A powerful tale of violence, grief, resilience, and transformation, told in the voice of Janet Gallant, transcribed and lineated as a long poem by Sharon Thesen, The Wig-Maker gathers and weaves together themes and incidents that accumulate toward "the moan" of racism, sexual abuse, maternal abandonment, suicide, mental illness, and addiction.
Though the subject-matter ranges from a lengthy first-person account of sufferings both personal and cultural, historic and current, the pulse of the telling ultimately led to healing and reconciliation. Almost by magic — certainly with the assistance of the uncanny — the 18-month long process of Gallant's telling/Thesen's listening-writing resulted in Gallant's discovery of her true genetic, and social, identity. In the early part of her story Janet longs to know the reasons that her mother abandoned the family when Gallant was three years old, leaving four young children with their abusive father. She also wants to know what turned her father into "the monster" he had become. Her mother, Valerie Johnson, is Black and grew up in the Black community of Wildwood, Alberta; her Canadian serviceman father, Tom McCrate, grew up in Irish-Catholic poverty in Nova Scotia. As a biracial child, Janet was unaware until she was eleven years old that her mother was Black; nor did she know until very recently that Tom McCrate was not her biological father.
The twists and turns of the narrative gather a range of topics and incidents; the human hair industry, Black immigration to Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 1900's, maternal abandonment, the stresses of military life, adoption search websites, the suicide of Gallant's teenage brother, the sudden death of her young husband, the stress-disorder of alopecia, and the loneliness of surviving all this but never finding answers. But some important answers have been given and received as a result of Gallant's research being inspired by the mysteriously healing process of the telling itself.
"The Wig-Maker" is Janet Gallant's song; her story comes to life in Sharon Thesen's poem.
About the authors
Janet Gallant, The Wig-Maker, is the mother of two grown daughters. After thirty years in Calgary where she worked as an office administrator, most recently in the renewable energy sector, she relocated to Lake Country, BC, where she has a home business making wigs for alopecia and cancer patients. After her relocation to Lake Country, Gallant and Thesen, neighbours at first, became friends after spending an evening together waiting to know if they would be evacuated because of a wildfire in the area. Gallant wanted to tell her story, Thesen wanted to hear it. Gallant insisted she wasn’t a writer; Thesen is an established Canadian poet and editor. Thus began what has turned out to be this tale.
Sharon Thesen was born in Tisdale, Saskatchewan, in 1946. She moved to the British Columbia Interior in 1952 and lived in Prince George and Kamloops before settling in Vancouver in 1966. She is the author of several books of poetry and the former editor of the Capilano Review. She currently teaches English at Capilano College in North Vancouver and writes reviews for the Vancouver Sun.
Sharon Thesen is a poet, editor, and writer who was based in Vancouver, BC, before coming to UBC Okanagan in 2005. She is the author of eight books of poetry, the most recent The Good Bacteria (House of Anansi). Her books include a selected poems, News & Smoke, and several titles from the 1980s and '90s from Coach House Press in Toronto.
Sharon has been involved in the Canadian and Vancouver poetry scene for many years. As an editor, she has published two editions of The New Long Poem Anthology, a Governor-General’s Award-winning edition of Phyllis Webb’s poetry (The Vision Tree), and, from 2001 to 2005, the literary and visual arts magazine The Capilano Review. She co-edited, with Ralph Maud, a correspondence between the poet Charles Olson and book designer Frances Boldereff (Charles Olson and Frances Boldereff: A Modern Corresepondence, Wesleyan University Press).
Sharon co-edits, with Nancy Holmes, Lake: a journal of arts and environment, which is housed in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at UBC Okanagan, and continues to be a contributing editor of The Capilano Review.
Her book A Pair of Scissors won the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, and The Good Bacteria was a finalist for the Governor-General’s Award, the ReLit Award and the Dorothy Livesay Prize. Two earlier books also were finalists for the Governor-General’s Award, and in 2002 Sharon was a member of the jury, along with American poet Sharon Olds and Irish poet Michael Longley, for the prestigious Griffin Prize for Excellence in Poetry.
In addition to teaching literature and creative writing at Capilano College, Sharon has taught poetry workshops at a number of summer writing colonies, including the Banff Writing Studio, Echo Valley and St. Peter’s College, and for many years has informally mentored younger poets and writers. She has given readings at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto, the Blue Metropolis Writers’ Festival in Montreal and the New Zealand Writers’ Festival in Wellington, NZ.
Sharon’s research interests are modern, postmodern, and contemporary poetry and poetics, lyric essay and philosophical autobiography, the relationship between poetic imagination and “the real,” and the Canadian long poem. She is also interested in the aesthetics of theological and mystical writings by women, as well as the relationship between psychology and ecology, and eco-poetics. She is married, with one son and one stepson. She lives in Lake Country, BC.