In Memoriam

Remembering Budge Wilson

Budge Wilson (1927-2021), beloved author of more than 30 books and recipient of the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada, passed away on March 19, 2021.

Budge was small in stature, but she will continue to occupy a huge part of our hearts. Below are memories and thoughts of her gathered from members of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia.

We’ve all heard stories about writers who, after having enjoyed success, developed insufferable egos. The same could never be said of Budge, whose kindness and compassion were hallmarks of every interaction I was fortunate to have with her. Early in my own writing career, I was asked to serve on the WFNS Board of Directors, and I vividly recall feelings of inadequacy as I sat surrounded by authors who had accomplished so much more than I. Those feelings were only exacerbated when I learned that one of our board meetings would be a potluck held at Budge and Alan’s home in Northwest Cove, and I arrived with more trepidation than potato salad. After all, this was Budge Wilson, author of The Leaving, Fractures, Oliver’s Wars, and other stories whose poignant observations of children’s lives had moved me profoundly. But I needn’t have worried. Budge could not have been more gracious as she welcomed me into her home and, throughout the day, made me feel as valued as every other author there. I will never forget the gift of her interest in my fledgling literary efforts and her encouragement to remain a member of the creative community she loved so much. All of us are better for having known her.

—Don Aker

I only had the honour of meeting Budge Wilson once. She was a guest-lecturer in a course I was taking as a mature student at MSVU. I recall her as treating us as peers while sharing her expertise in a “down-to-earth” way that we appreciated. She made us feel we were all talented and encouraged us to simply write. May her legacy live on and inspire writers of all ages to excel at whatever craft they have chosen.

—Anonymous

Losing Budge is a sad blow to all of us. It’s hard to imagine our community without her—she’s been such a huge inspiration and has offered so much encouragement to so many over the decades!

From the earliest days of my writing, I felt inspired by her work and supported by her uplifting kindness and generous spirit, and in recent years, always enjoyed and appreciated her wise reminders about the joys of storytelling. I’m so grateful for her presence and our conversations caught on the fly at WFNS parties, Word on the Street and other such events. These won’t be the same without her.

My deepest condolences to Budge’s family and closest friends, and to all the rest who knew and loved her. Our world has lost a true treasure.

—Carol Bruneau

Budge Wilson in conversation with Lesley Choyce

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Budge Wilson. Budge was a great friend, mentor and ally through many years. She inspired many writers and was always ready to offer encouraging words for those of us attempting to tell our stories and be heard. I will always remember her gentle demeanor as well as her candid nature and no-nonsense wisdom. She often reminded us that we were all moving too fast and should slow down and truly live our lives.

I’d like to share the interview I did with Budge when she was 80. It takes place at her home in Northwest Cove, Nova Scotia, and as always, Budge shines through with her spirit and wit as she speaks about her work and her life.

We’re gonna really miss you, Budge. Thanks for the memories.

—Lesley Choyce

After all these years, I often fondly remember a wonderful afternoon chatting with the vibrant, talented and charming Budge Wilson at Northwest Cove back in October, 1995.

Budge was an inspiration to anyone with any writing aspirations. A legacy left, but a loss to a generation of young writers.

—John Cunningham

John Cunningham’s account of a visit with Budge Wilson

When Budge received the Order of Canada, I remember her standing on the stage and taking a deep breath and — saying this was something she always wanted to do — she ran around in a circle doing fist pumps.

—Gwen Davies

Budge Wilson receiving an honorary degree from Mount Saint Vincent University (Photo provided by Susan Kerslake)

It was my honour and great pleasure to nominate Budge Wilson for her honorary degree at Mount Saint Vincent University in 2012. What a gala weekend that was! But what made my heart sing was the handwritten note Budge sent after I gave her a copy of the citation. She seemed genuinely surprised at the depth of critical and personal appreciation in which she was held. What a dear soul she was. This is part of what I said about her then, and it is still true:

“Reading Budge Wilson is like discovering an extended family you didn’t know you had: a family with some unusual, and some pretty ordinary, characters, some who are kindred spirits, and some of whom the less said, the better. Hanging out with them, you learn that people have histories, and rich interior lives, and reasons (often) for the strange ways they behave, and that a number have fears and challenges reassuringly like your own.”

—Susan Drain

The title of Budge’s novel Before Green Gables gives away the ending. Most readers who pick up the book will know that eventually the heroine will step off the train in Bright River and into her future as Anne of Green Gables. Yet when I read Before Green Gables for the first time, I discovered that the story is full of suspense. I remember staying up late and waking up early to read, desperate to find out what would happen next. Somehow, in creating her own version of L.M. Montgomery’s heroine, Budge both stayed true to Anne’s spirit and invented her very own page-turner, a rare and magical accomplishment. She was a brilliant writer.

I’m sending love and sympathy to all Budge’s family and friends.

—Sarah Emsley

Budge Wilson signing copies of After Swissair at Chapters in 2016 (Photo by Sarah Emsley)

Budge was such a kind, gifted, loving person. When I visited her at her cottage on the Aspotogan, we spent time in her studio, which faced the St. Margarets Bay, and talked about family and writing and inspiration and living by the ocean. What a beautiful place that studio was and what a gorgeous afternoon we had. I have a few letters from Budge with generous words about poems I wrote. I am sure many writers received her enthusiastic letters. Oh Budge, thank you for your kindness and your loving spirit. I will miss you.

—Carole Glasser Langille

I’ve been re-reading Budge’s books, this week—bits here and there or whole stories remembered as I read them. Hearing her voice in every word. And, this morning, I could hear her voice just that much clearer as she wrote about our Nova Scotia weather and its effect on us. I decided this is what I wanted to share, grateful that Budge’s voice will always be here for each of us.

The fact is that we can’t cope with too much fine weather in Nova Scotia. We’re chicken-hearted about the heat, and are beaten down by it, ploughed right under. And a brisk sunny day—a perfect day—undoes us. People with indoor jobs are irritable, tense; spirit and body are in active resistance to any activity inside a building. Those who are free to go outside—housewives, the unemployed, mothers trailing children, people on vacation—spill out of their houses onto the water, the beaches, the parks, or their own backyards. On such a day, not all those smiling people strolling along our Main Streets are tourists. Most of them are native Nova Scotians agape at a miracle. People call in sick, sleep through the alarm, quit jobs. If there are six or seven of these days in a row, the whole economy is at peril: editors miss deadlines; back orders are ignored; laundry accumulates; cupboards are bare. The sighting of a fog bank or the first rainy day is almost a relief.
(From “Lysandra’s Poem” in The Leaving)

—Sylvia Gunnery

My condolences to the loved ones of Budge Wilson, who was an inspiration to many Nova Scotia writers. Budge exemplified grace as well as talent. She took bold brave steps as though they were natural. I hope that she is remembered as both a talent and a lovely human being.

—Elaine McCluskey

For close to twenty years, Budge Wilson charmed and delighted students in my literacy education and writing courses. She was forthright when she talked to teachers about writers and writing, and her practical and no-nonsense advice was often eye-popping and salty. Although Budge’s award-winning books appealed to children and adults across Canada and the world, she had a unique influence on the hearts of teachers and children. Her books were always among the first teachers went to for great storytelling and to inspire their own students. Budge’s unerring instinct for what excites and troubles the minds of young people, along with her compassion and talent for listening, resulted in books that maintained their appeal from one generation to the next. I loved to see the looks on the faces of emerging writers when Budge told stories of her journey from fitness instructor to photographer to published writer at 56. Everyone loved Budge, and rightly so. She was a pistol.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to be Budge’s friend. I’ve been lucky over the years to spend time with her and Alan at their home, talk writing in her writing shed, on the Fundy Shore, in Hubbards and in retreat settings. I’ve had the honour of reading with her, talking at length with her about the Swiss Air tragedy and its impact on her and the community and reading early drafts of her vivid and moving writing. When Budge received an honorary doctorate at Mount Saint Vincent, she had the photographer in stitches as we attempted to ensure her slippery regalia would stay put during the ceremony. Budge’s wit lit up every room she was in.

In Salt Lines, a collection Carsten Knox and I co-edited, Budge wrote about what inspired her writing. First, was the appeal of a particular character.

“At other times, I concentrate on what I call a ‘life force,’ some strong emotion or happening: jealousy, anger, love, betrayal, despair, or maybe just a desperate longing. With enough focus on this, a character tends to come forward who can carry the theme and then attract other characters and events into the story. I usually let this happen without planning for it. I allow it; and it comes.”

This likely wasn’t her intention, but in those words, Budge eloquently described herself: she was a life force. Her generosity, perceptiveness and her often-stunning powers of observation attracted us all and brought us together around stories. Budge Wilson was a treasure who united readers, teachers, friends and admirers in ways that will continue to happen well into the future.

So long, dear friend.

—Lorri Neilsen Glenn

Budge Wilson was my first writing mentor. The mentorship was only a lunch-hour long, and I was only nine years old, but the impact she made on me has lasted 30 years.

I was lucky enough to have lunch with Budge after winning a creative writing contest, and her warmth and encouragement has stayed with me ever since. That brief lunch became a much-needed touchstone for my young writer-self. Along with a couple of other formative experience, that brief time with Budge gave me the confidence and drive I needed to keep writing throughout my childhood, building the skills I’d eventually use as a professional writer.

I love my work, and it’s very possible that if I hadn’t met Budge Wilson, I wouldn’t be doing it. I’ll be forever grateful to her for that, and for all the words she gifted us with.

My deepest condolences to all who loved her.

—Sarah Sawler

Budge was such a star. I will always be grateful for the afternoon she spent with me in her beautiful writing studio on the South Shore, sharing her thoughts about life as a writer. Fractures, her book of short stories—and in particular “The Metaphor”—will stay with me forever.

—Jessica Scott Kerrin

I have many memories of Budge that have to do with writing and her engagement through the years with mentoring other writers of all ages. But this one sticks out.

Many years ago my friend, Kathy Anderson (from Woozles), and I were chauffeuring Budge to a Writers in the Schools session after a weekend writers’ retreat in the middle of NS. The host teacher and students were very excited! There was a Budge cake! The teacher had laboured long and hard over his introduction of the esteemed writer, Budge Wilson. All wonderful… except his introduction entailed a very poetic and prolonged comparison of Budge to a little, unassuming ‘brown’ package that, when opened, would reveal literary wonders. She was gracious, but horrified, as the metaphor went on and on, the teacher not knowing how to dig himself out of it. It made for many laughs on the trip back to Northwest Cove, feeding the driver egg salad sandwiches from the back seat.

—Norene Smiley

To my friend and mentor, Budge Wilson,

Over the years our paths have crossed many times. Gatherings always leave us with great memories to retell or reminisce. There is one moment in time I cherish the most because it speaks of your true character.

My school had booked you for an author visit. Everyone was excited. My class filed into the art room as you sat waiting. Students scrambled to get a front row seat. I spied a child who had trouble keeping still even on his best day. I suggested it might be less distracting if he move. You, dear Budge, would not hear of it! He is not a bother, you said. His ears are listening and his brain is working just fine.

I’ll always remember this example of your compassion and understanding. Perhaps it’s the reason your books are so popular with people of all ages.

Until our paths cross…

—Geraldine Tuck

Read more about Budge Wilson in John DeMont’s “The huge impact of beloved, late-blooming writer Budge Wilson.”

Budge Wilson with the haul from her 90th birthday (Photo provided by Susan Kerslake)

Don Domanski: A Celebration

On Thursday, March 4, twenty writers from across Canada will honour the late Don Domanski (1950-2020) with an online reading from his works.

Domanski was a profoundly gifted, fabulously original Canadian poet based in Halifax. Participating writers include WFNS members Brian Bartlett, Alexander MacLeod, and Margo Wheaton.

Registration for this event is closed.

Remembering Joe Blades

By Joanne Light

Joe Blades (1961-2020) died suddenly of natural causes recently. (His obituary here.)

His epitaph could be “I publish, therefore I am.” He was the Randolph Hearst of the invisible poets (without the money). He just kept growing his obsessive poetry publishing, journal keeping, and visual pieces undaunted by what others might have thought of him or his work.

In the 1980s, Joe was a beacon for “disembodied poets” in Halifax and beyond. He hung around NSCAD and published BSPS: Bourbon Street Poetry Society zine. Later he grew it into a reputable literary journal, which published both local and international poets, and named it Poetry Halifax Dartmouth for the pols, after the fact that he single-handedly procured $5,000 annually from city council to publish it, but he referred to it as PHD cuz he liked acronyms. In that feathered nest, he was also able to bring in a few poets from hither and yon to read now and then. It’s amazing how generous the local government was in the 1980s (or how stingy they are now) but, then again, people like Joe are rare—he went after things that would support his endeavours in a style like no one else.

I remember the first time I met him at the Banff Centre (then the Banff School of Fine Arts) in 1982. Everyone on campus was in a juried program—except Joe. He was just there, having drifted in from the east coast I guess to make inroads in the literary landscape—mingling, schmoozing, etc. I thought that was incredible, very determined and ballsy. He looked the part, for sure—tall, lanky, mysteriously shy and brooding, long blond hair and he had that poetic name “Joe Blades.” I thought it must be a creation to make him even more enigmatic than he was. He would have only been 21 then.

Back in Halifax, we were kind of a writing group that would meet at the Seahorse Tavern, or La Cave Restaurant, supporting each other’s poems, identifying as a minuscule sub-culture—Kathy Mac, Eleanor Schonmeier and her Navy guy husband, Deirdre Dwyer, Shirley, Amy Whitmore, Joe, a yoga poet named James, an older math professor with a much younger wife, a couple others.

Then there were the Poetry Sweatshops at the Lower Deck that Joe and Kathy introduced. I loved those. One time the word we had 20 minutes to write on was “novelty.” Perfect because that was the age of “the cult of novelty.” Joe, being a recent grad of NSCAD, incorporated novelty into his pieces, having been educated by true, blue conceptualists for which that shining light for the Artspeak cognoscenti was famous.

I last saw him at the Maritime Writers’ Workshop in Fredericton. We were in the tiny poetry corner space with Yvonne Trainor as the mentor. 

He moved to Fredericton around 1990 and gave me the PHD archives and administrative and editorial tasks of keeping it going. Soon, I had to leave the Maritimes to find work and gave it to Mark Hamilton to run. Then it died and the city hasn’t funded a poetry magazine since. That’s how rare Joe Blades, the poetry instigator, was.

It helps to reminisce that once upon a time there was an impresario and poetry aficionado named Joe Blades who kept putting himself and the work out there for anyone to see and hear.

“Headfirst and hand extended”: remembering Jane Buss

Jane Buss (1948-2020), executive director of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia from 1992 – 2009, died suddenly on January 9, 2020.

by Norene Smiley and Sue Goyette

It is fitting that Jane Buss was hired in March. March is the month with winter behind it. March understands that blooming doesn’t happen overnight. Would it be a stretch to say Jane’s operating system was that of growing and, in its way, botanical? Easily, those who knew her, those who felt her warmth, left her company feeling nourished and appreciated. And easily, we all grew. This ability to celebrate each of us—in a membership as varied and expansive as that of WFNS—is a gift. When WFNS hired Jane Buss all those years ago on a March day, it was in a precarious situation, financially and organizationally, and did not know yet how lucky a recipient it was.

From the beginning, Jane knew how to enter a room. Headfirst and hand extended. And her hand was strong. It would pull a person into an embrace that was part loving and part osteopathic. These hugs realigned the spirit and the body. She was a force, and in her 17 years of service, Jane put programs into place that are still thriving: the stellar Alistair MacLeod Mentorship Program, the Manuscript Review Program, the Writers in the Schools program, and workshops for emerging and established writers. Under Jane’s guidance, several book awards—including the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the J.M Abraham Atlantic Poetry Award, the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award, and the Ann Connor Brimer Award for Atlantic Canadian Children’s Literature—grew in distinction and monetary worth. This legacy is remarkably sustainable. These programs and awards have become bedrock in the province’s literary community and have made important contributions to Nova Scotia’s distinct and enviable cultural landscape.

 

Nurturing

In her years with the organization, Jane took service seriously. She collaborated with the other cultural federations to establish their new home, helped writers understand their publishing contracts, and sat on the boards of related organizations like The Word on the Street and the Hackmatack Award. Jane was an absolute whiz at bookkeeping, helping stabilize the federation and infusing confidence in the funding of its sister organizations. She was generous and unflagging, there to help nurture and make sure we were all right, all the while being burdened by the position of running an understaffed and sometimes over-programmed non-profit organization.

As proficient as Jane was in governance and programming, she was also an exemplary host and knew the importance of community for writers, who spend so much time alone and are often befuddled by socializing. Her hospitality welcomed us to annual Christmas parties, which she had spent weeks cooking for, making lemon curd tarted into pastry she had rolled the day before and topped with cream from a farmer she knew. This dedication to cooking for us was Jane’s way of caring for us. How many of us received cards or notes, long letters written in cursive that seemed a fuse burning to that care? How many of us picked up the phone to hear her voice and her latest plan for us? And how many of us knew we could drop into the office, be welcomed to sit in the living archive of her postered walls, and be listened to? In this way, Jane made a home for many of us who needed one. It’s no wonder that the membership of the WFNS almost doubled during her tenure.

In the spirit of sustainability, Jane worked both with young readers and writers and with writers who had achieved mastery and were our elders. She was there at the infancy of the Read to Me program at the IWK. She worked hard to stabilize and refine the Writers in the Schools program. She wrote innumerable nominations to the Order of Canada and to the Nova Scotia Arts Awards to make sure we were recognized for our achievements. And for emerging and established writers, Jane fuelled our confidence to continue. She established an emergency fund for those of us who pursued a vocation that was precarious and underfunded, if funded at all. This fund was put in place for those one-time crises that can befall when there is no financial safety net. Jane helped many of us honour our skills by requesting to be paid. It is important to emphasize that none of this had existed for this community before Jane.

This was not the first time Jane worked her magic. Prior to 1992, she was the director of marketing and public relations with Symphony Nova Scotia. She was well known in the Canadian theatre community as a producer, having worked with such companies as Theatre Passe Muraille (Toronto), Theatre Network (Edmonton), and The Piggery (North Hatley, Quebec). She also served as a consultant to various cultural organizations, including the Canada Council for the Arts and Ontario Arts Council, and was writers’ steward with the Writers’ Guild of ACTRA. She was also the first executive director of the Playwrights Union of Canada.

Getting it done

Who is this paragon, this dynamic force of a woman? you might ask. Surely no one person could accomplish all this. Well, it turns out, she did—all the while being deeply human, possessing faults like any other. Her fierceness might make some tremble, her get-it-done attitude brooked no nay-sayers, and she suffered no fools. How difficult it must have been to shore up so many people and organizations without running out of energy for herself. When Jane was forced to meet her own health challenges, she did so with the same drive, the same refusal to give in. But it was that intensity and resolve that made Jane just the right person for the Federation at the time. No matter how you felt about her, it wasn’t indifference. She evoked emotional responses. When you feel and act with passion, this is always the way. But when the dust clears, and time takes some of the sharp edges off, what remains is a thankfulness, a profound gratitude—that Jane arrived when she did to enrich the writers of this organization, that she embraced all of us with her big-hearted welcome, and that she named us as friends.

The vitality of her company made it hard to realize that she was no longer with us. Almost immediately, WFNS members turned to social media for support and to commiserate our loss. In this way, we understand how she left us: connected, belonging to a community that turns to each other when we need to. Perhaps this is her true legacy, all of us in the wake of her passing, together, mourning and celebrating the grand and exquisite life she led and shared with each of us.

So here we are, turning up for each other, in the way she’d be delighted by…

Remembering Jane

“So grateful Jane shaped the literary world in NS. Gave so much energy and creative genius to so many of us.” —Mary Jo Anderson

“I loved Jane. So tough yet so soft. I can’t remember a meeting or visit where she didn’t call me sweetie, give me a hug, and then launch into some latest complaint about the lack of program support for writers (with an undertone that I could somehow do something about it). She loved the arts, but man she was ferocious about her love of writers. She hasn’t been in my thoughts for a while (absence and all that), but hearing this sad news opens up a chasm of loss.” —Gregor Ash

“In the early ’90s, when Jane first came to the Writers’ Federation as executive director, I was sitting in a Halifax restaurant booth, eavesdropping on the conversation in the booth behind me. (Of course I was!) The people I listened to were members of another arts organization, and one of them said: ‘We need a Jane Buss.’ And how Jane laughed when I told her this. And how we all were so lucky to have the one and only Jane Buss as our friend and as a friend to writers!” —Sylvia Gunnery

“She was a powerhouse, and yes, she made me feel special and important. I loved her.” —Donna Morrissey

“When I became the ED of the Writers’ Alliance of NL, she sent me a bag of chocolate covered espresso beans because I had mentioned, somewhere, that I loved them. Enclosed was a warm and welcoming note. We talked often on the phone, and I cherished all her wise words. She was so encouraging to others in the field.” —Shoshana Wingate

“I recall meeting her for the first time when she came into Bookmark to invite me to the inaugural Halifax Word on the Street meeting. I was a bit intimidated by her exuberance at first but soon came to admire her passion and ferocity. Her contribution to writers and readers in Nova Scotia is immeasurable.” —Nicholas Graham

“She was such a vital force for writers in Nova Scotia, and I don’t think anyone loved me the way she did. What a tremendous loss for us all.” —Sue Goyette

“Her impact on the Atlantic writing community is immeasurable—what a legacy! And oh, the hearts she touched. When I arrived in Nova Scotia, Jane took me under her wing and pointed me to the job running the Read to Me program, which this single mom sorely needed. She challenged me and championed me and was always a shoulder to lean on when things got hard. Her laugh filled a room, and I can still hear it echo. A wise and wild Viking warrior, Jane made her mark on our province and on our hearts.” —Carol McDougall

“I loved that woman—was on the panel that hired her for WFNS and liked her immediately. Someone who genuinely loved people and especially writers. I’ll miss her hugs and her sweet voice and will cherish the many wonderful hours spent together.” —Ken Ward

“She was one of the most amazing and wonderful women, and champions of authors, ever.” —Joan Baxter

“She didn’t just smile, she lit her face for and to you. And then her endless energy and bottomless basket. Her ability to organize, host, and provision an event was of biblical proportion. Loaves and fishes, water to wine. Many years ago, on a sunny, hot Friday afternoon in the cramped Fed office space on Spring Garden Road, I found her sobbing at her desk. She was reaching out to the Writers’ Union, seeking immediate financial assistance for a member in deep trouble. She was sad and outraged at the state of affairs. I have no doubt that, after her calls, she went out and made a weekend’s worth of meals to get this person through until Monday.” —Allan Lynch

“Heartbreaking loss for so many of us. Jane was such a force and so determined to see that our community of writers would succeed. Can’t imagine muddling through without her guidance and all her cheering through the good times and the bad.” —Carol Bruneau

“I have kept her sweet, cheerleading emails to me to stoke my courage when the pen (or my heart) runs dry.” —Munju Monique Ravindra

“She helped me believe in myself as a writer—and that Nova Scotia was a good place to be a writer.” —Jo Jefferson

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