Author Tags: Fiction, Poetry
Born in Victoria, B.C. on January 6, 1955, Theresa Kishkan has have lived on both coasts of Canada as well as in Greece, Ireland, and England. She was educated at the Universities of Victoria (B.A., with Honours, 1978) and British Columbia (MFA, not completed). In August, 1985, she was part of a collaborative effort staged at the Vancouver Museum which featured Judy Chicago's Birth Project and the writing of women poets and novelists concerned with the issue of childbirth. A cycle of Kishkan's poems from Ikons of the Hunt was set to music by Canadian composer Steve Tittle. The composition, "Charms & Spells", was sung by Rosemarie Landry and received its world premiere at the Scotia Festival in 1987. It was recorded by CBC Stereo for broadcast on Arts National. Kishkan has taught writing classes, ranging from workshops for young children to writing courses for adults at the college level. She has given many public readings and participated in literary festivals. Her interests include natural and regional history, textiles, classical literature and gardening.
Based on a year she spent on a bleak island off the west coast of Ireland in the 1970s, Theresa Kishkan’s Inishbream explores the relationships between land and sea, islanders and mainlanders. With engravings by John DePol and bound by Helene Francoeur, Inishbream has been available from Barbarian Press in Mission in quarter cloth with patterned over boards at a mere $250 a pop. In her fictional follow-up A Man in a Distant Field (Dundurn $21.99), Declan O’Malley comes to the coast of B.C. to escape memories of his family’s death at the hands of the Black and Tans in Ireland. While working on a perfect translation of Homer’s Odyssey, he's drawn back into his own Irish troubles.
Wistful reminiscences of Kishkan's romantic times in Ireland during her 20s, as well as a memoir of returning there 23 years later with her son, in 2001, are the highlights in Phantom Limb (Thistledown $15.95), a collection of self-reflective essays and poetic narratives. It also includes a lovely piece about searching for Granite Creek, an interior community founded in 1885. “At what point is a place simply erased from a map in its literal sense? All over British Columbia there are significant town sites which hold only ghosts of their former selves.”
Kishkan was a co-recipient of the bp Nichol Chapbook Award in 1992 for Morning Glory, published by Victoria's Reference West. She makes her home on the Sechelt Peninsula with her husband and fellow author John Pass and their three children. She and John Pass were once guests on the cooking show, Galley Chefs, produced for the Knowledge Network. The segment was filmed in their home near Pender Harbour which they designed and built themselves. It includes a print shop with an antique letterpress.
In 2009, from a list of nine nominated titles from the past two years, Teresa Kishkan won the inaugural Readers' Choice Award presented by the Creative Nonfiction Collective at the Banff Centre for her writing from Phantom Limb (Thistledown).
Her third novel, The Age of the Water Lilies, combines life in the B.C. Interior in the early 1920s with life in Victoria some fifty years later, incorporating research from Joan Weir's non-fiction work Walhachin: Catastrophe or Camelot. In 1907, Charles Barnes, an American land surveyor in Ashcroft, B.C., envisioned a settlement for orchards to be grown along the Thompson River between Kamloops and Cache Creek. By 1910, a posh hotel was built and more than 2,000 tons of potatoes were shipped to market. By the summer of 1911, some 500 acres of fruit trees had been planted by the predominantly upper-class British immigrants to whom Barnes had marketed the development. By 1912, the new community of Walhachin had 180 permanent residents. They paid for a hugely expensive, 20-mile-long wooden flume to bring water for irrigation because most of the orchards were too high above the Thompson River for pumping technology. But when World War One broke out, most of the orchardists, who were staunchly loyal to England, chose to enlist, and by 1922 the promising paradise of Walhachin was empty. The heroine of Theresa Kishkan’s novel, The Age of Water Lilies (Brindle & Glass) remains at Walhachin during World War One, pregnant and unmarried, having fallen for a charismatic labourer leaves her for the imagined glories of combat in France. As Walhachin becomes less viable, Flora Oakden he moves to Victoria and receives shelter from suffragist Ann Ogilvie in a house overlooking the Ross Bay Cemetery. An unlikely but delightful friendship emerges between seventy-old-Flora and her seven-year-old neighbor Tessa, against the backdrop of the pacifist movement of the 1960s.
In her memoir Mnemonic: A Book of Tress (Goose Lane 2011), Kishkan names each chapter for a particular tree — the Garry oak, the Ponderosa pine, the silver olive, and others — to place her personal past within a botanical/historical context. It's about childhood, young womanhood, marriage, the building of a house, raising children and writing books, echoing the words of Pliny the Elder, “Hence it is right to follow the natural order, to speak about trees before other things...”
Theresa Kishkan's 13th title, Patrin (Mother Tongue 2015) is a novella that takes its title from an old word--patrin--for the clues that were left by Romany Gypsies for their travelling fellows, such as a handful of leaves or twigs tied to a tree. The story focuses on a young woman in Victoria in the 1970s named Patrin Szkandery, living in Victoria B.C. in the 1970s. She restores an ancient quilt and travels to Czechoslovakia to trace her Roma history that dates back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The quilt or pieced-together cloth is both a coded map and palimpsest of her extended family’s nomadic wandering through Moravia in the first decade of the 20th century. Again Kishkan's lyric prose as much of the attraction as the suspenseful and historic storyline.
Winter Wren by Theresa Kishkan, a novella set on Vancouver Island, was released on her new imprint for novellas called Fish Gotta Swim Editions. In 1974, in the disrupted midst of her life as a painter in France, Grace Oakden comes home to Canada and buys a cabin on a west coast beach. A friendship with the dying, embittered son of a famous artefact collector, and an affair with a local potter working in the Bernard Leach tradition, buttress her awakening engagement with chosen place and discovered purpose: to paint the view at dusk.
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Mnemonic: A Book of Trees
ARRANGING THE GALLERY (Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1976).
IKONS OF THE HUNT (Sono Nis Press, 1978).
I THOUGHT I COULD SEE AFRICA (High Ground Press, 1991).
MORNING GLORY (Reference West, 1991)
BLACK CUP (Beach Holme/Press Porcepic, 1993).
RED LAREDO BOOTS (New Star Books, Transmontanus series, 1996).
INISHBREAM: A NOVELLA (Barbarian Press, 1999). Fiction.
SISTERS OF GRASS (Goose Lane Editions, 2000). Fiction.
INISHBREAM (Goose Lane, trade edition, 2001).
A MAN IN A DISTANT FIELD (Dundurn, 2004). Fiction. 1-55002-531-7
PHANTOM LIMB (Thistledown 2007). Essays. 978-1-897235-31-7 $15.95
THE AGE OF THE WATER LILIES (Brindle & Glass, 2009). 978-1-897142-42-4 $19.95
MNEMONIC: A BOOK OF TREES (Goose Lane 2011) 978-0-86492-706-4 $19.95
PATRIN (Mother Tongue 2015) $17.95
WINTER WREN (Fish Gotta Swim Edition 2016) $18 978-0-9780054-5-0
"A Shadow of Antlers" (Barbarian Press, 1981).
"Ten Small Fingers" (High Ground Press, 1985).
SIX POETS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA, edited by Robin Skelton (Sono Nis Press, 1980).
A LABOUR OF LOVE, edited by Mona Fertig (Polestar Press, 1989).
BECAUSE YOU LOVED BEING A STRANGER, edited by Susan Musgrave (Harbour Publishing, 1994).
FRESH TRACKS: WRITING THE WESTERN LANDSCAPE, edited by Pamela Banting (Polestar Press, 1998).
THE DOMINION OF LOVE, edited by Tom Wayman (Harbour Publishing, 2001).
THE WAYWARD COAST, edited by Allan Brown (Far Field Press, 2001).
Winner, bp Nichol Chapbook Award, 1992
Finalist, Pushcart Prize, 1999.
Alcuin Society Citation for Excellence in Book Design (for Inishbream), 1999.
Finalist, Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, B.C. Book Prizes, 2005.
Finalist, Hubert Evans Award for Non?Fiction, 2008.
Winner, First Annual Readers’ Choice Award, Creative Non?Fiction Collective, 2009.
Winner, Edna Staebler Personal Essay Prize, 2010.
Finalist, Pushcart Prize, 2010.
Finalist, National Magazine Award, 2011.
[Photo by John Pass]
[BCBW 2016] "Fiction" "Poetry"
Theresa Kishkan profile (2000)
A woman in a long dress covered in stars and moons is hurling rocks and insults at a huge black bear that is tearing up her vegetable garden.
She runs towards it, flinging her arms around and growling until the bear lumbers into the forest.
Then she comes over to us cowering in the car, with all windows locked. After spending a sleepless night in what the Sunshine Coasters call the ‘Bates Motel’, we have driven halfway up a steep cliff, out of civilization, and into Theresa Kishkan’s driveway above Madeira Park.
“You must be the photographers,” she says.
Theresa coaxes us out and into the home that she and her husband John Pass designed and built themselves—all wood, with cooking smells and a pot-bellied stove—for much-appreciated glasses of wine. Inside there are oil paintings of her as an artist’s model. In those days she was living on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland with a local fisherman. She has also lived in Greece and England.
We start looking for a place to photograph Theresa and John, also a poet. We find their son Forrest in his room drinking Revolutionary Soda and writing a manifesto for a new world, pictures of Che Guevara all over the walls.
Throughout our stay, Theresa is as welcoming and sweet to us as she was aggressive and mean to the bear.
[by Blaise Enright-Peterson & Barry Peterson / BCBW 2000]
Phantom Limb (Thistledown $15.95)
Wistful reminiscences of romantic times in Ireland during her 20s, as well as a memoir of returning there 23 years later with her son, in 2001, are the highlights in Theresa Kishkan’s Phantom Limb (Thistledown $15.95), a collection of self-reflective essays and poetic narratives. It also includes a lovely piece about searching for Granite Creek, an interior community founded in 1885. 978-1-897235-31-7
The Age of Water Lilies (Brindle & Glass $19.95)
In 1907, Charles Barnes, an American land surveyor in Ashcroft, B.C., envisioned a settlement for orchards to be grown along the Thompson River between Kamloops and Cache Creek. By 1910, a posh hotel was built and more than 2,000 tons of potatoes were shipped to market. By the summer of 1911, some 500 acres of fruit trees had been planted by the predominantly upper-class British immigrants to whom Barnes had marketed the development. By 1912, the new community of Walhachin had 180 permanent residents. They paid for a hugely expensive, 20-mile-long wooden flume to bring water for irrigation because most of the orchards were too high above the Thompson River for pumping technology. But when World War One broke out, most of the orchardists, who were staunchly loyal to England, chose to enlist, and by 1922 the promising paradise of Walhachin was empty. The heroine of Theresa Kishkan’s novel, The Age of Water Lilies (Brindle & Glass $19.95) remains at Walhachin during World War One, pregnant and unmarried, having fallen for a charismatic labourer who leaves her for the imagined glories of combat in France. As Walhachin becomes less viable, Flora Oakden moves to Victoria and receives shelter from suffragist Ann Ogilvie in a house overlooking the Ross Bay Cemetery. Decades later, an unlikely but delightful friendship emerges between seventy-year-old Flora and her seven-year-old neighbour Tessa, against the backdrop of the pacifist movement of the 1960s. 978-1-897142-42-4
Patrin (Mother Tongue $17.95)
from Joan Givner
The Romani—or Roma—are not from Rome or Romania. They are nomads with no homeland of their own. Until recently they have mostly been called gypsies. They originated on the Indian subcontinent. For centuries Roma have been persecuted and hounded from place to place, mainly in Europe.
In Theresa Kishkan’s compelling novella, Patrin (Mother Tongue $17.95), a Canadian narrator named Patrin Szkandery uncovers her ancestral past via her Roma grandmother, a woman who left with her family, bound for Canada, from Moravia in Central Europe.
Sailing from Antwerp to Saint John, N.B. aboard the Mount Temple (the same ship that brought the author’s non-fiction grandmother to Canada in the same year), Patrin’s grandmother, in her late teens, fell in love with a gadzo (non Roma) man, and was cast out of her tribe for this taboo violation. Her mother gave her a quilt as a parting gift.
The young couple married, settled outside Edmonton, and had one child—Patrin’s father.
From her grandmother, Patrin inherits the old quilt. As Patrin restores the quilt, it begins to mean more than a warm coverlet, redolent with the smells of sheep and wood smoke, under which she slept with her widowed grandmother. The fabric tells a story.
Patches of loden and homespun cloth alternate with scraps of rich velvet, remnants from the cast-offs of a landowner with whom her great-grandfather found temporary work.
Then, her close attention to the intricate pattern of leaves brings a further revelation. They come from various trees, clearly differentiated and botanically exact. As her fingers trace the stitches around them, she learns that the quilt was fashioned as a map by its creator—her Roma great-grandmother who wept when she had to leave behind the graves of her dead babies.
Behind one leaf, Patrin finds a scrap of paper bearing eight words in a language she doesn’t understand.
The leaf design of the quilt is replicated in the imagery and structure of this intricately wrought novella, as well as on its book jacket.
The narrator—who was named by her grandmother—learns that Patrin not only means ‘leaf’ but also refers to the bundles of twigs that Roma left as signs for their fellow travelers. The leaves of the quilt become signs that guide Patrin as she travels through the region of former Czechoslovakia where her ancestors roamed before their journey to Canada. Her geographical quest is the outer manifestation of an inner journey of self-discovery.
The novella is made up of fifty-nine fragments, various in length, dated in the 1970s, and woven together in a non-linear pattern. They describe the episodes in Patrin’s life that culminate in the discovery of her Roma family’s camping grounds in the Beskydy Mountains, situated along the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.
One segment describes her solitary journey to Europe as a teenager. On a ferry bound for Crete she hears music played on an unfamiliar instrument. Drawn to the musician, she learns that he is part Roma, and that his instrument is a zurna; the two become lovers. This affair resembles her grandmother’s own intimate adventure.
Other segments take place after Patrin returns home to Victoria. While working in an antiquarian bookstore on Fort Street, she hears a poet (who can easily be viewed as the late Robin Skelton) read from a collection of ancient folklore. When the poet intones an ancient poem for the consecration of cloth, Patrin seems to hear a voice speaking to her across the decades. She feels a strange nostalgia for something unknown that lurks in her DNA.
Ever since her childhood, Patrin’s dark skin tone, her unusual name and solitary habits have given her a sense of alienation. She is a reader and a writer—and yet, when Patrin attends a salon in the poet’s home, and a session of his creative writing class at the university, she feels little affinity with the articulate members of the creative writing class.
It is the incantatory voice of the old folklorist that guides her towards the tradition to which she belongs. For all the temporal and geographical differences between Patrin and her forebears, the atavistic connection between them is strong. Like her Roma great-grandparents, she is a wanderer.
Mirroring the stitched framework of the quilt, Kishkan deftly weaves an account of Patrin’s early years, and the life story of her grandmother, in and around Patrin’s first journey to Europe, and a final one to what was once known as Czechoslovakia. The gateway to her appreciation of her racial heritage is that threadbare quilt—the legacy of her Roma grandmother—like a map with roadways to her heart. 978-1-896949-51-2
Novelist and critic Joan Givner reviews from Mill Bay.
Fish Gotta Swim
Press Release (2016)
The Story Behind Fish Gotta Swim Editions
In September, 2014, writers (and friends) Anik See and Theresa Kishkan were having a conversation about novellas. Both wrote them, both had published them (Anik’s postcard was part of a collection released by Freehand Books in 2009 and Theresa’s Inishbream was published by Goose Lane Editions in 2001). But as they talked, they realized that the manuscripts they’d recently completed had been turned down by many publishers who’d all said more or less the same thing: “Great writing! But we can’t publish novellas!”
“Well, you know what that means!” Who said it first? Doesn’t matter. They both laughed. And Fish Gotta Swim Editions was born that day, in Theresa’s kitchen on the Sechelt Peninsula, as Anik paused for a night or two enroute from the Berton House Residency in Dawson City to her home in Amsterdam.
And why the novella? Ian McEwan says, “I believe the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction. It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated, ill-shaven giant (but a giant who’s a genius on his best days).” What would a literary landscape look like without that beautiful daughter? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Because the novella tends to be brief, with a flexible range of 20,000-40,000 words, Anik and Theresa envision small books – handsized! -- with good design values. They agree with Henry James who admired what he believed was the novella’s perfect scale: "the value above all of the idea happily developed. . . ." Think of something beautiful and rare, perfect for an afternoon’s reading by the fire, with a glass of wine.
Between them, Anik See and Theresa Kishkan have decades of publishing experience. Anik has published 3 books, including Saudade (Coach House Books, 2008) and A Fork in the Road (MacMillan, 2000); she has produced award-winning radio documentaries for CBC Ideas, ABC, and Radio Netherlands Worldwide; and her articles have appeared in the Walrus, National Geographic, and Brick. She has also worked as a letterpress printer and book designer. Theresa has published 12 books, most recently Mnemonic: A Book of Trees (Goose Lane Editions, 2011) and the novella Patrin (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2015); her work has been nominated for many awards, including the Ethel Wilson Prize for Fiction, the Pushcart Prize, National Magazine Awards, and the Hubert Evans Award for Non-Fiction.