Tag Archives: Kathy Page

Kathy Page at Banff Writing Studio Spring 2018

For some time now I’ve had to turn down requests to  work with other writers on their MS, but here is a wonderful opportunity:  Banff Writing Studio.  I’ve taught at Banff before and  can’t wait to return: dedicated students, gorgeous environment, and no distractions—other than the great hikes and delicious meals.

“This program is designed to offer the freedom of unstructured time in accordance to each individual participant’s needs and desired outcomes, in addition the opportunity to work with our esteemed faculty mentors during the five-week program.

Writing Studio also features a weekly reading series, as well as one-on-one sessions with a voice and relaxation instructor to help participants develop their public reading skills.”

https://www.banffcentre.ca/programs/writing-studio

 

Reading and Workshop at Blackburn Lake

As part of  Canada 150 celebrations at Blackburn lake, Salt Spring Island, on 2nd July  at 10 am,  Kathy Page will be reading from her story “We the Trees” and and talking about the inspiration for the story, as well as  offering a nature-writing workshop. This is part of a two day program of arts and nature events organized by the Salt Spring Island Conservancy. All welcome, free event.

Art and Nature Fest

 

Psychologically rich & cinematic in the best way, the sweet agony of connection

This review  of  The Two of Us ran in the Ottawa Citizen and the Vancouver  Sun, probably elsewhere,  too.

“Word is, the publishing industry (a business sector conscious of market demand) doesn’t invest much in, or encourage, short story collections. Alice Munro-like exceptions exist, of course, but — word is — that literary genre is regarded as a money pit. In a Walmart world, apparently, any volume of short stories is artisanal, a hand-crafted labour of love: those who seek it out will cherish it, but the majority of fiction readers desire the engagement or satisfaction or dollar value that only novel-length storytelling is thought to bring.

Based on the evidence of Kathy Page’s The Two of Us and Clea Young’s Teardown, though, someone’s mistaken. These collections, 28 stories representing untold hours of art-making effort on their authors’ parts, invite us into captivating worlds. In ten-page allotments, admittedly, but still. Technically accomplished, they’re immersive, emotionally involving (the proverbial laughter through tears), and insightful.

If you’re a short story reader already, here’s another pair to seriously consider. If you’re not, maybe considering giving them a taste. They’re way more satisfying than kale.

For The Two of Us Salt Spring Island resident Kathy Page selected pieces that focus on pairs. Psychologically rich and cinematic in the best way, they showcase Page’s range of interests, clever setting choice, and singular eye.

Usually taking place in the U.K. (where Page once resided), the stories capture assorted moments in time. For instance, just four pages, “Johanna” features the reminiscences of a man whose philosophy decades earlier had been “love often” and “don’t count on me.” Settled now, he wonders if he’d want to meet one of the children he sired. Not quite two pages, “Daddy” relates just an instant in the day of a girl who is about to begin a caving adventure with her father.

Some stories envision intersecting strangers. A lovely scenario, “The Last Cut” portrays a hairdresser shaving the head of a last-minute client, a woman with cancer who then asks for his help in choosing the perfect hat.

Page often examines familial and romantic relationships. “The Perfect Day” follows shifting allegiances between interchanging pairs: a daughter taking her ailing elderly father to a historical landmark with her waspish mother in tow. Her vow — “I intend to keep smiling and move on through the kind of day I want us all to have” — proves difficult to uphold. That story twins with “The House on Manor Close” and “Dear Son,” where the subtle tensions and evolved dynamics of adult children with elderly parents are portrayed with both humour and finesse.

Showcasing lovers — squatters; worried expectant parents with problem DNA; former friends with benefits; an obese couple struggling with prejudice; and a marriage on the verge — Page hints at the myriad possible trajectories any romance might take. Altogether Page offers a master class in fun with numbers, in this case two. She has been longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for this collection… “

Brett Josef Grubisic, read in the Vancouver Sun.

It’s also a great pleasure to see this  student review in the McGill daily

 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2016/10/the-sweet-agony-of-connection/

To quote from it: “Sweet Agony is one of the shortest stories from the collection. Page proves that you sometimes don’t need to write a very detailed and long story to describe a loving relationship and evoke an emotional response. It describes two lovebirds making love on a hot day of summer while no one’s home. The story evokes the feeling of nervousness, confusion and awkwardness surrounding being intimate with one’s childhood crush.”

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy Page

Storytellers

A Tale of Four Storytellers

In this thoughtful and illuminating essay posted on AllLit Up,  https://alllitup.ca/Blog/2015/A-Tale-of-Four-Storytellers,  Poet Zachary Wells asks whether Canadian culture is old enough to  make a literature of fantasy, and  concludes with an affirmation that yes, it is, provide we  have an elastic definition of what Canadian is, and can overcome the traditional prejudice against work that breaks out of realist bounds.  Wells includes Paradise & Elsewhere in his survey of  recent fabulist short story collections, which also includes work by  Sean Virgo, Mike Barnes, Molly Peacock and Stuart Ross. Here’s what he says about Paradise  & Elsewhere:

Kathy Page, originally from England, is best known for her realist fiction. Her recently republished prison novel, Alphabet, has been praised for its gritty fidelity to the prisoner’s experience in the English penal system. Page’s editor, John Metcalf, admitted to her that he has a McEwanesque “prejudice against non-realistic writing,” and was therefore reluctant even to read the manuscript of Paradise & Elsewhere (Biblioasis), which Page had submitted at the same time as a collection of more conventional stories. When she prevailed upon him to give the fabulist book a chance, it turned out that he liked it a great deal.

Wells_3

As have many readers and awards jurors, perhaps because of the very archetypal nature of the collection’s tales. Tolstoy, who looked to the art of the peasantry for models, famously said that “all great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” The latter plot is crucial to Page’s dark fables. The place where the stranger arrives is not usually a town, per se, but the settings of Page’s stories tend to be hostile, isolated, inhospitable zones. If these are not always “the places where things begin,” as the book’s cover copy proclaims, they are certainly the sort of place, like the Galapagos, where things, be they species or languages or stories, mutate into unique, heterogeneous forms—the sort of place where a stranger’s arrival means trouble.

Indeed, one of the book’s most trenchant themes is the troubled interpenetration of the modern and the pre-historical. In “G’Ming,” the book’s first story, the narrator is Aeui, a teenager on an impoverished island who bilks tourists of money in exchange for “authentic” exposure to village life. While Aeui disdains the gullibility of his marks, he is also contemptuous of his shaman uncle who “sits by the river all day. It seems to me he has no obligations.” The next story, “Lak-ha” is the very brief origin myth for a community that clings to life on an exposed, stony peninsula, supported by the Hetlas tree, the fibrous wood of which, it turns out, is very good for making rope. A chance visit from a foreign ship brings commercial exchange to Lak-ha. The rope trade affords a measure of prosperity to the people, who now “have television, internet, iPod, cellphone, denim jeans, Barbie doll, same as you.”

As in Barnes’ and Virgo’s books, the nature of storytelling, its origins and its future, the imperatives of “objective” journalism or science in conflict with myth, feature prominently. In “Clients,” a fable set in an unspecified future time in which the rage for expertise has infiltrated all aspects of society, a couple hires a professional conversationalist who “doubt[s] that [they] would enjoy a home-grown conversation.” They decide to give it a go regardless and the story ends with them as an Edenic couple, speaking to each other haltingly, making the first hesitant, unmediated forays into language, “a new country, vast, intricate, ours.”

The article is very much worth reading in it entirety. https://alllitup.ca/Blog/2015/A-Tale-of-Four-Storytellers

Spring Readings on the West Coast

 The snow has long ago melted (or never really settled) here on the West Coast, and the nights are longer, yet not so warm that you want to stay  out gardening: a perfect time for literary readings. I’m taking Frankie Styne and the Silver Man to some great local libraries and bookstores. 

29th March, 7 pm,  Kathy Page reads with poet Alexandra Oliver at Book Warehouse on Main in Vancouver

5th April, 7 pm, Kathy Page reads with  Douglas Gibson at Cowichan Library, 2687 James St, Duncan

6th April 7.30 pm, Kathy Page reads with Douglas Gibson at Russell Boooks,  734 Fort St, Victoria

23rd April,  Kathy Page reads in Sechelt

27th April, 7.30 pm, Kathy Page  reads with  Tricia Dower  at  Mulberry Bush Books, 28o Island Highway, Parksville

29th April,  10 am, Kathy Page on air with Sheila Peters on CICK 93.9

 

An Evening with Douglas Gibson (Across Canada by Story)

& Kathy Page (Frankie Styne and the Silver Man)

frankie-styne-cover-sqrFrankie Styne and the Silver Man

When Liz Meredith and her new baby move into the middle rowhouse on Onley Street – Liz having lived for years off-grid in an old railcar – there’s more to get used to than electricity and proper plumbing. She’s desperate to avoid her well-meaning social worker and her neighbours Alice and Tom, who, for reasons of their own, won’t leave her alone.  And then there is her other neighbour, the disfigured and reclusive  John Green, better known to the world as Frankie Styne, the author of a series of violent best-sellers. When his latest novel is unexpectedly nominated for a literary prize and his private life is  exposed in the glare of publicity,  Frankie plots  a gruesome, twisted  revenge that threatens others who call Onley Street home.  Frankie Styne and the Silver Man is unforgettable: a thrilling novel of literary revenge, celebrity culture and the power of love and beauty in an ugly world.

           “A fierce writer; her relentless imagination and pure writing skills bring a broken, nightmare world fully to life.”Kirkus Reviews

            “Page’s monsters display a more complex relationship between inner and outer ugliness and find redemption in responsibility.”The Globe & Mail

            “Frankie Styne offers a terrific showcase of Page’s singular style (with its attractive high-low mixture of genres), quirky unexpected invention, and attention to the nuances of psychology.”

Vancouver Sun

           “This book has the trappings of great pulp … Page’s prose is vivid and alive, with nary a scrap of throwaway writing to be found.”Publishers Weekly

           “Frankie Styne is a taut examination of the complex emotional ties that bind, the methods we employ to distance ourselves, and our ambiguous powers of imagination.”Time Out UK

           “Fresh and engaging. Her writing is crisp and her insights into human behavior are acute.”

—Lynne Van Luven, Monday Magazine

 

 Across Canada by Story

Acclaimed McClelland & Stewart Publisher and Editor, Douglas Gibson, crossed “no man’s land” and entered authors’ territory when he wrote Stories About Storytellers in 2011. The memoir is a fond remembrance of Canada’s elite “literati”: Alice Munro, Alistair MacLeod, Hugh MacLennan, W.O. Mitchell, Barry Broadfoot, Mavis Gallant, Pierre Trudeau, and others. Gibson calls it “a cheerful personal memoir of working with 20 famous Canadian authors, some of whom are still with us.” Gibson’s 2015 title, Across Canada by Story invites readers on a coast-to-coast journey following the Scotsman as he tours the nation with a stage show telling more tales. Often witty, at times tender, and always amusing, the memoir paints a portrait of Robertson Davies, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Terry Fallis, Myrna Kostash, Trevor Herriot and others, with accompanying illustrations by Anthony Jenkins.

  His legendary stage presence radiates on the page and his wit, sincerity, and eloquence – a trait that earns him instant rapport with the reader – makes readers feel they are gossiping with an old friend returned from life on the road. Gibson absorbs the landscape, culture, and history of each province he visits, while treating readers to some amusing rendezvous with authors and other locals along the way: He rediscovers James Houston’s riverside distractions in Haida Gwaii; tastes the wine his wife, Jane, is partial to in Prince Edward County; munches succulent peaches and apricots on the Sunshine Coast; daydreams in the Deer Creek sunshine; goes bird-watching with Trevor Herriot on Last Mountain Lake; visits Anne of Green Gables sites in PEI; and you come along for the ride.

 

Year of Adjectives

ad·jec·tive
ˈajəktiv/
noun
 a word or phrase naming an attribute, added to or grammatically related to a noun to modify or describe it.
 
 
Ursula Le Guin’s  Steering the Craft includes an exercise called Chastity, which involves stripping all adjectives and adverbs from one’s writing. It’s an exercise I often use when teaching: the point is not to suggest that there is anything essentially wrong with adjectives, but rather to abstain from them temporarily  so as turn attention to the other parts of the sentence, especially the verbs,  the muscles which drive it along. Adjectives  do  of course play a vital  role in many kinds of writing, including, for example, book reviews.
 
Paradise & Elsewhere was launched in the spring of 2014 and the response to it has been one of the most cheering aspects of the past year. From the start, this book found its readers and they rose to meet to one of its challenges: how on earth to describe a slim volume (128 pages) which offers a kind of history of the world, plunges the reader into the back rooms of the psyche, and refuses to commit to particular genre?  Even I had struggled with this. In the publisher’s “About Your Book” questionnaire, used to help with publicity and marketing,  I drew a complete blank when asked to compare it with other books.
 
But early signs were encouraging. Amy Bloom baptized  the book with a  sprinkle of adjectives that included compelling, moody, and shape-shifting; Barbara Gowdy added  vibrant, startlingly imaginative, wise, smart, and very funny and very humane.  Even so,  as publication loomed, I began to be anxious about the possibility of reviews.  There were two adjectives that I was especially  dreading, both perfectly fine words and applicable to the book, but which have  accrued an unfortunate undercurrent of dismissal of disapproval: different, and weird.  Different, when used alone, suggests  the quality of being uncommon, at variance with the normal,  which on this side of the Atlantic often seems  to have  a pejorative ring to it;  weird means supernatural or uncanny, but it also  has the connotation of something (or someone)  preposterous, hard to identify with,  or beyond the pale.
 
Neither word has been used (in print at least)  and the book’s very first reviewer,  Charlene Van Buekenhout, writing in the Winnipeg Star, erupted in a torrent of adjectives that included  intelligent, sharp, raw,  sexy, unsettling, to the point, disturbing, beautiful,  realist, feminist,  and apocalyptic.   Since then, reviewers of Paradise & Elsewhere have  been inventive, authentic, prolific and generous… As you’ll see if you read the selection at the end of this post, the past months have been studded with adjectives. Common themes emerge, but what I’ve found  both humbling is the sheer variety of words that have been used to describe the book and/or individual stories, and the lengths reviewers have gone to in order to find the right combination of words. My favourites?   Surprising, astounding, startling and extraordinary and unexpected,  because I did very much want these stories to take the reader to somewhere  new.  Beyond that, it’s impossible: Transcendent? Sexy? Expansive?  Wicked? Wise? Lush? I’m spoiled for choice and grateful  to all those who so far have taken the risk of  reading  Paradise & Elsewhere, to my editor John Metcalf and all  the clever, passionate, and dedicated people who work at Biblioasis,  the super-indie publisher who took the book on.  Thanks, too, to all those who have talked with me or emailed or blogged about the book. 
 
Description is one thing, action another. Now it is time to  move deeper into new work: something completely different. Here’s hoping that in the coming year to come we will all write, paint, dance, print, sculpt sing, speak and dream new things into the world.

 

Beautiful, daring,  giddy, startling, intricate,  fine, always intriguing,  often dazzling – and while neither comfortable nor flawless – immensely  fun to read... Dan Vyleta, choosing Paradise & Elsewhere as his favourite book of 2014 in The Walrus

Dark,  haunting,  truly original… Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury/CBC Best Books 2014

Lyrical, fabulist, sometimes brutally cautionary,  unexpected, erotic… Shawn Syms, Quill & Quire

Sensuous, verdant, lyrical, wicked, fresh, exuberant, impeccable,  perfectly timed and executed, startling, surprising, horrific…  Stephen W. Beattie, National Post 

Immersive,  eerie, mystery-laden, restless, memorably skewed, neither imitative nor derivative,  simultaneously exotic and recognizable Brett Josef Grubsic, Vancouver Sun

Tight, strange, nifty...  Margaret Atwood on twitter

Compelling, unexpected, memorable… Tobias Carol, Volume 1

Transcendent, nuanced, strange, expansive, intimate, remarkable… Dustin Kurtz, Music and Literature

Lush, mythic…  Kate Hargreaves, Cover to Cover in Quill and Quire

Expansive, amazing…   Leland Cheuk, The Rumpus

Mind-bending, startling, singular, unexpected, capricious, uncanny, boldy illuminating, elastic, extravagantly outlandish… Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Deeply mysterious, astounding, perfect… Caroline Adderson interview with Kathy Page in The New Quarterly

Brilliant, smart, deep, moody, incendiary, wondrous… Literary Press Group, Full of Lit

Well-honed; there is not an image or a word wasted,  full of surprises Lynne Van Luven,  Coastal Spectator

Heartfelt, shape-shifting…  Barnes & Noble Review selection for their Long List, wherein the author was  described as “the Alice Munro of the supernatural.”

Beautiful, profound… Daniel Perry,  Malahat Review

As insightful as their older counterparts   Globe and Mail

Extraordinary, dislocating, dark, wonderful  Kim Forrester, Reading Matters

Thanks too to those who reviewed  the  new Biblioasis edition of my novel Alphabet,  which  earned starred reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and the Library Journal, and  its own collection of descriptors.

 

 

 

 

 

Same ABC, two designs: Kathy Page’s novel Alphabet in the USA and Canada

Alphabet, first published in the Uk in 2004 and in Canada in 2005, when it was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, is now available in the US for the first time, and receiving great reviews, including stars from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly and the Library Journal.  It was a pick for the Indie Next List in December 2014:  http://www.bookweb.org/news/december-2014-indie-next-list-preview

Back in Canada, Biblioasis are including it as part of their new and ambitious reprint series, and so the book comes in two jackets: for the USA  an edgy one based on typewriter fonts (the main character, Simon, acquires typewriter early in the book),   and in Canada, one that suits the  overall  design for the reprint series.

Alphabet by Kathy PageAlphabet by Kathy Page, US jacket by Kate Hargreaves

Interview in Publishing Perspectives

Biblioasis are re-issuing Alphabet as part of their new reprint series. It will be available in print and e-book  and is all set to reach to a new  readership south of the border  this fall.  We wrestled briefly with how to present a book that is steeped in British slang, idiom, culture and history in the USA: should we”translate”  phrases  and words that might be unfamiliar, or  trust the reader to enjoy the difference and bridge the gaps?  We  chose trust, and so far the response has been very positive. Information has gone up in Publishing Perspectives, interviews and reviews are in the pipeline and the book can be pre-ordered online.

Interview in Publishing Perspectives

In 2004, years before Orange Is the New Black, Canada’s Kathy Page published, to great acclaim, her novel Alphabet, a ground-breaking look at prison and transgender issues. This fall, Biblioasis will be publishing the first American edition, a book that Kirkus Reviews recently called, “A moving novel about knowledge, self-awareness and the power of words, set in the purgatory of prison. This young man’s life demands our attention and refuses to let go … powerful … simply an epiphany.”

The author recently sat down for an interview with her publisher where she discussed the creation of the lead character, Simon Austen, writing transgender characters, and the possibility of change.

You once commented that it felt like you “spent the three years it took to complete Alphabet co-habiting with a dangerous man,” and over the course of the novel it becomes clear that you have both extraordinary sympathy and affection for him, as well as a (perhaps personal?) understanding of why the other characters in his life keep him at arm’s length. Were you ever tempted to walk away?

Simon’s ability to set alarm bells ringing and evoke profound sympathy at the same time – that combination of vulnerability, charm and dangerousness – is where the book began. It was the thread I followed all through the story, and the experience of ambivalence, of attraction and wariness or even revulsion, is what I hope to create for the reader. The book arose from a year I spent as Writer in Residence in a men’s penitentiary in the UK. The men I worked with were serious, violent offenders, and many of them were themselves the victims of child abuse, neglect and so on. One young man serving a life sentence told me that the that the penitentiary was actually the best place he had ever lived in. Since I was in a supportive role, providing an activity that helped the time to pass, those I worked with were often appreciative of my efforts with them. I could feel very sympathetic. But I had access to the records, too, and I chose to look at them (many of my colleagues in the education department preferred not to), so I could also be utterly horrified by the actions of that very same person I felt so sorry for. So it was not a matter of either or, but of both. I knew that already, in an intellectual way, but in the penitentiary, and in writing Alphabet, it was a matter of experiencing it, and in his case, of wanting him to come through, but knowing he might not. Now to answer your question simply, yes. I began the book not too long after my experience in the penitentiary, and I wrote the early material in the first person. This made me inhabit in a very intense way the more dangerous side of the character; it or he was too much for me, and that was one of the reasons I put the book aside. When I returned to it later I used a close third person which gives me and the reader a little more distance.

One of the key conflicts in Alphabet derives from Simon’s longing to connect with someone, and the ways in which that longing is misunderstood, mistrusted, deemed inappropriate, or outright rejected by the people in his life. To what degree is this conflict a universal one? What makes Simon’s case unique?

Well, the drive to connect does seem pretty much universal. But as the reader gradually learns, Simon has committed a horrific crime and it is quite possible that he could do the same again. He may have been unfairly rejected, but he’s also very manipulative. He may want to connect, yet he has much to learn. One section of the novel takes place in a therapeutic prison for sex offenders where the authorities blunderingly attempt to fix him.

It’s only been recently that the needs of trans persons, trans children, and particularly transgendered inmates have received attention—some good, some bad—within policy and health care debates. Some of this is attributable to the popularity of trans actor Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black, and some from the controversy when, in January of 2014, a Massachusetts federal court of appeal mandated the reassignment surgery of convicted murderer Michelle Kosilek. Could you comment on the character of Charlotte (formerly Vic)? Where did she come from? Why was it important for the person who helps Simon through his intimacy issues to be transgendered?

I didn’t know, when I began the book, how it would end, though I sensed it would not be a walk in the sunset with everything tidily resolved. At one point I thought he would end up working in a laundromat. Charlotte came along when I was more than halfway through writing the third person version of the book. I came upon a newspaper report about someone in transition who was marooned in the hospital in a men’s penitentiary “for his own protection” while fighting a legal battle to be incarcerated with women. It seemed such an extraordinary thing, and a situation that demanded extreme courage and openness. I don’t want to romanticize trans people, but in my imagination at least there can seem to be an almost mythical quality to those who, with tremendous effort, cross gender boundaries and move from one life to another. Change, whether it’s possible at all, and if so, how much we can transform ourselves, has always fascinated me. So I was very curious as to what would happen when Simon woke up in his hospital bed with Victor in the process of becoming Charlotte in the bed opposite. It’s one of those encounters that comes at the right moment. Simon has struggled and suffered considerably by the time the two meet; he feels a connection with Charlotte because of what she is going through. She is open-minded, brutally honest and kind, at the same time, very fierce: that’s key. She would never be afraid of him. I felt and thought about it mostly in terms of character as I wrote, but in retrospect, I can see that perhaps what Charlotte does is allow him to reinvent his relationship with the “opposite” sex. Since it is not longer exactly or simply opposite, and it can be seen as a made thing, there is freedom for them to begin again, and make it their own.

The concept of change and transformation is important to this novel, yet often it seems as if both Simon and Charlotte, rather than changing in an essential way, instead alter the learned behaviors and/or physical traits that previously have inhibited their self-realization. How deep do their changes go? By the end ofAlphabet, do you see Simon and Charlotte as new people, or rather as people more free to be themselves? And if the latter, how does that complicate the way we think about prison, rehabilitation, and therapy?

This is a very interesting set of questions. I see both characters, but especially Simon, as just beginning to become what they might be. Nothing is certain. He might still regress or lapse; he could continue inching forwards and become an ordinary decent person who will always struggle with a terrible past, or even someone who does something extraordinary, a hero of some kind. In the end, I’m somewhat optimistic about him because the one quality that seems fundamental him is his desire to connect. I intend to write about him (and Charlotte) again. I was struck, when I worked in the penitentiary, by the sheer scale of the stated task: to take dangerous offenders in at one end of the system, and have them emerge decades later not worse, but better, and ready for reintegration into society. In practical terms this means dealing with traumatic childhood experiences, gaining an education of sorts, at the same time as unpicking and unlearning whole ways of being and thinking, and learning how to have relationships—all of this in an environment that’s both physically and psychically very challenging, actively hostile, even, to the kind of openness and trust required. So living up to the mission statement is very, very difficult. I wondered whether it was even possible and what it would be like to go through so much change. I wrote the book to imaginatively explore those questions. During my time “inside” I decided to give up smoking, something I had been meaning to do for a long time. I found it very difficult indeed. So I have great respect for those in prison systems, staff and inmates, who do try to bring about positive change.

You’ve spent time in a high-security men’s penitentiary, and spent considerable time thinking about Simon’s experience of incarceration. What does prison reveal about people that other settings and conditions may not? Do you think the way we think about incarceration has changed much since the late eighties, and if so, how?

What do we do with those who hurt us and why? The answers depend on where you live: Turkey or Sweden, for example. Even within the UK or USA institutions and regimes vary a great deal. Even in its milder forms, however, incarceration is something that will test a person’s resources to the utmost. In that sense it makes great drama. An inmate has to fight for survival and will discover how able (or not) she or he is to make something of what little is there. The senses are starved, relationships are limited and involuntary, it’s brutal, dangerous, depressing and tedious. Incarceration, while it keeps the offender off the street, tends also to be very destructive. For some, like Simon, it may sometimes also present an opportunity in terms of new learning. Simon is illiterate when he enters the system, and learning to read does open many doors for him: though again, given who he is, that’s a double-edged sword. On the whole people think very little about incarceration: it’s a matter of out of sight, out of mind. But when populations rise, or when there are clear inequalities in the way people end up behind bars, the issues and choices become harder to ignore. Given the enormous costs, human and economic, of locking people up, it’s clearly important to consider what we are trying to do with it, and how successful it is.

In a piece for Storyville you comment that, when you wrote a story called “The Kissing Disease” (Paradise & Elsewhere, 2014), you were thinking of HIV/AIDS. “That pandemic surfaced during my twenties,” you commented. “Everyone lost someone. There was a before, and an ongoing after. It was terrible time, but there were eventually some positive consequences: increased honesty and more open public discourse about sex, for example.” How does the AIDS crisis of the 80s figure in Alphabet? What is it about that period you find so compelling?

Well this was a time of great struggle, ideological, political and religious too; the way we responded emotionally and in terms of public health to HIV AIDS was caught up in all that. In the UK, Thatcherism was in the ascendant. In many ways it felt like the end of civilization as we had known it. There were riots on the streets and in the prisons, too. At a time when we needed to act together, we were being told there was “no such thing as society,” but fortunately the department of Health and Social Security in the UK did not take up the mantra and the Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign with TV ads and posters reached pretty much everyone, including inmates in penitentiaries. AIDS is a huge issue behind bars, though it’s not a major theme of Alphabet; you get a sense of it as part of the eighties though, through the bits of news, posters and so on that make their way “inside.”

2014 will mark the first American publication of a prison novel that appeared in Canada and the UK in 2004, was written between 2001-2004, and draws on direct experience from the time you spent with inmates ten years prior to that. Do you think readers are more willing to approach this story in 2014 than they would have been in twenty years ago? If you were to approach Simon Austen’s story today, how do you think it would be different?

I think that people are more open thinking about the issues and questions at the heart of Alphabet than they used to be. On the other hand, I don’t think Simon’s story would be much different now, though Charlotte’s would be.

If you could choose one thing for your reader to take away fromAlphabet, what would it be?

A rich sense of complexity and possibility. One of the things that drove me wild when I worked with inmates was the way they used phrase “end of story.” It would be used to suggest what was to follow and its inevitability: a man caught his wife in bed with someone else, and so, “end of story,” beat her to a pulp. Or he opened the door to the arresting officer, fought, was overpowered and ended up inside, where nothing more would happen until he was released. I hated the phrase because it seemed to me that a) something else could have happened, and b) the story was never over. Even inside the penitentiary, a new story could begin, which is what Alphabet is about.

Transcendent: Dustin Kurtz reviews Kathy Page’s Paradise & Elsewhere in Music and Literature

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy PageA long and very thoughtful review from  Dustin Kurtz which digs deeply into the stories in Paradise & Elsewhere and the impulses behind them. The first part is quoted, and a link to the rest follows:

‘Early in Paradise & Elsewhere, her latest short-story collection, Kathy Page places readers in an Edenic oasis of plenitude, communal and iridescent, populated by immortal women—a bubble about to be ruptured by a stumbling heat-stricken outsider. The women of this paradise discuss the intruder:

“Then again, how different was the traveller? . . . We had recognized her as human from the start. Differentness was not the point, some said. It led both ways. Rather, the issue was that she had come from elsewhere and so we did not know her story or intentions.”

Here Page has written a useful gloss of that story, itself called “Of Paradise,” and, indeed, the entire book. In these stories Page gives readers a literature of elsewhere, but one in which difference—or, as above, “differentness”—is not a truth laid bare. Oddity, the fantastic, the cruelty that accompanies them, is not the point. Instead it serves only to highlight a longing, across stories and characters, for a kind of transcendent understanding or (and they amount to the same thing) an escape.

The Canadian author Kathy Page has been compared by critics to Angela Carter, and it’s easy to understand why…http://www.musicandliterature.org/reviews/2014/10/5/kathy-pages-paradise-elsewhere

Gritty, illuminating, fascinating, moving, powerful: double thumbs from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly for Alphabet

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kathy-page/alphabet-page/

From Kirkus

Publisher:Biblioasis Pages: 304 Price ( Paperback ): $16.95 Publication Date: October 14, 2014
ISBN ( Paperback ): 978-1-927428-93-1 Category: Fiction

Kirkus Star

ALPHABET

by Kathy Page

Alphabet by Kathy Page, US jacket by Kate HargreavesA moving novel about knowledge, self-awareness and the power of words, set in the purgatory of prison. This young man’s life demands our attention and refuses to let go.

Simon Austen is serving life imprisonment for the murder of his girlfriend in a fit of uncontrollable rage. It’s Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s England, but he is lost in time, attending sessions with institutional psychiatrists who might be able to help him gain parole. He learns to read with the aid of a prison volunteer and writes letters for his fellow inmates to lawyers, mothers and lovers, considering it his job. He also writes his version of his life story, tattooing his body with the words others have called him in spite and hate: “ARROGANT,” “WEIRDO,” “BASTARD,” “COLD,” “MURDERER.” Then “COURAGEOUS,” inspired by Bernadette “Bernie” Nightingale, a counselor he fantasizes about and works with to enter an experimental program that may move his parole forward. Page writes fiercely, drawing a fine portrait of a man who lives daily, routinely, fragilely in an environment that can erupt in violence at any time. It does, in a powerful scene where Simon is gang-beaten, has bleach poured down his throat, and is sent to a hospital, where all we’ve learned about him is dramatically, but tenderly, unsettled. Vic is his roommate in the prison hospital and an unforgettable character as he transforms into Charlotte, disrupting Simon’s view of life’s predictability and moving him to a greater understanding. Charlotte is freed, figuratively and literally, but writes letters and visits Simon, giving him strength and a vision of life outside the cement and steel of incarceration and the confinement of his own history. The words that are inked over Simon’s body are simply prologue to the next chapter of his life. Page doesn’t sentimentalize the cruelty of life in a prison system but manages to transcend it through Simon, who writes his own story in tattoo ink and letters. This powerful novel is simply an epiphany.

Publisher’s Weekly, starred review:

Alphabet by Kathy Page, US jacket by Kate Hargreaves

KIRKUS REVIEW
Kirkus Star
A moving novel about knowledge, self-awareness and the power of words, set in the purgatory of prison. This young man’s life demands our attention and refuses to let go.
Simon Austen is serving life imprisonment for the murder of his girlfriend in a fit of uncontrollable rage. It’s Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s England, but he is lost in time, attending sessions with institutional psychiatrists who might be able to help him gain parole. He learns to read with the aid of a prison volunteer and writes letters for his fellow inmates to lawyers, mothers and lovers, considering it his job. He also writes his version of his life story, tattooing his body with the words others have called him in spite and hate: “ARROGANT,” “WEIRDO,” “BASTARD,” “COLD,” “MURDERER.” Then “COURAGEOUS,” inspired by Bernadette “Bernie” Nightingale, a counselor he fantasizes about and works with to enter an experimental program that may move his parole forward. Page writes fiercely, drawing a fine portrait of a man who lives daily, routinely, fragilely in an environment that can erupt in violence at any time. It does, in a powerful scene where Simon is gang-beaten, has bleach poured down his throat, and is sent to a hospital, where all we’ve learned about him is dramatically, but tenderly, unsettled. Vic is his roommate in the prison hospital and an unforgettable character as he transforms into Charlotte, disrupting Simon’s view of life’s predictability and moving him to a greater understanding. Charlotte is freed, figuratively and literally, but writes letters and visits Simon, giving him strength and a vision of life outside the cement and steel of incarceration and the confinement of his own history. The words that are inked over Simon’s body are simply prologue to the next chapter of his life. Page doesn’t sentimentalize the cruelty of life in a prison system but manages to transcend it through Simon, who writes his own story in tattoo ink and letters. This powerful novel is simply an epiphany.