Festival founder Keller gets her due
Betty Keller did most of the heavy lifting to create the first annual literary festival in B.C., the ongoing Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt.
March 24th, 2015
Betty Keller has been chosen to receive the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence at the next B.C. Book Prizes gala..
“It’s so great to see Betty recognized with a major award,” says the province’s leading book publisher, Howard White. “She is one of those rare writers who has put more effort into enabling and promoting other writers than into her own cause. Her contribution to letters in BC has been huge, and until now, mostly unsung.”
Keller was selected by a B.C. Book Prize committee consisting of Kit Pearson (author), Michael Kluckner (author and artist) and Sandra Singh, Chief Librarian, Vancouver Public Library. The jury statement commended her contributions to B.C. as a writer, editor, teacher, mentor, arts activist and organizer. “Hundreds of writers have been nourished and encouraged by her dedicated teaching and mentoring. Her greatest legacy is as the indefatigable founder and innovative producer of the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, one of the great literary gatherings in Canada. Betty Keller is a long-respected matriarch of the literary arts in this province.”
BC’s Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Judith Guichon, will present the award at the Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prizes Gala to be held at the Pinnacle Vancouver Harbourfront Hotel in Vancouver on Saturday, April 25, 2015.
In 1985, Keller was the recipient of the Gillian Lowndes Memorial Award for contributions to the cultural life of the Sunshine Coast. In recognition of her outstanding contributions to regional cultural activities she was awarded the 1991 Lescarbot Award. For her “significant contribution to compatriots, community and to Canada” she was awarded a 1992 Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. She was also honoured with the Talewind Books Award in 1996 and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002.
Born in Vancouver on November 4, 1930, Betty Carol Keller has lived in the Fraser Valley, the Okanagan and the Kootenays, as well as Nigeria, where she taught in the Numan Women’s Teacher’s College for one year. Her parents were Anne Devine and Harry B. Devine. She grew up in Langley. “I am proud to be a third-generation BC person,” she says, “as my great grandfather and grandfather arrived in Vancouver in the spring of 1886, a month before Vancouver was incorporated as a city.”
“Our family left Burnaby in 1939,” Keller once told B.C. BookWorld. “It had been a struggle to keep all of us clothed and fed during the 1930s so the move to the country was intended as a solution to that. We had a 20-acre dairy farm with a forest. My younger sister and I built forts, swung through the trees, and played Tarzan. We were five girls so we had to learn the chores that boys would have done. The only thing we weren’t allowed to do was milk cows. My mother had been a schoolteacher and she was not prepared for that. She was determined her daughters shouldn’t have to milk the cows.”
Keller received her teaching certificate in 1963. A former high school drama and English teacher from 1963 to 1974, she became a faculty associate in Simon Fraser University’s Education Dept (1975-1976, 1978-1979) and taught creative writing at UBC as a sessional lecturer (1981, 1982, 1985). She retired to the Sechelt area in 1980. In addition to guiding the Festival of the Written Arts as its producer from 1983 to 1994, she co-founded the SunCoast Writers Forge and the Sunshine Coast Writers-in-Residence Program. Betty Keller’s mentoring of other writers has continued to be extensive and influential for decades. “Although she does much of this mentoring and promotion for no financial reward and, once again, at the expense of her personal writing, she rejoices over each author’s success as if it were her own,” writes Rosella M. Leslie, one of the beneficiaries of Keller’s encouragement and guidance.
Some of the many other authors Keller has directly helped include Maureen Foss, (The Cadillac Kind, Polestar 1996 and The Rattrap Murders, Nightwood, 2000), Gwendolyn Southin, (Death in A Family Way, 2000, In the Shadow of Death, 2003, Death on a Short Leash, 2008), Anthea Penne (Old Stones Touchwood 2002), Jo Hammond (Home Before Dark, Orca 2005), Janet Miller (Cross My Heart, Hodgepog, 2002), Anne Edwards (Seeking Balance: BC Women in Politics, Caitlin 2008), Ben Dlin (Country Doctor, Caitlin, 2001) and Lamar Muse (Southwest Passage: The Inside Story of Southwest Airlines’ Formative Years Eakin Press, 2003).
“I’m not sure what the ‘C’ stands for in Betty C. Keller,” writes Jan DeGrass, “but I think it must be Constancy. No editor, teacher or mentor is as constant in her monitoring of the many writers whose lives and careers she has touched.”
In addition to serving as the uncredited editor for more than 20 titles from and about B.C., Keller has co-authored a history of the Sunshine Coast and collaborated on many books, credited and otherwise, such as Eileen Williston’s biography of her husband and Social Credit cabinet minister Ray Williston, Forest, Power, and Policy (1997). In 2001, Caitlin Press published her novel Better the Devil You Know, and she has released a humourous take on th early history of Vancouver, On the Shady Side.
Keller is better known for her biographies of Pauline Johnson, Ernest Thompson Seton and Bertrand Sinclair. Her Pauline Johnson biography won the Canadian Biography Medal for 1982 and was a Book of the Month Club selection for April 1983. It was optioned for film by Dreamreel Limited in June 1998. Her collection of plays, Trick Doors, was used as a course book for Grades 11 & 12 Acting in B.C. schools from 1975 to 1984. Her handbook for secondary school teachers of creative drama, Taking Off, was used as a course book for Grade 8 creative drama in B.C. schools from 1975 to 1983, accompanied by a guide for teachers and directors, Opening Trick Doors. She has ‘ghosted’ numerous works and was a co-author for Skookum Tugs, winner of the Bill Duthie Booksellers Choice Award for 2003.
Keller is also one of the co-authors of A Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming, a critique of fish farming practices that received the 2005 Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize.
An interview with Betty Keller appeared in B.C. BookWorld, Autumn, 1989.
Review of the author’s work by BC Studies:
A Stain upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming
Pauline: A Biography of Pauline Johnson
Pender Harbour Cowboy: The Many Lives of Bertrand Sinclair
A Thoroughly Wicked Woman: Murder, Perjury & Trial by Newspaper
TRICK DOORS AND OTHER DRAMATIC SKETCHES
(November House, 1974). Fourteen short plays.
(November House, 1975).
OPENING TRICK DOORS
(November House, 1975).
LEGENDS OF THE RIVER PEOPLE (with Norman Lerman
(November House, 1976)
IMPROVISATIONS IN CREATIVE DRAMA
(Merriwether Publishing and Contemporary Drama Service, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1988)
PAULINE: A BIOGRAPHY OF PAULINE JOHNSON
(Douglas & McIntyre, 1982)
BLACK WOLF: THE LIFE OF ERNEST THOMPSON SETON
ON THE SHADY SIDE: VANCOUVER 1886-1914
(Horsdal & Schubart), 1986).
BRIGHT SEAS AND PIONEER SPIRITS: THE SUNSHINE COAST
(Horsdal & Schubart, 1996; revised and updated, 2009) With co-author Rosella M. Leslie.
SEA SILVER: INSIDE BRITISH COLUMBIA’S SALMON FARMING INDUSTRY
(Horsdal & Schubart, 1996) with co-author Rosella M. Leslie.
FORESTS, POWER AND POLICY: THE LEGACY OF RAY WILLISTON
(The Caitlin Press, 1997) with the late Eileen Williston.
PAULINE JOHNSON: THE FIRST ABORIGINAL VOICE
(XYZ Publishing, 1999). For young adults.
PENDER HARBOUR COWBOY: The Many Lives of Bertrand Sinclair
(Touchwood Editions, a new Heritage/Horsdal & Schubart imprint, 2000)
BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
(The Caitlin Press, 2001). Fiction
SKOOKUM TUGS: BRITISH COLUMBIA’S WORKING TUGBOATS
(Harbour Publishing, 2002) with Robb Douglas and Peter Robson
A STAIN UPON THE SEA: WEST COAST SALMON FARMING (Harbour, 2004). Co-author.
A THOROUGHLY WICKED WOMAN: Murder, Perjury and Trial by Newspaper. (Caitlin Press, 2010). 978-1-894759-48-9 : $19.95.
Hear, hear! Many tables are being thumped all around BC in response to the announcement of Betty Keller’s upcoming award! I loved Jan DeGrass’s comment that the C. in Betty C. Keller must stand for Constancy. It takes someone with vision and fortitude and great Creativity (another contender for that middle initial) to mentor, foster and encourage so many of us for so many decades in her far-flung community of writers and theatre people in this province.
Please congratulate Betty Keller and tell her how richly she deserves this honour. Among the best memories I have as a writer is the time Betty asked me to read at the Sechelt Writers Festival when the writers performed in a large tent. And thanks to Betty, I spent a glorious week mentoring nonfiction writers and spending time in the company of other writers in the week leading up to the festival one year.
Way to go, Betty! Fully deserved!