Author Tags: Fiction, Local History

John Harris' collection of 15 connected stories, Small Rain, is a stark, confessional memoir by an English teacher in a small regional college as he copes with fatherhood, teaching travails, leaving his wife and forming new relationships. Tungsten John refers to his explorations with Vivien Lougheed on all-season mining roads in the region of the newly defunct mining town of Tungsten during attempts to reach the South Nahanni River on foot and by bicycle. Based on the life and times of "The Flying Trapper," George Dalziel, Harris' Above the Falls recalls the unsolved RCMP case arising from the disappearance of two trappers employed by Dalziel near a remote Nahanni River trapline in 1936. When authorities found the trappers' cabin burned to the ground, they suspected Dalziel of foul play.

CITY/TOWN: Prince George, BC

DATE OF BIRTH: October 19, 1942


EMPLOYMENT OTHER THAN WRITING: College of New Caledonia English Department instructor, Prince George, since 1972


The English Department of the Spirit: The Rise and Fall of Literature in the University Curriculum (Repository Press 2014) ebook only $5 978-0-920104-36–1
Above the Falls, 2007, Touchwood Editions
Diary of a Lake, 2002, Repository Press (co-edited with Vivienne Lougheed)
Tungsten John, 2000, New Star Books
Tom Wayman and His Works, 1997, ECW Press
Other Art, 1997, New Star Books
Small Rain, 1989, New Star Books
George Bowering and his Works, n.d, ECW Press
Barry McKinnon, 1985, Repository Press

BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS: Raised in Vancouver and White Rock, John Harris, BA, MA (UBC), PhD (McGill) has widely published travel literature, fiction and literary criticism. He has also managed Repository Press, which has published books by Barry McKinnon, Eleanor Crowe, Ken Belford, Alban Goulden, Andy Suknaski, Vivien Lougheed, John Pass and others. He published a quarterly literary magazine called Repository from 1971 to 1981. He contributes regularly to Dooney's Cafe electronic magazine.

[BCBW 2014] "Fiction" "Local History"

Diary of a Lake (Repository Press $22)

John Harris and his partner Vivien Lougheed have edited and produced Diary of a Lake (Repository Press $22) about Crystal Lake, a mecca for rock climbers in the heart of the Mackenzie Mountains. It contains the published work of scientists who came to the lake, plus their journals and photos, from 1934 onwards. 0-920104-24-X


Tungsten John (New Star $19)

Ambiguity between the truth and fiction of the Nahanni is the background for Tungsten John (New Star $19) by John Harris of Prince George. It mixes Harris’ archival research into Nahanni exploration in the 1930s with his accounts of four Nahanni hiking/bicycling trips made by Harris, his partner Vivien Lougheed and a changing cast of companions in the late 1990s.

The area they explored—centred on the abandoned mining town of Tungsten—is littered with the remains of mining roads, cabins and derelict minesites. As in his previous books, Small Rain and Other Art, Harris becomes a central character. His narration (with all its self-deprecating humour, its mock and genuine earnestness, and its full consciousness of the conventionality of storytelling) becomes the focus of the book. The jacket categorizes Tungsten John: “Travel - Adventure - Outdoors”. I would also add “Fiction - History - Literary Criticism”. And maybe, for good measure: “Satire”.

It makes for a tricky book. The narrative of the modern-day hiking trips reads like fiction and slips effortlessly into the fantastic and the legendary, just like the history of the Nahanni explorers merges into the fabulous. The Nahanni River itself, the goal of these epic hikes, is never glimpsed, the same way truth eludes all written histories, however tenaciously pursued. 0-921586-70-1

[George Sipos / BCBW 2000]

Other Art (New Star $16)

Biography or fiction? John Harris' Other Art (New Star $16) dissects the mall ified middle class life that is smalltown North America. It features instructor cum narrator John Harris and a host of characters including Harvey and Lilla, the earstwhile proprietors of Other Art, a coffeehouse/gallery in an unnamed community, as well as a paramour named Vivien, similar to Harris' real life partner and world traveller Vivien Lougheed.
0 921586 58 2

[BCBW 1997]

Synopsis 2014

Supplied by author:

This book is a comprehensive and detailed history of the generic English Department, beginning with the Elizabethan pre-school and Latin grammar school. It shows how the study of the bible and liturgical texts gave way to the study of humanistic, classical and literary texts as a politically discreet, socially acceptable method of teaching literacy in English. As literature in English, and as books, magazines and newspapers, became more varied and popular, the focus on literature in English composition and declamation exercises became more prevalent. Finally the practice was given a theoretical foundation in the writings of Matthew Arnold and became the basis of curricula in the first modern universities: Glasgow in Scotland, Harvard in the US, and the extension departments of Oxford, Cambridge etcetera.

As soon as the practice of teaching literacy through literature was established, writers, especially poets, began to find a home in the schools and, especially, the universities. These, unlike the public schools, had no specific teacher-training requirements in their hiring practices; a combination of degree status and publication was all. Studies of major anthologies through the latter half of the twentieth century show that over half of the major poets and roughly a quarter of the major fiction writers in North America and the UK worked as full-time English professors, and thousands more writers moved in and out of the Department as writers in residence and readers. The Department more and more assumed the role of patron and curator of the national literatures of the countries in which it operated.

However, starting early in the twentieth century Arnoldian theory — the humanistic defense of the study of literature — was questioned, and the practice of teaching literacy through literature was gradually abandoned. This started in the Department's "service" courses for students in the sciences, applied sciences and business, and spread to the required freshman English course, which developed a purely compositionist segment that usually involved the writing of essays on public issues rather than literary topics. Starting in the seventies, "theory" questioned the whole idea of literature, shrinking English Studies and making room for a compositionist Department. Literature was passed on from English Studies programs to burgeoning Creative Writing programs, and writer-professors moved more and more into that program.

At every stage, these changes created tensions for writer-professors and turf wars in the Department and between the Department and factions of the literary community. This book deals especially with these struggles as they effected writer-professors — scholars against generalists (Kittredge vs Babbitt for example) early in the twentieth century, engineering etcetera faculty against English faculty over service courses in the 1930's and on, creative writing advocates vs scholars and parts of the literary community in the struggle to establish creative writing programs in the fifties and sixties, "theory" against the English studies canon starting in the 1970's, and the workshop (MFA) approach against the scholarly (linguistic) approach within ascendent creative writing programs from the 1960's to the present.