On the heels of the success of our inaugural Author of the Month post featuring Margaret Avison, we’re turning our attention to other worthy backlist authors in our catalogue. For the month of May, which happens to be Short Story Month, we are recognizing the venerable Leon Rooke, a wonderful poet and playwright, novelist and visual artist as well as a talented short story writer.
Keep reading to find out more about this fascinating and accomplished writer.
Leon Rooke is an energetic and prolific storyteller whose writing is characterized by inventive language, experimental form and an extreme range of characters with distinctive voices. He has written a number of plays for radio and stage and produced numerous collections of short stories. It is his novels, however, that have received the most critical acclaim. Fat Woman (1980) was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and won the Paperback Novel of the Year Award. Shakespeare’s Dog won the Governor General’s Award in 1983 and toured as a play as far afield as Barcelona and Edinburgh. A Good Baby was made into a feature film. Rooke founded the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival in 1989. In 2007, Rooke was made a member of the Order of Canada. Other awards include the Canada/Australia prize, the W. O. Mitchell Award, the North Carolina Award for Literature and two ReLits (for short fiction and poetry). In 2012, he was the winner of the Gloria Vanderbilt Carter V. Cooper Fiction Award. He lives in Toronto.
‘Leon Rooke’s novels are wondrous enough for anyone’s taste, but his stories are wondrous strange. In the last two decades his literally hundreds of stories have made him into one of the very few writers the rest of us have to read in order to know what the short story form can and cannot do, for he works way out there in terra incognita mapping limits. Beyond this, he can break your heart in half all at once, like a kindly assassin, or chop it to bits with a dozen swift, sure strokes. He’s a writer with a black belt in portraying the small daily tragedies that break bones and leave no visible wounds. It’s when he’s funny, however, which he often is, that he’s most dangerous. Like Stanley Elkin and Donald Barthelme, he’s a writer with a voice so sharp and personal that he changes your life while you’re busy laughing at it.’
—Russell Banks, author of Lost Memory of Skin
You can browse some of his work in the following five volumes published by the Porcupine’s Quill:
- Fabulous Fictions and Peculiar Practices (2016)
- The April Poems (2013)
- Hot Poppies (2005)
- Muffins (1995)
- The Happiness of Others (1991)
Read an Excerpt:
The Ravening Beasts at Fairy Godfather House
Here at godfather house we are obliged nightly at high table to slander as ravening beasts the mayors, premiers, parliaments, congresses and presidents, let’s say all our masters with scant exception, a rule of law formulated by us from their example.
Such proceedings take us into dessert.
Those not ravening include: ourselves, our sweethearts, most friends, children younger than six, the woman next door who smiles at us when she has every reason not to, buxom peasant girls of whatever country, black musicians who sold their souls to the devil at Mississippi crossroads, kind-hearted librarians, women who have kissed frogs whether or not this kiss changed their lives, soufflé chefs, women who nightly ferry the Potomac in redress of new crimes of the administration, women who dab vanilla flavouring behind their ears, Labrador women who periodically fall through ice from the weight of noble intentions, backroom refugees on the Danforth who repair without charge the torn hems of angels, invisible women who leave the halo of their suffering in sodium bulbs illuminating our thoroughfares, Italians who have taken the name X, the unknown parties who ever show a pinpoint of light at the end of our tunnels, the Lisbon faction of the Society for the Innovation of Short Fiction, the child in Buenos Aires who correctly articulated the plight of blind owls in and around Coronel Dorrego when by mistake he ran into a door in the dark of winter while fetching a glass of water for a blind sister, those who polish our steeples in the dead of winter, and my lover who warmly says goodnight to me every morning.
Toasts to the above take us through dessert and final evening prayers, after which we are called to order, reminded of our mandate (it is spelled out in our constitution), and give vent as one body to godfather house’s rousing cheer . . .
Thus, the day’s business concluded, higher officials retired to their tower beds, we go out and raven as ravenous beasts until the knock of dawn, spurred on by the hissing of oleander bushes, trellised roses, monkshood, the panting of mongrels begging for second breath, bleached skulls hanging from boughs bent by all that came before our society was formed.
Find Out More About Leon Rooke on the Web
- Learn more about Leon Rooke at The Canadian Encyclopedia.
- Explore Leon Rooke’s creative works on his official website.
- Watch his energetic literary performances on Youtube.
The Porcupine’s Quill will publish Leon Rooke’s next novel, The House on Major Street, in the Fall of 2018.
Populated by media personalities, literary characters, three-legged deer-like creatures and an array of idiosyncratic Toronto neighbours, The House on Major Street is an internal and external picaresque tale which begins with a dramatic bicycle accident and explores, along the way, the blurred boundaries between the stories we read, the stories we tell and the stories we live.
Watch for The House on Major Street in December 2018, or pre-order today on Amazon.
Thank you for learning more about our PQL Author of the Month, Leon Rooke. Remember, if you would like to see a particular author featured, or if you have some ideas as to what sorts of information you’d like to see in these posts, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the best,