Edna Staebler’s Diaries
Paper 312 pp.
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Long before she became the renowned author of the best-selling Schmecks cookbooks, an award-winning journalist for magazines such as Macleans, and a creative non-fiction mentor, Edna Staebler was a writer of a different sort. Staebler began serious diary writing at the age of sixteen and continued to write for over eighty years. Must Write: Edna Staebler’s Diaries draws from these diaries selections that map Staebler’s construction of herself as a writer and documents her frustrations and struggles, along with her desire to express herself, in writing. She felt she must write—that not to write was a “denial of life”—while at the same time she doubted the value of her scribblings.
Spanning much of the twentieth century—each decade is introduced by an overview of key events in the author’s life during that period—the diaries vividly illuminate both her intensely personal experiences and her broader social world. The volume also presents four key examples of Staebler’s public writing: her first published magazine article; her first award-winning publication; the opening chapter of her book Cape Breton Harbour; and her lively account of the Great Cookie War. Must Write: Edna Staebler’s Diaries portrays an ordinary woman’s struggle to write in the context of her lived experience. “All my life I have talked about writing and kept scribbling in my notebook, as if that makes me a writer,” wrote Staebler in 1986. This volume argues that the very act of writing the diaries, with all their contradictory accounts of writerly ambition, success, and conflict, made Staebler the writer she yearned to be.
Christl Verduyn teaches in the Department of English and Film Studies and is the coordinator of the Canadian Studies Program at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo. She publishes on Canadian and Québécois women’s writing, multiculturalism and minority writing, and life writing. She is the editor of Marian Engel’s Notebooks: “Ah, mon cahier, écoute...” (WLU Press, 1999).
“Those who read Edna Staebler’s diaries will discover the qualities her friends already know: here is a woman whose words reveal a growing self-discovery, an independent spirit, and the stubborn courage to be true to herself.”
— Wayson Choy, Trillium award-winning author of All That Matters and winner of the Edna Staebler Creative Non-fiction Award for Paper Shadows
“Scholars interested in Canadian life writing will welcome the publication of this selection of Edna Staebler’s diaries.... Readers my think of Staebler as a folksy writer of cookbooks, creative non-fiction, and journalistic pieces, but the diaries reveal a woman and author of considerable depth, subtlety, and complexity. Arguably, the diaries are her major literary achievement not only because of their sheer volume — Staebler kept a diary for eight decades—but also because of the quality of the writing.... Verduyn ... supplies invaluable contextual material through brief introductions to each chapter, through endnotes ... [and] ... a cogent (if brief) essay in which she locates Staebler’s diaries in historical and critical contexts.... The inclusion of this extratextual material makes Must Write a thoroughly scholarly edition. Verduyn has honoured Staebler’s writing achievements; she has also made an important contribution to Canadian life-writing studies by bringing to a wider audience a significant primary text.”
— Linda Warley, University of Toronto Quarterly, Letters in Canada 2005
“‘Interest is everything,’ Edna wrote in 1928. In these pages she reveals her endless curiosity and enthusiasm for other people’s lives while at the same time harping about her stubborn urge to write, her insecurity, her hesitations, and her agony when she does not or cannot write.... Edna Staebler’s diaries attest to her determination, her courage, and her easy-flowing pen.”
— Pauline Carey, Canadian Book Review Annual
“This edition does important recovery work, bringing attention to a woman writer who is not well-recognized in the Canadian literary canon.”
— Laurie McNeill, Canadian Literature
By the same editor
Critical Collaborations: Indigeneity, Diaspora, and Ecology in Canadian Literary Studies, Smaro Kamboureli and Christl Verduyn, editors
Haven’t Any News: Ruby’s Letters from the Fifties, Edna Staebler, editor; afterword by Marlene Kadar
Marian Engel’s Notebooks: “Ah, mon cahier, écoute...”, Christl Verduyn, editor
Food That Really Schmecks, Edna Staebler
Asian Canadian Writing Beyond Autoethnography, Eleanor Ty and Christl Verduyn, editors
Public Poetics: Critical Issues in Canadian Poetry and Poetics, Bart Vautour, Erin Wunker, Travis E. Mason, and Christl Verduyn, editors