LITERARY LOCATION: New Orphic Gallery, 706 Mill Street, Nelson. Directions: Near the intersection of Mill and Hall, four blocks from Selkirk College.

Ernest Hekkanen's intimidating versatility and productivity have increasingly defied easy categorization and marketing. Although Hekkanen is clearly one of British Columbia's most remarkable writers, his work is seldom recognized in mainstream publications and Canada's literary festivals have consistently overlooked him. Library systems and bookstores depend on established conduits for ordering books, leaving staunchly independent producers such as Hekkanen out in the cold. His work frequently points to dark but universal recesses of the mind. As a sophisticated do-it-yourselfer, Hekkanen has gradually outpaced Adolf Hungry Wolf as British Columbia's most prolific and serious self-publisher. He and partner Margrith Schrander (in photo) also operate the New Orphic Gallery and New Orphic Review from their home. He announced the final issue of New Orphic Review would be published in 2017.

ENTRY: Born in Seattle on April 27, 1947, of Finnish heritage, Ernest Hekkanen waited until his 47th book, False Memories, to describe a pivotal event in the Seventh Grade, at Lynnwood Junior High School, which would strongly influence him for the rest of his life. He later condensed the story:

"I found myself in a block class full of misfits, underachievers and emotionally disturbed children. When I surveyed my fellow classmates, I couldn't fathom what I was doing among them. Our teacher, Tiny Thorton, ruled the class with an iron fist. He began the school year with an illustrated lecture, one that necessitated putting a 'guinea pig' on display. That year the role of 'guinea pig' fell to me. He strapped me into a straitjacket and proceeded to lecture us on how our bad attitudes had come to straitjacket our lives. According to him, most of us would end up failures of one kind or another, if we were unable to shirk the attitudes that had come to confine us. My role was to demonstrate how difficult it would be to get out of the straitjacket each and every one of us had come to wear. Were I to get out of it I would be allowed to smoke in class for the rest of the school year, but were I to fail, the other kids were given permission to throw spit wads and crumpled balls of paper at me... Needless to say, I didn't get out of the straitjacket, and needless to say, I swore I'd never be put in one ever again."

Fast forward to 1969 when, after deciding to move to Canada as a draft evader in 1969, Ernest Hekkanen was dropped off on Main Street in Vancover by a friend. "I wasn't of the Quaker faith or any other religious tradition opposed to the war," he has written. "I simply objected to the Vietnam War, and the atrocities being perpetrated on our behalf."

With his first wife and children he lived in Port Moody, working at job he hated in die-casting foundry, often writing on an old Underwood typewriter between three and seven in the morning before going to work. After eleven years in his adopted country, he applied for Canadian citizenship, partly out of pragmatism because he hoped he might be able to gain access to some fellowships or bursaries that would enable him to obtain an MFA in creative writing.

Hekkanen lived in Vancouver as an independent contractor/carpenter and gradually shed an early affiliation as a writer with magic realism. Hekkanen's early fabulist fiction was compared to that of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Samuel Beckett after the publication of Medieval Hour in the Author's Mind in 1987. With Gothic overtones, his second collection of stories revealed the angst of contemporary domestic lives.

In the 1990s, Hekkanen turned his hand to self-publishing under his New Orphic imprint. The press also prints books by other writers and manages the New Orphic Review, a literary journal that publishes twice a year without any government support. New Orphic covers sometimes feature artwork and collages by Hekkanen or his long-time partner Margrith Schraner, who co-authored Black Snow: An Imaginative Memoir.

Before moving to Nelson, Hekkanen was also active in a short-lived Vancouver chapter of PEN International.

Upon relocating to Nelson in the Kootenays, Hekkanen and Schraner began co-curating their home-based New Orphic Gallery. As well, the New Orphic Review has been published continuously from Nelson since their relocation to the Kootenays.

The range of Hekkanen's writing is easily appreciated by looking at any handful of his titles. For instance, Man's Sadness delves into the deadly destruction of an Army Math Research Centre in Wisconsin. It's a tale of intrigue in which a Ph.D. student collecting oral histories at the Carnegie Centre in Vancouver uncovers the fugitive Jerry Rantala, alias the Rant Man of the radical Weatherman movement in the United States during the early 1970s. In another instance of art imitating life, theatre director Jay Hamburger's true tale of interviewing theatre director and performance artist Peter Reade for Vancouver's Co-op Radio, wherein Reade took off all his clothes during their conversation, prompted Hekkanen to write The Radio Interview featuring 'Jay Jabberwocky' and a nudist named Jeremy Pan.

Hekkanen has drawn from Lord of the Flies and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to create an allegorical novella Dementia Island, a place where madness and hurricanes pose an equal threat. Hekkanen's 23rd book is a one-act passion play, The Lambing, originally written in 1983 for an intended performance on Mayne Island at Easter. "Although there is an obvious allusion to things religious in the play,"; says Hekkanen, "it does not require the audience to be knowledgeable of Christianity or to understand rituals that involve sacrifice. Indeed, if one were to travel beyond the boundaries of the city and out into the countryside, one would discover that this passion play is performed every spring, wherever sheep are raised for food or wool."; Hekkanen's novella The Island of Winged Wonders is a fable about a fisherman who catches a luminous silver egg. Hekannen simultaneously released a collection of essays, Sometimes I Have These Incendiary Dreams. Professor and feminist Pamela Dresdahl has it all--a wealthy husband and a Range Rover--but she suffers a shattering loss of confidence in The Last Thing My Father Gave Me.

In Hekkanen's oddly titled novel Up and Coming (In Seattle), a third-generation Finnish-American art professor in Seattle is recovering from the death of his mother and the loss of his wife to a lesbian relationship when he learns his impotent father Harry is about to marry beautiful 39-year-old named Rosemarie Venturini. In this comic tale, the father attempts to cure his problem with the installation of a 'pecker pump', inspiring his son to create a huge sculpture near the Seattle Opera House called Please, Dad, You Don't Have to Show Us. The title story of Ernest Hekkanen's 34th book, Melancholy and Mystery of a Street is inspired by a painting by Giorgio de Chirico. A prosecuting attorney observes a girl rolling a bicycle hoop down a cobblestone street only to be drawn into a Robbe-Grillet-like mystery. There are comical shades of Kafka throughout these 12 stories set in six identifiable countries of Hekkanen's fervent imagination. Kafka reappears prominently in the novella, The Life of Bartholomew G., in which a former ESL teacher has spent more than 20 years on his M.A. thesis about Franz Kafka. Burdened by family expectations, the Finnish-Jewish Canadian protagonist remarks, "I've come to think it isn't good enough to simply study Kafka. In a manner of speaking, to better know him, one must become the man." But Hekkanen himself is not an unabashed admirer of Kafka. His 37th title, Kafka, The Master of Yesno, concludes that "Kafka took the easy way out through tuberculosis and death rather than fulfill his promise as a truly great writer." This iconoclastic study also criticizes how scholars "have turned Kafka into an industry at universities around the world."

Shadows on a Cave Wall is an amusing and fascinating character portrait of a former prize-fighter, musician and fiction writer, Sebastian Salo, undertaken by a fictional chronicler, Jacques Dupuis, after Salo's body has been discovered two months after his death. As Dupuis gathers the myriad of views of Salo from members of a West Kootenay town, Hekkanen simultaneously provides a sly and revealing study of the town itself through the voices and prejudices and emotions of its citizens. The concert of opinions and personalities that comprise Shadows on a Cave Wall was possibly prompted by Hekkanen's leading role in promoting the favourable recognition of American draft resisters in Canada in 2006 against the wishes of small-minded and fearful citizens in the Kootenays who failed to understand why peaceful, anti-war sentiments ought to be respected.

The aforementioned cultural clash between the Chamber of Commerce types in Nelson who were anxious about their tourism industry and the Kootenay area's left-leaning back-to-the-landers and transplanted Americans, such as Hekkanen, who saw the world in larger political and moral terms, was the basis for Hekkanen's novelistic memoir, Of a Fire Beyond the Hills (New Orphic, 2008). History happens in the wink of an eye. There is much to be said for recording it while memories (and wounds) are fresh. Although Hekkanen has elected to subtitle his story "a novel based on news stories," this narrative reads like a frank rendition of the truth, as well as a cathartic and self-preservational upchucking of an extremely unpleasant experience. After right wingers from across the United States sent a barrage of hate mail to Nelson, protesting the possible erection of a War Resisters Monument, Hekkanen ended up being the spokesperson for the idealists. "What does the monument mean to me--to me personally," he advised the media, "For me, it's a middle finger salute to the White House, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and all the other right-wing morons who determine foreign policy down in the United States." As his role became fundamental in news stories from CNN, ABC, FOX, CBC, Los Angeles Times, Vancouver Sun, New York Times, and Globe & Mail, etc., he found his private life rapidly eroding. After the Doukhobor Museum outside of Castlegar failed to provide an alternate sanctuary for the monument as hoped and planned, Hekkanen reluctantly provided its refuge in his own living room--and his wife was far from thrilled. Neither was the mayor his town council who requested Hekkanen get a business license because he was not otherwise allowed to have a sign on his house saying New Orphic Gallery. Reading Tolstoy's Patriotism: The Slavery of our Times, back in 1967, helped Hekkanen take a stand. Hekkanen fought city hall and won. In the late spring of 2007, as a forest fire raged outside the town (giving rise to the title), Hekkanen had put his money where his mouth is, but also paid a heavy personal price for it. Having born the brunt of hostility from the conservative Chamber of Commerce types, he has struck back with his considerable writing talents, providing a frequently brilliant and often funny local history of the wave of fear, patriotism and hysteria that effectively blew the lid off Nelson's image as a 'laid-back' and idyllic community. Hekkanen likens this strange book to Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People and Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night, but it's more journalistic and confessional. "Now I wear a beard similar to Abraham Lincoln's," he writes. "I don't look anything like Lincoln. I look more like I could play the role of one of the apes in Planet of the Apes--without any facial putty." Of a Fire Beyond the Hills resonates not as an advertisement for his bravery so much as a defense of it. Somebody has got to stand up to the madness, even if it sometimes means standing alone. "I didn't take the death threats very seriously," he writes, "knowing how my former compatriots, especially those on the political right, loved to bravely puff up their pigeon chests."

Ernest Hekkanen has continued on the offensive since the controversial memoir, Of a Fire Beyond the Hills, was launched at the Oxygen Art Centre in Nelson, likening the climate of intimidation he faced to the repression of free speech in Nazi Germany and the political landscape that has shaped U.S. foreign policy under George Bush Sr. and Jr.

"The U.S. made it very uncomfortable for people on the left to express their opposition to war," he told the Nelson Daily News, "making it seem like they were unpatriotic. I saw the same things occur in Nelson. I couldn't help writing about it.... We have a lot of politicians willing to compromise our freedom of speech in order to buddy up to Americans and the almighty dollar." This book was one of three books shortlisted for the 5th annual George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in 2008.

Seriously comic, fabulist, theatrical, iconoclastic and shrewd, Ernest Hekkanen is a literary outsider by temperament and necessity but probably not by choice. He has done too much, too well, too fast, too independently, too far away from Ontario, to be fashionable.

The 880 pages and 73 stories of Volume One and Volume Two of The Collected Short Stories of Ernest Hekkanen: Naturalistic, Modern Gothic, Surreal & Postmodern (New Orphic $28 each) represent an astonishing range and depth over forty years of highly original storytelling. None of the stories in the twin compilation escaped editing, and a few were extensively re-worked. After 41 books, he wrote, "My history as a writer has been that of believing in myself and my work, in the face of near anonymity-which, rather early in my career, after my first few books were published, became my modus operandi. Indeed, working in solitude and anonymity became a kind of discipline for me. For a long time, it was my belief that a writer should write as though he didn't desire to be read, for, in the end, when our solar system performs its final feat of collapsing, all the words in all the books on the face of the earth won't be words enough to animate the human tongue.";

Medieval thinking clashes with modernity in Ernest Hekkanen's 30th fiction release, a novel, Heretic Hill (New Orphic 2013), his 45th book since 1987. Hoping to prevent the primitive execution of his friend, Dr. Sadhar Badhar, in an unnamed Middle East country, New York Times correspondent Aki Kyosolamaki, the narrator, risks his own life when he is permitted to visit Badhar in the Reeduction Center for Misinformed Individuals, ostensibly to convince Badhar to confess his sins against Islam.

Bill Gaston has dubbed Hekkanen Canadian literature's "most resolute maverick." Possibly Hekkanen would agree. Meanwhile this iconoclast will just have to do his life over again before tastemakers will recognize his value.

Vincent van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime--to his long-suffering brother who was the only person who consistently loved him and supported his work. After his death, the artwork of van Gogh has generated billions of dollars for commercial enterprises around the world, such as the ever-popular van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the collective value of his separate paintings made over a ten-year period is beyond calculation. The disturbing Kafka-esque genius apparent in Ernest Hekkanen's novella I'm Not You (New Orphic 2014) brings van Gogh's fate to mind. Is it possible that one hundred years from now people will be reading this existentialist allegory and wonder how it could have gone unrecognized during the artist's lifetime?

Like van Gogh, who sold one painting, Hekkanen has only been published (twice) by one commercial press. For his 46th title, he introduced a nameless character who is discovered beaten almost to death in the woods of Manning Park. Brought to a hospital in Abbotsford, he cannot recall his name, or his past. He draws a complete blank, much to the consternation of the police and medical authorities. The man-who reluctantly accepts being addressed as 'Sir' in lieu of anything else-sometimes has a nagging voice in his head that questions his thinking, but he is helpless in his efforts to cooperate with other humans who are thoroughly perplexed by his amnesia. In great pain, Sir eats again, he defecates. He is very frightened when he sees a face in the mirror. He does not recognize what everyone else insists must be his own reflection. He doesn't know himself; so he only knows that he is not other people. Mostly he wants to get his clothes back. It is humiliating to be held prisoner in a hospital as a mere victim of circumstance. There is no indication that he has committed any wrongdoing. Finally he escapes down the elevator only to be dragooned by three nefarious men in a black van. They drive him back to the woods in Manning Park and they start beating him... The opening paragraph of I'm Not You is repeated, word for word. Is that giving too much away? Well, hardly anyone is going to read it for another one hundred years anyway...

BOOKS:

1. Medieval Hour in the Author's Mind (stories), Thistledown Press, 1987. 0-920633-31-5
2. The Violent Lavender Beast (stories), Thistledown Press, 1988. 0-920633-45-5

ALL OF THE FOLLOWING TITLES HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED BY HEKKANEN'S NEW ORPHIC IMPRINT:

3. From A Town Now Dreaming (novel) 1995. Dr. Koski of the Seven Arrows Clinic in Blazon, Wyoming keeps a journal to record the bizarre behaviour and dreams of the townspeople. 0-9699162-0-5
4. Black Snow: An Imaginative Memoir (fictionalized memoir with Margrith Schraner), 1995. $23.95 0-9699162-1-3. The married authors seek to recount a shared experience "only to discover how differently and inventively they remember the past."
5. The Wedding Cycle (poetry), 1996. 0-9699162-3-X
6. Journeys that Bring Us Here (stories), 1996. This collection illuminates men who live on the periphery, eternally on the road or in jobs they dream of escaping. $15. 0-9699162-2-1
7. Turning Life into Fiction: An Aesthetic Manifesto (essay), 1996. 0-9699162-4-8
8. Beyond the Call (one-act play), 1997. Produced at The Havana theatre in Vancouver by Theatre in the Raw, it's a drama about emotional fallout and generational conflicts that arose from the Vietnam War. $12. 0-9699162-7-2
9. The Soul You Call Your Own (stories), 1997. $18. 0-9699162-6-4
10. Chasing After Carnivals (novel), 1997. This story examines the lives of two brothers who come of age in small town America during the Vietnam War. 0-9699162-5-6 $20
11. The House of Samsara (novel), 1997. This is the fictional version of the play Beyond the Call concerning Trevor Knight's trip around America. In seeking to learn why his father left the U.S. in the late 1960s, the protagonist finds Alex Koivula, an intimidating Vietnam veteran who lives in the squalor of a Seattle rooming house. $14 0-9699162-8-0
12. You Know Me Better Than That (novella), 1998 0-9699162-9-9
13. Those Who Eat at My Table (stories), 1998. [See review below.] $18. 0-9682800-0-5
14. Bridge Over the Tampere Rapids, and Other Finnish Stories (stories), 1998. These stories and essays concern ethnic identity pertaining to those of Finnish origin. 0-9682800-2-1
15. The Last Thing My Father Gave Me (novel) 1999. "On returning from North American Studies Conferences in Finland and Estonia, Pamela Dresdahl, once the youngest tenured professor in Canada, suffers a shattering loss of confidence. A feminist who has attempted to excel in the academic world, she suddenly finds that she is a nervous wreck--on a roller coaster ride of emotion that has something to do with her past and the last thing given to her by her father." $20. 0-9682800-1-3
16. Dementia Island (novel) 1999. 0-9682800-3-X
17. My Dog Is More Than Just A Dog To Me (novella) 1999. Dialogue between two dog owners in an East Vancouver park, a political cartoonist and an ESL teacher, reveals their life stories as intimacy emerges. 0-9682800-4-8
18. Good Ol' Boy: Willis V. McCall (novel, with Ed Roy). 1999. 0-9682800-5-6 [See review below.]
19. Straying from Luminosity (poetry)
20. Sometimes I Have These Incendiary Dreams (criticism and essays) $18 0-9682800-7-2
21. The Island of Winged Wonders $15 0-9682800-8-0
22. Man's Sadness (novella) $15 0-9682800-9-9
23. The Lambing (play) $15 0-9687317-0-8
24. The Well (play)
25. Harbinger of Fall (play)
26. The Clown Act (play)
27. The Radio Interview (play) 2001. 0-9687317-4-0
28. The Misadventures of Bumbleberry Finn (novel). With outrageous characters and plot lines, Hekkanen pokes fun at the Finnish community. 0-9687317-5-9
29. Exhuming Carl Jung (play)
30. The Shipwrecked Heart (stories) 0-9687317 $15
31. The Expulsion, Or Goodbye, Chubby Chickens, Goodbye (play). 2002. "After an absence of seventeen years, Rose comes home to New Eden to introduce her husband and son to her parents, only to have her parents deny that they are related to her." 0-9687317-9-1 $15
32. Up and Coming (In Seattle) (novel) 2003. $25. 1-894842-03-0
33. The Big Dave and Little Wife Convention (novel) 2004.
34. Melancholy and Mystery of a Street (stories) 2004. 1-894842-05-7
35. The Life of Bartholomew G. (novella) 2005. 1-894842-06-5
36. Heretic (essays) 2005. $18. 1-894842-08-1
37. Kafka, The Master of Yesno: A Critical Study of the Writer and His Work (non-fiction) 2006. $25 1-894842-09-X
38. Shadows on a Cave Wall, 2007. $20. 978-1-894842-11-2
39. Of a Fire Beyond the Hills, 2008. $25. ISBN 978-1-894842-13-6
40. The Collected Short Stories of Ernest Hekkanen: Naturalistic, Modern Gothic, Surreal & Postmodern, Volume One ISBN 978-1-894842-17-4, 427 pages, $28. New Orphic Publishers, 2010
41. The Collected Short Stories of Ernest Hekkanen: Naturalistic, Modern Gothic, Surreal & Postmodern, Volume Two ISBN 978-1-894842-18-1, 457 pages, $28. New Orphic Publishers, 2010
42. Wintering Over: Poems Strewn on Snow. New Orphic Publishers, 2011 ISBN 978-1-894842-14-3
43. All Night Gas Bar. New Orphic Publishers, 2011. ISBN 978-1-894842-20-4. Combination of stories with memoirs.
44. Flesh and Spirit: The Rasputin Meditations, with a commentary by the author. New Orphic, 2012. ISBN 978-1-894842-22-8
45. Heretic Hill. New Orphic Publishers, 2013. ISBN 978-1-894842-23-5 $22
46. I'm Not You, a novella. New Orphic Publishers, 2014. $18 978-1-894842-24-2
47. False Memories and Other Likely Stories. New Orphic Publishers, 2015. $18 978-1-894842-26-6

Editor:

The Flat Earth Excavation Company (New Orphic $23) A surreal fiction anthology 'spanning the length and breadth of surreal fiction--from automatic writing, or thought's dictation, to stories that are fabulist, mythical, alchemical and even postmodern'. 1-894842-00-6

PHOTO: Ernest Hekkanen and Margrith Schraner at the 'Sweet 16' New Orphic Review anniversary celebration, held at the Oxygen Art Center in Nelson, B.C. (May 17, 2013). Photo by Liba Zdrazil.

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2017] "Fiction" "Literary Criticism"