#192 Andreas Schroeder
September 22nd, 2016
LOCATION: 900 Block West 7th Avenue.
Long before Andreas Schroeder led Canada to adopt Public Lending Right and helped found both the League of Canadian Poets and the Writers Union of Canada, the prolific UBC Creative Writing professor was an avant-garde, ex-Mennonite motorcyclist and surrealist who lived in a four-storey, ramshackle, communal house, just east of Oak St. “Since the landlord didn’t mind,” he says, “we painted all the doors black and all the window frames purple. Everyone called it, not terribly imaginatively, The Purple Palace.” Notables who lived there, or were regular found-ins, included J. Michael Yates, Charles “Red” Lillard, John Skapski, Scott Symons, George Payerle, John Newlove, Eric Forrer, Susan Musgrave, George McWhirter, George Amabile, Fred Cawsey, Stanley Cooperman, Hannah Main-van der Camp and Rick Ward. “Typewriters clacked and tickered and dinged away twenty-fours a day,” says Schroeder. The living room was wallpapered with 300 leftover posters for Schroeder’s literary magazine Contemporary Literature in Translation. At least a dozen books were written in that house between 1970 and the early 80’s.
Andreas Schroeder, by his own account, has occasionally suffered attacks of certifiable dementia, during which he invariably committed cultural politics: serving as chair of the The Writers’ Union of Canada, 1976-77, and founding chair of Public Lending Rights, 1986-88. Schroeder was the most important guiding force behind the successful institutionalization of Public Lending Rights in Canada, ending his 34-year commitment to working on behalf of PLR in 2008. In 2012, he was consequently made the fourth recipient of the Writers Union of Canada’s Graeme Gibson Award at its Annual General Meeting on May 26, 2012. Established by the Union in 1991 for “varied and remarkable contributions to improve the circumstances of writers in Canada,” the award was first given to Graeme Gibson. In 1992 it was given to Pierre Berton and in 2011 to Heather Robertson.
Andreas Schroeder was born into a Mennonite family in Hoheneggelsen, Germany on November 26, 1946. He immigrated to Canada in 1951 when family joined a Mennonite congregation in the Fraser Valley founded by his grandfather. All 62 members were related to Schroeder on his mother’s side. He recounts several decades of adaptation to Canadian society and his own subsequent alienation from conservative Mennonite values in three novellas that comprise Renovating Heaven (2008), nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.
Schroeder attended the Universities of British Columbia and Toronto from 1965-71, and obtained his B.A. and M.A. in comparative literature and creative writing. He travelled to North America, Europe, the Middle East, before settling in a mountaintop tower near Mission, B.C. He has been writing full-time since 1971, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, radio drama, journalism, translation, and criticism. “Several decades ago I was frantically writing in every genre invented, producing radio documentaries, directing films (The Late Man, The Pub, Immobile), founding and editing magazines (Contemporary Literature in Translation, Canadian Fiction Magazine, Words from Inside), writing weekly literary columns (The Province), teaching creative writing and hosting a weekly literary television show (Synapse). I raced motorcycles, parachuted out of small airplanes, lived with a Bedouin tribe in the Baalbek (Lebanon) and served as Chairman of the Writers Union of Canada (1976-77)… Now it’s just me and my word processor.”
His work has been published in about twenty books, more than 40 anthologies and more than 90 magazines. His radio plays include a five-part adaptation of his novel Dustship Glory. In 1931, Tom Sukanen, a poor Prairie farmer, began his Quixotic dream to build an ocean-going freighter. Seven years of grueling toil and makeshift construction later, the hard part started–hauling his vessel some 15 miles to the nearest river. In three years Sukanen pulled his ship four miles with only the aid of a horse and a winch. Schroeder replicated this true story with his own fantastical extrapolations. His trio of books about con artists and trickster made Schroeder a frequent guest on CBC Radio’s Basic Black in the 1990s. These were followed by similar collections for younger readers, Thieves! and Scams!. He lives with his family, including writer Sharon Brown, at their home near Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast, and teaches at the Creative Writing Department of the University of British Columbia. He received an Honourary Doctorate of Letters from the University College of the Fraser Valley in 2002.
Robbers! Annick Press, 2012. Young adult, Non-fiction.
Duped! Annick Press, 2011. Young Adult Non-fiction.
Renovating Heaven. Oolichan Books, 2008. Three novellas. $18.95 978-088982-248-1
Thieves! Annick Press, 2005. Young Adult Non-Fiction
Scams! Annick Press, 2004. Young Adult Non-Fiction
Fakes, Frauds & Flimflammery. McClelland & Stewart, 1999. — non-fiction
Cheats, Charlatans & Chicanery. McClelland & Stewart, 1997. — non-fiction
Scams, Scandals and Skulduggery. McClelland & Stewart, 1996. — non-fiction
Carved From Wood, Mission 1861-1992. Mission Foundation, 1991. — history
The Eleventh Commandment. Thistledown, 1990.
The Mennonites. Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1990. — history, pictorial
Word for Word: The Business of Writing in Alberta. WGA, 1989. — non-fiction
Dustship Glory. Doubleday Canada Ltd., 1986. — novel. Re-issued, with afterword, from University. of Athabasca Press, 2011.
Toccata in ‘D’. Oolichan Books, 1984. — novella
Shaking it Rough. Doubleday, 1976; Lorimer, 1979. — memoir
The Late Man. Sono Nis, 1972. — parables
uniVERSE. MassAGE Press, 1971. — concrete poetry
File of Uncertainties. Sono Nis, 1971. — poems
The Ozone Minotaur. Sono Nis, 1969. — poems
Contemporary Poetry of British Columbia (Sono Nis, 1970) — with J.Michael Yates
Stories from Pacific and Arctic Canada (Macmillan, 1974) — with Rudy Wiebe
Words from Inside (Prison Arts Foundation, 1976, 1977, 1980)
Volvox: Poetry from the Unofficial Languages of Canada (Sono Nis, 1971) — with Charles Lillard and J. Michael Yates
Rocky Mountain Book Award, YA Nonfiction, 2007.
Red Maple Award for YA nonfiction. 2006
Red Maple Award, Ontario Library Association, 2005.
Honorary Doctorate of Letters, University College of the Fraser Valley, 2002.
Storytelling World (USA) Award: storytelling collections. 2005
Shortlisted, National Magazine Award, 1991.
Best Investigative Journalism, Canadian Association of Journalists, 1991.
Shortlisted, Seal First Novel Award, for Dustship Glory, 1984.
Shortlisted, Governor General’s Literary Award, for Shaking it Rough, 1976.
[Photo by Laura Sawchuk]
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2012] “Mennonite” “Fiction” “Humour” “Classic” “Interview”
• Known as ‘The Emp’, Joshua Abraham Norton of San Francisco was beloved for decades as the self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States in the 1800s.
• Until his suicide in 1976, Elmyr de Hory made millions from selling his modern art forgeries. Now his fakes are collectors’ items and art dealers have to be careful not to purchase forgeries of de Hory’s forgeries.
• A brilliant Berlin extortionist codenamed ‘Dagobert’ (the German name for Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge) turned out to be an unemployed automobile painter hoping to make enough loot to start a hotdog stand.
But perhaps Donald Crowhurst is the most original scam artist in Andreas Schroeder’s Fakes, Frauds and Flimflammery (M&S $19.99), the third collection in a series of books about rascals, charlatans and cheats. Here is our synopsis of Crowhurst’s caper.
Donald Crowhurst, a novice sailor who didn’t own a boat, decided to compete in the world’s first solo, non-stop, around-the-world yacht race in 1968.
To obtain a ship, Crowhurst waged a media campaign to liberate the drydocked vessel of British yachtsman Francis Chichester who had completed a solo circumnavigation of the world. This audacity caught the attention of a financial backer who enabled Crowhurst to hastily construct a 41-ft. trimaran.
In just five months Crowhurst somehow managed to build, launch and test his (100% over-budget) trimaran, the Teignmouth Electron. Because a trimaran is excellent for speed but nearly impossible to right after capsizing, Crowhurst designed his own anti-capsizing mechanism.
The race was a staggered start; others had left weeks before him. On October 31, with only seven hours to spare, he set sail as the tenth and final entry.
His problems began almost immediately. Rodney Hallworth, his press agent in England, received a series of messages. The self-steering gear was shredding, the port-bow float was filling with water and the generator was failing. The battery ran down. Crowhurst lost radio contact. Then he regained contact and headed for Madeira, off the coast of Portugal.
Crowhurst was managing less than 50 miles per day but he was unfazed by his poor performance. He was doing well simply by staying afloat. Three of his competitors had to withdraw due to mechanical problems, two capsized, one was de-masted and another developed a stomach ulcer.
The world’s press eagerly reported the progress of the few remaining, far-flung yachtsmen. Crowhurst amazingly began to report remarkable speeds, fueling enthusiastic newspaper stories as he approached the Cape of Good Hope. After eleven weeks of silence, a station in Buenos Aires received a weak signal from the Teignmouth Electron, much to the delight of the betting shops who were charting the race.
Crowhurst appeared to be only two weeks behind the leader. After more than 200 days of sailing, he and frontrunner Nigel Tetley had about 5,000 miles to go in their duel to achieve the fastest time. (Robin Knox-Johnston had arrived back at Falmouth in April, after 313 days at sea, but he had departed long before Crowhurst and Tetley.)
By the middle of May, Tetley was approaching the Canary Islands; Crowhurst was off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. Tetley had set sail almost a month before Crowhurst. The fastest-time prize could easily go to Crowhurst.
Hallworth was negotiating tv and radio documentary rights, book contracts, a lecture tour and commercial endorsements. He printed up 10,000 postcards with Crowhurst’s photograph on behalf of the Teignmouth Chamber of Commerce and sent them all over the world. Crowhurst radioed back: METHS PETROL LOW. FLOUR RICE MILDEWED. WATER FOUL. CHEESE INTERESTING.
It was going perfectly until Nigel Tetley’s trimaran sank off the Azores in a storm. “The world’s media went absolutely wild,” says Schroeder. “After seven months and 26,000 miles in a hastily built boat that had never been properly finished or provisioned, Donald Crowhurst, a weekend sailor from a nondescript little town in southwest England, had beaten a group of the world’s most eminent and experienced yachtsmen.”
All Crowhurst had to do was loaf his way back to his home part of Teignmouth.
While his press agent anticipated a hero’s welcome in England from 100,000 people, Crowhurst was doddling his way through the Sargasso Sea. He slowed to less than five miles per day. Still beset by mechanical problems, Crowhurst stopped answering his radio messages on June 1, 1969.
On July 10, a Royal Mail vessel, en route to the Caribbean, found the trimaran adrift about 1,800 miles southwest of England—with no sign of Crowhurst on board.
A search of the area found no traces. Weeks passed. The storybook ending was not to be. The Sunday Times established an appeal fund for Crowhurst’s family. Robin Knox-Johnston, the only sailor to complete the race, donated all the prize money. Hallworth, the press agent, offered to sell Crowhurst’s three logbooks to ease the burden on Crowhurst’s family.
Only the captain of the mail ship had glanced at the logbooks. He took Hallworth aside and asked him to tear out the final three pages containing evidence that Crowhurst had gone completely mad and had obviously committed suicide. Hallworth agreed. But on closer examination of the logbooks, an even more startling discovery was made.
Donald Crowhurst had pretended to circumnavigate the globe. Careful to avoid major shipping lanes, he had cleverly concocted false positions in his radio reports.
Donald Crowhurst never left the Atlantic Ocean.
Encountering severe mechanical problems in December, Crowhurst had decided to sail in circles off the coast of Brazil. He kept a detailed logbook to chart his phoney progress. In the late 1960s, radio signals were still relatively untraceable so it was possible for his scam to go undetected.
Experts deduced that Crowhurst had planned to finish second. This way he could gain some fame but race officials wouldn’t give his logbook more than superficial scrutiny. Tetley’s sinking off the Azores was the worst news imaginable for Crowhurst. As the winner by default, he knew his victory would be scrutinized and the scam would be uncovered.
Crowhurst stopped bothering to sail. He became obsessed with his copy of Einstein’s Relativity, the Special and the General Theory. According to Crowhurst’s personal journal that was recovered, he believed a man could learn to manipulate the ‘space-time continuum’ and possess the attributes of God.
“He lay naked on deck (as was reported by tanker sightings), filling page after page with urgent poems, partially completed essays, heavily underlined exclamations and long, complex mathematical formulae.”
Based on his own concise calculations, at 11:20:40 on July 1, 1969, Donald Crowhurst had stepped off the deck of the Teignmouth Electron into the Sargasso Sea—to become a god.
He has yet to radio back his progress. 0-7710-7954-0
[BCBW SUMMER 1999]
According to Andreas Schroeder, the new Public Lending Rate stats show 1,512 B.C. authors received PLR payments this year. The total for Canada overall is 10,370. In total B.C. authors received $752,724.91. The total for Canada is $6,000,406. The number of eligible B.C. titles was 6,484. The total for Canada was 41,909. B.C. accounted for approximately 14% of the total PLR payment budget.
ANDREAS SCHROEDER was born in Hoheneggelsen, Germany in 1946. He emigrated with his parents in 1951. He developed a keen interest in surrealism at UBC, founded The Journal of Contemporary Literature in Translation (1968-80), contributed a literary column to the Vancouver Province (1968-73), chaired the Writers Union of Canada (1976-77) and is chiefly responsible for the institution of Public Lending Rights in Canada. For possession of hashish he was incarcerated for eight months and subsequently wrote his superb non-fiction memoir, Shaking It Rough (1976). Earlier experimental fiction has been eclipsed by an incredible documentary-style novel, Dustship Glory (1986), based on the true story of a dirt-poor Finnish Canadian farmer in Saskatchewan named Tom Sukanen who endured seven years of toil and poverty to build an ocean-bound, dustbowl freighter fifteen miles from the nearest river. Andreas Schroeder lives in Mission, BC. He was interviewed in 1986.
T: Did it ever strike you in the course of writing Dustship Glory that building a ship in the middle of the prairie is somehow analogous to trying to finish a novel?
SCHROEDER: I didn’t consider it at the time. But there are certainly many similarities. Sitting at a desk for years and years hammering away at pieces of paper that no one may ever want. Trying desperately to keep the original idea in focus. Fending off people who keep trying to apply mere logic to the problem. For whom it’s all just a lunatic exercise.
T: The big difference is that Tom Sukanen went about his lunatic exercise in public view.
SCHROEDER: Right. And I can relate to that from another angle, too. I find writing so hard, so painstaking, that whenever I lose traction, whenever I can’t hear myself anymore, I grab a hammer and nails and go out and build something. Something indisputably there. Because at least with building something physical, you don’t have to doubt your vision. One of the things that draws me to a man like Tom, which is to say a man with a grand vision, is that he was a builder. Now I live in a crazy house with a tower and cathedral arches all over the place. There’s hardly a right angle anywhere. Getting the vision of what we wanted to build took Sharon and me a number of years of just fantasizing until we had it straight. After that it was just the hassle of trying to get from here to there, to get it done. I was prepared to spend twenty-six hours a day at it, because I could see it so clearly. I couldn’t understand why the helpers I hired were only interested in putting in eight. The project was huge but it was also such a treat. Just knowing that, no matter how challenging the undertaking, there’s a solution for every problem you might run up against. In many ways it’s even immaterial whether you stumble a whole lot in the process, or even if the damn thing caves in once or twice. Whereas with writing, I have never felt I had the privilege of a vision so clear and sharp. You can only hope you end up with more or less what you had in mind, though you never do. It can’t possibly be exactly what you fantasized it to be. There’s always going to be a rueful sense that it’s not exactly what you intended, it’s not quite the same.
T: So obviously you used the experience of building your own house to understand Tom Sukanen.
SCHROEDER: That’s got to be true. I certainly understood that for Tom Sukanen the reasons for building his ship and his visions of what he was going to do with it were far more important than the trivial horseshit of cold-rolling half-inch steel, however unbelievable people have found that in retrospect. His tragedy was that he miscalculated on the timing. That’s about the only thing he couldn’t manufacture himself: enough time. With enough time, he could have launched that ship, I’m convinced of it. He could have pulled it off.
T: If only the people in the community had got their John Deere tractors together and hauled the bloody thing. ..
SCHROEDER: Yes, that’s one of the things that became clear as I did the research. There are still a few men sitting around looking just little guilty about that.
T: Everybody was smaller than Tom Sukanen’s vision and now they have to realize it in retrospect.
SCHROEDER: That’s right. So now they’ve either got to shit on him even more, to protect themselves, or they’ve got to admit that. To their credit, there are some, a few at least, who faced up to it. Some of the men, but very few of the women. Not that I blame them, the women I mean. Tom treated them pretty badly.
T: Would you agree there’s a male/ female antipathy in this story that goes beyond personalities? Because traditionally it’s only men who behave as visionaries?
SCHROEDER: I was troubled by that fact. Because, fundamentally, I’ve always believed that’s a crock. But maybe it’s also got something to do with those times-the dustbowl, the scratching to survive, and the fact that women often manage to come up with the most level-headed approach when push really comes to shove.
T: Did you ever try to write a straight biography of Tom Sukanen?
SCHROEDER: No, no. What I saw in this story was a lot bigger than that. And that required the freedom to invent where the record or people’s recollections failed the story. And that happened a lot. It’s astonishing, really, how full of holes someone’s story can turn out to be when you change focus from wide-angle to close-up. Probably up to seventy-five percent of the book needed to be “invented” in some way. Which sounds like a lot, I’m sure, but what’s important is exactly where that seventy-five percent is located. And in this book it’s represented by a blizzard of mostly little things, conjunctions, bridges, a lot of fine-line detail. The main ingredients of the story, or most of them anyway, remain what is conventionally known as fact.
I discovered that a lot of what people told me was invention anyway, though they were convinced it wasn’t. And by the time I got through with all my research I felt I knew the old bugger better than anybody that was left around anyway, even his relatives, who’d never bothered to get very close to him. And from that, I just started putting him back together. When pieces were missing, I filled them in. I was allowed, I think, to step into that place because people who claimed to have known him had, in effect, abrogated the position. They hadn’t ever made the effort to really appreciate the possibilities of this man and his story. All their lives they’d watched him through the wrong end of the telescope. And I was damned if I wasn’t going to turn that telescope around.
T: Because you were thinking big? Creating a myth for someone like me who lives two thousand miles away?
SCHROEDER: Right. Exactly.
T: Whereas the people around Macrorie, Saskatchewan are going to read Dustship Glory and be very angry. They’re not thinking of the ship in terms of the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids. ..They’ll say, “This guy Schroeder’s a liar!”
SCHROEDER: They’ll probably say that because they think having been neighbours gives them the right to consider their inventions more accurate than mine.
T: Even though it clearly says that this is a novel on the cover. That it’s fiction.
SCHROEDER: Yes. I mean, I guess I could get into a full-blown debate on the question of historical truth here, point out that historians like Fernand Braudel have consistently kicked the stuffing out of the notion in book after book, proving that most of what has passed for historical truth has merely been the convenient invention of the prevalent aristocracy and so on and so on, but I’ll tell you: I frankly don’t much give a damn which side wins. To me, the issue centres on the purpose of setting down history, and a novelist’s is clearly different from a historian’s. A historian, I suppose, wants to make a simple case of who did what to whom, what caused what, without any
ulterior moral purpose. Where a novelist, so long as he’s not trying merely to entertain, always has a much larger hidden agenda. He’s always looking for the archetypal experience, the moral parable, for the events or incidents in which the most telling wisdom is demonstrated. I mean sure, some are more conscious of this than others, but we all do it. I mean, there’s a damn good reason why the myths of Sisyphus or Icarus, in whatever form we come across them, are as applicable today as they ever were. It’s because their authors managed to find or invent experiences that sum up our hopes and frustrations so adroitly, people throughout the ages kept sitting up in astonishment and saying, “Goddamn, that’s me, that’s exactly what I’m struggling with, dead on, man.” And who in his right mind cares whether Icarus wore blue pants or green pants or any pants at all? Or whether he really wore wax-and-feathers wings. Let him have strapped on fusion-thrust rockets from General Dynamics for all I care. That’s a total red herring; the wisdom in the myth isn’t dependent on that. By the same token, what I tried to do in Dustship Glory was to serve the mythic resonance of Sukanen’s story, to make sure that those elements which make it ageless got the necessary backlighting. I wasn’t interested in any lesser reasons for writing that story which is what I always suspect people of who quibble over the colour of Icarus’s pants.
T: Rudy Wiebe took much the same approach in writing The Temptations of Big Bear. He’s also a German Canadian Mennonite. Are there any more connections?
SCHROEDER: Actually, Rudy and I have had a strange relationship. For some time we approached each other, it seems to me, like wary wolves, trying to figure out our territory. He was always in a much better position for that than I, obviously. But there was one thing I seemed to have that Rudy didn’t, and which, I suspect, interested him in me. I think I seemed to him back then something of a loose moral cannon on deck, divested of all the standard Mennonite taboos and restraints, and he wanted to see what happened when a defunct Mennonite jumped off the deep end into the steaming waters of moral depravity. I think I must have ultimately disappointed him though, because I remember him saying once, when I was describing my common law but pretty conventional relationship with a certain young woman, “Awgee, you sound just like the rest of us.” Speaking of Big Bear, by the way, I’m also getting a lot more intrigued by the notion of digging into Canadian history for my central characters. We do seem to have a downright gratifying rogues’ gallery of them. Amor de Cosmos. Brother Free John. General “Puff’ Brackendale. Canadian eccentrics seem to have a certain patina…
T: And Dustship Glory is a deeply Canadian story.
SCHROEDER: Yes, it is that. If you tried to write it for American history, if you wanted to custom-design it for the States, you’d have to look at it quite differently. Not to mention making it a lot “noisier.” But I’m convinced that Americans could really benefit by seeing the world from a Canadian perspective now and then. Calm them down a little.
I’m fundamentally content with the Canadian perspective on the world, but there is a distressing Canadian tendency to want to, well, the German word is emuchtem, which means to neutralize, to deflate, to trivialize with sobering detail. The tendency to say, ‘Yeah, that sounds pretty wonderful, but really, didn’t this guy also beat his wife and cheat on his income tax? So he couldn’t really have been all that great, could he?” It’s going to take some time and a lot more books like Hodgins’ Invention of the World before we stop being so self deprecating about our heroes. It’s not Greek gods we’re inventing here, after all. We may be celebrating vision, but it’s a grounded vision after all.
T: When you just said, “It’s not Greek gods,” it just flipped into my mind, “Okay, then it’s Canadian gods.” Why is that immediately laughable? “Canadian gods.”
SCHROEDER: I know what you mean. But it shouldn’t be, and maybe some day it won’t. However there’s a distinction I’d like to make about this now that you’ve brought it up, and it’s this. The problem with Greek gods is that they have no really believable human roots-that is, all those silly human attributes they exhibit always felt to me tacked on like those sticker eyes on Cabbage Patch dolls. Quite mechanical. Not the slightest room for empathy there. They feel like a bad novelist’s inventions. I can’t take them seriously; I’ve always had trouble believing that the Greeks really did. For me, there are only two believable kinds of gods: one that has an existence totally outside all human invention or experience, some inexplicable, unpredictable, invincible Outside Power- and since I can’t see any convincing evidence for that so far, I don’t believe we’ve yet encountered such a god or there should be gods who are actually just idealized people, once-real people whose magnificent vision or wisdom or performance good or evil warranted putting their images on pedestals, their thoughts and histories into “bibles,” either as warnings or encouragements. Their power, in other words, would reside in the strength of their examples, their ideas or visions -not the colour of their pants. And however high we felt the need to elevate them, they would still continue to convince people of the possibility of emulation because they’d once, after all, been human and started off with roughly the same flaws and virtues as everybody else. Now for my money, that ‘5 the only kind of humanly invented god that makes any sense-a god you can pray to, but also, in some sense, run into at the supermarket any day of the week. Like Jesus, for example-just ignore all that nonsense about his pedigree and you’ve got yourself a perfectly workable god.
T: This idea must come directly from your Mennonite background.
SCHROEDER: Well, you’re right in the sense that that’s precisely where the rupture originated. We were constantly being told to feel all this reverence and adulation for a god who had so obviously been invented by men looking for a handy way to control and push around humankind, all protestations to the contrary, that I just couldn’t buy it. It was just too obvious. Now if this god had truly stood for anything genuinely worthy, it might have been different, but as far as I could see, he merely stood for raw, unadulterated power. The combination of suspiciously human motives and a handily vengeful god trivialized conventional religion utterly for me. That god who was presented to me as a goddamn monument, someone to look up to and revere, had never done anything to earn any of my deepest feelings. In fact, if you want to get really specific about it, the god in the Old Testament is a prick. He’s the most unjust, spleenful, Jealous, capricious, unfair son-of-a-bitch that ever had the nerve to masquerade as a “just god” anywhere.
T: So it would make as much sense to worship Tom Sukanen.
SCHROEDER: That’s about it. But at least I can relate to what this man was prepared to sacrifice his life for. I can admire the breadth and splendid craziness of his vision, and all the desperation that went into it. That I can relate to. And I’m prepared to carry that a step farther, to elevate it to a height where it operates as myth. Whereas I’m not prepared to put the sum total of my admirations, translated into four or five years of sweat at a desk, into contributing toward the mortgage payments on a lot of religious real estate belonging to an enormous patriarchal religious bureaucracy. I mean, sure, the needs of community are always served to a degree whenever two or three are gathered together in His name, but that can be accomplished with a lot less overhead, thank you very much. All puns intended.
T: And this has resulted in a schism with your father.
SCHROEDER: My father lives in an increasingly different world. For one thing, he doesn’t read English, which means he doesn’t read my books. But more to the point, he speaks a completely different spiritual language. From my perspective, it’s religious jargon, which means the world to him but very little to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if I sound the same to him a lot of the time. It’s hard to tell; he doesn’t open up much to me. So I guess there’s a schism. There’s certainly a language problem. And a very fundamental difference of opinion about what’s important. One thing I guess I know for sure, and it’s sad but unalterable: I’m not the son he had in mind when he made me.
T: It makes sense you turned to surrealism at UBC. As a rebellion of language.
SCHROEDER: Well, surrealism had a purpose at the time. It had to break up a whole Victorian mindset, my own included. And it did that. It did that very effectively. But there is a reason why it faded as fast as it did, all over the world; there was always something missing, something slightly empty about it. It was a half-truth blown up to full-truth proportions. And on the negative side, it fostered a climate at the Creative Writing Department in those days which said, in effect: “We’ll be as experimental and obtuse and impenetrable as we like, and if readers can’t stick with it, then screw them.” I had to work my way through that. Mind you, some part of me does see the world that way, so it was good to work through it, but I got stuck in it too long. I became a disciple. It cost me almost as much to get out of the voice I wrote in those days as it took me to acquire it. Now I don’t have to invent theatres that blow up at the end of the last act any more. And I don’t have to try to invent people like Tom Sukanen either, because I eventually discovered that you can find them almost ready made and much more compelling if you simply drive down Highway 2 south of Moose Jaw, or live on West Seventh Avenue in Vancouver-that’s where the main character of the novel I’m working on now used to live. It’s really quite wonderful. Nobody believed me when I set my stories into Magritte-like landscapes with great rolling balls clear back to the horizon, but since I’ve found those exact landscapes hayball for hay-ball thirty-five miles northwest of Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan, they’ve had no choice. And I can continue to indulge my predilection for the bizarre under a new flag of convenience. It’s like that wonderful line in a Paulette Jiles poem: “Texas is not my fault.” Well, Tom Sukanen is not my fault either. And that leaves my hands free to plunge into him up to my eyeballs.
[STRONG VOICES by Alan Twigg (Harbour 1988)] “Interview”
If, like Time Magazine, B.C. BookWorld were to select a Man-of-the- Year, our choice would be Mission City writer Andreas Schroeder.
In June Schroeder stepped down from heading the Writers Union of Canada’s long and successful drive for Public Lending Right legislation. Working tirelessly and efficiently behind the scenes, Schroeder has now left in place a system that will benefit over 5,000 Canadian authors annually.
Schroeder kept administrative costs down to less than 9% of budget. A similar PLR system in West Germany spends 39.4% on administration. In Canada the average government bureaucracy spends approximately 18% on administration.
Literally hundreds of authors have written letters of appreciation to Communications Minister Flora MacDonald for the $3.8 million program. “She really put her political muscle behind it,” says Schroeder.
Schroeder had to lobby desperately for an eleventh hour increase in funding to match a 28% increase in eligible registered (5,200) Canadian authors with over 19,000 titles listed on the PLR’s data base. 713 B.C. writers received 14% of the funds for 12.1% of the eligible titles. The average PLR payment was $660.
[BCBW Summer 1988]
Andreas Schroeder became involved in Canadian cultural politics as far back as 1966, helping to found the League of Canadian Poets, serving repeated terms as its BC Representative, and editing its newsletter “Poetry Canada”. Then, in 1972, he became a founding member of The Writers’ Union of Canada, and in 1973 was elected to its first National Council, on which he served for 5 additional years. In 1975 he was elected Vice-Chair of the Writers’ Union, and in 1976 he was elected Chair, becoming the first non-Toronto writer to hold the post.
Returning to BC the following year, he became a founding member once again, this time of the Federation of BC Writers in Vancouver. He also served repeatedly on the BC advisory committee of the National Book Festival, and later, on the board of the Woodcock Foundation, which provides funds for Canadian writers in financial difficulties due to illness or accident.
But it was in 1973, shortly after the founding of the Writers’ Union, that Schroeder began what would become the keystone of his contribution to the welfare of writers across Canada. One of the core objectives of the Union had always been the establishment of a Public Lending Right – a program of modest payments to authors to reimburse them for the free use of their books in Canada’s public and university libraries.
This idea, first implemented in Denmark in 1946, had also been a long-time objective of Canada’s earliest writers’ guild, the Canadian Authors’ Association, but their attempts over the previous 25 years had repeatedly failed. Now the Writers’ Union was determined to pick up the gauntlet, and as one of the Union’s first initiatives, a Public Lending Right crusade was launched under the leadership of novelist Marian Engel. Andreas Schroeder joined that crusade enthusiastically, and when Marian Engel was forced to give up this work the following year due to illness, Schroeder was appointed to take her place.
He took on the challenge with his trademark optimism and energy, little realizing that he would be spending a large part of the next 34 years to achieve, operate, and finally to safeguard and promote this program. The first 6 years were spent criss-crossing the country, pitching the idea with increasing urgency to writers, publishers, librarians and politicians. It seemed an endless case of two steps forward, one step back. The country’s writers liked the idea well enough, but many publishers were only prepared to support the plan if they received a significant share of it, and Canada’s librarians were staunchly opposed. As for Ottawa’s federal politicians, they wanted nothing to do with the proposal until all dissenting groups had been brought on side. It wasn’t until 1979, six hard-slogging years later, that Schroeder was finally able to convince the Canadian Library Association to withdraw its objections to the plan, and to get Canadian publishers to agree to at least provisionally zero-rate their claim to it.
But that was just the beginning. It took a further 7 years of relentless lobbying before the Liberal government of 1986, with Communications Minister The Hon. Marcel Masse as sponsor, agreed to earmark the sum of $3 million for a Public Lending Right Program. The good news, however, came with a proviso: the program had to be up and running by December 31 of that year, or the money would evaporate. This gave Schroeder and his newly minted Public Lending Right Commission exactly 4 months to find a suite of offices, furnish it, hire and train staff, acquire computers and custom-designed software to run the program, launch a registration drive to enlist all eligible Canadian authors, build a data-base of 17,000 eligible titles, search the holdings of ten of the largest libraries in Canada, convert this data into payments, and mail out the cheques to some 5,000 Canadian authors. Somehow, this was all accomplished on time.
Since then, first under Schroeder’s direct guidance as founding Chair and then influenced by his many years of service on the Commission’s Executive, the program has grown to serve over 15,000 Canadian authors, with a budget of just under $10 million. It has also operated with astonishing efficiency – at an administrative cost that has, throughout its 21-year history, rarely exceeded 4% of its budget. Two formal government reviews have confirmed that the program enjoys a remarkable level of client satisfaction throughout Canada’s writing community, and in 1996 the Writers’ Union recognized Schroeder’s contribution with a special award and a life membership.
Schroeder did not, of course, accomplish all this by himself. Throughout this time he had help from a wide array of writers and other members of the book industry. But most volunteered their time for a year or two; a few were able to offer 5 or 6. No one else came even close to providing the PLR crusade with 34 uninterrupted years of volunteer work. Andreas Schroeder has served Canada’s writing community in many more ways – his curriculum vitae describes his wide-ranging activities as writers’ mentor, organizer and host of festivals, reading programs, literary competitions, publishing initiatives and emergency help for indigent writers – but it was his determination to do something meaningful about the generally meagre level of writers’ incomes in Canada that undoubtedly had the greatest impact of all his volunteer work.
Now Schroeder has decided that this coming May (2008), at the end of his current term on the Public Lending Right Commission, he will not stand for re-appointment to a further term. The program is running well, and is in good hands. Schroeder has said that he hopes to focus more determinedly on some of the books he still wants to write (despite all the foregoing, he managed to publish 17 books during those 34 years). “Back in the early days of the Union, it became a tradition that each Chair would take on a Union campaign or enterprise that would clearly extend past his or her mandate as chair,” Schroeder said. “And this was mine. It went on so long it became one of the main through-lines of my life’s narrative, and ending it feels a lot like finishing a book. Both a relief and a sadness – and I’m not quite sure in what order.”
Renovating Heaven, slated for publication in 2008 from Oolichan Books, contains three novellas of Mennonite life in Canada from the 1950s to the 1970s. The following is advance promotional material for the book:
Leaving Germany with little more than their 16th century Anabaptist faith and lifestyle to guide them, Schroeder’s family settles on a small Fraser Valley farm in British Columbia and proceeds to try making sense of the perplexing mores and values of “The English” who surround them. The family finds solace, but not much else, within the local Mennonite congregation founded by Schroeder’s grandfather, every single one of whose 62 members is related to Schroeder on his mother’s side. (On the other hand, imagine the nightmares of the “English” postman trying to deliver the correct mail to any of the 8 Mennonite families living on Edison Road, every single one of which has the surname Klassen, with either a son or a father named John.)
In “Eating My Father’s Island”, life for the Schroeder family becomes abruptly more complicated when Father Schroeder unintentionally wins First Prize in a Canada Sewing Machine contest — the prize being a tiny dot of an island off the B.C. coast. Farmer and now holiday-island-owner, Schroeder’s father tries heroically to understand and live up to this new acquisition, though with all their mortgage and CPR emigration debts, the only holidays Mennonites can conceive of at this time in their history involve the After-life.
In “Renovating Heaven”, the Schroeder family abandons the farm after an outbreak of brucillosis results in the state-ordered destruction and burying of its entire herd. With what little money remains, the Schroeders move into a wreck of a house on South Vancouver’s 49th Avenue, where Father Schroeder embarks on a truly epic renovation project, pitting an obsessive Mennonite reverence for the Sacred Right Angle against the Canadian propensity for Sloppiness & Godlessness — a struggle that is easily the equivalent of a World Cup Hockey Tournament.
In “Toccata in D”, Schroeder returns to Germany to track down a mystery that has bedevilled the family since its emigration to Canada 20 years previously. What he discovers produces shock and anguish, but also, in time, conciliation and a kind of truce. A deeply moving story whose tragedy is gently leavened by Schroeder’s trademark wry humour.
In more forgiving times, these stories might have been described as entirely autobiographical. However, given today’s more stringent standards — not to mention Schroeder’s enthusiastic dedication to all the elements of effective storytelling (or, as his siblings would have it, “inclination to rampant lying and exaggeration”) – Schroeder has raised the white flag and called these stories “novellas”. That should go some distance to protecting the guilty and mollifying the innocent — if such there is.
from Andreas Schroeder
Do the math: If BC fiction writers produce 1/4 of the fiction in English Canada, why is recognition so pathetic?
All ten nominees for this year’s Giller Prize and the Governor General’s (English) Fiction Award are from Ontario publishers.
BC authors registered 108 fiction titles with Public Lending Rights (PLR)in 2007.
To lead the way into our coverage of 50 new fiction titles from British Columbia, we asked Andreas Schroeder—who has a new collection of novellas himself this fall—to comment on the ongoing proliferation of fiction from B.C. Here’s his response:
Whether you agree this a good thing depends largely on your yardstick. I remember Irving Layton looking around the room at a League of Poets meeting as far back as 1979 and grumbling: “There’s too goddamn many of us! They oughta shoot half of us and neuter the other half!” On the other hand, if you subscribe to the Manure Pile Theory of Literature, we’re clearly on a roll. You need a lot of manure to grow prize pumpkins.
According to the PLR’s databank, Canada has produced roughly 8,000 fiction titles during the past half century—and a quarter of them came from B.C. writers. The vast majority of these titles from B.C. have been produced in the past 20 years. While the province’s population increased by a mere 25%, our fiction output during that same time increased by almost 500%.
With respect to those pumpkins—just where might they be found? The obvious answer would be to look at the list of winners for the Governor General’s Award for English Fiction but B.C. hasn’t had a GG winner for fiction since 1980. In fact, we’ve only had two winners of a GG fiction award (Jack Hodgins and George Bowering) since the Canada Council took over the GG’s in 1959. Both their winning titles were published from Ontario.
Even the GG shortlists produce slim pickings—rarely more than one B.C. author is shortlisted per year, and many years none at all.
The glamorous, newer Giller Prize for Fiction is virtually a carbon copy. No B.C. fictioneer has won the Giller in the 14 years of its existence. Yes, we’ve had an almost formulaic one title per shortlist every year (except ‘95, ‘97, ‘99 and ’01, when there were none), but that’s as close as we’ve ever been to that particular brass ring.
And it gets worse. If being a B.C. fiction writer seems a handicap, being a B.C. fiction writer published by a B.C. publisher appears to double the problem, at the very least. Never mind that our two GG fiction winners weren’t published by a BC publisher. Of the 12 B.C. fiction writers who have made the GG shortlist since 1979 (the year the Canada Council’s archive for the GG awards begins listing finalists), only one was published by a B.C. publisher. That was Carol Windley for her debut collection of short stories, Visible Light, published by Oolichan Books in 1993. The other 11 were all published by Ontario publishers.
Can it get any worse than that? Well, yes, it can. One might be forgiven for assuming that our own book prize for fiction—the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, inaugurated in 1985—would go at least some distance toward filling the pumpkin box. After all, its winners have to be BC authors. But who’s published them? Does geography and publishing politics possibly influence the pecking order of a prize limited to authors who have lived in this province for three of the past five years?
Answer: It turns out that of the winners of the Ethel Wilson prize for BC fiction since 1985, a mere three have been published by BC publishers. Twice the winners were published by Douglas & McIntyre, once by Talonbooks. All the rest were published by Ontario publishers. And the shortlists reveal much the same story. They reveal an almost unbroken record of having only one shortlisted fiction writer published by a BC publisher every year. Most of the rest were published by Ontario publishers.
So what should we conclude from this? It depends on whether you favour conspiracy theories, Alice’s Law of Coincidental Coincidences, or plain bad luck. Is there something inherent in B.C. fiction that just doesn’t work for Torontonians? Or is it that Ontario publishers cream off our most successful authors and leave only the beginners and the mid-list authors to our BC publishers? If that were true, why aren’t more of those B.C. authors published by Ontario publishers winning GG’s and Gillers?
Alan Twigg, publisher of BC BookWorld, has made it his business to keep track of the “uneven playing field for fiction” for 20 years. Before writing this article, I asked him to comment on my research. His response was blunt. “The fiction game is played in Moscow,” he wrote. “We are in Vladivostok.”
Public Lending Rights founder/overseer Andreas Schroeder of Roberts Creek has re-investigated his Mennonite roots for three novellas that comprise Renovating Heaven (Oolichan).
Andreas Schroeder was presented with the Graeme Gibson Award by The Writers’ Union of Canada at its Annual General Meeting on May 26, 2012. Established by the Union in 1991 for “varied and remarkable contributions to improve the circumstances of writers in Canada,” the award was first given to Graeme Gibson. In 1992 it was given to Pierre Berton and in 2011 to Heather Robertson. Andreas Schroeder is its fourth recipient.
Andreas Schroeder was the Chair of The Writers’ Union in 1976/77 and was instrumental in creating Canada’s Public Lending Right (PLR), which came into existence in 1986. The Public Lending Right provides for a modest but critical annual payment to Canadian book authors whose works are available in Canadian libraries for lending. As early as 1972 writers including Matt Cohen and Marian Engel began lobbying for a Public Lending Right in Canada. Andreas got involved in earnest in 1975, and it took 11 more years of effort before the Public Lending Right Commission came into being. He then became its Founding Chair (1985-1988) and continued to serve on its Board from 1988 to 2008. By PLR’s 25th anniversary in 2011, it was mailing cheques totalling $9.9 million to 17,487 Canadian authors.
“Every Canadian writer has Andreas to thank, Andreas and all those who worked so hard over the years for PLR,” said Greg Hollingshead, Writers’ Union Chair. “It’s been a wonderful legacy for a quarter century of Canadian writing.”
Andreas Schroeder is the author of 23 books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry including Renovating Heaven, Shaking It Rough, Dustship Glory, and File of Uncertainties. His books have been finalists for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Sealbooks First Novel Award, the Arthur Ellis Award for Non-Fiction, and the BC Book Prize Ethel Wilson Fiction Award. He has won the Ontario Library Association Red Maple Award twice for young-adult nonfiction. His work as a journalist has earned him a National Magazine Award, a Stephen Leacock Award, and a Canadian Association of Journalists’ Best Investigative Journalism Award. He has long been a mentor to young writers and currently holds the Rogers Communications Chair in Creative Nonfiction at the University of British Columbia. Andreas Schroeder lives in Roberts Creek, on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast.