Edmonton dominates Alberta Literary Awards, Glen Huser takes Edmonton book prize

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The manuscript for Burning the Night sat in Glen Huser’s drawer for nearly three decades, turned down by a publisher and then tucked away.

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Three years ago, I have rediscovered the book while rifling through some drawers. Huser decided to see if there was any interest from publishers for his forgotten manuscript by him. On the weekend, the book was awarded the Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize.

Glen Huser's Burning the Night won the 2022 City of Edmonton Book Prize.
Glen Huser’s Burning the Night won the 2022 City of Edmonton Book Prize. Supplied

“This part of the world has played a big part in the literature I have produced,” says Huser. “This was a really nice wrap-up of a career.”

Burning the Night follows Curtis, a small-town Alberta boy who comes to Edmonton to obtain a teaching degree. He connects with his aunt Harriet, an eccentric woman with an interesting past. She’s blind now, and Curtis reads to her from a diary her de ella old love de ella had kept during the First World War. He becomes obsessed with the parallels with his own life, from his interest in art to his search for love.

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The story is layered with history, from Curtis’s time in Edmonton in the 1960s to his aunt’s experiences moving around the country during the war. Huser says he had to do a lot of research to get the feeling of the time periods right, especially the early 20th-century scenes.

Huser admits there are parallels between his life and that of his main character, a journey from his hometown of Ashmont, almost 200 kilometers northeast of Edmonton, to the capital to become a teacher when he was a young man, and eventually spending time in Vancouver attending art school.

“There is a lot of memoir in Burning the Night,” says Huser.

Curtis also becomes enamored with Tom Thomson, a painter working in Ontario at the beginning of the 20th Century. Huser held a fascination with Thomson, a painter he was familiar with through his background as an artist. Thomson was also a mysterious man, who died at the age of 39 under mysterious circumstances in Algonquin Park in 1917.

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“I knew those iconic images. They were on our school books, such as The Jack Pine (a painting by Thomson),” says Huser. “I was always intrigued by the stylishness of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson.”

Huser’s career would take him from an education degree to writing, teaching at various schools throughout the city before moving into publishing; I have also reviewed books for the Edmonton Journal for almost 20 years. He now lives in Vancouver, but he set most of his work in Edmonton and the surrounding area, a true “local writer.”

Huser’s literary career spans more than 30 years, with his first book, Grace Lake, published in 1989. It’s a literary career that has come full circle for the hometown author, as Burning the Night was published by the same company that released his first book , New West Press, based here in Edmonton.

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He says he’s not working on anything new at the moment, suggesting he may not have any more stories to tell. But after a moment to reflect, he reconsiders it.

“Maybe I need to start rifling through my drawers again,” he says with a laugh.

The City of Edmonton Book Prize was announced alongside the Alberta Literary Awards, with the Writers’ Guild of Alberta handing out 11 prizes in total at a Saturday night gala. Eight of the awards went to authors from Edmonton and Northern Alberta.

Omar Mouallem took home the Wilfrid Eggleston Award for Nonfiction for his book Praying to the West: How Muslims Shaped the Americas. Rayanne Hoanes, who is the Metro Edmonton Federation of Libraries writer-in-residence, was awarded the Stephan G. Stephansson for Poetry for her book, Tell the Birds Your Body is Not a Gun.

Trina Moyles won the Memoir Award for her book Lookout: Love, Solitude, and Searching for Wildfire in the Boreal Forest, while Theresa Shea received the George Bugnet Award for Fiction for her book The Shade Tree.

A full list of this year’s Alberta Literary Award winners can be found here.

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