Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Sandra Djwa's Bio on Poet P.K. Page on Short List for Charles Taylor Prize

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Sandra Djwa's Bio on Poet P.K. Page on Short List for Charles Taylor Prize

Article excerpt

P.K. Page bio up for Charles Taylor Prize


TORONTO - The late poet and artist P.K. Page didn't want anyone to write her biography. But she changed her mind in December 1996, when her author-friend Sandra Djwa agreed to tell the story.

"People generally don't really think about mortality until they get into their 80s, and P.K. was 80, she had just published her collected poems, she was gathering together her fiction," the Vancouver-based Djwa recalled in a telephone interview.

"I think she had thoughts of mortality and so she was more willing to entertain the thought of a biography, even though she is such a very private person."

It seems the decision was worth it.

On Wednesday, Djwa's book "Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page" (McGill-Queen's University Press) was heralded as a "compelling and necessary biography" as it made the short list for the $25,000 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction.

The other four finalists include "Warlords: Borden, Mackenzie King, and Canada's World Wars" (Allen Lane) by Ottawa historian Tim Cook, who won the Charles Taylor prize in 2009 for "Shock Troops."

Also on this year's short list is Saskatchewan-born Ross King for "Leonardo and The Last Supper" (Bond Street Books), which won a Governor General's Literary Award in November.

Ontario native Andrew Preston is a contender for "Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy" (Knopf Canada).

And Carol Bishop-Gwyn of Toronto is a finalist for "The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca" (Cormorant Books), about the late founder of the National Ballet of Canada.

Djwa's book -- the first full-length biography of Page -- is the result of a friendship that began in April 1970. That's when Page (her first initials stand for Patricia Kathleen) gave her first public poetry reading ever to Djwa's poetry class at Simon Fraser University, where Djwa is professor emeritus of English.

Over the ensuing years, they visited each other in their respective cities (Djwa in Vancouver, Page in Victoria).

"She was a real pioneer, one of our first true moderns and such a fine poet," Djwa, 73, said Wednesday from a hotel room just before doing a guest lecture at the University of Victoria.

Born in 1916 in England, Page and her family moved to Canada three years later and she eventually taught herself poetry before writing plays and other literature, and creating visual art. As Djwa puts it, Page "spent all of her life wanting to know more."

"I think the greatest impact of writing the biography was simply I began to recognize just how difficult it was even for an extraordinarily talented young woman to find her way in the world of letters," said Djwa. …

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