25th Trillium Award

Trillium Takes Ontario: Steven Heighton

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Open Book loves Trillium season! Find out more about the talented authors nominated for the Trillium Book Award by following our special new series. We'll catch up with as many of these writers as we can in the lead-up to the awards announcement on Tuesday, June 18th. You can hear the finalists read from their nominated works on Monday, June 17th at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library. Visit Open Book's Events page for details.

Steven Heighton was nominated for the Trillium Book Award for his short fiction collection The Dead Are More Visible (Alfred A. Knopf Canada). Today Steven tells us about how Kingston's multi-layered character inspires his work, and why hockey is the best means of forgetting.

Open Book:

What was one source of inspiration for your Trillium-nominated book, and how did that spark find its way into the final version of your project?

Steven Heighton:

Kingston was the inspiration for a number of the stories. Kingston in all its schizoid weirdness — the most misrepresented city in Canada. People associate it with Queen's University and think of it as a staid, quiet, conservative town that occasionally endures spasms of mass frat-house revelry. In fact, the city has a deeply fractured demographic personality.

I live with my small family on the cusp between the upper middle class enclave of Sydenham Ward and the north part of town, where many families are struggling and have been for generations. We're in the Skeleton Park area, informally known as Writers' Block, because over a dozen writers (and several dozen painters and musicians) live there. All of us, I think, find this unpredictable zone of overlap creatively generative, in any number of ways . . . Other populations that overlap in Kingston would include college and university students, ex-prisoners, people from the army base, officers in training at RMC, and bike gangs. Where tribes collide, there's energy and oddness. The place has given me a number of stories, including The Dead Are More Visible's surreal title story, set in Skeleton Park, a two acre tract where, incredibly, some 20,000 people are buried (the park was originally the city's main cemetery).


What was an essential part of your writing routine while you worked on this book?


Playing hockey. I took up the game three winters ago. Had never played a team sport before and I find the team thing really different — in a good way — from, say, going for a run. When you're jogging or running, you can still think about all your problems, about bills, grievances, and your creative struggles. But out on the ice during a game, you think about nothing except chasing that small lump of rubber around the rink. Which is childish — in a really healthy way. A complete forgetting. True, if you're walking or running you might sometimes come up with a solution to some problem that's dogging a poem or story you're working on, but, for me, it's even more useful to be able to forget the project entirely, as if it doesn't exist. Then later I return to the work reset and refreshed.

By the way, I'm trying to get Karen Solie to play on our writers' team next February at Dave Bidini's annual tourney on Wolfe Island . . .


What location in Ontario do you think would make the best writers' retreat, and why?


I've always loved walking in that huge, unpeopled peninsula of dunes in the Sandbanks park near Picton, and once considered renting a cabin nearby so that I could write in the mornings and then, in the afternoons, wander in that gorgeous desert and clear my head. Now, though, a real writers' retreat actually is being established not far from the Sandbanks — maybe a ten or fifteen minute drive. I'm talking about the Al & Eurithe Purdy A-frame retreat that Jean Baird has worked hard to establish in Ameliasburgh. The foundation is going to start considering applications this summer and I expect there will be writers staying in the refurbished house by this fall or next spring at the latest. Very exciting.

Steven Heighton is the author of the novel Afterlands, which was a New York Times Book Review Editors? Choice along with a best book of the year selection in ten publications in Canada, the US, and the UK. His book The Shadow Boxer was a Canadian bestseller and a Publishers Weekly Book of the Year. His work has been translated into ten languages, and his poems and stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Heighton has won several awards and has been nominated for the Governor General?s Literary Award, the Trillium Book Award and Britain?s W.H. Smith Award. He currently lives in Kingston.

For more information about The Dead Are More Visible please visit the Alfred A. Knopf website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Visit the OMDC website to read more about the Trillium Book Award.

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