Continuing with the Where Are They Now? series, today we hear from author and artist Dolly Dennis, who lives in Edmonton, Alberta. I found her answers deeply honest, poignant, and inspiring.
Interview with Dolly Dennis
Born in a refugee camp, Dolly and her family settled in Montreal as displaced persons (dps) after WW2. She moved to Edmonton in 1993 and is a published author and poet whose work has appeared on stage, in literary journals, newspapers, corporate newsletters, anthologies, and the CBC. Her first play, The Plexiglass Box, won two awards at the Quebec Drama Festival of one-act plays in the seventies, and she has also been on the short list for an Alberta Literary Award for non-fiction. Her first book, Loddy-Dah, is now on the syllabus for first year students in the Women’s Literature class at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Conn. Her second book is pending. She is also a visual artist painting realistic work and has exhibited in five group shows, two of which were juried. A renaissance women, she has also worked as an actress, dancer, playwright, costume designer and seamstress and producer.
Interview with Dolly Dennis, Author and Artist (Includes paintings; August 2016)
4 Authors, 7-Day Book Challenge, Amazing Experiences (October 2016)
Speaking with Dolly Dennis
What was your most significant accomplishment over the past year?
My first book, Loddy-Dah, ended up on the syllabus of first-year university students in the Women’s Lit course at Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Conn. The students (27 with one male) interviewed me on March 6 for an hour via WebEx. These were American kids, first generation immigrants going to university. They had to write an essay based on any question asked me. I had a ball. Later the professor sent me copies of some of their essay responses, which I refer to every now and then when I have a doubtful moment about my writing. They said the interview was one of their favourites in the course and, because of its popularity (and because they liked me and Loddy-Dah), the book is once again confirmed to be on the syllabus for the 2017/18 curriculum. Haven’t got a date yet, but I found it ironic that these kids loved my book and had insights I never considered, and not a peep out of Canada. They know where Quebec and Canada are now and so I have a little fan base out there in New Britain, Connecticut. I also encouraged them to read other Canadian authors, especially Alberta writers who usually get ignored.
What was your greatest obstacle?
Health issues. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my hips so mobility problems. I continued to write and paint in between the pain. So anyone who has an excuse to procrastinate, I don’t buy it. If you want to write, you just write because you have something to say.
What are you most proud of?
That I’ve never given up pursuing my dreams of writing and painting. I’m a later bloomer, a survivor, and I’m still here. I’ll be 70 this year and looking forward to new projects and experiences. Never, ever give up on yourself.
What are your goals or upcoming projects for 2017?
2017 was the year I decided to finish my second book, The Complex Arms. No painting except a self portrait. So four years later and a little over 28,000 words, the ms is with one of my beta readers who wanted to see it again before I start sending it out. Guernica published my first book and my contract did not give them first dibs on my second book, which was good as they didn’t push my book, so looking for a wider audience. I have some contacts and have no doubt the book will find a good home. It’s a complicated book, and I swear my next one will be a comedy with two characters and everything takes place in one day. I notice a lot of novels are under 200 pages. When did this happen?
What is The Complex Arms about?
Interwoven stories of tenants living in an apartment building in Mill Woods called the Complex Arms set in July 1987 before the tornado* hits. The title also carries another context. Second half is 20 years later at the commemoration of Black Friday** as it came to be known here in Edmonton. We find out what has happened to the tenants and their own stormy lives, and what Adeen, the protagonist and caretaker of the apartment building, does in the end. It’s not a comedy but the story was inspired by research, observation and interviews so it’s the truth. My stories are usually set in either Montreal or Edmonton because they are the cities I know and they save on a lot of research. The Complex Arms is an urban story. Some people may object to the way I describe Alberta, but it comes from my research and some of my experience.
How’s the painting going?
While I wait to get the okay for The Complex Arms, I will start painting again. I have several projects including continuing my Mill Woods Projects. Coming from Montreal, I am an urban writer and painter. Everyone has done the superlative skies and landscapes here so I won’t even try. My training is classical so I prefer doing portraits and the city in the manner of Edward Hopper. I do realistic paintings. Still trying to discover my style as I had not painted in over 35 years and just restarted in 2016. Waiting to hear from a gallery if they’ve accepted some of my Mill Woods paintings for a group show. They’ve extended their submission deadline so that makes me think that they didn’t receive enough in the way of artwork, or what they did receive is all bad. Que sera sera!
What special thing about yourself would you like to share with readers?
Don’t think I’m any more special than the next person but I do tell people to follow their passion, that you can’t please everyone so just please yourself, write and paint like no one is looking over your shoulder, and never take anything personally. I tend to be outspoken but people know if they ask my opinion, I won’t bullshit. I also treat people the way they treat me. I’ll be nice and kind and supportive but if you hurt me, then expect the same because I figure that’s the way you want to be treated. I love Maya Angelou’s quote, “When people show themselves, the first time, believe them.” Wish I had known that when I was younger. In The Complex Arms I quote a therapist, Rosalind Johnson, who says, “There is a baggage limit for every passenger on a flight. The same rules apply to your life. You must eliminate some baggage before you can fly.” So wishing everyone a happy flight.
How can we follow or contact you?
- Writers Union of Canada email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Via my publisher at Guernica Editions (author/book page)
Where can readers buy your books?
Also, if they Google my book, they will find it’s available in various countries around the world.
Awards / Recognition
- “Perennial” creative non-fiction, shortlisted for the James H. Gray Award, Alberta Literary Awards, 2012
- “Plexiglass Box,” Quebec Drama Festival of One-Act Plays, winning Best Director and Best Production, Montreal, circa 1977
* July 31 this year was the 30th anniversary of the strongest tornado to ever hit Edmonton.
** Black Friday is the name given to July 31, 1987, the day of the deadly Edmonton tornado.
Alberta, Canada is not Tornado Alley. Tornadoes do occur here–more commonly around the Red Deer area–but an EF5 is a rare beast. In the City of Edmonton, it’s virtually unheard of.
Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF) versus the old Fujita Scale (F)
“The old scale lists an F5 tornado as wind speeds of 261–318 mph (420–512 km/h), while the new scale lists an EF5 as a tornado with winds above 200 mph (322 km/h), found to be sufficient to cause the damage previously ascribed to the F5 range of wind speeds” (Source: Wikipedia–Enhanced Fujita Scale).
Edmonton Journal Gallery: Black Friday remembered through images
Edmonton tornado (Wikipedia)
- Highest winds: 259 mph (417 km/h; 225 knots)
The Black Friday tornado came up just shy of an F5, but you can see that according to the enhanced scale, it would register as an EF5 today.
Black Friday (the Edmonton Tornado) and
The Complex Arms by Dolly Dennis
Dolly Dennis’ Facebook post for July 31, 2017 reads:
“My second book, The Complex Arms, is set just before the tornado hits Mill Woods. It’s a novel, so the characters and their stories are fiction. However, for the chapter on the tornado I did a lot of research because I wanted to capture the truth. It’s all there. My son sent this video which everyone should watch. I understand a lot of people are forgetting about that day and the effects on the survivors and the dead. 27. There are 27 trees planted in Evergreen in remembrance. The City of Champions is not about some dumb hockey team who wins the Stanley Cup almost every year but about the City and its people who rallied and re built. The last scene lists the names of all those who died. Take a moment to watch this video to remember because this was not a dream but a reality. Some walked away with PTDS and watch the skies to this day. Let’s not forget. Thank you.”
by Caley Ramsay, Online Journalist, Global News
- Black Friday: Winds of Terror video
- News story