Poetry on May 21: Shane Neilson’s NEW BRUNSWICK arrives in Canada and Mike Barnes’s BRAILLE RAINBOW in the US


STIGMATIZED, SILENCED EXPERIENCE: Mike Barnes’s Braille Rainbow and Shane Neilson’s New Brunswick candidly explore disability, abuse, physical pain, and mental illness. Both poets’ speakers struggle to love, or even to recognize, themselves:

          the bitterest irony is the self

          imitating itself at every level

          until even emptiness fails to inhabit

writes Barnes; Neilson echoes,

          The fable

          of a man is told in two versions, one for ear

          and one for hand. We come from the same

          land but differ. Pain and love I do not understand.

Each may come closest to self-acceptance in his empathy with the downtrodden and forgotten—labourers, displaced nations, linguistic minorities, the homeless, the (in Barnes’s words) “shocked, drugged, poor.” Both speakers’ bodies vibrate in resonance with violences of the past:

          I do

          impressions of you, Father, with my fist

writes Neilson, and Barnes echoes,

          [you] blackened her memory with chars and twists

          I have longed to visit upon you with fists.

And yet both poets write of attending with great compassion at the bedsides of the ill and dying. Neilson, a physician, is helpless beside his mother’s deathbed:

          Voiceless, with a tube

          in her throat, my mother wrote:

          Will I live? . . .

          Wheeze makes onomatopoeia

          of witness. We. My answer a plural plea

          of a rural, unwritten No.

Barnes, whose most recent previous book is a memoir of caring for his mother at the end of her life, could be writing the same scene in “Tangent: Lines by a Bed”:

          In. Out? Spirit bubble in your throat the whole

          globe’s turning. Hold it, floating, a moment longer.

In Barnes’s “Secure Ward,” it’s impossible to tell whether the speaker is the patient or the carer. Neilson’s speaker is the same:

          On a good day, sense rejects us.

          But then trajectory alters. Beds

          change to church, riverbank, hospital.

          These speakers both heal and are ill.

These books do not compete, but complement one another: if New Brunswick is a work of modernist erudition and collage, then Braille Rainbow is one of Buddhist acceptance and commitment to the here, the now. New Brunswick returns obsessively to the province of Neilson’s birth and practically exhausts its timeline, from 1534 to today. Braille Rainbow announces the futility of revisiting the past, seeking peace through a minute, scale-shifting attention to

          this place made only of

          particulars: one bed, one bureau, two scuffed


allowing a tiny bug to become the


          of some microscopic faith.

Without knowing one another’s projects, Barnes and Neilson imitate one another at odd moments. Both call out to ancestors literal and figurative; both poets’ broken speakers allow themselves to imagine redemption.               But in the harshest cry, I’ve heard

          the right word, love . . .

          Think of care, love,

          do we use that word,

          do we use it enough?

And Barnes echoes,

          Hold hands when one or both of you

          is going into the dark, and hold hands when one

          of you doesn’t come back. Keep holding hands

          a little longer when an official- or kind-sounding voice

          tells you it’s time to go, because it

          isn’t quite. Not yet. Hold hands.

This spring, we at Biblioasis offer two painful, breaking poetic voices that despite themselves, somehow, hold one another’s hands.

Cecil Foster’s THEY CALL ME GEORGE is a hit in Canada. On May 21, it comes to the US.

Cecil Foster’s They Call Me George, about Black train porter activism and how it shaped unions and race relations in the US and Canada, hits U.S. shelves on May 21. The book’s US release coincides with the 125th anniversary of the landmark Pullman car porter strike, a turning point in US labour history.

They Call Me George was released in Canada earlier this year and quickly became a best-seller. The book has received plaudits from the Globe and Mail (“excavates a chapter of Canadian history that has been largely erased from the collective memory”) to the Caribbean Camera (“a riveting tour de force written by an award winning, master story-teller”)to the Winnipeg Free Press, who called the book “A bold book by a self-assured scholar who has rewritten our conventional history.”

Click through to check out Cecil Foster’s interview on TV Ontario’s The Agenda as well as his feature interview in the Toronto Star!

An Interview with Elise Levine, author of THIS WICKED TONGUE


Elise Levine’s book of wry, bittersweet, character-driven stories, This Wicked Tonguewill be available in US bookstores on June 25. It’ll be in Canadian bookstores on May 28. But we can’t wait! We want Elise Levine now!

To tide us over, Elise Levine kindly consented to answer a few of our questions.


A Biblioasis Interview with Elise Levine, author of This Wicked Tongue

For those who are coming to your work for the first time, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

This Wicked Tongue is my fourth book. My first is the story collection Driving Men Mad, and sandwiched between these two story collections I’ve had two novels published, Blue Field and Requests and Dedications. My fiction is highly compressed, employing charged, layered language and narratives that are propulsive and elliptical. Formally stylized, my work is, however, predominantly character-driven, excavating lives gripped by estrangement and imperilled by silence, and yet urged toward the need to transcend and engage.

I’ve always written about driven characters: obsessive risk-takers seeking to free themselves from tangled emotional legacies; marginalized, pressured characters. This Wicked Tongue examines the urge to break faith with expectations and rewrite the scripts of the past. The stories feature my most formally exploratory fiction to date, at times employing hybrid narrative techniques as well as fabulist elements and fairy-tale motifs. The stories also range from flash to near-novella-length. I’m currently working on The Takeaway, two linked novellas. They’re a mix of crime novel, flash prose, and prose poem. Yes, they’re pretty weird.

The stories in This Wicked Tongue vary widely in their settings, from medieval England to a future dystopian landscape to various places in contemporary North America. Do you have a favourite place and time for setting stories? How do you know what place and time each story belongs in?

I’m really interested in how our environments shape and even at times seem to mirror us. It’s as if we somehow mysteriously find our truest or maybe falsest (who’s to say?) selves in places that speak to our psychological needs during pressured times in our lives.

I don’t have a favourite setting that I fall back on, but for This Wicked Tongue I gravitated to settings that amplify the characters’ sense of literal or psychological leave-taking or return, critical experiences which provide a linking motif for the collection as a whole.

When I first get the idea for a story, character and setting are usually among the first elements that occur to me, seemingly out of the blue. As I develop the story, I increasingly realize why the setting is integral to the character—that it, how much it helps to reveal the character. Over many (so many!) drafts I try to sharpen this dynamic between setting and character, in hopes of translating this to the reader.

Some characters recur in more than one story. What draws you back to a character? Is Martin, for example (who appears in one story as a preteen boy and another as a grown man facing his mother’s mortality and his husband’s desire for children), likely to crop up in future story collections or possibly in a novel of his own?

I return to characters when I feel there’s unfinished business—when there’s another entire but related facet of their story to explore. The ideas keep coming, and I can’t stuff them all in one story without it collapsing under the weight of details and emotional unfoldings, and “infoldings”, as I think of them—the interior layers hidden within.

Martin, oh Martin! He really needed the space of two relatively long stories. So much going on with that guy. But I’m sure he won’t reappear. Some of the beauty of short stories compared to novels is how the brevity serves poignancy as we hover at the edge of possibility, doom or gloom. In Martin’s case, it seemed best to leave him at twin poised moments between who he is, who he might become.

How does This Wicked Tongue explore gender concerns?

I think all the stories in This Wicked Tongue are implicitly and in some cases explicitly concerned with gender. The characters grapple with and chafe against the constraints of received notions of how to be in the world, in particular the circumscribing conventions regarding masculinity and woman- or girlhood. It’s a significant—though not the only—factor in how some of the characters live out impaired ways of being that inflict and self-inflict emotional damage. Or how some of the characters seek ways to break faith with expectation, envisioning and risking new lives and worlds in which they might suffer more, or heal.

You often show your characters’ least flattering thoughts, impulses, and actions. Can you talk about why exploring characters’ less likable sides is important to you?

Yes! Making bad choices, and by extension being one’s own best villain, seems to have powered much of narrative in the Western tradition, from ancient Greek tragedy on down. Make a bad choice, be less than who you might have been, but learn who you really are, beyond the self-delusions. Or don’t learn—this can provide an equally illuminating experience for the audience.

I’m equal opportunity when it comes to the gender of my characters and their capacity to be stupid, manipulative, well-intentioned but ineffective, blind, cruel. And also, sentimental, clear-eyed, smart, loving, compassionate, visionary, ethical, goofy, wry. I believe bad-assery in whatever shape or form knows no bounds nor should it.

I’m also very interested in the various literary traditions and tropes of women as monsters, which I interpret broadly as humans who refuse to conform to gendered expectations, from the Sirens on up through mermaids and femmes fatales to contemporary mean girls — feminized figures with voices (and who enact corresponding deeds) socially deemed either terrifically unpleasant or so captivating they lure the unsuspecting to their deaths. So much anxiety seems to still revolve around what are perceived as contesting voices.

What are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading a linked story collection by Gabino Iglesias called Coyote Songs. It’s been described as barrio noir and horror, and features stories about la frontera, life along the Mexico-US border.

I’m not a great multi-tasker, so I tend to read only one book at a time and concentrate on it — so I’ll mention some books I’ve read recently, and loved. A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley. Jen George’s The Babysitter At Rest. Something for Everyone by Lisa Moore. Han Kang’s The White Book. Zolitude by Paige Cooper. Jenny Xie’s Eye Level. Sabrina Orah Mark’s Wild Milk. Also Last Days by Brian Evenson. And Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead.

Happy Independent Bookstore Day!

Chapbook Sewing Party!


Lucy Ellmann’s hilarious chapbook I Dated Graham Greene is almost ready for Independent Booksellers Day! Are you?

If you haven’t got your copies of this beautiful little chapbook yet ($7.00 USD/$8.00 CAD), email thummer@biblioasis.com.






“A dark adventure story that sweeps the reader through a world filled with surprises. The book is compelling, authoritative, not a little disturbing—and a significant contribution to the history of 17th-century North America.” That’s Ken McCoogan, writing in the Globe and Mail about Mark Bourrie’s Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson. Michael Dudley agrees: “Highly entertaining reading…fascinating…an engaging achievement,” he writes in the Winnipeg Free PressAnd in ArtsFile, Paul Gessell raves, “The writing is lively, the descriptions of 17th century Indigenous life are cinematic and, despite Radisson’s many personal flaws, it is easy to admire his chutzpah.”

The Fulcrum has published an interview with Mark Bourrie, and the Toronto Star has published an excerpt. We think they’ve got the right idea: a book this good speaks for itself!

Celebrating National Independent Bookstore Day with a limited-edition chapbook: I DATED GRAHAM GREENE by Lucy Ellmann


I never feel too sure I know what I’m doing in a bookstore. The Country of the Pointed Firs. These are places for bookish people, people who can’t get enough of books. I have plenty of books at home that I haven’t read yet. Bibliophiles. They wallow in the smell of books, the look of books, the aura of books, the passive readiness of books to be found and bought and absorbed. Or collected, anyway. Books mean a lot to me, or they do in retrospect, but when confronted with a plateful, I take them with a pinch of salt. The Painter of Signs.

* * *

National Independent Bookstore Day is April 27, 2019.

We’ll be celebrating at Biblioasis Bookshop as well as by publishing “I Dated Graham Greene” by Lucy Ellmann, author of Ducks, Newburyport, as a limited-edition chapbook, available for sale only at independent bookstores.

Bookstore stress triggers:

⏵Self-hatred, about my own ignorance of writers’s names and whole divisions of human thought: theosophy, astronomy, archery, accounting, Antarctica, animal husbandry, systems analysis, steam trains, Manga, orchids, forensics, and party-planning.

⏵Embarrassment, about how slowly I read and therefore how curtailed my reading has been, over my lifetime.

⏵Bewilderment, when I can’t find my way around. This happens to me no matter how small the store is.

⏵Amnesia, trying to remember all the books I meant to seek out.

⏵Fear of not finding what I want or, if I do find it, begrudging the cost.

⏵Disappointments, especially common in those halfempty bijou bookshops that only have one copy of no more than a hundred titles, curated for the color of their covers and how good they look facing outwards on the shelves.

⏵Geriatric affronts, when they don’t have the children’s books I remember.

⏵Bruising encounters with bookstore staff. Some are so gruff, some suspicious, some are eager beavers, some are never off the phone.

⏵Déjà vu, with all the usual suspects filling the shelves, as lurid as detergent packets: the cookbooks, thrillers, bestsellers, sci-fi, and exhaustive accounts of wild swimming, and the same in their audio versions. A good bookshop should teach a little taste, not just load you down with genre escapism and advice on adultery or cleaning your computer.

⏵Disgust, finding books like The Lovely Bones or anything by John Grisham given pride of place and a personal recommendation handwritten by an underling. While real novelists languish for want of a dime! In reality, though, fiction doesn’t sell. Cat books sell.

⏵Surprise in finding how prolific other contemporary writers are. Some people sure can pound the stuff out.

⏵A sudden sense of defeat, following such shocks. Feeling crushed, I start to plod around, searching the shelves for unlovely bones.

Adam Foulds’s DREAM SEQUENCE is “a nightmare so precise, and often beautiful, that one comes to prefer it, in some ways, to dull reality,” says John Wray.

Announcing the April 30 publication of

D R E A M   S E Q U E N C E

by Adam Foulds, the Man Booker-shortlisted author of The Quickening Maze.

Henry Banks, star of the UK’s most popular television series, has higher aspirations, ones befitting of his talent: a serious film career, beginning with a role in a brilliant Spanish director’s next movie. To make the jump to the big screen, he’ll have to remake himself in more than one way. But as he runs his morning miles and scrutinizes his changing physique in the mirror, he doesn’t know that he’s not alone in his obsession: Kristin, an unstable American fan, has her own lofty ambitions. Dream Sequence is a moving depiction of psychological damage and the unsettling consequences of fame.

The London Times writes, “Everyone loves a good page-turner full of aspirational scene-setting, but few literary novelists dare to try it . . . [Dream Sequence] is a sexy, celeby drama . . . just like The Great Gatsby, this novel billows around you like a queasy dream, its grand scenery and awful characters combining to take us out of the real world and into another, oddly shimmering version of it.” Metro News calls Dream Sequence a “livewire exploration of sex and power.”

David Bezmozgis, author of the Giller-shortlisted The Free World, says, “Adam Foulds is one of the best fiction writers working today. Dream Sequence possesses all the hallmarks of his previous books—emotional acuity, beautiful prose—and also a seductive plot and an ingenious structure. It’s a great novel. I read it practically in one sitting.” And in a starred review, Publishers Weekly describes it as “an outstanding and unyielding exploration of celebrity, fame, and all its attendant obsessions . . . Foulds’s novel is fun, smart, and tense, part psychological drama about media-driven obsession and part razor-sharp social critique.”

Can’t wait to read Dream Sequence? Here to tide you over is a Biblioasis interview with Adam Foulds:

For those who are coming to your work for the first time, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I’m a poet and novelist, originally from London in the UK. Dream Sequence is my fourth novel. I’ve also published a long poem set in Kenya during the end of British rule. I like language and intensity of perception. There are many writers and types of writing I enjoy but nothing gives me as much pleasure as the first writers I was passionate about as a teenager: James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, Saul Bellow. Their work is alert, musical, meaningful, fresh in its word choices at every moment. That’s what I strive for.

You once said Dream Sequence was about “the pathology of destiny.” Can you speak a little more on that?

Both main characters have a strong sense of destiny and the future in different ways. For Henry, the actor, he has an image of success, a driving ambition, an underlying intuition that after certain achievements everything will be alright, that drives him relentlessly forwards. His destiny is the fulfillment of his desires which he almost but can’t quite see will never be fulfilled because there will always be more to desire. Kristin’s sense of destiny is more mystical, more centered, more magical: she believes that she and Henry are meant to be together, having had an experience with him that she thinks bound them together and revealed this truth. Both of them are therefore extreme cases of kinds of thinking about destiny an the future that we are all prone to: that of ambition and the deferrals of unsatisfied desire, and that of the magical thinking that certain things are meant to be, that the universe wants something for us.

You’re from England but you live here in Canada now. What brought you to this country?

Marriage. Improvisation. Montreal. Toronto.

Both characters in their own way have their obsessions—Kristin is obviously obsessed with Henry, but Henry wants his big movie parts and to get famous beyond recognition. Is there a way in which they’re alike at all in their desires?

They both need their desires fulfilled in order for the world to make sense or feel worthwhile. They are alike in that and not too different from the rest of us also.

I was struck by the intensity in Kristin’s immovable obsession—it’s so extreme but it’s also quiet, in some ways. Funny thought: If Henry was, actually, interested in having a relationship with her, do you think it would work out?

That’s an interesting question and one I hadn’t thought about. I think that for Henry to be interested in her so much in him would need to change that all kinds of other possibilities would open up. As it is, Kristin does not suit his desired self-image or sense of entitlement.

What are you reading right now?

Plenty. Mandelstam’s prose. Deborah Eisenberg’s short stories. Celine’s Journey To The End of the Night. Sue Prideaux’s new biography of Nietzsche, I Am Dynamite. Too much news.

We can hardly contain our excitement about DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT by Lucy Ellmann

Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport will appear on September 10, and we absolutely cannot wait. We love this book so much. We’d try to explain why, but really . . . just see for yourself:




When you are all sinew, struggle and solitude, your young – being soft, plump, vulnerable – may remind you of prey. The damp furry closeness in the crowded den sometimes gave her an over-warm sensation akin to nausea, or boredom. Snaking her long limbs as far as space permitted, she longed to be out on her winding path, ranging wide in search of deer. In her dreams she slaughtered whole herds. She sought that first firm clasp on a stag’s neck, the swift parting of its hide, her mouth filling at last with what was hot and wet and necessary.

For all of life is really recoil and leap, leap and recoil.

Alertness was her new mode, but the cubs’ easy slumber was contagious. To be woken, biffed in the face by the paw of a sleeping kitten. She was always briefly astounded, on waking, by their continued presence. They troubled her, they were so needy: if she died, they would die too, and soon. And she would forget them. But for now, she belonged to them. They were not so much a conscious concern as the whole purpose of her being – lives engendered by her body, created inside her and released through pain and panting upon the world. She had borne them, and now she fed them with her milk. They were part of her still.

For the first week they were sprawling, crawling mush to her, demanding gentleness, forbearance, cleanups. The air shook with the vibrations of her purr. She learnt to maneuver her way round their wriggling forms with all kinds of fancy new steps. The more they squirmed, the more adroitly she had to dodge them.

She never left them for more than half an hour. The mere thought of the kittens bleating and scrabbling around back in the den diminished her resolve, made her less surefooted, ruined her joy in the kill. She went hungry, even sank to eating snowshoe hares that ventured near the den. And, once, a disappointing goosander, all feather, feet, beak and bone.

Her infant cubs, drifting back to sleep midway across each other’s backs, never knew how long she was gone, or how far from them she roamed. She might still be inside the den somewhere, just an inch out of reach. In hope, they dragged themselves over to the wall like legless seal pups, their short stubby tails nothing like the muscly ropes they would later become. Little more than mush, they toured the den in slow circles, chirping enticingly, feeling out for any sign of her, just the tip of her giant paw or long whiskers. Longing for her warmth, her tongue, her strong sleek rump, they sought her with determination, for they too were hunters, and brave. Too brave to despair.


The fact that the raccoons are now banging an empty yoghurt carton around on the driveway, the fact that in the early morning stillness it sounds like gunshots, the fact that, even in fog, with ice on the road and snow banks blocking their vision, people are already zooming around our corner, the site of many a minor accident, the fact that a guy in a pickup once accidentally skidded into our garage, and next time it could be our house, or a child, Wake Up Picture Day, dicamba, Kleenex, the fact that a pickup truck killed Dilly, the fact that she’d successfully dodged cars for three whole years, the fact that she knew all about cars, but during that time the traffic grew, the fact that it’s crazee now, the fact that after Dilly got killed, the kids painted a big warning sign with a big black cat on it and stuck it right by the fence, but nobody notices it, the fact that they’re all going too fast to see it,  When the cat died we had catnip tea , the fact that failure to yield causes one in five accidents in Ohio, the fact that car crashes are up twenty percent since 2009, haw tree, buckeye, black walnut, hickory, butternut, the fact that Stacy’s old enough to handle the road but the other kids aren’t, the fact that a little boy was killed in his bed just the other day by a skidding car crashing into his house, Ben asleep, the fact that there are two cardinals right now in the lilac tree, brown sugar, the fact that eleven percent of Americans carry on driving when the fuel-tank-empty light comes on, the fact that, boy, you’d think it’d be more like eighty percent, Ronny, chicken feed, the fact that there are macrophages, the fact that I dreamt I flew all the way to India to get a teaspoon of cinnamon but when I got home I realized I needed flaked almonds too, security, holding pattern, go figure, not in my backyard, the fact that we have to do our taxes and try to remember every little bit of income and expenditure, the fact that there was more of the latter than the former, Family Dollar, Baker’s IGA, password, username, “Your card is now active and ready to use,” the fact that not only do we have to calculate our income and expenditure but we gotta figure out how to get more money, and keep on getting money till we’re dead, Medicare For All, the fact that by the time Leo’s old enough to get Social Security it probably won’t even cover the price of a ham sandwich, much less a bottle of wine, the fact that we’re in for a wineless old age, oi veh, OJ, the fact that Leo has to go to Philly tomorrow and I’m not so good on my own, the fact that Ben knows so much for such a little kid, maybe too much, the fact that he says drugs work on a molecular level that can be assessed using logarithms and Schild Curves, but I just pop ’em and leave the rest to chance, breakfast, alarm clock, laundry, Spinbrush, the fact that we have to have a cocktail party and I don’t know what to wear, the fact that the only fun part is deciding on the canapés, cocktails, cock-a-doodle-do, cock, oh my word, the fact that words just pop into my head like that, dear me, the fact that I’ve got to get the dough going for the cinnamon rolls, the fact that at least we’re not having any more dinner parties, the fact that I put my foot down there,  Your feet’s too big , feat of strength, footloose and fancy-free, the fact that our parties are always a big flop anyway because the kids come down in the middle in their onesies and kill all conversation with cuteness, the fact that they look like polar bear cubs and they know it, the fact that sometimes they end up serving the drinks too, the fact that I don’t know what Prof Pranump would make of that, especially since she’s teetotal, tea, Triscuits, Ritz crackers, Saltines, Fritos, Doritos, Frito-Lay, Planters peanuts, Blue Diamond smoked almonds, Prohibition, Some Like It Hot, the fact that soon polar bears and walruses will have nowhere to go, because the polar ice is melting, cheese and pineapple on sticks, cheddar cheese logs, school bus, ground cardamom, dried cherries, zest, the fact that walruses can swim for four hundred miles, sure, but not forever, for Pete’s sake, the fact that animals don’t pride themselves on irrationality the way we do, the fact that, according to Ben, half the mammals on the planet will disappear by 2050, two hundred species a day or something like that, the fact that Ben says everybody on earth will soon be starving or suffocating or dying of SARS or Ebola or H5N1, the fact that H5N1 only has to mutate a few more times and we’re all goners, so maybe it was all for nothing, human achievement, but before that happens, we still have to do our taxes, and Leo needs to fix the garage door, the fact that it keeps sticking, missing button, bathroom grouting, the fact that Stacy would probably approve of a global pandemic, as long as it included us, her nearest and dearest, the fact that I don’t know why we released our poor little terrapins into the pond at Northwestern, the fact that we thought they’d be happy there, free, the fact that nobody ever told us they were tropical terrapins, the fact that we actually thought they’d like swimming free, in that freezing cold pond, the fact that I saw a dead dog with rabies there once, near the pond, so theoretically our turtles could have gotten rabies first, before they froze to death, the fact that we weren’t much good as pet owners, I guess, the bumblebee at Bread Loaf, the fact that what we liked best was going to the Big Building, where Daddy worked, because sometimes you got a free pencil, the fact that we loved climbing on the big painted rock outside, the fact that there was this great big boulder right in front of the building, the fact that I don’t know if somebody dragged the thing there or it was just there when they built the university and they couldn’t get rid of it, the fact that the paint was interestingly chipped and you could see how many layers it had, blue, red, white, yellow, green, Chris Rock, the fact that I think they painted it a new color every year or so, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the fact that Mozart had a starling, the fact that female starlings sing too, not just male starlings, murmurations, Ohio Blue Tip matches, phone call, a big ask, the fact that I don’t know where my cellphone is, the fact that I never know where it is, the fact that cellphones are always trying to escape their owners, the fact that there are earthquakes and tornadoes and tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, the fact that where did I see that red velvet cushion with gold trim, Gillian’s tall bird with sequins, felt and sequins, Christmastime, alone with Mommy in their bedroom at twilight, twi-night double header, sidewinder, sidecar, sidelines, left field, the fact that Stacy never mentions Frank, well, not to me anyway, Rex the Walkie-Talkie Robot Man, the fact that I don’t think she misses him at all, Reader’s Digest, Hardee’s on 2nd Street, Arby’s, Hy-Vee, Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom in the late afternoon, the fact that I always liked sequins on felt, the fact that I don’t think Stacy minds having a stepdad at all, the fact that these days most kids have half brothers and sisters, so they must be pretty used to it, the fact that all in all we’re really just a normal Joy, Pledge, Crest, Tide, Dove, Woolite, Palmolive, Clorox, Rolaids, Pepto-Bismol, Alka-Seltzer, Desitin, Advil, Aleve, Tylenol, Anacin, Bayer, Excedrin, Vitamin C, Kleenex, Kotex, Tampax, Altoid, Barbazol, Almay, Revlon, Cetaphil, Right Guard, Old Spice, Gillette, Q-Tip, Johnson & Johnson, Vaseline, Listerine, Head ’n’ Shoulders, Tylenol, Bayer, Anacin, Safe Owl, Eagle Brand, Jolly Green Giant, Land O’ Lakes, Lucerne, Sealtest, Clover, Blue Bonnet, Half ’n’ Half, Snyder, VanCamp, Wish-Bone, French’s, Skyline, Empress, Gerber, Nabisco, Heinz, Kraft, Quaker Oats, Sunkist, Purina, Vlasic, Oreos, Shredded Wheat, Arm & Hammer, Jell-O, Pez, Sara Lee, Chock Full o’ Nuts, Libby, Pepperidge Farm, Fleischmann’s, Morton, General Mills, King Arthur, Bell’s, Reese’s Pieces kind of household like everybody else, “Houston, we got a problem” . . .

Mark Bourrie Challenges Us to Retire the Word “Explorer” from the Lexicon


The first English-language biography in nearly a century of Pierre-Esprit Radisson—pirate, cannibal, and co-founder of the Hudson’s Bay Company—is set to appear at a bookstore near you on April 2, 2019.

Radisson’s story complicates all of our settled ideas about the European conquest of North America. This “eager hustler with no known scruples” was the Forrest Gump of the seventeenth century. A Mohawk raiding party into present-day Indiana? Radisson was there. London’s Great Plague and Great Fire? There. A shipwreck on the reefs of Venezuela? There. The courts of Charles I and Louis XIV? He was there, too.

So how does a co-founder of the longest-lived corporation in North America, a “free man in a time when they were rare,” die penniless in London? Drawing directly from Radisson’s journals, Mark Bourrie paints a vivid picture of the class and national tensions that gripped the globe tightly even as colonial ownership of specific territories shifted with the seasons. Bush Runner brings Radisson to life: a man adopted as a teenager into a Mohawk family before his ocean-crossing adulthood, a peddler of goods and not of worldview, more trading partner than colonizer, “a brave man who must have been a tremendous dinner companion—as long as you weren’t on the menu.”

In spinning this true adventure yarn—complete with piracy, espionage, double-crosses, and the consumption of human flesh—Bourrie offers a fresh perspective on the world in which Radisson lived, the world in which his legacy both does and does not live on.

To get some insight into Radisson’s story and what it means for us in the twenty-first century, we sat down for an interview with Bush Runner author Mark Bourrie.

For those who are coming to your work for the first time, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I’m a lawyer, a journalist and an author with a PhD in Canadian History. I usually write about very depressing things: politics, propaganda, law. My book on Stephen Harper’s media control was a great seller but a depressing thing to write, and, probably, to read. I suppose my next book will also be very serious and frightening.

What inspired you to write a book about Radisson?

About fifteen years ago, I looked Radisson up in an encyclopedia. I’m not sure why. I knew Radisson and his brother-in-law Groselliers had been fur traders in New France and had defected to the English. They had opened Hudson Bay to the fur trade. Everyone who stayed awake in high school knows that. But then I saw Radisson had lived among the Mohawks, had escaped through New Amsterdam (New York City), had lived among the Sioux. All that seemed interesting enough. But then I saw he was in London in 1665. That was the Great Plague. And stuck there during the Great Fire of 1666, when the whole city burned down. And had defected back to the French, been marooned with pirates in the Caribbean, and then double-betrayed the French. This was quite a life.

When I signed with Biblioasis to do the book, I thought it was a book we needed now, as a break from all the troubling modern political non-fiction. Radisson lived in a whole other universe. He lived a life that no one could live now. He had adventures, saw amazing things, and had a huge personality. He was also completely untrustworthy, and would eat you or your dog if he thought he needed to.

What was it like to work with Radisson’s newly-opened journals? Did you discover anything about his life or his era that particularly surprised you?

Many of Radisson’s writings were found a century ago, but new material was found recently by a member of his family who had special access to the royal archives at Windsor Castle. I have read a lot of autobiography from this period, and Radisson’s is special. First, he wrote most of it in English. Radisson had a genius for languages. The next thing that stood out—partly because I came across it early, and partly because it’s timely now and unusual for the time—was Radisson’s admiration for Indigenous people, especially the Mohawks who adopted him. Radisson saw them as equals and many of them as family. Third was the often-humorous brutal honesty about himself. Radisson admits to some very sleazy things, including cannibalism. That’s in a memoir meant only for King Charles II’s eyes. I wondered what kind of man who is looking to do business with a king of England admits to eating people? There are parts of his writing that are self-serving and sections that are, to be charitable, exaggerations. But he wrote about himself in a way that I’ve never seen in the literature of that time. I think I got to know him very well. It was like living with a bratty teenager.

What do you think 21st century readers can learn from Radisson’s experiences?

Take risks. Have fun. Keep yourself open to new opportunities. Be candid about yourself. Sue people if you must. Stay off social media. (Radisson never had a Twitter account). If you do all those things, someone might name a hotel chain after you for no apparent reason and strangers might write books about you..

What will readers really get from this book? A story that reads like a TV series or movie trilogy.

What are you reading right now?

I have decided to cleanse my palate of modern political writing and the books I have read on law and politics, and have gone back into my library to read first-rate writing. I am re-reading Dispatches by Michael Herr and just sent away for Disturber of the Peace, William Manchester’s biography of H.L. Mencken. I also want to re-read Olive Dickason’s The Law of Nations and the New World. Olive was a Metis scholar and a friend, and I would like to see if her ideas on law and colonization still hold up.