Aritha van Herk
Aritha van Herk is a cultural commentator as well as an award-winning Canadian novelist whose work has been acclaimed throughout North America and Europe. She has given readings, lectures, and workshops on culture and community, literature and life, in the United Kingdom, the United States, Singapore, Australia, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Austria, the Baltics, and Scandinavia. Her popular, creative and critical work has been widely published and her work has been translated into ten languages.
Aritha van Herk was born in central Alberta, read every book in the library at Camrose, and studied at the University of Alberta. She first rose to international literary prominence with the publication of Judith, which received the Seal First Novel Award and was published in North America, the United Kingdom and Europe.
Her other novels include The Tent Peg, No Fixed Address: An Amorous Journey, Places Far From Ellesmere, Restlessness. In Visible Ink and A Frozen Tongue collect her essays and ficto-criticism.
Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta offers an unorthodox narrative of that province’s past. Mavericks so inspired the Glenbow Museum of Calgary, that they created a permanent Alberta gallery and named the gallery after the book. Aritha van Herk returned to her Alberta stories to create Audacious and Adamant: A Maverick History of Alberta, the companion book to the exhibition.
Aritha van Herk is a member of the Royal Society of Canada, and a Professor who teaches Canadian Literature and Creative Writing in the Department of English at the University of Calgary, but first of all, she is a writer who loves stories.
Aritha van Herk is the author I’ve known longest of any here who I am promoting in this series. I was working at The Guild Gallery of Artists and Authors in Calgary during 1979 when Aritha won the first-ever Seal First Novel Award for Judith and we hosted her at the bookstore for a signing. This was the biggest monetary prize ever offered in Canada so a Calgarian winning it was a big deal indeed! Fast forward to the mid-80s when I was working for another Calgary bookstore, Books ‘N’ Books. Aritha would come into the store regularly to browse and buy, because we had such a good selection of international fiction. Aritha has always been a huge reader! Then flash ahead again to the early 90s when I became a publishers’ sales rep and was selling books for Red Deer College Press. The publisher, Dennis Johnson, was then publishing Aritha’s books, so I became her sales rep! I studied a brilliant course offered at UofC on medicine in literature that Aritha taught along with a medical doctor. And I attended a number of lectures and talks about writing she delivered whenever I had the opportunity. We even drove to Fernie together for the Fernie Writers’ Conference and I enrolled in her class. We’ve kept in contact sporadically since then, together mourning the loss and paying tribute to two very important men in both our lives (Robert Kroetsch and Dennis Johnson), and getting together for a glass of wine and a catch-up a couple of times when I was in Calgary. So I was quite pleased when I learned that Aritha van Herk’s first novel, Judith, had been adapted into a play and the premier performance would be held in June 2018 at the annual Blyth Festival. Blyth is less than an hour away from the trailer park where I spend my summers! I contacted Aritha immediately and found out she and her husband planned to attend the opening night “gala” – which included a Pork Dinner beforehand, as this performance of the play was sponsored by the Pork Producers of Ontario. (You’ve gotta love these small rural communities!) So I drove to Blyth and parked on the main street. As I was getting out of my car, another car pulled into the space behind me. It was Aritha and her husband, Bob! That was a great evening we had, and I thought the play was an excellent adaptation of the novel! The theatre was packed, too. My only regret was that Aritha and Bob had to leave Ontario the next day, so I could not take them back with me to the trailer for a longer visit. Here are the festival and play programmes, my hardcover copy of Judith (signed by the author!) and one of the little paper “pigs” that were part of the dining table decorations. (Aritha had grabbed the few from our table and handed one to me – a little momento of our evening together.)
I recently included Aritha van Herk in a blog post I wrote about my new TBR list, since earlier in the year I had “repatriated’ to my trailer all the books (and there were A LOT!!!) I’d previously left behind in a Calgary storage unit for a number of years.
And while I was reading through previous posts on my blog in which I’d mentioned Aritha, I discovered that this interview first broadcast on the old “Bookmark” programme on CKUA Radio is still available. Aritha van Herk speaks with host Ken Davis about literacy.
For more information about Aritha van Herk, her writing, books, teaching and travels, please see her website.