Jack Hodgins 2006
In 2006, Jack Hodgins became the 12th recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding literary career in British Columbia. In the same year he also received the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.
Born on October 3, 1938 in the Comox Valley, Jack Hodgins was raised on a ‘stump ranch’ at Merville, a former soldier settlement located between Courtenay and Campbell River on Vancouver Island. In 1999, Hodgins received the Ethel Wilson for Broken Ground, his long-in-gestation novel about the homesteading tribulations of an enclave of returned war veterans and their families.
Upon accepting the Ethel Wilson Prize, he said, “I would like to express my gratitude for having been born to parents who spoke freely and openly, and at length, about their lives before I came into the world. I feel as though my own personal memory goes back at least twenty years before I was born. This came in very handy when writing a novel set in 1922… I’m glad I won because those of us that have been around a long time need reassurance every bit as much as newcomers.”
In interviews, Jack Hodgins has frequently recalled he was raised in what seemed to be like a cultural backwater. “Growing up in Merville, I felt ‘bush league’ even in relation to people who lived in the nearby smalltown of Courtenay,” he says. In this environment, where any literary aspirations as a male would have been suspect, Hodgins was insecure about announcing his love for storytelling and books beyond his family.
“It wasn’t until grade ten that I had a male teacher whose enthusiasm for literature was contagious,” he says. He was nonetheless encouraged by his mother whose stock answer whenever he ran out of reading material was, “Well, go write your own.” Although Hodgins likes to recall that literature during his childhood mostly consisted of the weekend colour comics–in which the strip Dogpatch was ‘the closest anything in literature came to reflecting the world I lived in’–his mother Reta Hodgins later edited and published an excellent local history of the Merville area after he had left home.
At the University of British Columbia, Jack Hodgins was chiefly encouraged by Earle Birney. He later recalled, “The passion for writing stories was so powerful in me, that if I didn’t learn what I needed to learn I would be doomed to write bad stories for the rest of my life.” He married his Vancouver-born wife Dianne (neé Child) in 1960 and began teaching high school in 1961 in Nanaimo, hometown of novelist Anne Cameron, also born in 1938. Cameron and Hodgins would evolve a lasting affinity and mutual respect for one another’s work even though their manners are contrary.
Jack Hodgins first gained broad recognition on the Canadian literary map when he won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction for his light-hearted novel, The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne, celebrating a pot pourri of characters in the coastal town of Port Alice, but Hodgins is just as likely to be celebrated, in the long run, for his first collection of mostly comic short stories, Spit Delaney’s Island. It received the Eaton’s Book Award to kick-start his career.
For his audacious and fanciful first novel, The Invention of the World, winner of the Gibson’s First Novel Award, Hodgins was influenced by the ‘magic realism’ of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude and other Latin American authors such as Jorge Amado and Varga Llosa. He also travelled to Ireland to glean the rhythms of Irish speech.
“Frankly I don’t know how I did it,” he told Rebecca Wigod in 1981. “The Invention of the World was written in my daughter’s bedroom. I rented it from her by the day when she was at school.”
Also set on Vancouver Island, this novel depicts the fictional Revelations Colony of Truth led by Donal Keneally, a religious leader inspired by the fraudulent occultist Edward Arthur Wilson, aka Brother XII, who absconded with the funds from his notorious Aquarian Foundation sect near Nanaimo.
With three children, Hodgins remained teaching high school until 1979 when The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne won the nation’s top fiction prize. His next collection of short stories, The Barclay Family Theatre, features a wide array of family-related characters, many of whom reappear in a later book, The Macken Charm. The latter title includes a gangling, Hodgins-like youth named Barclay Desmond who enters a talent contest and loses.
Whereas the whimsical Barclay Family Theatre stories are mainly about a family that includes seven roguish girls, the more realistic Macken Charm is a novel about an ornery family that includes ten Macken brothers and one sister. The Barclays and Mackens are Vancouver Island families that intermarry.
After his fourth book, Hodgins turned his hand to a more conventional narrative for The Honorary Patron, a novel that follows the misadventures of a Vancouver Island-born art critic, Jeffrey Crane, as he is invited ‘home’ from his dignified retirement in Zurich to serve as an honorary patron for a Vancouver Island arts festival. It received a Commonwealth Writers Prize.
Ten new stories were presented in Damage Done by the Storm. In ‘Balance,’ the opening story, Monte works at Stanford Orthotics, restoring people’s balance, but his own life is a little unstable. He’s fallen in love with Donna Rossini—or rather, with a mold of her feet. “I raised the foot to my lips, and kissed, one after the other, all of her toes… I heard–so help me–the youthful sound of her laugh.” Monte’s foot fetish turns into an unlikely correspondence. It is a typical Hodgins’ story, charmingly respectful of his characters’ private and often insecure feelings.
After Hodgins received the Canada-Australia Prize in 1986 and visited Down Under, he set part of his next novel, Innocent Cities, in Australia. He subsequently returned to Australia and undertook a journey through the outback with Australian novelist Roger McDonald.
They drove from Sydney to Canberra, west to Broken Hill, then north and west through Queensland, ending in Brisbane. Their visits to towns with names such as Gundagai, Cunnamulla and Booligal resulted in his spirited and highly praised travelogue about visits to sheepshearing stations, etc., entitled Over Forty in Broken Hill.
Australia reappears in Hodgins novel Distance, the story of a successful Ottawa businessman, Sonny Aalto, who flies home to Vancouver Island to see his estranged, ailing father who has six months to live. The reluctant duo travel to the Australian outback to confront Sonny’s long-lost mother, then it’s back to Vancouver Island, where Sonny’s father coaxes him on a final journey to Cape Scott at the north end of the island. In June of 2000, Jack Hodgins was keynote speaker at a conference of Australian teachers of writing, hosted by Griffiths University in Surfers Paradise, Queensland.
Having had a stint as Writer in Residence at Simon Fraser University in 1977, Hodgins took a similar position at University of Ottawa in the wake of his Governor General’s Award. Hodgins later became a popular fixture in the Writing Department faculty at the University of Victoria, publishing a ‘how-to’ book at the urging of his longtime editor Douglas Gibson, and also travelling extensively as a writer on junkets to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, United States, Belgium, France, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Austria and Germany.
He retired from teaching at the University of Victoria in 2002 but continued to conduct an annual writing workshop in Mallorca, Spain. He has also occasionally been a faculty member in the writing program at the Banff Centre for the Arts.
In June of 1995, the University of B.C. awarded him an honorary D.Litt for – according to the UBC Chronicle – bringing “renown to the university and the province as one of Canada’s finest fiction writers and as an innovative stylist and distinguished academic.”
Always polite and affable, he has also received honorary degrees (D.Litt) from Malaspina University-College (1998) and University of Victoria (2004). He remains close friends with the critic W.H. (Bill) New, an ardent booster of his career, and his editor Douglas Gibson has remained involved in all of his books with the possible exception of Hodgins’ one title for younger readers, Left Behind in Squabble Bay.
Jack Hodgins and his wife live in Cadboro Bay, Victoria; their children and grandchildren reside in Victoria and Vancouver. He has been the subject of a National Film Board film, Jack Hodgins’ Island, and a book, Jack Hodgins and His Work, by David Jeffrey.
In 1996, Oolichan Press published a collection of essays on his work, titled On Coasts of Eternity, edited by J. R. (Tim) Struthers. Annika Hannan has edited a book of essays on Hodgins’s work for Guernica Press in Toronto. In 1990, as part of its 75th anniversary celebration, the University of British Columbia’s Alumni Society included him amongst the “75 most distinguished graduates” to be honoured with a plaque.
In 1996 Hodgins was one of ten Canadian writers invited by the French Minister of Culture to be honoured at Les Belles Etrangers festival in Paris. In June of 1997 he taught a fiction workshop in Marburg, Germany. He has been a guest at an academic conference on Literatures of the Islands at the University of Strasbourg, France, and a guest of the Nordic Association of Canadian Studies in Turku, Finland. In 1999 he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada.
Spit Delaney’s Island. Macmillan, 1976.
The Invention of the World. Macmillan, 1977.
The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne. Macmillan, 1979.
The Barclay Family Theatre. Macmillan, 1981.
The Honorary Patron. McClelland & Stewart, 1987.
Left Behind in Squabble Bay. McClelland & Stewart, 1988. – children’s
Innocent Cities. McClelland & Stewart, 1990.
Over Forty in Broken Hill. McClelland & Stewart, 1992.
A Passion for Narrative. McClelland & Stewart, 1994. – non-fiction
The Macken Charm. McClelland & Stewart, 1995.
Broken Ground. McClelland & Stewart, 1998.
Distance. McClelland & Stewart, 2003. ISBN: 0771041993 / $37.99
Damage Done by the Storm. McClelland & Stewart, 2004. ISBN 0-7710-4152-7 / $32.99).ISBN 0-7710-4152-7
On Coasts of Eternity: Jack Hodgins’ Fictional Universe (Oolichan Books 1996). Edited by J.R. (Tim) Struthers.