LITERARY LOCATION: Princess Avenue & Hastings Street, Vancouver

Maggie de Vries's 28-year-old, adopted younger sister Sarah vanished from the corner of Princess and Hastings on April 14, 1998 in Vancouver. On August 6, 2002, Vancouver police met with de Vries and gave her the news that a sample of Sarah's DNA (from a tooth) was found by police on the Port Coquitlam property of Robert Pickton, the convicted serial killer of Vancouver prostitutes.

ENTRY:

After hope was replaced by the grim certainty that her sister had been murdered, Maggie de Vries soon began searching for the answers as to how and why her sister had disappeared, leading her to write Missing Sarah: A Vancouver Woman Remembers Her Vanished Sister (Penguin 2003), a heart-rending memoir that won the first annual George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in B.C. Literature in 2004 as well as the 13th annual VanCity Book Prize for best book pertaining to women's issues by a B.C. author.

Maggie de Vries wasn't finished paying homage to her sister. While repeatedly watching a video of her sister Sarah being interviewed in 1993 for a television program in which Sarah warned about the dangers of being addicted to heroine, de Vries noticed her sister had a small insignia of a Playboy bunny tattooed on her chest. As she later explained to her audience at the B.C. Book Prizes gala in 2015, that tattoo gave rise to the title of Rabbit Ears (HarperCollins 2014), winner of the Sheila A. Egoff Prize for Children's Literature.

Maggie de Vries and her adopted sister Sarah were raised by a UBC professor and one of the head nurses at Vancouver General Hospital. Her sister Sarah was black, one of four siblings who grew up in a privileged West Point Grey home that became divided by divorce. In 1991, de Vries' mother received a telephone call from a hospital saying that Maggie de Vries' 21-year-old daughter, Sarah, a prostitute in Vancouver Downtown Eastside, was in labour. Sarah went back to her world of drugs and prostitution almost immediately, leaving the child's grandmother to take legal control of the child and oversee the infant's withdrawal process due to Sarah's addictions to heroine and cocaine. The father was last seen sleeping on benches.

Raped in 1996, Sarah gave birth to another child but intitially wouldn't look at it for fear it would look like the rapist. The blood of the premature infant Ben contained strains of HIV and hepatitis C, but fortunately the child was afflicted only with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Both children are being raised in Ontario by Sarah's mother and Sarah's aunt, Jean Little, the famous children's book author.

Missing Sarah incorporates excerpts from Sarah’s journals and recollections of people who knew Sarah during her 14 years downtown. It provides, according to publicity material, "a portrait of a bright, funny and sensitive woman who found herself trapped in a downward spiral of self-loathing, prostitution, drugs and violence."

Holding an MA in English Literature, Maggie de Vries has taught children’s literature at the University of Guelph and UBC. She has taught ‘Writing for Young Readers’ at Langara College and has written the children’s books Once Upon a Golden Apple (Penguin, 1991), Chance and the Butterfly (Orca, 2001) and How Sleep Found Tabitha (Orca, 2002). She has worked with Orca Books as an editor and has coordinated a writers' group with Vancouver prostitutes. For four months in the fall of 2005, she was the first Writer-in-Residence at the Vancouver Public Library.

For young readers she wrote about the threatened sturgeon along the Fraser River in Tale of a Great White Fish (Greystone, 2006), followed by Fraser Bear (Greystone, 2010). In the same year she published a novel for young adults, Hunger Journeys, set in World War Two in Amsterdam. According to promotional materials, "teenaged Lena leaves her starving family to travel by train with her friend, Sofie, to Almelo, a town close to the German border. It’s a risky plan. They have false papers and are quickly pulled off the train by German soldiers. Only by fluke do they get back on again -- with the help of Albert, one of the other soldiers. After Lena discovers that the train had also been used to transport Jews to concentration camps, she fears her new friendship with the helpful Albert may lead her into more danger. Sofie, too, befriends a soldier, a relationship that quickly turns serious and has unforeseen consequences for both girls."

Chance and the Butterfly, which was first published by Orca in 2001, was reprinted by Orca in 2011. The young adult novel is about a boy who struggles in school, until his class starts raising butterflies from caterpillars.

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Nature is not only good for our bodies; it can have a profound healing effect. Maggie de Vries has dramatized that fact with an unusual story about a girl who is based on her niece. The girl’s mother—Maggie de Vries’ sister, Sarah—went missing from the Downtown Eastside in 1988. De Vries’ has already written an award-winning non-fiction book about her own search for Sarah, but this time she has crafted a fanciful picture book, illustrated by Janice Kun, for ages 4-8. While mother and daughter never got to know each other in real life, de Vries’ Swimming with Seals (Orca $19.95) invents a scenario whereby they are united by their mutual love of swimming. When the girl can frolic with the seals and her mother in the ocean, the pain of separation is healed. 9781459813212
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BOOKS:

Once Upon a Golden Apple, co-authored with Jean Little (Puffin, 1993). Illustrated by Phoebe Gillman. 0140541640.
Chance and the Butterfly (Orca, 2001). 1551432080. Reprinted (Orca, 2011) 9781554698653 $7.95
How Sleep Found Tabitha (Orca, 2002) illustrated by Sheena Lott. 1551431939.
Missing Sarah: A Vancouver Woman Remembers Her Vanished Sister (Penguin, 2003) 0143013718
Tale of a Great White Fish (Greystone, 2006), illustrated by Renné Benoit. 1553651251
Fraser Bear (Greystone, 2010), illustrated by Renné Benoit. 9781553655213
Hunger Journeys (HarperCollins Canada, 2010)
Big City Bees (Greystone, 2012) Illustrated by Renn Benoit $19.95 978-1-55365-906-8
Rabbit Ears (HarperCollins 2014)
Swimming with Seals (Orca 2018) Illustrated by Janice Kun $19.95 978-1-45981-322-9

 

[BCBW 2018] "Women" "Kidlit" "Downtown Eastside" "VanCity" "Classic"