November 23, 2017
Trent University alumnus Richard Harrison ’76 has been named the winner of the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry for On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood, published by Hamilton's Wolsak & Wynn.
It was the latest honour for the book, which also won the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry and the third prize for poetry in the 2017 Alcuin Society's Book Design Awards. On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the was also shortlisted for the City of Calgary's 2016 W.O. Mitchell Book Prize and a finalist for the poetry category of the High Plains Book Awards.
We caught up with Richard for a Skype interview to discuss the award. The conversation ranged from the nature of the Canadian literary voice to the poetry of hockey to how Trent helped shape his career.
Of his award winning collection, he noted: “There is a pause moment, where many of the things I started 40 years ago [while at Trent] have now come to this point. And in some senses there is completion here.”
Harrison credits former Lady Eaton College Principal Douglas McCalla and faculty members Orm Mitchell and Michael Peterman for hosting readings and introducing him to writers such as Patrick Lane, Robert Kroetsch, Susan Musgrave, Margaret Laurence, and Adele Wiseman. He found the experience of listening to Patrick Lane read in the Sr. Common Room so powerful that it led him to try his own hand at creative writing.
He also credits Trent with helping feed his curiosity and creativity.
“Trent was small enough – and the faculty were friendly enough, not just in their discipline, but across disciplines. They were understanding of the nature of inquiry and allowed me to let inquiry lead me to where it wanted to go. And they encouraged me all the time to keep going. My professors understood that what I was doing was looking for a lifetime’s work, and that this was how I would find it.”
He looks back to academic movements such as those found in Trent’s Canadian Studies programs as being intergral to helping Canada focus on their own unique stories and their own unique literature – something he says has benefited him and his writing.
Richard Harrison’s eight books include the Governor General’s Award–finalist Big Breath of a Wish, and Hero of the Play, the first book of poetry launched at the Hockey Hall of Fame. He teaches English and Creative Writing at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, a position he took up after being the Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Calgary in 1995. His work has been published, broadcast and displayed around the world, and his poems have been translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic.