U of A books two for award

(Edmonton) Augustana Campus creative writing instructor Marina Endicott and former U of A playwriting instructor and alumnus Vern Thiessen have been nominated for this year’s Governor General’s Literary Awards.

It’s Thiessen’s second nomination for the award, which he won in 2003 for Einstein’s Gift. This time the nod comes for Lenin’s Embalmers, a black comedy recounting the true story of the two men directed by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to embalm Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution, upon his death in 1924.

“I was really surprised [to receive the nomination],” said Thiessen. “I love this play and think it’s really good, but I never expected it to be nominated. I was on the committee that selected the short list and winner last year, and I know it’s really hard to get on that list.

“What’s interesting about the list this year is there are so many young writers. When I won in 2003, I was considered an emerging writer. And now I’m referred to as the ‘veteran’ dramatist—now I’m the old guy.”

A 1992 graduate of the U of A's now-defunct master’s of fine arts in playwriting, Thiessen's plays—including Lenin’s Embalmers, Einstein's Gift, Shakespeare's Will, Apple and an adaptation of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights—have been produced in major Canadian and American centres, and even in Europe and Asia. As one of Canada's most-produced playwrights, he now has agents in New York, Canada and Germany.

“But I have nothing but great things to say about the U of A,” he says. “There’s no way I would have had this career if I didn’t go there, and I say that in all honesty. It was the drama department’s excellence and the connection they have to the community.”

For Endicott, it’s her second nomination for a literary prize this fall; her novel The Little Shadows was also long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize last month, although it failed to make the short list that was announced early in October. The book concerns three sisters in the early 20th century who become Vaudeville singers after their father dies, and Endicott attributes her work at Augustana Campus for helping inform it.

“I was lucky enough to have a tour of the old Bailey Theatre in Camrose just as renovations began on the old vaudeville house,” she said last month in response to her Giller nomination. “That tour was incredibly useful in the early stages of writing The Little Shadows, and [in describing] my vaudeville girls’ tour to Camrose in 1915.”

Endicott's last novel, Good to a Fault, won the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book, Canada and the Caribbean, and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize.

Winners of the 2011 Governor General’s Literary Awards will be announced Nov. 15 in Toronto.