Award-winning Canadian novelist named writer in residence
By Jenn Watt
Published Sept. 11, 2018
Writing has been author Frances Itani’s life’s work. It has taken her around the world and into the inner worlds of her characters who occupy the pages of 17 books, including novels, short stories and children’s books. She is a member of the Order of Canada, has been awarded the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, has won the CBC Literary Award (three times) and was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
And now writing is bringing Itani to Haliburton County as the arts council’s writer in residence from Oct. 11 to 25.
Renee Woltz, treasurer at the Arts Council ~ Haliburton Highlands, said the residency will benefit writers in the community and students at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School.
“The committee is so pleased to be able to bring such a high calibre writer to our community. We’re especially pleased that the scheduled events will benefit members of the public, writers in the community and students at the high school,” she said in a press release.
The author of many bestselling books including Requiem, Tell, Deafening, Remembering the Bones and, most recently, That’s My Baby, will be bringing her expertise and love of the writing process to two special events.
Her one-day workshop on Saturday, Oct. 13 is called “Asking the Right Questions to Keep Your Writing Alive.”
“I’ll be discussing important basics about craft. I’ll also focus on ways to strengthen one’s work,” Itani said in response to questions via email.
There is space for 20 students in the workshop, which is open to writers of varying backgrounds and experience levels, she said.
“Hopefully, at the end of our time together, participants will be inspired to go home and write! Overall, I hope to impart some of the knowledge I have acquired over the past 45 years as a writer.”
Itani will also be the featured speaker at a special evening event: An Evening with Frances Itani.
“I’ll discuss my life as a writer and will talk about journeys taken through the creation of several of my books. I will also be interviewed during the evening and I plan to read a short excerpt from one of my novels. There will be time for a Q&A with the audience, an exchange I always enjoy.”
Itani began her career as a nurse – an occupation she enjoyed and she still draws upon for inspiration in her writing. She worked at Montreal General Hospital as an RN before teaching nursing at university.
“I stopped working as a nurse when my first child was born and it was then that I returned to university to work on a BA, followed by a masters degree in English and psychology,” she said.
While taking a writing course at the University of Alberta, Itani met renowned Canadian writer W.O. Mitchell, leading to a long friendship.
“He and his wife Merna often visited our family wherever we happened to be living in the world, and we sometimes travelled together and always stayed in touch,” she said. “We had a good deal of fun over the years, and I miss them both very much.”
The author’s world travels have often led to Haliburton, where her daughter lives with her family. She’s often come to the Highlands to watch her granddaughters at their track events, dance performances and music recitals, but has also visited local artists’ studios, the farmers’ market, and once visited the Minden library branch promoting her book, Requiem.
This residency, however, came to her through her Toronto-based agent.
“A note was sent to the agency in hopes that word would be put out among many writers,” Itani said. “I was selected and when I let my daughter and her family know about the position, they were all surprised and delighted.”
Aside from the workshop, private writing consultations and public evening event, the author will also spend time working on her own projects.
“I’m working on two novels. One is set in 2018 and involves six characters, none of whom know one another at the outset of the story,” she said. “The second is an historical fiction about a woman of science who was born during the late 19th century.”
Both books are due out in the next few years.
Writing is always a challenge, requiring discipline and focus, Itani said. Curiosity and imagination fuel her work.
“How does one make sense of what is around us? The human condition? Chaos to art? How do people maintain or regain their balance after being knocked over by life? No society lives without story, without philosophy, without art. It is the writer’s job – my job – to tell story.”
An Evening With Frances Itani is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 12 at the Great Hall at Fleming College in Haliburton. Refreshments at 6:30, presentation at 7 p.m. Admission is by donation, with a suggested donation of $10.
Asking the Right Questions to Keep Your Writing Alive, a one-day workshop, is to be held Saturday, Oct. 13 with private feedback sessions scheduled between Oct. 15 and 17. The subsidized cost of the workshop is $50 and the private feedback session is $30. Two bursary positions are available for the workshop and feedback session. You must apply to be considered for the bursary.
The writer in residence program is supported by Haliburton County Development Corporation and the Haliburton Highlands Writers and Editors Network.
For more information or to register, call the arts council at 705-457-8033.