I heard many people express disappointment at the no-show. But I got it. And I respected it. So here's a toast to you, dear Professor, for reminding us that what it's really about is the words on the page.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Sheree-Lee Olson

Sheree-Lee Olson is a Canadian novelist, poet and journalist. Her first novel, Sailor Girl, was published in 2008 by The Porcupine's Quill.

Go to Sheree-Lee Olson ’s Author Page