Challenge 12 - December 2019 - The FOLD

A book featuring an author published after the age of 50

Challenge 12

Book Recommendations

Authors over the age of 50 are harnessing their experience and savvy to add their voices to the Canadian writing landscape. We are here for it! Some of the books we know and love premiered when their authors had already sprouted a few greys. Think Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose first title in the Little House on the Prairie series was published when she was 65, or Frank McCourt’s Pullitzer winning memoir, Angela’s Ashes. We’ve made a list of diverse Canadian authors whose debut books prove that it’s never to late to become a writer.

Check out some of our recommended titles below. And be sure to share your own recommendations in the comments!

They Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson (68)

After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father, and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year old mother—author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers have finally fallen to their middle-aged knees with conflicted feelings of grief and relief. Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, twenty-three rooms bulging with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum thought: How tough will that be? I know how to buy garbage bags.

But the task turns out to be much harder and more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger difficult memories of her eccentric family growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, but unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships, with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued.

They Left Us Everything is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving family history to make sense of the past, and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the future.

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In the Black: My Life by Denham Jolly (81)*

In the Black traces B. Denham Jolly’s personal and professional struggle for a place in a country where Black Canadians have faced systematic discrimination. He arrived from Jamaica to attend university in the mid-1950s and worked as a high school teacher before going into the nursing and retirement-home business. Though he was ultimately successful in his business ventures, Jolly faced both overt and covert discrimination, which led him into social activism. The need for a stronger voice for the Black community fueled Jolly’s 12-year battle to get a license for a Black-owned radio station in Toronto. At its launch in 2001, Flow 93.5 became the model for urban music stations across the country, helping to launch the careers of artists like Drake.

Jolly chronicles not only his own journey; he tells the story of a generation of activists who worked to reshape the country into a more open and just society. While celebrating these successes, In the Black also measures the distance Canada still has to travel before we reach our stated ideals of equality.

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My Trouble With Books & Other Works of Short Fiction by Roger McTair (73)

Set in Trinidad and Tobago, Toronto, and the tourist fringe of Barbados, the thirteen short stories in My Trouble With Books are filled with memories of childhood and adolescence, as well as with snapshots of the Roger McTair’s flat, calm, stoic style of writing. These are valuable, humorous, poignant stories, moored in a Caribbean literary aesthetic while also touching on themes of diaspora and exile.

Roger McTair is a pioneering Trinidadian-Canadian writer, documentary filmmaker, and poet whose writing has been published in the Caribbean, Canada, and the U.S.

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Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age by Darrel J. McLeod (59) – Available on Audible Canada

As a small boy in remote Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod is immersed in his Cree family’s history, passed down in the stories of his mother, Bertha. There he is surrounded by her tales of joy and horror―of the strong men in their family, of her love for Darrel, and of the cruelty she and her sisters endured in residential school―as well as his many siblings and cousins, and the smells of moose stew and wild peppermint tea. And there young Darrel learns to be fiercely proud of his heritage and to listen to the birds that will guide him throughout his life.

But after a series of tragic losses, Bertha turns wild and unstable, and their home life becomes chaotic. Sweet and eager to please, Darrel struggles to maintain his grades and pursue interests in music and science while changing homes, witnessing domestic violence, caring for his younger siblings, and suffering abuse at the hands of his brother-in-law. Meanwhile, he begins to question and grapple with his sexual identity―a reckoning complicated by the repercussions of his abuse and his sibling’s own gender transition.

Thrillingly written in a series of fractured vignettes, and unflinchingly honest, Mamaskatch―“It’s a wonder!” in Cree―is a heartbreaking account of how traumas are passed down from one generation to the next, and an uplifting story of one individual who overcame enormous obstacles in pursuit of a fulfilling and adventurous life.

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