Past and Present

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Room Magazine vol 33.3: Past and Present
Edited by 
Janet Nicol

The notorious Madame Zee was dismissed in her lifetime as a vindictive shrew, but in the hands of accomplished author Pearl Luke, she is perceived in a new light. We are pleased to feature Luke's work in Room's issue on historical writing, and we hope you will find inspiration in "Writing Madame Zee" as Luke shares her motivation for imagining the life of an unconventional woman on an island off British Columbia's coast. "Depression Glass," a moving mother-daughter story, also by Luke, follows.

Writing the past from a woman's perspective gained momentum in the 1970s, the decade when Room was conceived, and so I indulge in some nostalgia in "Life after Room." Since those days of red-hot feminism, women's exploration of the past continues to deepen. The twentieth century, especially its war years, still provides much fodder, and we present three engaging stories depicting different aspects of the Canadian home front in the 1940s from writers Kristin Andrychuk, Heather Debling, and Lorrie Miller. Some of the poetry selected for this issue also draws upon historical events. Bronwen McRae alludes to a Scottish heritage, while Lauren Carter sees a holocaust in red shoes. Lesley Pasquin draws on the past too, Lesley Washington revisits the Frank Slide, a disaster ripe with metaphor, and Sandy Pool evokes the ancients of Egypt.

If you haven’t read June Hutton’s novel Underground, Jen Sookfong Lee’s End of East, or Mary Novik’s Conceit, their interview with Room will surely tempt you. The trio formed the writing group SPIN in 2002, and eachhas succeeded in publishing her first novel. In a thoughtful and generous discussion, the Vancouver-based women share some of their trade secrets on writing historical fiction.

Three more short stories in this collection are bound by the timelesstheme of family. Tracy Oliver delivers an assured narrative illuminating agrandmother’s wisdom, Jann Everard shines a light on family bonds, and Valerie Laub’s story involves an elderly woman armed with a camera.

Poets writing in the present include Jan Wood who uses images ofquilt-making to express feelings and elena e. johnson who muses on love.Memory and aging are the themes inhabiting the poems of Adele Graf and Janet Hepburn, and Kelly Norah Drukker writes creative non-fiction withpoetic flare as she recalls her search for a beloved dog on a mystical Irish isle.

The artwork chosen for this issue reflects the domestic lives—and the history—of women's work. Rug-hooking artist Michelle Sirois-Silver creates her fabric art from a studio in her Vancouver home, and Room is delighted to have her work reproduced within these pages. She says, "The first time I watched someone pull loops up through a backing I was captivated. The serenity of that moment stays with me today, and fourteen years later my passion for hand-hooked rugs continues to grow and flourish. I often think back to the mid-1800s, to the men and women for whom making a hooked rug was a matter of thrift. They were making rugs to warm their beds and keep out cold winter drafts. They didn't hook rugs to last a hundred years, and yet they left us a legacy rich in history and storytelling."

Many more legacies of women's pasts are still to be written down, as I saw at the annual women's history fair this spring in Vancouver. I would like to extend a special thanks to the Women's History Network of B.C. ( for including Room at this event. We were among several women's groups showcasing our history—from nurses to B.C.'s first Indo-Canadian settlers. I would also like to acknowledge my cousin's wife, Deanne Fitzpatrick, whose hooked rugs are well known in Nova Scotia. Her work and artist's blog ( inspired the search for the fabric art in this issue.

We hope you enjoy the results of our searches and selections. Our dedicated volunteer collective always encourages readers to tell us how we are doing. So consider joining Room on Twitter and Facebook—or write us an old-fashioned letter.

About the Contributors 

Lauren Carter's first collection of poetry, Lichen Bright, was published by Your Scrivener Press and long-listed for the ReLit Award. She lives in Orillia, Ontario, where she is currently at work on a novel for her MFA in Creative Writing, and a second collection of poetry. Her work has appeared in several other publications.

Pearl Luke is the author of two novels, Madame Zee (2006) and Burning Ground (2000). Madame Zee was longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Burning Ground was a Globe and Mail notable book of the year. It won the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Novel in the Canada/Caribbean region and was short-listed for three other awards. Currently she teaches advanced writing for DeVry University in Calgary and mentors writers online.

Lorrie Miller lives in Vancouver. Since completing a PhD., she has had a fourth child and decided that a life of creative writing and teaching is a good balance to familial chaos. "Cadwallader Creek" is the opening chapter of her first novel, a historic fiction inspired by the lives of her husband's grandparents.

Michelle Sirois-Silver is a Vancouver-based fibre artist. She was born on the Gaspé Peninsula and grew up on Vancouver Island. Her contemporary style embraces the spirit and traditions of Eastern Canada, but the subject matter, designs, and sense of colour make her work uniquely West Coast.

In this issue

Kristin Andrychuk
Lauren Carter
Heather Debling
Kelly Norah Drukker
Jann Everard
Candace Fertile
Adele Graf
Janet Hepburn
Amber Hitchen
elena e. johnson
Valerie Laub
Pearl Luke
Bronwen McRae
Lorrie Miller
Janet Nicol
Tracy Oliver
Lesley Pasquin
Sandy Pool
Michelle Sirois-Silver
Lesley Washington
Jan Wood

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