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Sandra Birdsell

e-dition - February 16, 2007

Sandra Birdsell:
UWinnipeg’s New Carol Shields Writer-in-Residence


By Vivian Belik

"Winnipeg is my hometown and I'm excited to be back," says Sandra Birdsell from behind a stack of manuscripts in her new office at The University of Winnipeg. Birdsell, acclaimed and award-winning prairie author, moved her writing equipment into an office in Manitoba Hall in January to become the University's second Carol Shields Writer-in-Residence.

UWinnipeg’s Carol Shields Writer-in-Residence program was created two years ago to honour Pulitzer prize-winning author and former UWinnipeg Chancellor Carol Shields, with a generous donation form the Shields family. The Canada Council for the Arts is providing support to this year’s Carol Shields Writer-in-Residence program., which offers writers, as well as students and community members, the opportunity to practice and hone their writing skills.

"Having an excellent creative writer on campus to interact, stimulate and inspire faculty and students enriches our community," says Murray Evans, Chair of the English Department. "I think this program is important because it gives the University and larger community an amazing opportunity to meet with Sandra Birdsell."

UWinnipeg Provides Writing Breakthrough
The University of Winnipeg is where Birdsell began her journey as a writer many years ago. "The very first story that I ever wrote in my life I wrote here, at The University of Winnipeg for a creative writing class. It was also the very first story that I ever got published," says Birdsell as she warmly remembers her early days of writing.

For most of Birdsell's life, writing was a "natural thing to do." It was only in her mid-thirties when her children had grown up that Birdsell was given the opportunity to formally focus and shape her writing. In those days she did not foresee that her writing would lead her to international recognition and several Governal General's Award nominations. "Only after I had published two books, did I even dare to think as myself as a writer," Birdsell admits.

Works Resonate with Canadians
Neil Besner, Associate Vice-President (International), helped select Birdsell as the 2007 Writer-in-Residence as the former Dean of Arts. "Sandra Birdsell was chosen because she has an affiliation with Winnipeg and is well-known in Canada and beyond. I think her works resonate with Canadians who live on the Prairies and we are fortunate to have her as part of our community for the next several months," he said.

Birdsell has served as writer-in-residence in several universities across Canada. At UWinnipeg, Birdsell divides her time between reading and editing manuscripts, facilitating writing workshops, giving readings, and working on her new book, which she says, is "a novel about loss".

When Birdsell completes her residency in April, she hopes that she will be able to "have assisted several writers in opening up their own work" and to have "raised awareness about writers in the community so people realize that they are still alive and kicking".

Prairie Landscape an Inspiration
Birdsell was born and raised on the Prairies whose landscape and people continue to be the inspiration for her writing.  Her first novel, The Missing Child, received the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award in 1989.  Her second novel, The Chrome Suite, was awarded the McNally Robinson prize for best book of the year, and was nominated for a Governor General's Award in 1992.  A third short story collection, The Two-Headed Calf, was also a Governor General Award nominee in 1997. Birdsell was awarded the Marion Engel Award in 1993, Canada's most prestigious prize given to a woman in mid-career, and the Joseph B. Stauffer Prize in 1992, for meritorious achievement, by the Canada Council for the Arts. The Russländer, published in September 2001, was a best seller and finalist for the prestigious Giller Prize.  The Russländer was also awarded Book of the Year, Best Fiction, and the City of Regina awards at the Saskatchewan Book Awards in 2001. Birdsell’s latest novel is Children of the Day.

The Writer-in-Residence service is free, open to the public, and runs from January to April 2007. Email s.birdsell@uwinnipeg.ca or call 204.786.9203.

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