Friday 20 May 2011

As RT by Margaret Atwood: A Writer's Gratitude, Part 2, or Toronto Launch of The Meaning of Children (and others!)

I'm thrilled to announce the Toronto Launch of The Meaning of Children! May 31st at the Dora Keogh Irish Pub, 141 Danforth. Part of The Exile Writers Series, we will also be toasting the launch of Claude Tatilon's A Pinch Of Time (David Homel's translation of the original French novel, La soupe au pistou). The book has won many honours and sold 20,000 copies in France.

Jesus Hardwell's story collection Easy Living will also be featured, along with Ann Elizabeth Carson and Claudio Gaudio, from Exile Quarterly's 34.3 and 34.4 issues. Music by bass musician Grant Curle.

All in all, an incredible week for Exile Editions, which on May 28th will be presenting:

Exile’s Short Fiction Awards ~ $8,000 to Canadian writers!

Saturday, May 28

6:30 – 10:30 PM

Presentations by the awards’ Sponsor and Host, Ms. Gloria Vanderbilt.

$95.00 per Person ~ Advance Tickets Only / Reservation Only

Price includes assigned Table Seating and Dinner, a copy of the Carter V. Cooper Anthology that features the 10 finalists’ stories, the all-new Exile Quarterly 35.1 (plus a one year subscription), and five $2.00 “free” bets and race guide per guest to play the horses. We will also have available Gloria Vanderbilt’s new collection of stories The Things We Fear Most.

We Honour the Three Winners:

$3,000 ~ Frank Westcott for The Poet

$3,000 ~ Silvia Moreno-Garcia for Scales as Pale as Moonlight

$2,000 ~ Ken Stange for The Heart of a Rat

Click here for a PDF of the Invitation in full, and Complete Menu:

May 28 2011.

To make your Reservation, or for additional information, email us at: Event Information and Reservations (

Way to go, EXILE!

Thursday 19 May 2011

On being edited...

An emerging writer lives on a high wire, where self-confidence—the bulwark against frequent rejection--counterbalances humility, because who doesn't have a lot to be humble about? The struggle to maintain equanimity was never more obvious than the first time my work was edited seriously.

I'd had over 20 stories published, most without even a comma displaced, so I was shocked when a publisher returned my fiction collection covered in chicken scratchings. The putative editor, a prizewinning author in her own right, was much younger than me, and had a Google-invisible editing history.
After a week or so, I finally forced myself to flip through the thing. And it was worse than I'd feared! For instance, “Montreal” and “Quebec” had morphed to “Montréal” and “Québec.” My first story, a prizewinner itself, took place in the late '60s in anglo Jewish Montreal, where Jeanne Mance’s given name was pronounced like a synonym for dungarees...and this Torontonian had shtupped in all those aigus? Were all her other corrections equally ill-informed?

When in doubt, do nothing, I decided. Besides, the publisher had offered me bupkis, contract wise.

A few more rejections passed. I finally calmed down, read the edited manuscript, and contacted the publisher: they were only suggestions, he said. Use those that seem useful and forget about the rest. Ultimately, I realized most of her changes were printer’s instructions, and several of her propositions were sound. So, I followed them and found the result an improvement. Perhaps I’d been skimping on the humility side of my balancing equation.
Editors can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse; but hand them raw silk and you may get a better story altogether.
Canadian Beverly Akerman started writing fiction in 2005. Her first book, The Meaning of Children (Exile Editions), was just released to critical acclaim: “Each story [is] a reminder of what an optimistic endeavour it is to parent…Akerman holds up our greatest fears, not to dwell on them, but to marvel at our commitment to life, especially to passing it on to others.” Anne Chudobiak, The Montreal Gazette.

(Originally published in QWrite, a publication of the Quebec Writers' Federation.)

Friday 13 May 2011


Some folks say your hands can tell the story of your life. Well, my hands cain't talk, but they've made so many pies, I bet they could do it themselves if you cut 'em off and gave 'em the right ingredients, I sure do.
'Course, I ain't made pie in going on forty years now. But for me, pie's like ridin' a bike: it's something I'll never forget.
It's the crust ever'one frets on. You got to measure out two cups of flour exactly, and a teaspoon salt. Eamon liked to tease me about this. He'd say, “Been making pie long?”
And I'd go, “My whole life entire.”
And he'd say, “And you still measuring?”
There's things I did by feel. Mothering, for instance. Baking, I measured.
Mix that flour and salt in a bowl. I always used my largest, white with blue stripes round the side. A wedding gift from my Mama, come in a nested set, three different sizes. Like him and his two brothers, Eamon liked to say. Then cut in a cup of Crisco with a pastry blender, looks sort of like a small harp. When he was young and still in the kitchen, Eamon'd play on it a time or two, just to show me. You got to work that fat in real good, blend it, all the way through. The recipes say “till it looks like small peas,” but that ain't nowhere near enough. I pity the woman what tries to make piecrust from the recipe on the side of a tin of Crisco, I sure do. You got to mix it in completely. Stop too soon, all you got's lumps of fat with flour on the outside. Never get a piecrust out of that. Get it right and it clumps up on its own. More you mix, the bigger they get. Pea-size ain't near enough, no sir. Needs to be lima beans. Bigger, even.
Then add your water, a tablespoon at a time. Mix well after each one. Four tablespoons in all, that's a quarter cup. Less sometimes, if it's real humid.
It was the day that Eamon left, ever'body's clothes sticking to 'em like a second skin.
Dust your hands with flour, make the dough into a ball. Knead it a bit if you like, just to be sure. And don't pay no never mind to them that says too much handling'll make that pie crust tough. You don't got to worry about that at all, uh-uh. The more you handle it, the better.
Babies are like that, too. Folks think you spoil 'em, picking them up whenever they cry. But some babies need it. They just have to feel your hands on 'em. You can carry them around with you all day if you have to. No sir, if it's one thing I know, holding them close is the making of men, not the ruining.
Next, you roll out that dough. Cut it in two. Plunk half on a piece of wax paper and dust it with a little flour, soft as talc. Cover with more of that wax paper, a little flour to keep that from sticking, too. A bottle of pop will do in a pinch if you don't have a rolling pin. Roll it thin, peel the top paper off, and take the bottom with the pie crust on it and flip it into a pie plate. Peel the paper off real careful-like, but don't pay no mind if it tears--just dip your fingers in some flour and press it right back. Mends it up and no one'll ever know the difference. But you can only compare a boy and a pie so far.
Put the filling in, roll the other crust out, too, and put that on top. Crimp the sides together real good so it don't leak none and cut some slits on top, for the steam.
Bake it, four hundred-twenty-five degrees, forty-five minutes to an hour, depending what-all's inside.
Best pie I ever made? Oh, that was on an early summer day, like I said, more'n forty years ago now. Ain't never made another. Promised myself I wouldn't, not till he come back home.
I remember it like yesterday. All of us smiling and laughing, talking and talking about nothing really, no sir. Eamon was like a brand-new penny that day, shining, handsome, everything before him. Telling me how much he loved me and respected his daddy, the two of them clapping each other on the back every time they was in spitting distance. Eamon even said he loved his germy younger brothers, punching them in the shoulder all day long, and then hugging them tight, just the once. His daddy was so proud of him. Funny how a suit with brass buttons can make a man lose all sense.
“It's an honour to serve,” Eamon said. And I knew what he meant, I surely did.
The whole family was there, uncles and aunts, cousins, friends and neighbours, too. Even the Mayor, like it was some goddamn Fourth of July. We laid on a barbeque, just the way he liked it—ribs, cole slaw, potato salad, devilled eggs, corn on the cob, biscuits, watermelon, and of course his favourite, rhubarb pie. Made four of them that morning. Ever'body said I made the lightest crust around. Like I told you, the trick is to work it enough, to get everything mixed in just right.
Women often fail at pie because they give up too soon.
I brought it out to him, still warm from the oven, ice cream on the side. Eamon liked it that way, the tart bleeding into the sweet.
The light from the sun slanted long and low.
“If anything happens,” he said.
And I hushed him, wouldn't hear it. Just wouldn't. I told him, “You finish that pie, now. Your ice cream's melting in the heat.”
(A story from my award winning collection, The Meaning Of Children, also available as an e-book; "Pie" originally published by Gemini Magazine. Winner of their first Flash Fiction Contest)

More about The Meaning Of Children:

Monday 9 May 2011

The Meaning of Children: on CTV Montreal with News Anchor Mutsumi Takahashi

A couple of weeks ago, Mutusmi Takahashi graciously invited me onto her lunchtime news show. We discussed my new book, The Meaning of Children, which she liked very much. Please watch the interview here or find it on Youtube.

Sunday 8 May 2011

The Meaning of Children: on Radio CJAD AM 800 with Anne Lagacé Dowson

On Saturday, April 30th, I was interviewed by Anne Lagacé Dowson on her Saturday afternoon show on Radio Station CJAD AM 800 (that's Anne on the left!).

Ms. Dowson was extremely complimentary about The Meaning of Children, which she called an "antidote to the commercialized side of Mother's Day." She called me brave for my story about abortion, "Like Jeremy Irons," and said the book pulls no punches in capturing how challenging parenthood can be.

She said many other fine things about the book. Watch it here


Or mosey on over to Youtube and have a listen...

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Students help Rwandan genocide survivor

The Rwandan genocide still slashes through the lives of its survivors, including Concordia student Beatha Kayitesi (BA ’11). But community support can bring opportunities for great healing.

Kayitesi survived the genocide and other atrocities that killed 800,000 Tutsi and pro-peace Hutu in approximately 100 days in mid-1994. This year, she was a student in Madeleine Mcbrearty’s Health Promotion class (AHSC 460) in the Applied Human Sciences program. Kayitesi’s mother raised over 20 community orphans, people Kayitesi considers brothers and sisters. Kayitesi ended up coming to Canada via refugee camps in Kenya and Sudan. “Being one of the survivors, I have a big responsibility to help those who made it but were not as lucky as me.”

But she lives, at times, with feelings of shame coupled with survivor guilt. Last year, her sister Ernestine appealed for help Kayitesi was in no position to provide. “She married the wrong guy, someone who had killed over 2,000 Tutsis. Nobody knew this,” says Kayitesi. He killed Ernestine, and then himself. “They left a few kids behind.”

So when her mother called recently, begging for help for another sister, Vivian, also married but “still hungry and at the end of her rope,” Kayitesi knew the best solution would be to get her sister back in school. But who could afford the $500 yearly fee? Enter the students of her Health Promotion class.

AHSC 460 is “about the seven dimensions of health: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, social, environmental and occupational,” Mcbrearty says. Students are asked to change two dimensions of their own health, working on issues as diverse as cigarettes, drugs, drinking, debt loads or savings, composting, or focusing on anger or self-esteem issues. It’s a full year course, “very experiential. Learning to change the world by changing yourself is a big component of this course.”

During the second-to-last class, Kayitesi performed a Rwandan dance “she did it to make herself feel better,” says a classmate, Rachel Renaud (BA ’11). Everyone was touched to see her so transformed. Kayitesi knew that AHSC 460 students were supposed to share what was going on in their lives, so she finally told classmate Matthew Riggs about her sister’s situation. “When I told Matthew my feelings, that I would just like to help one person, Matthew told me I deserved to be happy. I’ve never been a really happy person, the kind who goes to dances and parties.”

Riggs asked his classmates to each bring $15 for Kayitesi’s sister. “I felt they would think I was asking for myself,” Kayitesi says. Instead, Renaud, Executive Director of the Renaud family’s Roasters Foundation and all their philanthropic work, arranged for matching funds. Another student, Kelly Wilkinson, works with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and got help from her co-workers there.

At the final class, Kayitesi invited dancers and drummers in Rwandan costume to perform again, this time as a thank you. “We raised $1,400 with more coming in, enough to start an official program with the Foundation,” Renaud says. And enough to keep Kayitesi’s sister in school for three years.

The experience was “wonderful, amazing. I didn’t know they would be there to help me,” Kayitesi says. “I’ve slept well since.”

Originally published in the Concordia Journal.