It’s been one hell of a year for award-winning poet and novelist Dani Couture. The Toronto author won the ReLit Award for poetry, was granted an honour of distinction from the Writers’ Trust of Canada Dayne Ogilvie Grant and published her first novel, Algoma, through Invisible Publishing.
Couture is celebrating with an appearance at Queer Solstice, a festive reading of poetry and fiction at Ben McNally bookstore on Dec 10. Joining her will be musician and writer Vivek Shraya, Royston Tester, Jim Nason, poet Maureen Hynes and Nancy Jo Cullen, exploring all seasons, sexualities and sentiments.
“It’s never at the forefront of the novel that Josie is gay,” says Couture of a character in Algoma. “It’s a quiet nod to people in an area where they don’t feel comfortable to be out. It’s not overt. It’s a quiet love.”
Couture, sipping an Americano at Tango Palace Coffee Company on Queen St E, continues: “Everyone in the book wants something they can’t have. Josie wants Algoma and can’t have her. She can only have her in a certain way.”
Algoma takes place over a bitter rural Quebec winter. Definitely a Canadian family drama, weather is always relevant.
A year after her son Leo falls through the ice and dies, Algoma’s family unravels. Her 12-year-old son Ferd endlessly writes letters to his dead brother, convinced his words could bring his brother home.
These folded squares of paper pop up in unusual places around the house, including in the kitchen sink, washing machine and rain reservoir. Algoma tries to hide them from her estranged husband, Gaetan, a bartender who abandons his newly pregnant wife and troubled son.
Algoma is a story of grief, loss and moving on.
Born on a Canadian Forces military base to a francophone father and anglophone mother, Couture has a fixation with place. She’s lived in 10 cities, including North Bay, Vancouver, Windsor and Taichung, Taiwan.
Her fascination with the word Algoma began with an obsession with Essar Steel Algoma, a steel mill in Sault Ste Marie, a structure she first saw metaphorically as a woman.
“There’s elements of queer. If you are queer, whatever you do is through that lens,” she says.
While doing preliminary research, Couture found herself frantically calling anything listed in the phone book under “Algoma” in and around the Algoma Townships: Algoma Apple Orchards, Algoma University or Algoma Central Railway.
“No one knew what it meant. This was before the internet was big.”
Some translations say it means snowshoe; others suggest it is a native word meaning park or valley of flowers.
Algoma isn’t autobiographical, though Couture’s grandfather keeps a weather journal, an inspiration for the start of each chapter, which has a header giving the date, time and a poetic description of weather.
“I live in a place with varying weather,” she says. “I’m kind of addicted to weather. Some people say it’s the smell of something. Weather conjures up memory, almost a flashback. It’s subtly different every single day.”
Sat, Dec 10 at 1:30pm
Ben McNally Books
366 Bay St