by Tiffany | Jan 20, 2020 | An Unexpected Light, Groups, Shiny! writing group, Workshops, Writing
Have you missed the in-person writing workshops that used to run regularly through Writing in the Margins? Me too!
Introducing Shiny! a speculative writing group.
We’re having a launch party on January 26, from 4-6 pm, at Loft 112 in the East Village here in Calgary. Our first regular writing event will be February 2 from 4-6 pm at Loft 112, and we’ll be meeting on the first Sunday of most months throughout 2020.
Shiny! is an offshoot of An Unexpected Light, a six-month narrative therapy and speculative fiction course. This writing group is open to anyone, whether you’ve taken the course, or are planning to take the course. The group does extend the Unexpected Light conversation about how we tell stories of hope and possibility in times that feel increasingly impossible, but participation in the course is not required.
This launch party will be a combination info session, coffee-and-tea chat, and writing group. Come find out what it’s all about!
Our goal is to build and support a community of writers engaged in creating what Walidah Imarisha describes as, “fantastical literature that helps us to understand existing power dynamics, and helps us imagine paths to creating more just futures.”
Shiny! will include an ongoing online component, with monthly emails including writing prompts and opportunities to participate in virtual writing community, as well as details about in-person events in Calgary, Alberta (and elsewhere). The online component isn’t quite ready to launch yet, but is being designed so that the group will be accessible to folks who can’t make it to in-person events, for whatever reason.
All forms of speculative writing are welcome – science fiction, fantasy, mythology, poetry, and speculative non-fiction including memoir.
Shiny! is an explicitly welcoming space for marginalized and targeted groups, including trans, queer, fat, disabled, neurodiverse, Black, Indigenous, people of colour, and others. An Unexpected Light’s syllabus is full of the speculative work of marginalized writers, and their ability to imagine more just and possible futures has made our work possible.
Everyone has a valid and valuable voice, and writers of all experience levels are welcome.
This launch party will take place on Treaty 7 land, the traditional and ongoing home of the Blackfoot Confederacy, including the Siksika, Kainai, and Piikani First Nations, the Stoney Nakoda, including the Wesley, Chiniki, and Bearspaw First Nations, and the Tsuut’ina First Nation. This is also the home of the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3, and of all the Indigenous folks who live here.
There is no cost to attend, but donations will be accepted to help cover costs.
Read Walidah Imarisha’s interview at EAP Magazine.
Find out more about An Unexpected Light.
Find the event on facebook.
(Cover image by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash.)
by Tiffany | Jan 15, 2020 | Downloadable resources, Grief, Personal, Reading
David Maxwell Memorial Reading Challenge
by Tiffany Sostar
joyful memory of their dad, David Maxwell:
lover, collector, and sharer of books
January 12, 1953 – November 30, 2019
Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.
Welcome to the David Maxwell Memorial
Make yourself a cup of David-style
coffee: not too strong, with a generous-leaning-to-excessive helping of sugar
or maple syrup, and more milk swirled in than seems reasonable.
Settle in and read your way to
memories and connection.
This reading challenge has been
created by me, Tiffany Sostar, David’s oldest child, in honour of dad and as a
way to invite friends, family, and community to reflect on memories shared with
David and to create new memories and experiences connected to David.
This reading challenge has a bias. It
reflects my story with my dad, and it highlights the parts of dad’s story that
were most impactful in my own life. It’s a gift from me to him, and to you.
There are other stories of dad’s
life, and perhaps there are categories of reading missing that would help
reflect the nuance and complexity of David Maxwell’s personhood and experience.
If there is a category you wish were
here, please let me know.
I will be collecting stories and
titles shared by reading challenge participants and will be creating an updated
reading challenge next year, along with a book of stories.
I would love for that second
iteration to include a broader view of my dad.
But for now, this is what I have to
offer, from my own perspective, from my own heart.
If you would like to get in touch
with me, you can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or online at
tiffanysostar.com. I work as a narrative therapist, a community organizer, a
writer, and an editor. The love of stories that dad and I shared has extended
into every part of my life and is present in every aspect of my work.
A reading challenge is a bit like a literary treasure hunt.
Each category is a clue, and you must
go searching for the book that will check that category off.
Both books and treasure hunts were
cherished parts of my relationship with dad, and almost every treasure hunt
that he created for me (each Christmas for 3 decades of my life!) included
clues hidden in books, book titles as clues, gifts hidden behind books, books
as the gift at the end of the hunt – books and treasure hunts, treasure hunts
At a time when I miss my dad so much,
and when I am overcome by the loss and the grief over pages left unturned in
our relationship, and the sudden ending of our story together in this life, it
has been a balm to create this reading challenge. This treasure hunt.
Dad left many legacies that continue
in my life. Books, stories, and the determined pursuit of clues and threads of
connection are among the shiniest.
How to participate
This document is part invitation and
part remembrance. You can participate in either or both.
To participate in the invitation,
you can join the treasure hunt by reading a book in each category and, if you
would like, sharing your completed list back with me at
I will be keeping track of the books
read in each category and will send out a list of all the shared titles at the
end of 2020. I hope that this will be one way to maintain a connection to David
and to create new memories and experiences that connect us in our memories of
The reading challenge invitation is
open to anyone, whether they knew dad or not.
I love the idea of stories and
inspiration connected to dad travelling beyond his circle. If you didn’t know
dad and you participate in the challenge, I’d love to hear what books you read,
what these books made possible in your life, and how the stories of my dad’s
life moved you, if they did.
For those who knew dad, you can also
participate in the remembrance by reading the stories (there could have
been pages and pages more) and by sharing your own stories!
I would love to hear the stories that
these categories remind you of, and to hear about the books that dad
recommended to you, and to know what from him and his life has stayed with you.
These stories and memories will also
be collected, with the hope of creating a story book of David’s life and his
influence in others’ lives. You do not need to be limited to the categories
listed here for your stories – share anything that sparkles in your memory!
You’ll find the categories listed
first, with stories and suggested titles after.
If you’d like some guidance from dad,
here is a list that he shared with me last summer of some of his favourite
things. Perhaps these will spark memories for you, invite you to consider
things that you cherish in your own life, or guide you to titles that excite
and engage you.
(I included the parts of the list that mention specific people, because I think dad’s love for Glenda, for his siblings, and for my sister and I are worth recognizing. I know these specific items, unlike the more general pleasures he lists, might not lead you directly to books, but they are a balm for my heart, and perhaps they will lead you to memories and stories of cherished people in your own life.)
- Reading and Collecting books
- Collecting an eclectic selection of Christmas ornaments
- Setting up the upside-down Christmas tree
- Stepping off the plane in Italy
- Eating Italian food as prepared in Cinque Terre, Puglia and Rome
- Eating authentic Gelato
- Working hard to provide a service to avid readers
- Spending time with my amazing partner – Glenda
- Gardening with Glenda
- Talking to two people of whom I am so proud – Tiffany and Domini
- Talking and staying connected with friends around the world
- Watching my brother succeed so admirably at saving Prairie from financial ruin and rebuilding its heart
- Watching my sister do her job so well around the world, especially in Asia
- Drinking good wine
- Making an awesome BLT
- Cooking a thick, juicy steak with eggs over easy
- Ethiopian food and coffee
- Laying under a warm tropical sun
- Listening to Mozart, Telemann, Holinger, Chopin, Haydn, Salieri, Boccherini, Bach
- Praying to my Heavenly Father
Travel with David:
Each of these categories is based on a location where David either spent time or planned to.
- A book set in Nigeria, or written by a Nigerian author
- A book about backpacking through Europe (consider focusing on
the Cinque Terre)
- A book set in, or written about, the mid-Western USA
- A book set in, or written about, rural Alberta
- A book set in, or written about, Calgary
- A book set in Italy, or written by an Italian author
- A book set in Croatia, or written by a Croatian author
- A book set in Costa Rica, or written by a Costa Rican author
- A book that includes walking the Camino
Imagine with David
Each of these categories reflects a speculative genre or type of book that David particularly enjoyed.
- A book of hard science fiction
- A book of high fantasy
- A book of historical fiction
- A retelling of a myth or fairytale
- A pop-up book
Take a stand with David
Each of these categories represent an action David took to either take a stand in solidarity with a targeted community, or to take a stand for his own beliefs and values.
- A book about education or pedagogy
- A book of Christian theology
- A book about Islam or a book by a Middle Eastern author
sharing their lived experience
- A book about LGBTQ2+ community
- A book about healing after abuse or trauma
Read along with David
Each of these books have specific
cherished memories attached to them, and are books that dad particularly
enjoyed and frequently shared with others.
- The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
- The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
- The Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner (any version!)
- Anam Cara by John O’Donohue
- Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
- A Tintin comic
- An Asterix comic
This section includes why I
chose each category, along with a few brief stories and remembrances, and some
suggested titles. This section will be significantly expanded in the second
iteration of this reading challenge, hopefully with titles and stories from
Travel with David
Each of these categories is
based on a location where David either spent time or planned to.
A book set in Nigeria, or
written by a Nigerian author
Dad was born in Jos, Nigeria
on January 12, 1953. He loved Nigeria and had endless stories of his
time there. One of his favourite stories to tell was of rock climbing with a
school friend and reaching up over the top of the climb to find a massive snake
sunning itself at the summit!
One Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi. This book is set in
Nigeria during the Biafran war from 1967-1970. After I read this book, Dad and
I had some really meaningful conversations about his memories of this time, and
about his parents’ actions during this war.
A book about backpacking
through Europe (consider focusing on the Cinque Terre)
Dad backpacked through
Europe by himself as a teenager. This is when he first encountered and fell in
love with the Cinque Terre in Italy.
Rick Steves’ Pocket Cinque
Terre. This little
guidebook didn’t exist when dad backpacked the Cinque Terre as a youth, but dad
was a huge fan of Rick Steves’ books!
A book set in, or written
about, the mid-Western USA
Dad’s years in the States,
including the years he spent in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were formative for him. During
this time, he taught dance and danced professionally, and he also did a lot of
work to support vulnerable communities. It was during these years that he
worked on a suicide prevention hotline, and with survivors of rape and abuse.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. Set in the Midwest, this
contemplation on the seasons in that part of the world is lovely, and Annie
Dillard was an author dad often had on the shelves at Logos.
A book set in, or written
about, rural Alberta
Dad lived in Three Hills for
quite a few years, but his roots in rural Alberta are generations-deep. His
grandfather founded Prairie Bible Institute (now Prairie Bible College), which
dad attended. He also ran the Coffee Break in Three Hills for a time. I still
remember the ham and cheese sandwiches, and the picture of a red soccer ball on
his office wall!
We also camped most years in
Kananaskis Country, and I have so many cherished memories of our camping trips.
Maxwell’s Passion and Power by Harold Fuller. This book is about dad’s
grandfather, L.E. Maxwell, and about Prairie Bible College, which he founded in
Three Hills, Alberta.
First Spring Grass Fire by Rae Spoon. This is a book about growing up queer
in rural and religious Alberta, and close to my own heart. Dad and I had many
conversations about queerness within religious spaces.
A book set in, or written
Dad lived in Calgary for a
long time. He managed Logos Bookstore for almost 30 years, and although he
never loved the climate here, I know that he loved his community. He gardened
here, enjoyed the restaurants here, and grew deep roots within the bookstore
and in the communities that he served – especially the community of teachers
and educators, and the various religious groups that brought him in for
booktables (many, many days spent at the FCJ centre!).
Since John Gilchrist is no
longer publishing the My Favourite Eats series (which dad loved, and
which guided us to many fine meals – dad and I shared a love of fancy food!),
try Gail Norton’s Calgary Eats, with a foreword by Julie van Rosendaal
(who has taken on John Gilchrist’s mantle as CBC food reviewer). And if you
cook from the book, consider adding a fried egg to the recipe for Modern Steak’s
steak with peppercorn sauce – a good steak with a fried egg was one of dad’s
A book set in Italy, or
written by an Italian author
Dad loved Italy, and
he lived there for a couple years. And even when he wasn’t living there, that’s
where his heart longed to be. He loved the food, he loved the architecture, and
he loved the people.
Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King.
How to Think Like Leonardo
Da Vinci by Michael Gelb.
This book isn’t technically about Italy, but it’s one of the books I read when
I was 18, when I designed and undertook my first self-guided “transformative
year” project, which dad supported by guiding me to books like this!
A book set in Croatia, or
written by a Croatian author
Dad lived in Croatia for a
couple years and treasured Dubrovnik and his friends there. When I visited him,
he took me for a walk through the wooded area down to the ocean. It was
A book set in Costa Rica, or
written by a Costa Rican author
Dad also lived in Costa
A book that includes walking
Although dad did not have
the opportunity to walk the Camino, it was one of his cherished dreams. I’ve
included it in this section because although his feet never carried him on the
pilgrimage, I know that his heart did.
Each of these categories
reflects a speculative genre or type of book that David particularly enjoyed.
A book of hard science
I have so many memories of
hard science fiction and my dad! Not only books but also movies and tv shows.
Dad had a deep appreciation for science fiction, and our house was filled with
science fiction novels.
A book of high fantasy
In his last week of life,
dad was talking about the difference between a fantasy story and a fantastical
story. This is such a sharp memory for me, and dad and I did not come to a
clear conclusion in this discussion of what makes a story a fantasy story and
what makes it a story with fantastical elements. This interest in fantasy, what
constitutes fantasy, and what fantasy writing makes possible in our lives is
one that threaded through my life with dad. He loved fantasy novels, and he had
a particular appreciation for how fantasy writing allows us to explore complex
issues of values, morals, and relationships.
A book of historical fiction
Some of my favourite
recommendations from dad were historical fiction – Pauline Gedge’s Egypt books,
Sandra Gulland’s Josephine Bonaparte trilogy, Ken Follett’s Pillars of the
A retelling of myth or
I was in grade 6 when Jane
Yolen’s Briar Rose was released as part of Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale
series, and this retelling of the sleeping beauty story, set in a Nazi
concentration camp, was profoundly moving. I cried, and talked with dad, and
this story has stayed with me in the decades since. And it is not the only
fairytale retelling that dad introduced me to. He loved William J. Brook’s Untold
Tales and read the funniest passages out loud to whoever was in the room,
and he also introduced me to Sheri S. Tepper’s Beauty, which bridges
fairytale and science fiction.
Book Riot has a list of 100 best fairytale retellings to invite you into one of dad’s favourite expansive
genres. I would point you particularly to the Terri Windling anthology, the
Neil Gaiman books, and Terry Pratchett.
A pop-up book
We were listening to CBC
interview the man with the largest privately owned pop-up book collection in
Canada. We raced downstairs and started counting. Yep… dad had over 100 more
pop-ups in his collection than the collector being interviewed! Dad had a
particular love of Robert Sabuda’s paper engineering, though he added any new
feat of paper craft to his collection.
Take a stand with
Each of these categories
represent an action David took to either take a stand in solidarity with a
targeted community, or to take a stand for his own beliefs and values.
A book about education or
When Chapters moved in
across the street, dad had to think quickly to keep Logos in business. He
decided to move the bookstore strongly towards education, and his choice kept
the store afloat during a decade that saw so many of Calgary’s independents
close. In the many years of Logos focusing on education, dad built strong
connections within the school boards in Calgary and was a yearly presence at
the Calgary Teacher’s Convention. He also supplied educational books to book
clubs and schools throughout the year. Even if education isn’t your field,
there are gems in this category for any reader.
Turning to One Another by Margaret Wheatley. Although this book was first
published in 2002 and the world is significantly different now, Margaret
Wheatley was one of dad’s favourite educational writers, and this book’s
message of listening and finding common ground is one that dad appreciated.
The Politics of Education by Paulo Freire. Less well-known than Pedagogy of
the Oppressed (which is brilliant and also worth reading!), The Politics
of Education can be a bit more accessible for readers who aren’t already
engaged in issues of pedagogy.
A book of Christian theology
Dad’s Christian faith was
important to him, and he thought deeply about what he believed, and why he
believed it. He read a diverse range of theological texts and pulled threads of
insight from a wide range of traditions. I remember many conversations with him
about thinkers as diverse as Catholic theologians Thomas Merton, Peter Kreeft,
and Franciscan Richard Rohr, Evangelical theologians Dietrich Bonhoeffer and CS
Lewis, as well as mystics like Hildegard von Bingen and Julian of Norwich.
Dogspell by Mary Ashcroft. I cherish this small book, which
dad brought into the store specifically for me and then kept on the shelves for
many years. If there is a vision of faith that appeals to me and rings true in
my heart, this is very close to it.
A book about Islam or a book
by a Middle Eastern author about their lived experience
After 9/11, dad saw that
Islamophobia was rising and he took an active stand against it in the
bookstore. He brought in books on the topic of Islam, with a particular focus
on books that highlighted points of connection and shared humanity.
A History of God by Karen Armstrong. This is one book that was
frequently on the shelf at Logos and looked at views of God through each of the
Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. As conflict with Iran escalates
and we see another rise in Islamophobia across North America, there is even
more reason to return to this book about growing up in Tehran after the
American-backed Islamic Revolution. Dad introduced me to this book.
A book about LGBTQ2+
“Oh, I think I got your
genders wrong! This they/them stuff is tough for an old man like me, but that’s
not the important thing.”
My dad said that to me in
his last week of life, after using the wrong gendered terminology to refer to
me (I am non-binary, and do not identify as a woman). My dad knew, accepted, and
supported both my non-binary gender and my bisexual orientation. I hold
this close to my heart.
But even beyond this theme
in my own life, I remember when dad helped a long-time customer undertake a
personal research project on the topic. This customer was clergy in a
non-affirming denomination, and one of his congregants had come out to him as
gay. His choices were either to break with his church in order to fully accept
his congregant, or align with the church’s stance that homosexual behaviour was
a sin. Over many months and many books and many conversations with dad, he
decided to break with his church in order to stand with his gay congregant. Dad
kept some of the titles on the shelf, despite pushback. This was a powerful
experience for me, a queer youth who had not yet come out even to myself. I
knew that my dad would support me, and when I did finally come out years later,
Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ
People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity by Elizabeth Edman.
Bi: Notes for a Bisexual
Revolution by Shiri Eisner.
This book was hugely influential in my undergrad work, and dad and I had
meaningful conversations about what I was trying to do in my work, informed by
Eisner’s book. My “undergrad work” included two honours theses, and the
creation of Possibilities: Bi+ Community Group, which has now been running for
over ten years. In 2018, dad and Glenda attended my Bisexual Visibility Day
event, which was just one of the ways he supported this work.
A book about healing after
abuse or trauma
Dad had a heart for those
who were suffering and had been hurt. This was a thread throughout his life in
many of his dealings with strangers and friends who came to him for help.
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
Read along with
Each of these books have
specific cherished memories attached to them, and are books that dad
particularly enjoyed and frequently shared with others.
The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Pay attention for
the moment when the dragon pushes its head up above the forest canopy and
shouts, “EAT YOUR GREENS!” Imagine dad hooting with laughter, and reading this
line out loud from his beloved glider in the living room of the house on 35th
The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon. Consider racing us through this
book. Dad finished in three days! It took me an extra half day. How long will
it take you?
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to
the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
The book. The movie(s). The BBC mini-series.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Dad loved this series, and we
both read it multiple times. Stop at the Ender books, if you’d like my
The Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner (any version!). This was one of the
most special things that dad and I shared. We watched a live broadcast of the
opera when I was in elementary school, and then we shared this story in many
formats over the years – the music, the sheet music, the graphic novel
adaptations (both P. Craig Russell’s, and Roy Thomas and Gil Kane’s), the
limited edition translated and annotated hard cover of The Ring of the
Nibelung, The Rhinegold, and The Valkyrie with illustrations by Arthur Rackham,
The Ring of Power Jungian analysis of The Ring Cycle by Jean
Bolen… Despite Wagner’s abhorrent politics, this piece of music and writing
remains close to my heart.
Anam Cara by John O’Donohue. Dad took the title of the Logos
Bookstore newsletter from this book, and took much comfort from the contents.
Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. Another beloved book, which he
A Tintin comic.
An Asterix comic.
This memorial reading challenge was created for and first shared at my dad’s celebration of life on January 12, 2020.
You can download the full PDF here.
You can download a checklist PDF to track your progress through the reading challenge here. (This PDF does not include any additional text – just the categories.)