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Calgary author’s new book dives into city’s literary history

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Shaun Hunter is a tried and true Calgarian.

She may have been born in Vancouver, but she moved to Calgary when she was only 10 days old.

“My daughter and I quibble about it, because of those 10 days,” she laughs. “But I grew up here.”

As Hunter became a budding young writer in the city, she was always losing herself in the fictional worlds of novels set in far-away places. But it wasn’t long before she began to wonder about why she never saw the familiar scenes of her home in these books.

Three years ago, she turned her questions into action. She started searching for Calgary in literature and collected her finding in a blog called Writing the City. This Sunday, that project will cumulate in the launch of a book of her findings, titled Calgary through the Eyes of Writers.

“It began very much as a personal exploration to satisfy and probe at a question that has been in my mind for a long, long time,” said Hunter. “What is this place, and how has it shaped me? Because I’m convinced that it has. I thought this would be a little reading project, but the questions got louder and louder.”

She’s since catalogued more than 600 titles that include familiar sights and sounds from Calgary, with her book delving into 160 excerpts novels, poems and essays.

Travelling chronologically from 1787 to the present – covering booms, busts, wars and floods – Hunter guides readers through Calgary’s literary past and discusses each excerpt to help unpack all the pieces.

One of the many theme’s Hunter noticed was the concept of change in the city.

“The concept of change is really a universal human experience,” she said. “But it’s hyper-local for Calgary. This city does not stand still, and it has never stood still.”

The new Central Library has a section on the fourth floor devoted to Calgary being represented in literature. JENNIFER FRIESEN / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

From author Will Ferguson describing the ever-changing skyline, to poet P. K. Page painting the picture of chinooks as a war between winter and summer, Hunter says change is integral to the Calgary experience. She points to one line from Robert E. Gard’s 1940s book, Johnny Chinook, which reads:

“Calgarians are the children of change. They’re used to ups and downs, violent changes in the weather, and fascinating and wondrous events.”

Hunter continued, saying, “It makes you realize that Calgary is recognizably different, it’s unlike any other city.”

After all her years of reading, hoping to see her city on the page, Hunter said she hopes her book will give readers a new way to explore the city and see their own experience reflected back.

“Reading poems about Calgary by acclaimed writers like P. K. Page made me realize that, yes, this can be my muse too,” she said. “It’s OK to be inspired by Calgary. We are bigger than our stereotypes, and we’re bigger than the centre of the country tells us we are. Reading the city is a way to experience it and fold it into your own story.”

Hunter will be hosting a book launch of Calgary through the Eyes of Writers on from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, December 9, at the new Central Library.