A Tale of Two Divas — St. Catharine’s Standard Mar 23, 2017

New book by biography writer

A Port Dalhousie woman who has written several biographies has a new book.

A Tale of Two Divas, by author and retired Brock English teacher Elspeth Cameron, tells the story of two Canadian singers who begin as soloists in church choirs but move on to more spectacular careers.

She describes the novel as a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction, and is set in Canada’s Edwardian West.

The career paths of its two female characters — Jean Forsyth and Edith Miller — detail an era of great change in the Canadian pioneer Prairie West.

Cameron is perhaps best known for her biographies on writer Hugh MacLennan and poet Irving Layton. She has also published a hybrid biography and memoir, called Aunt Winnie.

Her latest book completes her coverage of Canada’s regions.

From 1970 to 2010 she taught Canadian literature and Canadian studies at several universities including Brock, McGill and University of Toronto.

Her latest book was written in collaboration with Gail Kreutzer of Manitoba.

Elspeth Cameron, A Tale of Two Divas featured in The Hamilton Spectator

The power of suggestion

Jean Forsyth and Edith J. Miller seemed doomed to obscurity but for a willing biographer and a tenacious champion of promoting women

By Tiffany Mayer


Elspeth Cameron is open to suggestions.

In fact, the career of one of Canada’s most prolific biographers can be credited largely to others planting seeds of ideas that compelled much of her work.

Take writing biographies as the genre of choice for becoming a published author. The decision to write about other people’s lives happened during an epiphanic moment at an academic conference in 1974.

Then a young professor at Concordia University, Cameron saw an opening in the literary category when poet and critic Frank Davey told the crowd gathered before him that biography was missing in Canadian critical literature.

“I took him at his word and I said, ‘I would like to do that,'” Cameron recalled. “It’s not my idea. I’m very open to suggestions.”

Five years later, Cameron published her first book, Hugh MacLennan: A Writer’s Life and was nominated for a Governor General’s Award for her work. But even choosing MacLennan as the subject for her literary debut happened by way of capitulation.

Cameron had her heart set on writing about Canada’s other ink-stained statesman, Robertson Davies.

Problem was, Davies was in Toronto. Cameron was teaching in Montreal and MacLennan was nearing the end of his career at McGill University. Getting access to him would be easier.

Soon after A Writer’s Life was published, Irving Layton contacted Cameron and suggested she write about him. So she did. It was a proposition he regretted, she recalled as she sat in the sunlit living room of her cottage-like home in Port Dalhousie.

In an effort to paint a fulsome portrait of the Canadian poet, Cameron interviewed Layton’s three ex-wives and partner at the time for her book.

“Irving Layton got crazy mad at me,” she said.

When she was challenged by readers at talks she gave mid-career for not having documented lives of any women, Cameron devoted her next five volumes to them. She even turned her biographer’s eye inward and penned her own story for No Previous Experience: A Memoir of Love and Change.

Her latest homage to important — and often overlooked — Canadians doesn’t stray from the common theme that threads her career. A Tale of Two Divas: The Curious Adventures of Jean Forsyth and Edith J. Miller in Canada’s Edwardian West landed on bookstore shelves in February thanks to someone suggesting Cameron write it.

The idea came by way of an email from a woman named Gail Kreutzer in Winnipeg. Kreutzer, whom Cameron had never met, sat on the board of the Winnipeg Humane Society and to honour the organizations history, she wanted a book written about its founder Jean Forsyth.

It turns out Cameron is just as welcoming of persistence as she is of suggestions, however. Two years later, she finally dug into Kreutzer’s emails piling up in her inbox and the envelopes filled with information about Forsyth stacked in her living room, and starting piecing together the story of a woman who would be her next book.

Cameron had something resembling a manuscript nine months later when she flew to Winnipeg to finally meet Kreutzer, by then a friend. But throughout her research, another name kept turning up alongside Forsyth’s. It was Edith J. Miller.

Forsyth was Miller’s voice teacher in Winnipeg in 1894.

Their paths would continue to cross throughout their incredible careers. Cameron tells how each achieved success. She also brings their stories to life through dialogue, some of it inferred based on her research.

The book, which entertains as much as it informs, also provides insight into the lives of Western Canadian women at the time and their roles in society. Cameron describes it as a book of women’s history, social history and cultural history.

Special to the Hamilton Spectator.

View the article here : The Power of Suggestion, May 11, 2017

 

The Interlake Spectator

Gimli Woman Special Part in Historical Novel

What started off as a chance correspondents with one of her favourite authors, turned into a captivating non-fiction novel for one Gimli woman.

Evergreen School Division teacher Gail Kreutzer, and Elspeth Cameron, well-known Canadian historical biography recently published the book A Tale of Two Divas: The Curious Adventures of Jean Forsyth and Edith J. Miller in Canada’s Edwardian West. The book chronicles the life of two Canadian singers, their philanthropic activity and for one, her famous performance for the King of England.

“In my lifetime, I never thought i would be part of a published book, never mind doing a book with Elspeth. I’ve been a great admirer of her writing for many years,” Kreutzer said to the Interlake Spectator, Feb. 8.

Her journey started when she read Cameron’s book Aunt Winnie. In the book, she read a section that featured Forsyth, stating she could have been the founder of the Winnipeg Humane Society in 1893. Kreutzer, who had spent many years working with the organization, even serving on its board, was impressed by Forsyth and wanted to learn more about her.

“So I started doing some digging, and the more I dug, the more I found on Forsyth,” she said.

She wrote an email to Cameron, asking her to write a book on Forsyth, to which Cameron was initially hesitant.

Kreutzer researched about Forsyth anyway, amassing heaps of information on the little-known singer, then sending it to Cameron. Cameron slowly made her way to reading the material and was hooked.

“She had said she was not planning to do anymore book writing, but she was prepared to do this project,” Kreutzer explained. The pair spent months corresponding via email, with Kreutzer doing the research and Cameron piecing together a cohesive narrative.

“It was one of these things, that once I got into it, I was so fascinated by it. I was just so obsessed with it that I couldn’t quit researching,” she said. The two later added the story of Miller into the book, after finding just as much on her, as they did on Forsyth.

Cameron and Kreutzer met for the first time in 2015, after years of sharing their correspondents.

“It’s been three solid years of work for me doing research on this, but I have to say, I loved every minute of it,” Kreutzer said.

She said the story was special, because it was an accidental discovery.

“Nobody would have ever thought about doing this story, because you would never think to dig up all of these connections, but their story really deserves to be told and it would have never been told otherwise. They lived quite a fascinating life,” she said.

In the book’s acknowledgements, Cameron thanks Kreutzer for bringing the book to fruition.

“This book owes its existence to Gail Kreutzer,” it read, adding they remained friends after the book’s publication.

For Kreutzer, the entire experience was rewarding.

“To finally get a hard copy and to see it, it’s indescribable, I am just thrilled that I can see all my hardwork come to fruition,” she said.

View the full article here.

Social Studies Book Launch

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Scirocco Drama invites you to celebrate the launch of Social Studies by Trish Cooper.

Join us for some comedy and refreshments and a chance to pick up your copy of Social Studies.

Date: February 25, 2017
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: McNally Robinsion, Atrium, 1120 Grant Avenue

More information of the event can be found here.

 

 

Trish Cooper at the successful launch of Social Studies! Over 100 guests in attendance.
Trish Cooper at the successful launch of Social Studies! Over 100 guests in attendance.