Book Marks: U of A professor Robyn Braun releases debut novella

The latest from local authors, including Genevieve Graham, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Kate Black and more.

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Robyn Braun’s debut in fiction is an odd and wonderful novella, about a woman and the disembodied infant head she finds on her 30th birthday.

The aptly named The Head, published May 7 from Enfield and Wizenty, follows Dr. Trish Russo, a math professor struggling with her career and personal relationships. Stepping out of the shower, she finds the head on her dresser. The living, screaming entity demands her attention and draws a whole raft of negative reactions from the people around her, from colleagues to grad students.

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Like a good zombie story, Braun spends less time dealing with the head and focuses instead on Russo’s interpersonal relationships, seeing how she reacts to the pressure of both a career and now a creepy head to take care of.

“[The head] did make things pretty funny and hilarious to talk about with my friends,” says Braun. “People who were confused by the book did want me to deal with the fact more of the head. I use it as an analogy to show how difficult it can be to handle difficult emotional situations in these very personal relationships.”

Braun tapped into her own experience as a professor to set her first novella on campus. Her day job a professor in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alberta, where she teaches writing, though she has also worked across campus in sociology.

Braun has provided a visceral feel of campus life, even though it’s set at the fictitious Cascadia University.

Her main character is a math professor who studies geometry beyond the fourth dimension.

“I wanted her to have access to weirdness,” says Braun. “Initially she was a particle physicist, but they have very specific social lives. I can’t write about that. I just changed her into a mathematician.”

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That weirdness Braun’s inaugural publication dipped her toe into is what she is looking for from future publications. Her sophomore release will be about a biochemist working in the 1890s, trying to process his love for men in a book that will also feature talking rats.

For more about the author, visit her website robynbraun.ca

Historical fiction hitting bestseller lists

A bestselling author’s newest historical fiction novel is already topping the national literary charts.

The Secret Keeper, by Genevieve Graham, was released at the beginning of April and is already reaching the top spot on both Globe and Mail and Toronto Star national bestseller lists. The book follows sisters Dot and Dash at the outbreak of the Second World War. They both join the Women’s Royal Navy Service, Dash as a mechanic and Dot as a typist. Dot soon finds herself at a top-secret spy school and working at HMCS Cloverdale, a covert listening and codebreaking station that worked alongside the famed Bletchley Park. But when tragedy strikes the family, Dot’s oath of secrecy will cause a rift between the sisters.

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Graham lives near Edmonton and writes historical fiction. Her last two books, Bluebird and The Forgotten Home Child, were both bestselling novels. The Forgotten Home Child was also optioned for a television series.

For more about the author, visit her website genevievegraham.com

A memoir collection from Amy Kaler

A professor at the University of Alberta has published another series of musings, a memoir about life out west.

Half-Light: Westbound on a Hot Planet, the latest from Amy Kaler, will come out May 23 from the University of Alberta Press. The book is a memoir, talking about the meaning of life, aging and mortality, the climate crisis and the history of the North American settler West.

Kaler is a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta. Her last book, Until Further Notice: A Year in Pandemic Time, was also published by the University of Alberta Press and was released last summer.

For more information about the book, visit the publisher’s website ualbertapress.ca

Billy-Ray Belcourt
Vancouver author Billy-Ray Belcourt’s new book Coexistence is a collection of essays about love, loneliness and the modern Indigenous queer experience.. Photo: Hamish Hamilton Canada edm

New works from celebrated Cree writer

A celebrated Cree writer from Northern Alberta has released his newest book.

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Coexistence: Stories, is the newest book from Billy-Ray Belcourt, a collection of intersecting stories about Indigenous love and loneliness, about beauty and terror side by side. From an aging confiding in her son about an intimate friendship to a poet living a cliched life, to a man freshly released from prison and finding life on the outside also has restrictions. Coexistence will be published by Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and released May 21.

Belcourt is from the Driftpile Cree Nation, about 300 kilometres north of Edmonton. He won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2018 for his debut poetry collection, This Wound is a World. His last book, A Minor Chorus, was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a finalist for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award.

For more information about the author, visit his website billy-raybelcourt.com.

Kate Black
Kate Black grew up down the street from WEM and has turned her fascination with the mall into a new book. Photo by Victoria Black /Supplied

First STARFest

One of the region’s two big literary festivals is kicking off its newest season with an event this month.

The St. Albert Readers Festival will be hosting two local authors in their first event. On May 25 Kate Black will be talking about her newest book, Big Mall, about her relationship with West Edmonton Mall (https://edmontonjournal.com/entertainment/bookmarks-a-life-long-fascination-with-west-edmonton-mall-takes-a-deep-dive). Local author David Berry will also be speaking at the event, talking about his latest book On Nostalgia. The talk will kick off at 7 p.m. at the downtown St. Albert library.

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The festival will also be under new leadership this year, with Julie Ruel taking over as STARFest Director and Programs Librarian at the St. Albert Library. The main festival happens every October, with speakers generally announced in the late summer.

For more information about the festival and to register for the event, visit the festival website, starfest.ca

New Bookstore Magpie Books

The city’s newest bookstore has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of a previous store.

Magpie Books opened last weekend at the Ritchie location of the old Glass Bookshop, throwing open their doors on May 11 at 9553 76 Ave.

The store is co-owned by Julie King-Yerex and Moriah Crocker, who both worked at Glass Bookshop before it closed in February. Their new store will focus on books written by Black, Indigenous, racialized, queer and trans authors, as well as focusing on liberation, oppression and activism, among other subjects.

To find out more about the store, visit their website magpiebooks.ca

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