Artist In the Spotlight

Researched and prepared by Leona Bridges (published in Dec 2016/Jan 2017 Promin)

 

Myrna Kostash

 

Myrna Kostash is an acclaimed writer of literary and creative nonfiction who makes her home in Edmonton when she is not travelling in pursuit of her varied literary interests and passions. These have taken her from school halls in Vancouver, BC, to Ukrainian weddings in Two Hills, Alberta; from the site of the mass grave of Cree warriors in Battleford, Saskatchewan, to a fishers’ meeting in Digby, Nova Scotia; from the British Library in London, UK, to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

 

She is inspired in her work by her childhood in the Ukrainian-Canadian community of Edmonton, her rites of passage through the Sixties in the US, Canada and Europe, by her discovery of the New Journalism and feminism in the 1970s, by her rediscovery of her western Canadian roots in the 1980s, by her return to her spiritual sources in Byzantium and the Eastern Christian (Orthodox) Church, and, most recently, by her re-education in the history of Indigenous and Settler relations in western Canada.

 

Myrna is the author of the multicultural classic, All of Baba’s Children (1978), which has never gone out of print. Her second book, Long Way From Home: The Story of the Sixties Generation in Canada (1980), was the first to narrate the specifically Canadian experience of that era, and has been acknowledged as such by grateful scholars of today. Though out of print, No Kidding: Inside the World of Teenage Girls (1987) and The Next Canada: In Search of the Future Canada continue to find readers because of their passionate reportage. With Bloodlines: A Journey into Eastern Europe (1993) and The Doomed Bridegroom: A Memoir (1997), Myrna hit her full stride in the burgeoning nonfiction genre known as creative nonfiction, the latest example of which is her recent book, Prodigal Daughter: A Journey to Byzantium, a gathering-together of travel writing, memoir, historical and political narrative, art history and reflection.

 

While working on books, Myrna works on smaller literary projects such as the traveller’s companion to the North Saskatchewan River, Reading the River (2005), and the compendium of historical and literary texts about the 1885 Frog Lake Massacre, The Frog Lake Reader (2009), and about the Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816 Manitoba.

 

These same interests – her roots in western Canadian, Ukrainian-Canadian and Ukrainian culture and history and her engagement with Canadian social issues – are reflected in her work for radio documentary with the CBC’s program, Ideas, and in her current project, a theatrical play based on characters from the story of Frog Lake.

 

Unsurprisingly, Myrna’s work has been viewed within the lens of Canadian Studies, especially among appreciative Canadianists in universities of eastern, central and southeastern Europe.

 

Myrna is in demand at home and abroad as a public speaker, lecturer, reader and panellist, appreciated for her impassioned opinions, wide-ranging commitments and concerns as a writer and citizen, and her career-long advocacy for her beloved genre, literary nonfiction.

 


 

Michael Hingston of the Edmonton Journal1 interviewed Myrna last May about her most recent book, The Seven Oaks Reader.  “My books are about what people say,” said Myrna.  She does not verify whether a given historical source is reliable.  Rather, Myrna juxtaposes a number of perspectives on a given event and leaves them to fight it out on the page.  The battle of Seven Oaks took place two hundred years ago on the site of what is now Winnipeg and tells of an unusual event in Metis history.  “It has a very peculiar ending, actually. You can get away with killing armed settlers, and nobody is ever successfully prosecuted for it. Look what happens, a couple of generations later, to Louis Riel. The whole thing (at Seven Oaks) kind of fizzled out.” Myrna feels that Metis history is underrepresented on library bookshelves.

 

The Seven Oaks Reader constitutes a wake-up call to non-indigenous Canadians.  The Ukrainian Canadian community should be proud to count among its artists a woman whose empathy for our indigenous brothers and sisters illuminates their troubled past.

 

Researched and prepared by Leona Bridges

1Hingston, Michael The Edmonton Journal May 19, 2016, “Myrna Kostash’s New Book a Wake-up Call to Non-indigenous Canadians”.