280 pages/trade paper
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Sean Virgo, Editor
The Eye In The Thicket is the first in a new series of natural history essays from Thistledown Press. The essays in this inaugural volume were commissioned from a number of outstanding writers (many of them national prize winners). Some are professional naturalists, others are poets, filmmakers, dancers, philosophers, activists. All write with passion, originality and humour about the natural world, our place within it, and our impact upon it.
The Eye in the Thicket reminds us of the tradition embraced by natural histories, while the authors included here all have the creative ability to transcend social concerns and political boundaries. The series will create a unique archive of Canadian writers reflecting upon our environment and our history.
Contributors include: Don Gayton, Jan Zwicky, Don McKay, Barry Callaghan, Patrick Lane, Susan Musgrave, Brian Brett, Terry Glavin, Trevor Herriot, Davida Monk, Tim Lilburn, Steven Lattey, Prudence Grieve, Iltyd Perkins, and Lloyd Ratzlaff.
"Metaphor, music, character and plot are all masterfully wielded." — Books in Canada
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273 pages/trade paper
Evocative and superbly rakish, this collection is a generous diagnosis of the often offbeat worlds of family, writing, travel, sex and death as interpreted through the real-life adventures of Susan Musgrave. Equally at home recounting the lore of her outlaw husband, Stephen Reid, or interpreting the arcane rituals of her teenage girls, Musgrave brings to her literary essays that same invigorating freshness for which she has become known through her fiction and poetry. In settings ranging from the aching solitude of the Queen Charlotte Islands to the sweaty intensity of bandido apartments in Panama, Musgrave muses with her legendary wit and pastiche, while creating graffiti-like impressions of the writer’s essential take on those closest to her. One of Canada’s most publicized and popular writers, Susan Musgrave is unique, and this is the reader’s chance to get up close and personal.
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144 pages / paper
In a series of reflections focused on his hard-working Mennonite family and touching on childhood exploits from shoplifting and go-kart racing to the fear of dying (which spontaneously arises during the rehearsal for a school Christmas concert), Lloyd Ratzlaff takes readers on a journey from youth to philosophical maturity. Combining elegy and joyful nostalgia in these poetic essays, Ratzlaff recounts his youthful struggles before going on to analyze his first marriage and his time in seminary and as a minister, and examining life as the parent of adult children and closest confidante of a terminally ill friend.
Never straying far from his spiritual probing, Ratzlaff’s essays are informed by nature and the changing seasons which influence his life in seemingly magical ways. Small enlightenments arise from interactions with the natural world, ranging from a spring equinox on the seventh anniversary of his father’s death to the author’s waking to the songs of a robin who comes each spring to live on the riverbank across St. Henry Avenue. Even a small gopher scurrying off and standing like a signpost between graves signals an exploration of mortality.
Humour and honesty define this spiritual journey, as the boy who grew up speaking an ethnically Mennonite language discovers that the rigidity and unease of this tongue will become, in part, the catalyst for his own writing and am impetus to spiritual movement. Bindy’s Moon invites readers to explore the challenges posed by scepticism and the simultaneous desire to believe, weighing the gravity of doctrinairism against the spirit’s boundless energy. Ratzlaff offers a unique example of what many others have experienced, combining humour and quiet reflection in a poignant prairie coming-of-age autobiography.
"These essays come from a place of deep compassion in a voice infused with poetic grace." — Maureen Weber, Prairie Messenger Catholic Journal
144 pages/trade paper
Backwater Mystic Blues is a suite of intimate essays that summon the secret hiding spots, makeshift rafts and uncomplicated childhood joys that lay the foundations for adult philosophy. Lloyd Ratzlaff is in tune with the vivid simplicities of the sensuous world and the honour of unassuming people. These essays assemble the disguises shaped by religion, family, and memory as much as they recreate the delight, discovery and illumination that his past has offered. And whether you sit back and savour the ribald yarns of Sandra Dee or pick up a bit of Christian dating advice circa 1950’s, remember, the tombstones are talking, and the child’s cookie box found in the river may contain miracle or misery — but you won’t know until you open it.
“Backwater Mystic Blues is an extended aide memoire of . . . everyday objects and gestures, retrieved from memory and made to live again in a phosphorescent prose that ‘restores the world to word’ as he writes and whistles in the dark.”
— Myrna Kostash
136 pages/trade paper
This collection finds radiance and coherence in a world (both natural and human) which formal religious dogma has forgotten. A visionary humility, and an original, engaging voice make these essays and recollections both accessible and wonder-filled.
Lloyd Ratzlaff brings the prairie landscape to life through a capacious imagination charged with wonder and the gentle irony of an awareness tempered by time and love.
A remarkable new talent in the burgeoning field of literary non-fiction, Ratzlaff connects with the challenges posed by scepticism and belief, countering both the cynicism and doctrinairism of contemporary life with a renewed praise of the profound depths of the spirit and the natural world.
168 pages/trade paper
Theresa Kishkan invites her readers to explore culture and nature by looking at landscape and place through a series of historical lenses, ranging from natural history to family history to the broader notions of regional and human history. In her popular essay “month of wild berries picking” she reveals the extent to which native stories articulate the complexity and importance of rules that govern relationships between species, a profoundly symbiotic world where one respected not just the territory of another species but its dung, its bones, its very spirit as well.
Resonating throughout this collection, especially when describing the natural world or in her travel essays, is a rich lyricism and a distinctive visceral imagery. Kishkan is among those literary naturalists whose words transcend the flora and fauna to engage human relationships, social concerns, historical milieus, and political boundaries. For these reasons Phantom Limb stands elegantly in its own energy and light.
96 pages/8.25 in x 10.5 in/ paper
160 B&W photographs
It was both providence and necessity that created Canada’s and the Commonwealth’s first degree-granting drama department at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Born out of the University’s Dramatic Society that flourished in the first three decades of the Twentieth Century, the Greystone Theatre emerged to become a force in theatre development and a prominent shaper in the family tree of Canadian theatre. Known for its program range — from classic repertory to cutting-edge new plays — it continues to this day to teach and inspire theatre production, management, artistic direction, and acting. Its history is a fascinating amalgam of anecdote, commentary, and biography that show its contribution to the cultural evolution of Canadian theatre in the last century.
Emrys’ Dream captures the energy that has driven and sustained the Greystone Theatre. Drawing on the well-preserved and substantial visual and written archives at the University of Saskatchewan, and selectively reconstructing interviews of directors, actors, and alumni whose Greystone experience animates the book’s text, actor, writer and present Greystone director, Dwayne Brenna, has forged a lively testament: that Emrys’ Dream is alive and the Greystone Theatre lives on revealing the quiet, steady influence it has had on Canadian theatre.
112 pages/trade paper
Includes music notation, song lyrics, and production photographs.
A rare combination and tour de force, Mansel Robinson's Rock 'n Rail: Spitting Slag and Ghost Trains is a double-whammy of poetry and theatre. The plays are in the voices of the workingman: to the tradition of Billy Bishop Goes to War, add poetry, politics and pathos.
Received to acclaim on the Canadian Fringe tour, these two original and compelling plays are already on their way to becoming new Canadian classics of theatre and language. Spitting Slag was originally staged at Dancing Sky Theatre in Meacham, Saskatchewan in 1998, and subsequently co-produced at The Globe Theatre in Regina, 25th Street Theatre in Saskatoon and produced by Theatre With a Crooked Grin at the Winnipeg and Saskatoon Fringe Festivals. It won the Audience Choice Award at the latter. Ghost Trains was produced and staged at the Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Edmonton Fringe Festivals in 2001. It was also adapted for CBC Saskatchewan as a radio play in 2001, and broadcast as a poem for voice and guitar on CBC Saskatchewan in 1997.
Translated into French language and performed across French Canada
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176 pages/trade paper
Interwoven Wild begins with an intimate look at Don Gayton in his BC garden with his dog Spud. Striking a series of premises — the first one being that gardening is essentially an irrational act — he logically and humorously begins to unravel the work and rituals of gardening. Engaging the reader with real gardening experiences, Gayton takes us on the microscopic steps of a gardening season and his interest in ecological succession. While commenting on the inter-reliance of species, types of soil, why weeds invade, how foreign planets appear, insects, disease and frost, he also speculates on gardeners — their needs to landscape, to purchase specialized tools, to use chemicals, to emotionally bond with trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables.
By interlocking artists such as Monet and Caravaggio; writers such as Walt Whitman, Thoreau, Emily Dickenson, and Ann Dowden; park designer Frederick Law Olmstead, and landscape architect Christopher Alexander, Gayton reminds us that the garden has long held sway in the creative consciousness. His brief excursions into history, whether tracing the apple back to Kazakhstan, explaining how the tulip made its way from Turkey to Holland, or how the industrialist Baylock’s introduction of a smuggled Asian cherry tree destroyed the BC cherry orchids fascinate as well as instruct. For Gayton, the garden is a primordial human urge — a gift, celebration, and revelation buried in human psyche, marked in our collective mythologies — a kind of magical glue binding world culture, science and economics.
208 pages/trade paper
. . . the conception of a novel is like an inebriated sexual encounter at a long and noisy party. Afterwards, it’s clear something transpired but even when you’re holding the baby in your arms you’d be hard put to pin down the moment. Writers are such promiscuous readers, such voracious auditors. They’re the local nymphomaniac lying down for every story that comes her way, the local rake taking whatever he needs, ruthless when he has what he wants.
— from “Inside the Donut Shop: A View of Historical Fiction”
Engaged and entirely engaging, her acerbic wit tempered by grace and good humour, Holdstock writes about war (“The Thin Red Line to the Immanent”, “The Dynamic of Truth”); about the conundrum of being Canadian (“Can ID”); about reading in all its forms (“Anne Hébert”, “Reading the World”) and, centrally, about the vocation, vexations and triumphs of writing in a time when the lessons of the past (“Inside the Donut Shop”) seem to have been lost.
At the heart of this collection is Holdstock the writer, animating us in discussions about the creative process while assessing the actions and images of writing, politics, film, travel and art. Throughout it all we are challenged and put at ease, ushered into the familiar comforts of coffee shop and pub conversations, while her ideas swirl in our heads and shape our reactions.
The contemporary literary essay does not get any better.
228 pages/trade paper
Even as generations pass, the pride of their culture is in the genes of those who were raised in Italian immigrant families. Caruso’s Journey Without A Map appropriately begins with pasta cooking instructions, and from there the aroma of tomatoes, olives and red wine are never far from the stories she weaves of herself and the impact of her family. Whether making connections between her Uncle Nick’s nose and her Roman ancestors, or detailing the daily rituals of her shepherdess mother on the Italian hillsides, Caruso relays the information in broad colourful strokes that are at once both inviting and humorous. With her earliest recollections of her family life in New Jersey, her father’s grocery store, her mother’s Catholic admonishments, the death of Santa Clause, the family habits and the ever-present smells from the kitchen brings to us her sense of belonging to a rich heritage.
225 pages/trade paper
Saskatchewan’s longtime NDP politican, Eric Cline, delivers the political and personal in Making a Difference: Reflections from Political Life. This accessible, “down home” memoir positively depicts Saskatchewan political life by sketching his early experience as a nineteen-year-old “paper candidate” for the NDP, and the several years he spent as a legal advisor, before detailing his sixteen-year run as an elected official.
Serving in a variety of high-profile positions, Cline’s name pervaded provincial media and politics as much as it often rankled the opposition. Serving as Saskatchewan’s longest-running Finance minister, since 1960, under two premiers, and often assigned hot positions such as Justice minister during the Stonechild and Milgaard inquiries, or the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority during the casino debates, Cline became a “go-to” guy in the NDP’s long run of power.
168 pages / paper
Stephen Reid has grown old in prison and seen more than his share of its solitude, its vicious cycles, and its subculture relationships. He has participated in the economics of contraband, the incredible escapes, the intimacies of torture, the miscarriages of justice, and witnessed the innocent souls whose childhood destinies doomed them to prison life.
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