OTF: Johanna Skibsrud

Getting All Sentimentalist: It has been a great week for writing (or at least writers) in Thunder Bay! As part of the International Festival of Authors, Johanna Skibsrud visited Lakehead University to give a “Masters Class” — an hour-long workshop on, essentially, what it means to be a writer and her personal journey. It was a great presentation, and really hit home (I think) what our responsibility is as writers and communicators. My big take-away: all writers leave holes for the reader to fill in. However those holes can’t be random, and choosing what not to say is just as important as what to keep in if we want to communicate effectively.

As long-time, extremely attentive readers will remember, I talked about Johanna Skibsrud and her novel The Sentimentalists in a post just about a year ago. She was in the rather rare position of winning the Giller Award, but wasn’t able to sell any books because the publisher, Gaspereau Press (who is a bookmaker as well as a publisher) ran out. For a short time, her book was only available by ebook.

I asked her about that today, and it was pretty much what I imagined: she was happy that the ebook was available then, and that in general, she likes the ebook format because it can help writers get their work out there, make it more accessible without the physical bonds of paper, shipping, design, etc. (I’m paraphrasing here…) She also mentioned that she loves her Kindle — the biggest plus for her is that she doesn’t have to have 10 lbs of books in her backpack when she travels. (I’m paraphrasing again…)

I was happy to meet her and steal a few minutes of her time for questions after the workshop. She is a genuine writer and person, and I would have loved to have had more time to pick her brain. Also got a signed copy of her short story collection This Will Be Difficult to Explain and Other Stories (first edition) that just came out — another for my collection!

I missed the big reading last night with her, Jane Urquart, and James Bartleman. Duncan Weller and I showed up at the event sans tickets and were bounced out. (I thought Governor General Award winners got a special VIP pass they could flash for times like this, but no…) Marion Agnew, who I met today for the second time in less than a week, tells me it went well.

~Graham

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