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UPDATE on the Campaign to Help Saleema Nawaz Rebuild Her Book Collection After Fire

Hi all,

I just heard from Saleema and I have her permission to repost her email to me here.

Hi Steph,

Thank you again for your incredibly touching and generous idea you shared on Bella’s Bookshelves.  As much as I love the idea of receiving a hand-picked book from literary folks all over Canada, I could never accept them. Not least because many of our belongings (including books!) have been saved, but also because we are now guests in somebody else’s house — we will be staying with my in-laws for the next two months.

[Steph: No worries! You can send the books to me or give them to her personally. If you send them to my address, which you'll find on my Contact page, I will personally deliver them to Montreal or ship them myself.]

[Saleema's response: Thanks so, so much ... Of course, I would never object to somebody buying my books!  But honestly that is the most I could accept, and the support I have already felt from everyone is the most amazing bolstering help I could ever receive or want.  Please do feel free to post my earlier email.  I'm hoping to do a blog update, but I'm so exhausted, having been up for so long with just a couple of hours of snatched sleep... I'm not sure how soon it can come.]

You have no idea how much it means to me that so many people came to our aid…with offers of places to stay, food to eat, clothes to wear, and so wonderfully, books to read.

Some books have been lost to water and falling plaster, but most seemed to have been spared based on our cursory visit to the building this morning. In fact, although half of our kitchen, the bathroom, the front entryway and most of the living room have been destroyed (not by flames, but by falling plaster, fire axes, and water), our bedrooms and our hallway were spared from everything except for very heavy smoke. Many of the books were actually on bookcases in our hallway and in the half of the kitchen that was spared.

It is like a tornado has ripped through the place, with odd items here and there lying intact amidst the destruction of splintered wood and crumbling plaster.

I’m not sure how costly (or, indeed, possible) it will be to remove the smell of smoke from our large collection (and from everything else we own), but it is one we will cheerfully investigate.  I am so grateful to you and all the loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and strangers who have reached out to us.

With so much thanks,


I’ve asked Saleema to keep me posted on whether or not the books that were not damaged by water or fallen plaster and such can be salvaged from the smoke damage (this can be pretty bad as to render the books unreadable), and if so, whether or not insurance will cover it. If the books can be salvaged and insurance will not cover it, perhaps we could start a campaign to help her pay for the recovery.

Alternatively, I’ve asked her if she has a wish list. Again, I’ll let you know. If not, even if she receives doubles, your copy will be better than what she has, and she could always pay it forward by donating hers. Don’t be afraid, either, of not knowing what to choose. As a former long-time bookseller, I can advise: Let your heart tell you. What book would you match her to? What book would you press into a friend’s hand and say, oh, you must read this? Whatever you send, it will be picked with concern and thoughtfulness and received with gratitude.

Thank you so much, everyone, for your generosity of spirit so far.


PS. Saleema is on Facebook, and her Twitter handle is @pinkmeringue

Help Canadian Author Saleema Nawaz Rebuild Her Book Collection After Fire

426457_10151528279906368_309430823_nUPDATE: This post is no longer in effect. Please read this one!

In case you haven’t heard yet, Saleema Nawaz, author of the collection of short stories Mother Superior and the recently released and very well received Bone and Bread, lost her apartment in a fire last night. I can only imagine how devastating this must be, and I’m deeply saddened by her loss. She wrote briefly and bravely about the experience. She lost 16 packed bookcases of books. I’m very thankful that she and her partner are safe.

What I’d like to propose—since we are all book lovers and would be utterly destroyed by the loss of our precious books, which we’ve taken years and much time and love to collect and read—is purchasing one or more books to help Saleema and her partner rebuild their library. I’m thinking we could buy our favourite book(s) for her, so she’ll have a shelf or more to remind her she is supported both as a Canadian author and friend, and has our best recommendations as well.

We all know that a house without books is not a home. We know that books are friends and lovers. And we know that without our books, we would be uncomfortable, displaced. When I look at the familiar volumes on my shelves, no matter where I’ve just moved to, they help me feel instantly at home.

This idea is fresh, and admittedly I’m writing this without her permission. I haven’t been able to reach her. Saleema will likely find this out from this post. She may protest. I don’t know.

I bought Mother Superior on her birthday. If I can do something to give back to an author who’s enriched my reading experience, right now there’s no other way I can think that’s more appropriate.

There are few things more tragic than losing one’s home for whatever reason. If the fire didn’t annihilate the books, likely all the water did.

To help, please just leave a comment below and I’ll email you with details. Saleema doesn’t yet have an address, but I will arrange the particulars of this campaign and then get back to everyone. Either all the books can be sent to my home and I can drive them to her, or we may be able to send them directly to her. She will have an apartment soon, and it would be fun for her to keep getting mail at this new address, since books in the mail are not only exciting but also make a house feel like home.

Thank you so much in advance for your support of this endeavour. If anything changes once Saleema reads this, I’ll be sure to let you know.

PLEASE NOTE: I’d really appreciate if the books you buy or donate are your very favourite, not ones you just need to get rid of. Thank you!

Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

2013-02-19 08.00.24Another week of good stories. Some better than others, but I remain convinced that I don’t have a shitty book in this whole house.

April 15: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Of God and Cod,” by Anthony De Sa, from BARNACLE LOVE. So much richness in one little story. A man leaves his family behind for a voyage from Portugal and Newfoundland. The beginning of what promises to be a very good collection of intimately connected stories. Doubleday, 2008.

April 16: #shortstoriesforbreakfast is abominably late today. But better late than never. I read “Elk Talk,” by Elizabeth Gilbert, one of my favourite writers. It’s from PILGRIMS. Yes, she wrote short stories, and a novel, before Eat, Pray, Love! And her short stories kick ass. I’m jealous all over. A family in the country is surprised by unwelcome neighbours who appear on their doorstep en masse and invite themselves in. And the father has an elf call apparatus. [1997], Penguin, 2007.

April 17: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “For Puzzled in Wisconsin,” by Bronwen Wallace, from PEOPLE YOU’D TRUST YOUR LIFE TO. M&S, 1990. A woman’s reflections are triggered by a letter to the newspaper. “Dear Allie: My husband has an intricate tattoo on his chest. I am very fond of it, and I don’t want to see it go with him when he dies…” Very good, but I wouldn’t expect less from Wallace.

April 18: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Cleats,” by Johanna Skibsrud, from THIS WILL BE DIFFICULT TO EXPLAIN. My first Skibsrud read. And I like it. It’s pretty funny, this one, mature and well-done. I’ve heard more negative about Skibsrud than good, and I feel like I want to prove them all wrong. I don’t even need to read more to do that, but I will. Hamish Hamilton, 2011. (Read from the ARC)

April 19: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Big Bitchin’ Cow,” by D.W. Wilson, from ONCE YOU BREAK A KNUCKLE. I keep reading stories, like this one, that make me think, yes, this is exactly what mine’s supposed to be! A father chases his son across a frozen lake, remembering the past between them. So damn good. The structure is perfect. Hamish Hamilton, 2011. (Read from the ARC)

April 20: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Out of the Woods” by Chris Offutt, from his collection of the same name. A man goes and picks up his wife’s dead brother. Such a poor summary for such a masterful story. I love the vernacular, the tone. The greatest thing to come from the US is its literary talent. Like Woodrell, Offutt is a great American writer whom Tobias Wolff (yet another goodie) says is one of the best. I agree. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

April 21: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “With Daddy,” by Allison Baggio, from her collection IN THE BODY. In the wee hours of the morning, a girl’s father plucks her from her bed in the house where she lives with her mother, and takes a trip. Heartbreaking, an excellent story idea, and an interesting exploration of the collection title in a juxtaposition sort of way, but something tells me this story could have been better. Having worked on Girl in Shades, though, and having thought it rather strong, I look forward to reading the rest of this intriguing collection. ECW Press, 2012.

If you have suggestions, do let me know and I’ll add them to my list. Thank you to those who’ve recommended already. Duly noted!

Next up: who knows! I get to pick each day depending on what I feel like for breakfast!

Writers’ Trust Identifies Literary Stars of Tomorrow

This is a Writers’ Trust press release

Finalists Announced for RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers

Toronto – April 18, 2013 – The Writers’ Trust of Canada is delighted to announce finalists for a literary award that plays an instrumental role in discovering and promoting the next stars of Canadian literature.

The RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers rewards writers under age 35 who are unpublished in book form. Alternating each year between poetry and short fiction, the award will be given this year to the author of an exceptional work of poetry. The $5,000 award is supported by the RBC Emerging Artists Project, which invests in up-and-coming artists to help build their professional careers. Two finalists will each receive $1,000.

A jury comprised of the poets Mary Dalton, Phil Hall, and Susan Holbrook read 135 blind submissions and selected three finalists:

Laura Clarke for “Mule Variations”

Laura Clarke is a Toronto-based writer and a graduate of the MA program in creative writing at the University of Toronto. She has published work in The Antigonish Review, Grain, PRISM international,Qwerty, and Freefall. The jury said of her work: “Something both hip and ancient is given full rein: hard limits slurping in the sun, Aristotle and police reports, electric fences and pick-up lines, subway riders with donkey heads. A washed-out sardonic tone delivers a sure push that is humane and celebratory.”

Laura Matwichuk for “Here Comes the Future”

Laura Matwichuk holds an MA in art history from the University of British Columbia and is a recent graduate of the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. She lives in Vancouver and will be a writer-in-residence at the Banff Centre later this spring. Her poems have appeared in Contemporary Verse 2 and Emerge. The jury citation said of her work: “Matwichuk hangs poetry from the syntactical hooks of the sentence, offering us prose poems that are flexible, slightly surreal, both expansive and focused.”

Suzannah Showler for “The Reason and Other Poems”

Suzannah Showler holds an MA in creative writing from the University of Toronto. Her writing has appeared in many places, including The WalrusHazlittThe Puritan, and Joyland, and she won the 2012 Matrix LitPOP Award for Poetry. She is the poetry editor for Dragnet Magazine and curator of the website Art of Losing ( She lives in Toronto and is working on her first collection of poems. The jury said of her work: “These poems distinguish themselves by the quality of their poetic intelligence. They are astute, linguistically and syntactically adept, and full of sonic energy.”

The winner will be announced on May 28, 2013, at an event hosted by acclaimed poet and past Bronwen Wallace Award winner Jeramy Dodds. The event will be held in Toronto at the Leslie and Anna Dan Galleria at the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, located at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

The nominated work of each finalist is available for free to download exclusively on Apple’s iBookstore starting today at

“At RBC, we believe in the power of creative writing to enrich our lives,” said Shari Austin, Vice-President, Corporate Citizenship, RBC and Executive Director, RBC Foundation. “That is why we are proud to support the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, because it helps promising young writers to build their professional careers and fosters the next generation of great Canadian writers.”

“The RBC Bronwen Wallace Award has a stellar track-record of launching literary careers,” said Mary Osborne, Writers’ Trust executive director. “A nomination for this award signifies exceptional potential and gives young writers a boost at a crucial point in their development as artists.”

About Bronwen Wallace

Bronwen Wallace was a poet, short story writer, and mentor to many young writers as a creative writing instructor at Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College in Kingston. This prize was established in her honour in 1994 by a group of friends and colleagues. Wallace felt that writers should receive greater recognition early in their careers and so this annual award is given to a writer below the age of 35 who has published poetry or prose in literary magazines, journals, or anthologies, but has not yet been published in book form.

About the Award

Over 19 years, this award has distinguished 66 young writers with a nomination and many have gone on to receive literary acclaim. Several past honorees have new books out this spring, including Michael Crummey, Shashi Bhat, Natalee Caple, Dina Del Bucchia, and Tanis Rideout.

About the RBC Emerging Artists Project

In 2012, RBC invested $6.2 million in programs that support Arts and Culture in Canada and around the world.The RBC Emerging Artists Project consists of support through sponsorships and donations to organizations whose programs bridge the gap from academic excellence to professional careers in all forms of art.

About the Writers’ Trust of Canada

The Writers’ Trust of Canada is a charitable organization that seeks to advance, nurture, and celebrate Canadian writers and writing through a portfolio of programs, including literary awards, financial grants, scholarships, and a writers’ retreat. Writers’ Trust programming is designed to champion excellence in Canadian writing, to improve the status of writers, and to create connections between writers and readers. Canada’s writers receive more financial support from the Writers’ Trust than from any other non-governmental organization or foundation in the country.


You can view the 2013 finalists on the Writers’ Trust site.

You can read Bronwen Wallace’s writing, too, but she does seem hard to find, except for the short stories. Try


  • Marrying into the Family - 1980
  • Signs of the former Tenant - 1983 (winner of the Pat Lowther Award)
  • Common Magic - 1985
  • The Stubborn Particulars of Grace - 1987
  • Keep That Candle Burning Bright and Other Poems - 1991

Short stories


  • Arguments with the World - 1992


  • Two Women Talking: Correspondence 1985-1987 - 1994 (with Erin Mouré)

Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

2013-02-14 14.30.46Oy. This post was supposed to be set for this past Sunday but, well, this Sunday passed. As did Monday. These are the days of our lives, yes? As the world turns. Had we but world enough and time, etcetera.

Here’s a recap of the short stories I read last week. Most were exceptional. I swear, if I didn’t have favourite authors and wasn’t so excited about some upcoming novels, I’d read only collections for the rest of my literary life.

April 8: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Runner,” by Derek Hayes, from THE MALADJUSTED. Quirky, humorous, observant, and honest. This is a collection of stories that explores people’s idiosyncrasies, our special brands of neurotic. I’ll bet all of us can relate to at least one character! Thistledown Press, 2011.

April 9: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: The hilarious and fitting “Della Renfrew,” by Jessica Grant, from MAKING LIGHT OF TRAGEDY. Holt Renfrew’s daughter applies for a job at Holt Renfrew. Oh, Jessica. Please, please write more. Lots more. And hurry the hell up about it. Porcupine’s Quill, 2004. Such great, natural writing! A fantastic example of an author who knows what it means to write wholeheartedly.

April 10: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Attempts at a Great Relationship,” by Lee Henderson, from THE BROKEN RECORD TECHNIQUE. Henderson also wrote a novel called The Man Game that I bought a long time ago and now really look forward to reading even more. Why haven’t I read this collection till now?! Why haven’t I heard of this guy? I bought this collection on a whim, while browsing the basement in Greenley’s. I bought any short collections that I didn’t already have, and found many Canadian gems. Anyway, this is a fantastic story. His metaphors wither me as a writer. His characters, their dialogue, the setting, the structure of the story! Gah. Two couples go to a wave pool, and we get all four perspectives. Funny and tenderhearted. Penguin, 2008.

April 11: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Transported to Louisiana by Tim Gautreaux, a new fave: “Welding With Children,” from the collection with the same name. Running out of ways to express the greatness of what I’m reading. These days I just emotionally shake my head in appreciation. This story is gold. The colloquial language, the characterization, the voice, and the very idea. A grandfather has to look after his “white trash” daughters’ children while trying to get his daily errands run. I look forward to reading not only the rest of this collection but also the rest of Gautreaux’s books. Many thanks to Hugh Cook for the recommendation! Picador, 2009.

April 12: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Tikkun” and “Say It Again…” by Ayelet Tsabari, from her newly released collection, THE BEST PLACE ON EARTH. Wholehearted, very sensory, and the Middle Eastern setting is so well conveyed. Concepts foreign, perhaps, to us, but made familiar through good writing. Also, she can write a great sex scene, let me tell you. It takes skill! HarperCollins, 2013.

April 13: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Chronology of an Egg,” by Peter Tieryas Liu, in WATERING HEAVEN (nominated for this year’s Frank O’Connor award!). “I tell her I think she’s beautiful and she tells me she has an unusual genetic quirk that scares off most men. ‘Every time I have sex, I lay an egg.’ I assume she’s joking, get her email address.” This story is hilarious…and slightly horrifying. I really enjoyed it and look forward to the rest of the collection. Signal 8 Press, 2012.

April 14: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Sucker,” by the talented Carson McCullers, from THE COLLECTED STORIES OF CARSON MCCULLERS. Great characterization! The narrative voice is so clear, as well as the tone. There was an ominous feel to it, and I was just waiting for something terrible to be recounted. And then when it was…ho boy. Creepy. McCullers is another American fave. I adored The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Mariner Books, 1998.

Thanks for following along, all! Any collections you want to recommend? I’m open! Send me a message over Twitter, FB, or here.

Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

2013-02-05 07.25.15The short stories I read this weekend were a nice mix, by women and men, contemporary and older, even different in format, since one I read, today, was from a pdf. Here are the breakfasts I enjoyed this week:

April 1: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Many Faces of Montgomery Clift,” by Grace O’Connell, author of the novel Magnified World. This story, which reminded me so much of a friendship I had, was part of Writers’ Trust Journey Prize Anthology #24. I enjoyed it so much I emailed Grace and we had a neat chat about it.

April 2: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Going for seconds after reading Matthew Trafford’s aptly titled “Gutted” from The Divinity Gene. I’m caught. Hook, line, & sinker! “Gutted” specially blew me away. I read it three times. “Camping at Dead Man’s Point” is interesting in that he uses himself as a character in the story, a gay guy named Matthew Trafford, but the story also includes a walking, talking dead guy. An original, cool way to make a good point in this one! Trafford deserves much more attention. Douglas & McIntyre, 2011.

April 3: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Mother Superior” and “My Three Girls,” by Saleema Nawaz Webster, from Mother Superior. Enjoyed both, particularly the first one. The second was somewhat horrifying, but also very well done. I could keep reading! Freehand Books, 2008. Already in the first few stories there is a theme of motherhood and children.

April 4: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Cracked Wheat” and “Pisces,” by Hugh Cook, from Cracked Wheat  and Other Stories. Middleburg Press, 1984. Early stories by my former English prof. I read the book years ago and remembered “Cracked Wheat” fondly, reading it again. I recall why the story has stuck with me all these years. Well-written.

April 5: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Foley’s Pond,” “Occidental Hotel,” and “Spokane,” by Peter Orner, from Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge. (Reissue August ’13; Little, Brown. I hope they reprint all of his, as they’re hard to find.) You know you’ve just read some stellar writing when the first thing that comes out of your mouth is a giant sigh and “holy shit.”

April 6: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Premier’s New Pajamas,” by John Lavery, from Very Good Butter. ECW Press, 2000. NO ONE writes like John. No one. I miss you, cher ami.

April 7: #shortstoriesforbreakfast, “Better to Lose an Eye,” by Jamie Quatro, from I Want to Show You More. Powerful and surprising. I’ve read some of her stuff on McSweeney’s too, and it’s hilarious! Quatro’s been getting a lot off attention in the US. She’s one to pay attention to. Thanks to Hugh Cook for bringing her to my attention.

In all, a great week of stories. I’m understanding little by little more about how stories work, and what makes a good story better than another. I’m also finding myself hungrier for more literature in general (the way eating breakfast makes you hungrier the rest of the day), and finding myself becoming more inspired by ordinary things.

Next week includes some lesser-known Canadian authors, plus Diana Athill.

Stay healthy: read well.

Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

the books

the books

About a week and a half ago I began the tradition of reading a short story for breakfast. You can read about it here. This post is a recap of all the stories I read, plus a little more. A different spin on my LitBits posts, kind of!

March 21: Really enjoying a short story for breakfast every morning! This morning was Jess Walter’s excellent titular story from We Live In Water. A man tries to find out what happened to his father, who disappeared when he was a kid. Tough, heartbreaking, but not in the way you might expect. So much is revealed in such a short period of time, with such clean prose. I loved the structure, the tone, the bravery of it. Walter is a master, there’s no doubt. HarperCollins, 2013.

March 22: Short stories for breakfast: “Flies” and “The Table” from Paolo da Costa’s The Green and Purple Skin of the World. Unique style, evocative of a sort of fairy-taleish Europe. I like! Freehand Books, 2013.

March 23: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: The striking “Kiss Me Like I’m the Last Man on Earth,” from Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s How to Get Along with Women. Funny but also really not. How the innocence of kids playing a game they don’t quite understand is lost, and how a heritage of cultural trauma goes from curiosity and exploration to something more. Invisible Publishing, 2012.

March 24: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: All-girl band, east/west Toronto divide story “Saudade,” by Nicole Dixon, from High-Water Mark. Captures the competition and complexities of women relationships. Porcupine’s Quill, 2012.

March 25: #shortstoriesforbreakfast A boozy, confessional start with “The Sorrows of Gin” & “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill,” from The Stories of John Cheever. One of my favourite American writers. Satirical, clever, excellent dialogue. Ballantine, 1980.

March 26: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Stuart Ross’s “Me and the Pope,” “Cow Story,” & the titular story from Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. Genius gems. I LOVE this book. Funny, absurd, satirical, timely. Freehand Books, 2009.

March 27: #shorstoriesforbreakfast: A teary start with “Elephant Air,” by Fran Kimmel from Everything is So Political: A Collection of Short Stories by Canadian Writers. Fernwood Publishing, 2013.

March 28#shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Pheasant,” by Raymond Carver, from Carver, Collected Stories. I can read story after story from this collection, but after reading this one, I just want to sit with it for a while. I don’t believe there really is anyone better at short stories than Carver. Library of America, 2009.

March 29: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Emergency Contact,” by Michael Christie, from The Beggar’s Garden. Yes, finally I’ve picked it up. This story, about a woman who will go to great lengths for her infatuation with a paramedic, is funny, sad, tender, and skilfully written. Ugh, this guy is so freaking good. I just want to read him all day. From HarperCollins (I have to add, this hardback is DREAMY.)

March 30: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Prowlers,” by Charles Baxter, from A Relative Stranger. On love and other demons. A former best friend, a woman loved by two, a blizzard. And a lot of reading between the lines! WW. Norton, 2001. I actually think this might be out of print! 

March 31: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Revisiting my Catholic upbringing with “Remember for Me,” by Susan Zettell, from Holy Days of Obligation. Marvelling at the characterization. NuAge/Signature Editions, 1998.

short stories bookcase in the kitchen

short stories bookcase in the kitchen


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