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John Patrick Gillese

Writers in Alberta owe a debt to John Patrick Gillese, a writer himself who scaled the heights of provincial government power to be part of Canada's first department of culture, established by the Peter Lougheed Conservative government in 1971. As head of the Literary Arts Branch for 13 years, Gillese helped writers through face-to-face and correspondence workshops, grants and contests that brought to the fore such now-established Alberta writers as Fred Stenson, Pauline Gedge and the late L.R. Wright.

Gillese's approach was populist in that it did not stipulate that university-schooled authors would be the only writers to succeed. Indeed, there was much criticism that the branch's programs emphasized dollars over art, and as Stenson himself wrote in a feature on the Writers Guild of Alberta in Alberta Views: "The branch's attitude toward university writing courses, literary quarterlies, writer/academics, and all those writers whose progress in literature did not include payola verged on hostile."
 Featured Audio

Arts Alberta #50
In this episode of Arts Alberta, broadcast on Aug. 27,
1986, Gillese talks with Tony Dillon Davis about his
book, Western Gold: A Heartwarming Collection of
Short Stories from the Canadian Northwest, which
deals with homesteading in northern Alberta.

Gillese reads several excerpts from this collection of
early and recent writing, published after his retirement
as director of the Literary Arts Branch.
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However, a program of scholarships did send neophyte writers for six-week programs at the Banff School of Fine Arts, where such authors as W.O. Mitchell, Eli Mandel, Sylvia Fraser, and Alice Munro taught them.

As a freelance journeyman writer himself, the Irish-born Gillese reportedly wrote more than 5,000 articles, short stories and columns in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere during the '40s and '50s. His 1957 novel, the bush pilot adventure, Kirby's Gander, was produced as a movie in 1961, retitled as Wings of Chance.

His novels won several awards, including the Canadian Authors' Association's Vicky Metcalf Award in 1967, which honours a body of work by a Canadian author who has written at least three books for children between the ages of 7 and 17. Four years later, the CAA again would salute his long and meritorious service in the association with the Allan Sangster Award.

Under Gillese's tutelage, the CAA played a significant role in the early growth of literary arts in Alberta. He assisted W.G. Hardy in the editing of The Alberta Golden Jubilee Anthology in 1955, and in 1967 would perform the editing task on Chinook Arch, a centennial collection of Alberta writing.

In 1997, Western Gold was re-published by Lone Pine Publishing of Edmonton under the title, Fireside Stories, and it remains the only Gillese still in print.

In 1995, the Writers Guild of Alberta honoured Gillese with a
lifetime achievement award. He died in his sleep on Oct. 23, 1999.

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