RECURRENT VOICES: Jean Barman

When we write a book

It has been suggested I write a short reflection on my recent book, French Canadians, Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the the Pacific Northwest.

When we write a book, or for that matter an article, we perforce let the chips fall where they may. What we treasure as to subject matter and approach might well have no or very little resonance. We do what we can, steeling ourselves that others may disagree. We move on.

My experience with the FC book is a case in point. It became about because I literally woke up one morning in the realization that, while I had attended in my writing to various groups in British Columbia’s history (British, indigenous Canadians and Hawaiians, Maritimers and Ontarians come west, Portuguese immigrants, Chinese Canadians), I had ignored French Canadians. Curious as to what I might find out, there followed a hasty application for a SSHRC grant with an imminent deadline. Its success turned a whim into an obligation. Getting the manuscript to publication proved to be the most arduous task of my writing life. I might well have acquiesced to unhappy assessors had it not been for the obligation incurred by the funding.

Still waiting for the book to appear, I was encouraged by two diverse constituencies reaching out. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon invited me to give the keynote on the book and hopefully to sell copies at their annual conference in November 2014, and La Société historique francophone de la Colombie-Britannique offered to launch it the next month at Maison de la Francophonie in Vancouver. I was relieved my persistence had not been in vain.

But that was not all. Some months later the book won the annual K.D. Srivastava Prize for Excellence in Scholarly Publishing as best book published by UBC Press, followed by the Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Book on British Columbia. I was thereby linked to two of the people I have most admired at UBC. Even that was not all. There followed the Canadian Historical Association’s Sir John A. Macdonald Prize for best English-language book of Canadian history, which led to the Governor General’s Gold Medal for Scholarly Research, presented in November 2015 at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

The moral of the story is to trust in ourselves as to what we choose to write and how we do so. We cannot control the response.

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