I didn’t set out for this list to be all-female but I realized, as I thought about Canadian writers who had really impacted me, that we are uniquely blessed with a plethora of smart, challenging, inspiring and empowering female-identifying writers. (If considering Irish writers, my list is much more gender-balanced!) But my novel ROAR focuses on a trans woman and her family, all deeply impacted by the loss of the most important woman in all their lives—their mother, wife, and very heart of their family and community. I hope all I’ve gleaned about the power of women from these powerful female writers is reflected in ROAR.
Absolutely formative for me. I read The Edible Woman when I was about eighteen, and it catapulted me towards a kind of emancipation: certainly reaching for a real sense of independence. Both The Edible Woman and Alias Grace were important books for me. I was so excited by Atwood and the women she created: women reacting against their environments with shocking, compelling and completely believable ferocity. Complex women, so deeply understood and minutely portrayed. She set them in worlds that didn’t just draw you in, but surrounded you. In both these books, those worlds came close to suffocating you. Like the protagonists, you claw your way through the darkness and back up to the light. I fell so in love with Margaret Atwood. I was thrilled to be asked to read several of her books for the BBC when I lived in the UK, including the audio book for Alias Grace, which is still on Audible.
"Run Toward The Danger" is my new mantra.
Polley's memoir, a brave—audacious even—truth-telling, rings with humanity, humility and curiosity and avoids eggshell-treading. It was riveting. It threw down a gauntlet. I was so drawn to this woman, who came to understand her body—from several perspectives—in an environment (the performing arts) that I’m so familiar with. Her clear-sightedness about the way that body could betray her, while still supplying miracles of all kinds—sensuality, life, strength—was inspiring. Watching Sarah in the the book was watching all women search for their power despite our complex relationships with our bodies, how they work for and against us. All of us struggling to peel layers of patriarchy from the expectations we have to challenge—especially in industries where women have been so objectified for so long—as we try to respond to what our bodies are telling us. Be still, very still. Hold your breath. Don’t look up, look down. And run, don’t walk. Amazing writing and honesty.
I so admire Jeanette Lynes. Her poetry is in everything she writes: a turn to a sentence that is lyrical; a surprising description; the breath in a landscape. The guts of these gals in The Factory Voice, excited me about fiction settled in a time only just out of my reach. I loved the characters’ recognition of their place in history, coming to know they’ll define not just their tiny community, but their nation. The joy in the way these women seized the moment they never expected but know they deserve, was infectious and empowering.
I love memoir, and The Erratics worked like fiction pulling you into the story, and spinning it out. Laveau-Harvie was a masterclass in creating distance, then sucking you into the centre of a painful memory—the simultaneously unbelievable and completely believable cruelty. The book is devastating as you remind yourself over and over that this real woman, really treated her daughter this way. That behaviour will be forever tied for me now to this bleak and ragged landscape I know so well, growing up in Calgary, and spending time in the badlands.
The Story Girl: the idea that one individual was so full of stories and histories that she couldn’t contain them, simply HAD to tell them, resonated profoundly with me as a youngster. If there was one writer who I could count as a lifelong influence, it’s L.M. Montgomery. Every Christmas from about age eight, I was given a couple of L.M. Montgomery books until I owned everything she wrote, including all the biographies. She—and her character Sarah Stanley—were instrumental in propelling me toward my own vocation of story telling: as an actor, then writer-director, and now as an author. Discovering (from the journals edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston) how deeply her life was impacted by the mental health challenges both she and her husband faced, made her productivity even more of a miracle. Her life and work ethic have been such a driver for me.
The subject matter of Annabel was compelling for me as I searched for anything that might give me insight into how my child might experience the world as a trans individual. This book was not that, but it began my education with regard to exploring gender and sex and all the intersections—or my perceptions until then, of the intersections. Compelling, distressing and moving.
A novel inspired by the original screenplay for the award-winning feature film Dawn, Her Dad & the Tractor, about a young trans woman who returns to her family farm in the wake of her mother's death, written by celebrated actor and screenwriter Shelley Thompson.
The MacInnes family is grieving. The loss of Miranda has devastated her husband, John Andrew, her eldest daughter, Tammy, and her youngest child, Dawn. Not Donnie anymore but Dawn, like sunrise, who transitioned while her mother received cancer treatment — without the rest of the family knowing. Now, when Dawn leaves Halifax for rural Nova Scotia to attend her mother's funeral, she knows she'll be meeting her sister and father for the first time as herself.
With Dawn's revelation, John Andrew and Tammy find themselves grieving for the son and brother they once knew, while Tammy's fiancé, Byron, becomes an unexpected ally. Between the complicated reaction from her family, unwanted attention from local bigots, and whispers from curious neighbours, Dawn wonders if she can ever really come home.
A work of fierce allyship, of enduring love, and of gentle hope, ROAR follows a family through grief and estrangement as they become catalysts for change in their rural community. Told from multiple points of view, with confidence and tenderness, actor and screenwriter Shelley Thompson's debut novel is profoundly authentic, drawing on her own experience as the mother of a trans child and a fierce activist for the trans community.
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