Home sweet New Brunswick

Acclaimed writer and Ontario educator, Mark Blagrave, reads Sackville-inspired works.

After the recent release of Salt in the Wounds, Mark Blagrave returned to the place that inspired his collection of short stories.

A Mount Allison alumnus who now works as the Dean of Arts and Social Sciences at Huron University College, Blagrave read excerpts from his new publication at the Owens Art Gallery on Monday, Jan. 26.

Blagrave explained that a chance encounter in Sackville served as inspiration for his recent work. “I came across a book in Tidewater Books downtown here actually called Salt: A World History,” said Blagrave. “I actually bought it for my wife for her birthday and then didn’t give it to her because I got so fascinated with it.”

For Blagrave, place and location play a central role in his writing process. “There are places in the world that I feel at home, and I like to write from those places,” said Blagrave. “Bermuda is one of them, Sackville is one of them, Saint John is one of them. I have to sort of get my feet down in a place and really feel comfortable, and then it flows from there.”

Just as with Salt in the Wounds, Blagrave also said that many inspirations for his stories are chance encounters. “I can find inspiration almost anywhere,” said Blagrave. “It’ll be something [like a] book that I see somewhere, or a building that I see and then I think ‘Oh, OK, what happened here? What’s the story of this building?’”

During the reading, which was co-sponsored by the Centre for Canadian Studies and the Department of English, featured excerpts from three of Blagrave’s stories. The first two, “Rupert and Sophia” and “The Salt in Our Wounds,” are set in set in Saint John, N.B. and Austria, respectively. Blagrave referred to his final reading as a “Sackville story,” and the three pieces were bound by the titular ingredient and focused on the ideas of basic human connection and communication.

Although the events and characters in the stories are fictitious, Blagrave explained a personal connection with all of the locations that served as motivation and inspiration for his writing. Blagrave also emphasized the importance of being open and receptive to the world, especially when it comes to inspiration.

“Never close your mind to where the next big idea is coming from; usually if it’s really good, it’ll surprise you,” said Blagrave.

Blagrave said that one of his challenges is balancing his writing with his work at the university. “I like to do research and I also like to [write], so I’ve put them together in a little bit of an unusual way,” said Blagrave.

Blagrave received acclaim for his novel, Silver Salts, which was shortlisted for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Novel and the 2009 Margaret and John Savage First Book Award (Atlantic Book Awards). His short stories have been published regularly in leading Canadian literary journals, including The New Quarterly and The Fiddlehead. His plays have also been produced professionally and in university theatres.


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