St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick, offers a liberal arts education, which, given our current obsession with job training, is increasingly rare for post-secondary institutions. The year 2010 marks St. Thomas’s centenary, and this collection is part of that celebration.
Apart from a connection with the university – either as students or instructors – the writers collected in this book have no particular reason for appearing alongside one another; the various pieces, all of which have been previously published, differ wildly in subject and tone. This is perhaps inevitable, given the criteria the editors used in making their selections: in 2008, they sent out a call for submissions, and in choosing what to include in the book, they adopted the strategy of former New Yorker editor William Shawn, who looked for nothing other than “good writing.”
The resulting volume is a bit of a grab bag. One of New Brunswick’s most famous writers – David Adams Richards (who attended St. Thomas but did not graduate, choosing instead to pursue a career in writing) – is represented by an excerpt from 1993’s For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down, which is guaranteed to make anyone who hasn’t read the novel rush out and get it. Other well-known writers in this collection include Kathy Mac, Sheree Fitch, and Sheldon Currie.
The pieces range from the serious (Helen Branswell’s essay “Remembering SARS”) to the outright hilarious (Ian Brodie’s laugh-out-loud spoof of a Socratic dialogue). Carole Spray’s “Collecting the Stories” is a fascinating essay about folklore, and Norma Jean Profitt’s “Of Particle and Wave” is a reminiscence about her time in Costa Rica as a worker with Canadian University Service Overseas. Poet Chris Weagle is represented by three splendid poems, including “The Inertial Observer,” originally published in the literary journal Grain.
As with any anthology, not all the material will appeal to each reader, but there’s something in this collection for everyone. Douglas Vipond and Russell A. Hunt have put together an engaging and entertaining volume – one that will likely lead readers to seek out more by these St. Thomas writers.