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Haig Brown Writer in Residence ends tenure with encore lecture

Lecture on March 23 covered Vancouver Island’s Black history
Author Karolyn Smardz Frost held a requested second Haig Brown lecture on March 23. Photo by Marc Kitteringham/Campbell River Mirror

Author Karolyn Smardz Frost started her encore Haig-Brown lecture by telling people in the audience “good afternoon!”

She expected a response, which the audience gave her. “Good afternoon!” Members of the audience responded in unison. The whole thing was a trick, she said, a way to get the audience to connect with her.

“I make an effort to engage the audience, and one of the ways I do that is just to ask them to say good morning back or good afternoon,” she said. “Then people engage with you as a person as opposed to a lecturer. It works!”

It truly must have worked, because Smardz Frost was back in front of the audience at the Rivercity Theatre for a rare, and audience-requested, second Haig-Brown Lecture. The lecture came at the end of her tenure as writer in residence at the Haig Brown House, a role in which she took as a chance to inform the public about her work.

“My whole career is a very beginning has been about providing public access to traditionally academic topics like archeology and Black history” she said. “My writing is all in English, I don’t write in jargon. I think it’s exclusionary and it’s about being in the club. I won’t do it.

“Consequently, I am much more likely than a lot of other writers to be out there,” she said. “You want me to sit in the house and write books? I can do that, but I’d really rather talk to people.”

In February, Smardz Frost became the first Haig-Brown writer in residence to do the Haig-Brown lecture. And last weekend she became the first one to go back and expand on her topic. The first covered her fieldwork, as well as Victoria’s history of African American migration. This time around, she went more in depth of the Black history of Vancouver Island.

“Somebody asked me about Vancouver Island’s black history and I said, well, you know that 800 people came from San Francisco in 1858 and populated Victoria, which had like a hundred and fifty people at the time,” she said. That population eventually spread further up the island to Nanaimo and Salt Spring Island. “And there was a family who came here,” she added. “Ernie Alexander was a topper for the logging industry here. He was a very large and powerful man, and people remember him.”

While Smardz Frost has been involved in other writing workshop experiences in the past, she said she had “no idea what I was getting in to.

“This was a much more open-ended experience where I could choose what I wanted to do,” she said. “I’ve never done a residency like this.”

Smardz Frost said she spent most of the time writing, and has had lunch with a writer just about every week that she’s been here. There have also been a number of speaking events like the Haig-Brown Lecture and some school presentations.

“They asked terrific questions,” she said. “Better than most adults. Several of the young people came up to me after my talk to thank me for doing it. One girl came up and she had tears in her eyes and said ‘you’re so inspiring.’ That gets my soul, that’s why I write, so I can tell those stories again.”

Smardz Frost got that kind of reception from everyone she met in Campbell River, whether it was someone in line at the grocery store to the people working at the Haig-Brown house and at the Museum at Campbell River, “I want to say I’m very, very grateful for the kind welcome I’ve received.”

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Marc Kitteringham

About the Author: Marc Kitteringham

I joined Campbell River Mirror in early 2020, writing about the environment, housing, local government and more.
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