Lauren McKeon's latest book is Women of the Pandemic.
History is too often told through the texture of men’s lives. Women become accessories and footnotes, their struggles and dreams, triumphs and sacrifices inevitably erased. In recent years, the rise of women’s biography and memoir has sought to rectify that, making permanent extraordinary stories about women’s lives, past and present. There is courage in demanding your voice be heard, in telling the world your story matters—that you matter. Today, we celebrate diverse women who’ve boldly told their truths, making us all richer for it.
Mistakes to Run With, by Yasuko Thanh
Yasuko Thanh tells us what to expect in the title: this is not a tidy book, and she has not had a tidy life. Her memoir is beautifully vulnerable, inviting us into her life as a teen on the streets of Vancouver and showing us how past informs—but doesn’t always define—who a person is constantly becoming. Neither the book, nor Thanh’s story has a neat ending, a reminder that women’s lives don’t have to come prettily packaged in “life lessons” and “self help” to hold value and power.
Breaking the Ocean, by Annahid Dashtgard
Annahid Dashtgard’s stunning memoir opens with her childhood in 1970s Iran and her family’s flight from the country during the 1979 Revolution, landing in small town Alberta. There, Dashtgard is bullied and shunned, a target for small minds and pervasive racism. She writes of her time in high school: “Being a brown girl in a white girl’s world meant that I was stuck in a special kind of purgatory.” Dashtgard later finds strength in political activism, a triumph that’s interrupted by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Her unhealed trauma takes us into Part III, her search for “more,” and what it means to find peace in yourself.
Heroes in My Head, by Judy Rebick
Judy Rebick is a Canadian feminist icon, and readers may think they already know her story. But Heroes in My Head reminds us that someone’s truth is often unexpected. In this unflinching memoir, Rebick dissolves the protective layers of herself as a public figure to expose the private battles that shaped her life. We learn about her dissociative identity disorder, as well as the harrowing trauma tied to it, in tandem with Rebick. And, ultimately, we find the same empowering release in the telling.
Heart Berries, by Terese Marie Mailhot
Terese Marie Mailhot’s popular memoir is the definition of hard-to-put-down. The writing is perfect, aching, and raw; the story one of survival and healing, pain and reclamation. Though Mailhot’s words are beautiful, her story is not easy to read and Mailhot tells us she is not an easy person—but that’s the point. She grapples with the legacy of intergenerational trauma, of racism and colonialism, of mental health and abuse. Too often, stories like Mailhot’s are suppressed. Heart Berries reminds us why they shouldn’t be.
Two Trees Make a Forest, by Jessica J. Lee
This genre-defying memoir was the winner of the 2020 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. In it, Jessica J. Lee finds a set of letters written by her immigrant grandfather and decides to take a trip home to her ancestral homeland, Taiwan. There, she weaves together discoveries of geography and family, exploring how both terrains shape the other—and, in turn, how they’ve shaped her. As she told the CBC: “It didn't work when it was just me trying to tell my grandparents’ story alone. I needed to figure out who I was in that story.”
Truth Be Told, Beverley McLachlin
Beverley McLachlin was the first female Chief Justice of Canada, holding the position from 2000-2017. Her memoir tells us what it means to be a first—and to forge a path that is as full of successes and inspiration as it is pitfalls and challenges. McLachlin’s story is also the story of several momentous legal shifts in Canada, including country-changing decisions on same-sex marriage and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Journey with her as she works to define justice, and fairness, for a country.
They Said This Would Be Fun, by Eternity Martis
In They Said This Would be Fun, Eternity Martis exposes the reality of post-secondary schools in Canada (and beyond): that they are just as steeped in systemic racism as the rest of our institutions. An urgent and devastating read, Martis’ collection of essays follows her time as a student of colour at Western, which, like many schools, has a predominately white campus, and the not-at-all-fun experience she endured while there. The powerful result is essential reading for everyone.
I Hope We Choose Love, by Kai Cheng Thom
In this collection of essays and prose poems, Kai Cheng Thom makes an argument for “love ...in this time of the apocalypse.” She turns a thoughtful eye toward queer communities, how they do and do not hold space, where they support and where they fall short. Her own critiques come from a deep place of love and a desire for people to eschew division and, instead, embrace collaboration, community, and compassion. It makes for both a refreshing and brave perspective, the exact type of voice we need to shake us out of our dominant straight, cisgender narratives.
The story of the pandemic is the story of women. This riveting narrative offers an account of COVID-19, reminding us of women's leadership and resilience, reflecting back hope and humanity as we all figure out a new normal, together.
Throughout history, men have fought, lost, and led us through the world's defining crises. That all changed with COVID-19. In Canada, women's presence in the response to the pandemic has been notable. Women are our nurses, doctors, PSWs. Our cashiers, long-haulers, cooks. In Canada, women are leading the fast-paced search for a vaccine. They are leading our provinces and territories. At home, they are leading families through self-isolation, often bearing the responsibility for their physical and emotional health. They are figuring out what working from home looks like, and many of them are doing it while homeschooling their kids. Women crafted the blueprint for kindness during the pandemic, from sewing masks to kicking off international mutual-aid networks. And, perhaps not surprisingly, women have also suffered some of the biggest losses, bearing the brunt of our economic skydive.
Through intimate portraits of Canadian women in diverse situations and fields, Women of the Pandemic is a gripping narrative record of the early months of COVID-19, a clear-eyed look at women's struggles, which highlights their creativity, perseverance, and resilience as they charted a new path forward during impossible times.
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