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 is as much of the attraction as the suspenseful and historic storyline. A French translation of Patrin was released in 2018 by Marchand de feuilles of Montreal under the title, Courtepointe.

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.

Euclid's Orchard and Other Essays by Theresa Kishkan
(Mother Tongue $22.95)

review by Catriona Sandilands

This book's first essay, "Herakleitos on the Yalakom,"; is so personal that it is almost painful to read.

It is a daughter's frank letter to a very difficult, sometimes downright hateful parent who is more concerned with knives and fishing tackle than the affections and aspirations of his daughter and sons.

His is a "legacy of diminishment."; Later in the book, Theresa Kishkan softens slightly by allowing into her relationship with him the fuller family picture of brothers, mother, and the different places where they lived when she was a child.

In "Poignant Mountain,"; for example, set in Ridgedale where he worked at CFB Matsqui, his violence is still present, but only as a small, almost matter-of-fact moment in her rich depiction of the tastes, smells, sites, and events of her remembered life there: the sharp taste of buttermilk and the creamy yellow of pancakes from neighbouring farms.

Kishkan also softens toward her father by giving him a context in the struggles of his parents, poor immigrants from what is now the Czech Republic, to make a life for themselves and their surviving child in the harsh, dry landscape of Drumheller in the early twentieth century.

As she discovers on a trip to the Alberta Provincial Archives, her paternal grandparents were not, as she had thought, homesteaders: her father "never knew or never told that the family home was a shack in a former squatters' settlement.";

Euclid's orchard is full of Theresa Kishkan's arresting descriptions of the material details of places such as her home on the Sechelt Peninsula and, of course, her orchard, lovingly planted and eventually failed in the face of the deer and bears that have, in the end result, a more vigorous claim to the harvest than she does.

Near Victoria, she recounts an exquisite memory of "an abandoned house completely knitted into place by honeysuckle and roses.";

Near Drumheller, she sings the prairie: "turn, turn, bend the song to the roadside plants... free verse composed of craneflies, dragonflies, bluebottles, broad-bodies leaf beetles, greasewood and cocklebur.";

And near her home, she concludes with the cries of coyotes: "lilting joyous youngsters unaware that a life is anything other than the moment in the moonlight, fresh meat in their stomachs, the old trees with a few apples and pears too small and green for any living things to be interested in this early in the season.";

Although the final essay, "Euclid's Orchard,"; mentions several different mathematical concepts in order to explore the intertwinements of trees, coyotes, and generations of a family-Euclidean axioms and postulates, Pascal's triangle, and most beautifully the Fibonacci numbers that are so abundantly manifest in the natural world-the overwhelming sense of the book is that attentive presence in the world requires "departing from... logical usage to urge the reader to emotional and intellectual discovery";: looking, sideways, at the trees we otherwise can't see.

Life's patterns may be intricate and exquisite, but it is the unpredictable, intimate details of the past and present that create a life: a father's fishing knife, a mother's new suit, a grandmother's hands, the anticipation of an egg salad sandwich, a cherished family wisteria by the west-facing deck.
After searching for the meaning of Euclid's orchard, sometimes the most important thing you are left with is the smell of apples cooking in your kitchen. 9781896949635

Catriona (Cate) Sandilands is a professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Mnemonic: A Book of Trees
Phantom Limb


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
EUCLID'S ORCHARD & OTHER ESSAYS (Mother Tongue 2017) $22.95 978-1-896949-63-5


"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 2017] "Fiction" "Poetry"