Devour Book Club: Jane Urquhart’s Stone Carvers

Devour Book Club, Jane UrquhartAny socially conscious foodie has surely heard of the locavore movement, which focuses on consuming edibles from close to home. “Hundred Mile” diets and the like have catapulted into popularity over recent years. But what about the socially conscious reader? Does the locavore movement translate to literary circles? Devour Book Club is out to prove it does, and that Kingston is the epicentre of a thriving writing scene.

Devour, an offshoot of the vibrant Kingston Writersfest organization, has embarked on a “hundred mile literary diet,” reading authors from within a radius that includes Port Hope, Morrisburg, Bancroft, and northern New York State, to start. Doesn’t sound too happening? Well, think again. This circle includes such literary gems as Jane Urquhart, Phil Hall, and Helen Humphreys. Incidentally, these are the first three writers on the book club’s syllabus. On March 17th, Urquhart was invited to a reading and discussion for the first month, of which she was the subject. The main focus was on Urquhart’s Stone Carvers, a dream-like work that travels through Ireland and Canada during the era of the First World War.

Place is always an integral part of Urquhart’s writing, and she says that Kingston was particularly important to her while crafting Stone Carvers. The first reason for this was that Queen’s houses the archives that were such a key component of her research, but also because she began to ask herself questions about location. “Do we belong in a place? Should we belong in a place?” She asked the group at the reading. “That’s really what keeps me writing: questions.”

Yet for all of its yoking of locality, Urquhart also admits that Stone Carvers also has a tremendous sense of wanderlust. “I’m not in favour of desirelessness; I’m in favour of desire,” Urquhart goes on, explaining why she keeps her characters yearning. She has a keen interest in a sense of the “lost place,” often an effaced or intangible space of belonging.

In many ways, then, Urquhart’s work is the perfect introduction to the hundred mile literary diet. Her themes make us ask ourselves where we belong, what our sense of homeland is, what locale means to us. Northrop Frye has supposed that while the overarching questions of American and British literature is who am I?, the fundamental question of CanLit is, where is here? Devour Book Club now has the formidable – but surely enjoyable – task of trying to answer.

The next local author reading will be on Sunday, April 21. The focus will be Phil Hall’s Killdeer. To reserve tickets, email [email protected]

Thanks to Ashley Rose for today’s photo.

Kelly Reid

Kelly Reid has retired as a contributor to Kingstonist. Kelly was one of our arts and culture contributors. Her column for Kingstonist explored the city's art galleries, as well as live music, theatre and performance art venues.

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