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Yo, Toronto writers! Here comes Halifax . . .

OK, so you've heard about the two-year, low-residency MFA program in Creative Nonfiction at University of King's College in Halifax? Here we see the classes of 2020 and 2021, together with a few mentors and faculty, saying hello from last August. These folks are passionate about writing and, yes, that's unmistakably me in the back row, one of the mentors. 
Since launching the program six years ago, we have seen more than 30 graduates publish or sign contracts to publish nonfiction books. If you're within hailing distance of Toronto, you can find out more at a Meet & Greet on Monday, November 11. That's when we'll gather -- assorted faculty, mentors, alumni, and current students -- at the offices of Penguin Random House Canada, 12th floor, 320 Front Street West, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. 
This event is fun and free, but you must RSVP to, using the subject line “Toronto Meet & Greet” to be placed on the guest list.
A second free event happens the day before (November 10), when three recently published MFA grads -- Andrew Reeves, Stephanie Griffiths, and Nellwyn Lampert -- share Tales from the Nonfiction Book Publishing Trenches from 2 to 3:30 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the Professional Writers Association of Canada, Toronto Chapter, and happens at CSI Regent Park, 585 Dundas Street East, Toronto.
For an overview of the MFA program, click here. For an evolving list of book deals, go here. To verify my own involvement, voila. Hope to see you at Penguin Random on Nov. 11.

Ken McGoogan
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Worried about Scheer? OK, take a valium

So you've heard Andrew Scheer blowing smoke about how the party that wins the most seats forms the government? Nope, that's NOT how things work in Canada. 
The party able to gain the confidence of the House of Commons (win a vote) forms the government. 
Clarity, you want? In the current House, to claim a majority, a party needs 170 of the 338 total seats. Worst case, say the Tories win 136 seats and the Liberals 132, something like that. Would Scheer become prime minister? Nope, absolutely not. No matter how much he howls and stamps his feet, that is not how "the modern" system works. 
Justin Trudeau looks around, notices that the NDP has, say, 40 seats. He does some simple math: 132 + 40 = 172. That's a majority. He talks to Jagmeet Singh. Yes, the two parties agree to cooperate. They undertake to move forward  on those issues where they have agreement. Climate change, for example. This does NOT mean they lock themselves into a coalition. Trudeau wins a confidence vote and remains prime minister. Maybe later a coalition emerges (and the NDP gets cabinet ministers). Maybe it doesn't. Either way, as long as Scheer does NOT win a majority, he's toast. 
Maybe you don't need that valium after all. 

Ken McGoogan
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Linden MacIntyre succeeds by taking risks

Title: The Wake: The Deadly Legacy of a Newfoundland Tsunami 
Author: Linden MacIntyre / Genre: Non-fiction / Publisher: HarperCollins


On Feb. 15, 1965, a retired miner named Rennie Slaney sat down at his kitchen table in St. Lawrence, Nfld., and typed out a five-page, single-spaced document that, as Linden MacIntyre writes in The Wake, would reverberate “across the land.” The 58-year-old Slaney, who could no longer work because of severe health problems, laid out what had happened in recent decades to the people of his small community on the Burin Peninsula.
Addressing his testimonial to a special committee appointed by the government of Premier Joey Smallwood, Slaney mentioned a miner who died in hospital that very day, while another lay nearby, “just awaiting his time.” Slaney himself, having worked in the mines for 23 years, was suffering from chronic bronchitis, obstructive emphysema, infective asthma and “a usually terminal heart disease caused by lung failure.” The man could step forward because, MacIntyre tells us, he had nothing left to lose: “His lungs were shot.”

Having toiled mostly as a foreman, Slaney described how each day, after surfacing from the smoke-and-dust-filled underground mine, he and the other men “would throw up for as long as an hour and then some. After a while the throw-up would be mostly blood.”
The ensuing deaths, Slaney wrote, left hundreds of children and women destitute, struggling to survive on minuscule government handouts. Yet, the most powerful part of the report came at the end, when Slaney presented a list of 91 men he had known personally who were now dead of mining accidents or illnesses. He cited another 20 who were so sick they could no longer work.
Slaney’s testimonial made headlines. It led eventually to amelioration, and MacIntyre tracks that. But The Wake is most remarkable for the long, slow buildup to this moment, as the author shows how the mining debacle evolved directly out of an earthquake and a tsunami that occurred decades before – on Nov. 18, 1929.
The main narrative begins on that day with a vivid evocation of white-water waves three-stories high crashing over the Newfoundland coast at 100 kilometres an hour. The tsunami washed away houses, killed 28 people and rendered hundreds more homeless. Not incidentally, that cataclysm also wiped out the cod fishery, the alpha and omega of the local economy.
Survivors awoke to widespread devastation. Some people abandoned the only home they had ever known and moved into St. John’s or Halifax. But with the fish gone, those who wanted to stay were more than willing to listen when an American engineer named Walter Siebert turned up talking about creating a mining company.
Siebert explained that initially, he could not afford to pay men to work. But if they did so voluntarily, he would make things right down the road. And so, through the Great Depression of the 1930s, when options were precious few, the men worked for nothing or a pittance. Siebert could not afford to create the ventilation shafts requisite to any proper mining operation, but the miners worked any way, enduring appalling conditions so they could feed their families.
MacIntyre does more than relate this powerful story. An award-winning novelist, he raises the book to the level of literature, first by drawing on exhaustive research to produce vivid, sometimes unpleasant detail. For example, he interviewed women who laboured to ease the passing of the dying – nurses, he writes, who had a far deeper understanding of the slow-motion catastrophe unfolding on the Burin Peninsula than any scientists, lawyers or politicians.
One of them, Rennie Slaney’s granddaughter, Lisa Loder, told him that those who had heart attacks were the lucky ones. “I witnessed a good many poor souls,” she said, “when their lungs totally collapsed and they’d bleed out and basically choke on their own blood.”
While en route to creating literature, MacIntyre takes a risk that pays off: He incorporates four italicized sections he calls “conversations with the dead.” With this daring stroke, he brings himself into the narrative, introducing the personal presence that is widely regarded as the hallmark of literary non-fiction. This move is only possible because MacIntyre’s long-dead father, his main interlocutor in these sections, worked in one of the underground mines later found to be radioactive.
MacIntyre ends on a cautiously optimistic note because “the memory of bad luck, bad faith, bad management and bad government should serve the future well.” The key word is “cautiously” because “the future, like the past, will also be determined by necessity.”
As for Rennie Slaney, he was 62 when, four years after typing out his testimonial, he died luckily of a heart attack. An autopsy “revealed deep, debilitating silicosis in his lungs.” MacIntyre tells us: “Rennie Slaney, like so many of his friends and neighbours, died because of how he’d earned his living.”
This book ensures that his death was not in vain.
Click here to read the original.

Ken McGoogan’s new book is Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada.

Ken McGoogan
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King of the Beats died 50 years ago

The 50th anniversary of the death of Jack Kerouac, on October 21, is certain to inspire an outpouring of remembrance and might also spark controversy. Certainly the “King of the Beats,” with his Quebecois roots, had a powerful effect on me. In the Sixties, after reading just about everything Kerouac had written, I went on the road, hitchhiking and riding freight trains from Montreal to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury.
In the Seventies, I earned an MFA degree with the first draft of a novel in which Kerouac figures. Next decade, while working as a literary journalist, I attended the Quebec City rencontre at which Beat luminaries (Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Carolyn Cassady) encountered such Quebecois interpreters of Kerouac as Victor Levy-Beaulieu. I wrote about that conference in the Calgary Herald and The Kerouac Connection, arguing that “Kerouac is BIGGER than Beat.”
I rewrote my MFA novel and, with Pottersfield Press, published it in 1993 as Visions of Kerouac. The book later appeared in French translation as Le Fantome de Kerouac. It proved to be the only work of fiction that I wished to keep alive. Three times I revised and republished it, until in 2016, I brought out a fourth and final, final, final revision as Kerouac’s Ghost.
Looking back, I see Kerouac as influencing all my books, most of which take a creative nonfiction approach to biography and/or history. I regard Joan Rawshanks in the Fog, from Visions of Cody, as seminal. It preceded Tom Wolfe and qualifies Kerouac as the godfather of New Journalism, one of two major streams of creative nonfiction. No matter what I write about – from Arctic exploration to the Highland Clearances -- I burn to get out of the archives and go to where whatever happened. That’s the Kerouac in me.
Did I mention controversy? I draw your attention to Kerouac: The Last Quarter Century by Gerald Nicosia. He is the author of Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac. In 1983, when it appeared, I reviewed it: “Comparing Kerouac biographies, I quickly discovered that Memory Babe had far more authority than any other. I consider Gerald Nicosia to be the world’s foremost authority on Jack Kerouac.”
I see no reason to revise that assessment -- even though, for the past couple of decades, Nicosia has been embroiled in a battle against those who gained control of the Kerouac estate and then sold it piecemeal to the highest bidder. The Last Quarter Century, which tells a terrible true story of high-stakes forgery, bullying, and unmitigated greed, is a must-read for Kerouac aficionados. It’s available through Noodlebrain Press at Box 130, Corte Madera, California (email: A revised edition of Memory Babe will be published in 2020 by Cool Grove Press.

Ken McGoogan
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First Highlander Awards celebrate excellence

The first-ever Highlander Awards were conferred yesterday  evening at a quiet ceremony involving drams of Lagavulin. Created to mark the launch of Flight of the Highlanders, and consisting of shout-outs, kudos, and widespread recognition, they celebrate excellence in five categories.
The Best Bookstore Display Award went to Biblioasis in Windsor, where Theo Hummer went the extra mile . . . as you can see in the magnificent presentation above.
Kew-Balmy Beach in the Toronto Beaches took The Best Landing Site Award. At this location,  Highlanders thundered ashore in their hundreds.
The Best Book Review honors  went to Dean Jobb, whose stellar review appeared in The Scotsman. Jobb, whose latest book is The Murderous Doctor Cream, concludes that "in a time of rising intolerance toward minorities and immigrants, Flight of the Highlanders is a much-needed reality check.
McGoogan’s chronicle of how impoverished but tenacious Scots built new lives in Canada – and transformed their new country – is a reminder that all of us, regardless of origin or race, want the same things: a better life and a brighter future."
The Best Collage Celebration Award proved to be no contest. The folks at Neilson Park Creative Centre, led by Alison Lam, launched a new authors' series with Flight of the Highlanders and swept the category. 
Last but not least, after a hard-fought battle, The Best Excerpt Award went to Canadian Geographic for its gorgeous presentation (see below). Hats off to all the winners. Oh, and slangevar!

Ken McGoogan
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New book revels in firsts: talk, series, review

Mine was the first presentation in a first-ever series of author readings that launched today at the Neilson Park Creative Centre in Etobicoke. I called my talk When the Highlanders Came to Canada: Dragging History into the 21st Century. From Type Books, manager Beck Andoff turned up with maybe 30 copies of Flight of the Highlanders . . . and sold all but three of them. Alison Lam organized and launched the series . . . and after I spoke lined up to buy five copies of the book. That's what I call leading by example.
Meanwhile, the first review of the book turned up in The Scotsman on October 3. You can access the original by clicking here. Written by Dean Jobb, whose latest book is The Murderous Doctor Cream, the review notes  that Scots played a key role in the creation of Canada, but "it took more than a couple of visionary politicians to build a new nation. Scottish farmers and their families – driven from their lands by the hundreds of thousands and “packed off to the colonies like so many bales of manufactured goods,” as one contemporary noted – did the heavy lifting. These “persecuted” and “dispossessed emigrants,” author Ken McGoogan reminds us, battled “hardship, hunger and adamant rejection in a New World wilderness” as they “went to work laying the foundations of a modern nation”.
The review continues:
"In Flight of the Highlanders, the bestselling Canadian author argues that the Highland Scots – victims of the Clearances and the oppression that followed the Battle of Culloden – were “Canada’s first refugees.” And that makes their story a timely reminder of the contribution refugees and other newcomers have made, and continue to make, to their new homelands. Today, almost five million Canadians claim Scottish heritage. . . .
McGoogan, who has chronicled Arctic exploration and Canada’s Scottish heritage in previous books, draws on extensive travels and research in Scotland to trace the origins of these refugees and the injustices that drove them overseas. While this will be familiar territory for Scottish readers, he soon moves to the North American phase of the story. Large-scale resettlement began in 1773, when the Hector – a tiny “coffin ship” crammed with almost 200 people – survived a hurricane and landed at Pictou, Nova Scotia. Waves of “brave-hearted Highlanders” followed, among them some unfortunates who settled in the United States, remained “loyal” during the American Revolution and were then driven northward in a second exodus.
Canadians of English, Irish and French descent, whose ancestors also helped to build their country, may bristle at the focus on Scottish immigrants. And the subtitle is a little jarring, as Canadians own up to an ugly legacy of mistreatment and assimilation of indigenous peoples; the arrival of the Scots and other European settlers, as the author acknowledges, was the unmaking of their Canada.
But in a time of rising intolerance toward minorities and immigrants, Flight of the Highlanders is a much-needed reality check. McGoogan’s chronicle of how impoverished but tenacious Scots built new lives in Canada – and transformed their new country – is a reminder that all of us, regardless of origin or race, want the same things: a better life and a brighter future.
(Photos by Sheena Fraser McGoogan.)
Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.