From TASS to Trent to UCLA, Peterborough Writer / Editor Bruce Whiteman publishes Best Canadian Essays 2021
When Bruce Whiteman left Thomas A. Stewart in 1970 as part of his first promotion, he arguably didn’t realize that one day he would choose to retire here and then become guest editor of the very esteemed, Best Canadian Essays, (BCE) a collection published annually for nearly 25 years.
In the years that followed, Whiteman – a writer, critic, teacher, and rare book scholar – published over 25 books of poetry, essays, and scholarly works. A career as a rare book librarian took him first to McMaster, then to McGill, and finally to UCLA in America, where he headed the university’s Clark Library, an institution renowned for its Oscar Wilde collection.
These days, Whiteman reviews books for the Toronto Star, teaches poetry writing and appreciation in the Creative Writing Certificate program at the University of Toronto, and works on his own literary projects.
Whiteman was invited last year by Biblioasis, the prestigious Windsor-based publishing house, to delve into around 50 submissions from magazines, literary journals and other sources to put together the best 2021 Canadian essays – the perfect gig during COVID-19 lockdowns. Of these 50 entries, 15 tries made the final cut.
Maybe “retired” is the wrong verb to describe Whiteman. He really just changed location.
Best Canadian Essays 2021 has consumed Whiteman since taking over the project. He read articles from esoteric journals like Prairie Fire to more popular magazines including The Walrus and Canadian History (formerly The Beaver) and wrote a detailed introduction to the book, welcoming readers to his selections. Included are two personal stories; scientific explorations; a meditation on baseball; a review of climate change and many others.
The collection is framed by two pieces on the pandemic, a reflection of what the country has endured over the past 18 months. The book features works by writers from across the country, including the Far North – some of the best recent writing in Canada, according to Whiteman.
In addition to editing the book, Whiteman has spent part of the last few months writing a lengthy article on local artist John Climenhage. The painter’s retrospective opens soon at Sadleir House, and Whiteman’s profile will go on sale when the doors open. The 16-page hardcover text profile was produced by local graphic design house Jackson Creek Press.
Whiteman says Peterborough is a “good fit” for him now. After returning to Canada in 2003 and settling in Toronto, he decided, in 2019, to come back to live in the city. Thanks to technology, he no longer has to be in a large urban environment to find work, which he was especially grateful for during the pandemic. Further, Whiteman was “happy to discover a thriving and diverse arts community” in Peterborough, a community no doubt very different from where he graduated from Trent in 1975.
Next fall, Whiteman released a collection of his own essays and reviews, also published by Biblioasis, and another book of poems later in 2022. In the meantime, however, he is promoting Best Canadian Essays 2021 and hopes that National readers will find the works it contains as inspiring and engaging as it is.
The book is now on sale at Chapter’s.
Lynda Simpkins is a Peterborough-based freelance writer and writer.