UBC Okanagan benefits from generous literary contribution

Baird and Bowering donate to the special collections and humanities research lab.

The generosity of a pair of Canadian literary dynamos allows for the addition of two remarkable contributions to UBC Okanagan’s special collections library and digital humanities lab.

Earlier this fall, UBCO students, faculty, and staff welcomed Canadian writer George Bowering and collector Jean Baird to campus for the official opening of the Baird Bowering Collection Exhibition. A UBC alumnus, Bowering has a long-standing relationship with the university, having received his bachelor’s degree in 1960, master’s degree in 1962, an honorary doctorate in 1994, and the UBC Alumni Achievement Award in 2011.

The literary duo — co-editors, as well as husband and wife — have donated Baird’s compilation of Bowering’s published materials to UBCO. This collection is composed of Bowering’s works across several genres and formats, including multiple editions of his Governor General award-winning titles Rocky Mountain FootThe Gangs of Kosmos, and Burning Water.

“A reflection of Bowering’s enduring fondness for small literary presses, this collection contains many rare and ephemeral publications, including chapbooks and broadsides,” says Paige Hohmann, UBCO Archivist.

The collection also features the unique Tinhorn Creek wine barrel lid gifted to Bowering by his hometown of Oliver, B.C. in celebration of his appointment as the first Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada in 2002.

UBCO’s collection is considered among the most complete in the world, with only Yale, the University of California, Berkeley, and Library and Archives Canada holding comparable collections, explains Hohmann.

Dr. Karis Shearer, a Canadian Literature Professor with UBCO’s Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, says Okanagan residents are fortunate to have such a unique collection at the university.

“Many literary archives and special collections are located in urban centres such as Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Vancouver,” she adds “To be able to access a unique literary collection by one of Canada’s best-known authors right here at UBC Okanagan is of immense value to our students and community members who wish to study a writer’s works and the social life of books.”

The event also celebrated Bowering’s 2019 donation of a collection of his personal recordings on cassette tapes to Shearer’s AMP Lab.

“This cassette collection offers us a chance to hear the relationships and sociality behind the writing life, providing insights we typically associate with a writer’s literary correspondence,” says Dr. Shearer. “We hear him talking with his daughter, introducing talks by other major Canadian writers such as Sheila Watson, and conversing with literary friends Roy Kiyooka and Warren Tallman.”

At the special event earlier this fall, those in attendance had the opportunity to listen as Bowering read from his Okanagan-based poem “Desert Elm.” The audience also listened to a special 1974 recording of a much younger Bowering composing on cassette tape with his then four-year-old daughter Thea, now also a writer.

Both the Baird Bowering and Bowering cassette collections are now featured in an exhibit currently mounted in the Okanagan Special Collections Corbishley Family Reading Room.

“Jean Baird, as a compiler and a bibliographer, is a co-creator of this particular corpus of Bowering’s works,” Hohmann adds. “Not only are the books autographed, many are inscribed to her. We’re grateful to both Bowering for writing these, and to Baird for collecting and then contributing to our library.”

English and creative writing students Sarah Cipes, Megan Butchart, and Xiao Xuan Huang worked alongside Shearer and Hohmann to curate the exhibit. Hohmann notes it’s a good example of the way students are engaging with the collection.

Student assistants from the AMP Lab and UBCO special collections have also co-written a short essay about the two contributions. Dr. Shearer says the tapes in the AMP Lab’s SoundBox Collection provide the perfect complement to the Baird Bowering collection.

“For Baird and Bowering, this was a homecoming for the collection to a place and landscape that influenced Bowering as a writer,” says Shearer. “The geography that features in so much of his writing is evident in his collection Writing the Okanagan.”

The exhibit will remain open until the end of January. Members of the public, along with the university community, are invited to visit the exhibit which is located inside the UBCO library building.

“We are just so excited this collection is now part of UBC Okanagan, and that students are reading these materials,” says Baird. “The Okanagan is engrained in Bowering’s work — you have to learn the postage stamp on which you live — and Bowering has done that for the Okanagan.”