Edna Alford: Contribution as Canadian Author

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      Edna Alford, born in 1947, Canadian short-story writer, editor and teacher whose conventional realist stories scrutinize their characters apparently mundane lives. Alford grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Saskatoon where she went to school, before marrying and having a son. Her literary career began around the time she won a scholarship at 15 to attend a summer writing program in Saskatchewan, and includes short-story collections: A Sleep Full of Dreams (1981), for which she was named co-winner of the Gerald Lampert Award, and The Garden of Eloise Loon (1986).

      In addition to her own writing, Alford has contributed significantly to the development of other writers in Canada through her involvement with Dandelion, the literary magazine she co-founded and co-edited with Joan Clark (1975—80), with the aim of giving young writers in the prairie region greater access to publication. More recently she was appointed fiction editor of Grain magazine (1990). She has also edited short-fiction collections by Canadian writers such as Bonnie Burnard and Rachel Wyatt; co-edited the anthology of women's writing, Kitchen Talk, with Claire Harris; and taught creative writing throughout western Canada. She is a member of the editorial board of Coteau Books and is Associate Director of the Writing Studio Programme at the Banff Center for the Arts. On the subject of producing works of art or what Alford describes as 'home-made light' she states, 'I don't actually believe that I create.

      It seems to me that what I do Is behold. And in some sense, I guess I am responding to the human longing to behold. Alias Grace (1996) In her ninth novel, Margaret Atwood makes a fictional return to her fascination with early Canadian history and her former 'heroine', Susanna Moodie. During her visits to the Provincial Penitentiary in Kingston and Toronto's Lunatic Asylum, Moodie wrote of Canada's 'star attraction', the 'celebrated murderess', Grace Marks, convicted of the Kinnear Montgomery murders in July 1843. Whilst Grace's accomplice, James McDermott, was hanged, she was imprisoned until her Pardon in 1872. Atwood takes such verifiable facts and extends the mystery of Grace's crime into the realms of historical fiction: I have not changed any known facts, although the written accounts are so contradictory that few facts emerge as unequivocally "known".

      This is a novel which questions the truth of writing (and history) alongside the 'origins' of the female subject whose crime is seen to relate directly to issues of sexuality. Pre-Freudian medical speculations abound as to the origin of Grace's 'madness': Atwood's exploration of mesmerism and dream work reflects the 19th century's fascination with mental illness, whilst her postmodern approach questions its textual validity. Grace's own story is sewn into a 'quilted' narrative, each section introduced by a different illustrative 'block' or pattern, hinting at past memories and future freedoms.

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