A-R International: Katherine Govier

Katherine Govier
Authors-Readers International

Katherine Govier was born in Edmonton, Alberta, and was educated at the University of Alberta and York University. She has been made a Distinguished Alumna of the University of Alberta and is one of York University‘s “Famous Fifty” graduates. She has been Chair of the Writers’ Trust of Canada and President of PEN Canada. Govier has published essays in major newspapers and magazines, including Macleans, Saturday Night, The Globe and Mail, Harper’s, Queen, and The Toronto Star.

Govier was shortlisted for the Trillium Award in 1994, and won the City of Toronto Book Award in 1992. In 1997, she was awarded the Marian Engel Award for a woman writer in mid-career. Her novel Creation was a New York Times Notable Book of 2003. Her 2010 novel, The Ghost Brush, focusing on the life of Katsushika Oi, has been published in translation in French as La Femme Hokusai, in Japanese as Hokusai Tu Oi, in Spanish as La Hija del Dibujante, in Romanian as Fiica Lui Hokusai, and in the United States under the title The Printmaker’s Daughter. In 2014, Lori Saint-Martin and Paul Gagne were nominated for the Governor General’s award for translation 2014 for their translation of The Ghost Brush into French as La Femme Hokusai, published by Quebec-Amerique.

In 2011, Katherine Govier founded The Shoe Project, a writing workshop for immigrant women, with sponsorship from Heather Gardiner and hosting by The Bata Shoe Museum. The group publishes stories on the web, creates ‘snapshot’ exhibits for The Bata Shoe Museum, and offers public performances. It has been the subject of two one-hour documentaries on CBC Ideas: In Their Shoes I (February 27, 2012), and In Their Shoes II (June 10, 2013), and a Toronto Star article.

Katherine Govier has been made a member of the Order of Canada, one of Canada’s highest honours “for contributing to Canada’s literary scene as an acclaimed author, and for supporting refugee and immigrant women.”


I actually met Katherine Govier’s mother before I knew about Katherine and her writing. And I’m not sure now whether I’ve ever met Katherine in person … The reason I knew Doris Govier was that she organized and ran reading groups in Calgary, and she purchased all copies of each book from Sandpiper Books, where I was working at the time. This was before the advent of book clubs, so what Doris Govier was running was unique at the time, as far as we knew. By that time in the late 80s, Katherine was living in Toronto and had already published several books. One of these, Between Men, we promoted in the store, because her mother was such a good friend and customer and … the book was set in Calgary!

It wasn’t until much later when Katherine Govier was publishing Half for You and Half for Me that I reconnected with her – the book was a tribute to her mother, Doris. “When she was small, Katherine Govier tucked in close to her mother’s side to listen to nursery rhymes. Later she read them to her own children, and now she has returned to reading them with her mother, who can no longer see well enough to read the pages of their nearly hundred-year-old Mother Goose book. Still, her mother can recite the words. What is the magic and what is the meaning of these rhymes that stay in our heads for a lifetime?” Truly a beautiful book, and one that I enjoy reading myself! I also enjoyed the following novel Katherine published in 2016, the story set in a fictional Canmore, Alberta, with the Three Sisters mountains looming in the background …


The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel

Gateway, Alberta, 1911. The coming of the railroad to the Canadian Rockies has brought a parade of newcomers to the heavenly Bow Valley—climbers, coal miners, artists, scientists, runaway aristocrats and remittance men. Among the latter is the poacher Herbie Wishart, who arrived on a one-way ticket and has reinvented himself as a trail guide and teller of tall tales.

Herbie becomes outfitter for a fossil-hunting expedition headed by a prominent Washington, D.C., archaeologist. Rumours say that the findings of the secrecy-shrouded Hodgson expedition, as it comes to be known, could overturn all previous knowledge about early life forms. Brought along to help in the quarry for the summer are Hodgson’s adult children, mopey Humphrey and the captivating Isabel, with whom Herbie strikes up a campside alliance. But when an early snowstorm hits and trailside grudges come to a head, the expedition mysteriously disappears. The tragedy threatens to stain the Rocky Mountain park’s reputation just as its newly elected government overseers begin to sell the pristine Canadian wilderness to the world. Despite all efforts from that year on to solve, or bury, the mystery, the disappearance will haunt Gateway, and define the futures of Herbie Wishart and his stubbornly female descendants.

Katherine Govier has been busy with The Shoe Project, which she founded in 2011. “The Shoe Project recruits women with the desire to lead and coaches them to tell their stories – through a pair of shoes. TSP partners with museums, theatres and arts centres across Canada to create public performances where these brave and moving stories are presented to the public. Led by senior Canadian writers and theatre artists, TSP’s workshops, performances and publications lift the voices of women and refugees into Canada’s national.” Three other Canadian authors I have promoted in this Authors-Readers International series are also involved in The Shoe Project: Barb Howard, Marina Endicott, and Sheree Fitch.

And here’s what Katherine Govier is working on now: “I am in the final rewrites for a new novel about the ghost of Katsushika Oi, The Ghost Brush or The Printmaker’s Daughter, as the book is known in the US and UK, Hokusai tu Oi as it is in Japan.She comes back to try to find out what happened to her work and to be acknowledged for it.”

For more information about Katherine Govier, her books and writing, please see her website.

Katherine Govier has been a guest on my Reading Recommendations blog three times: Jan. 2014, May 2014, Mar. 2016.

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