Story and photo by Judith van Berkom –
Ashley Wright is currently a freelance journalist, teacher of journalism at Algonquin College and Carleton University and part-time CBC broadcaster, having worked for CBC radio in Halifax, Charlottetown, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and Ottawa.
“Somewhere along the way, [between taking time off to raise three children and work part-time] I completed a Master’s degree in oral history.” Wright is currently interviewing elderly people for a special side project.
She is travelling by car for three days at the end of July to her hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, as she does most summers, stopping to visit a long-time friend and CBC colleague, Garnet Angeconeb, who lives on the native reserve in the Sioux. She co-produces an educational website called Garnet’s Journey (garnetsjourney.com) which focuses on Angeconeb’s life from the trap line to residential school to life today.
Her summer is shaping up to be busy, but there’s always time to read. Wright says she loves non-fiction: “Anything about Canadian history. I find it fascinating and read purely for pleasure.”
Her book list this summer takes her back to her roots in Manitoba. First on her list is a re-read of Nellie McClung’s 1976 autobiography, Clearing in the West.
“Nellie Clung is from Manitoba. Her autobiography covers from 1870 to the 1920’s. Her writing is out of this world,” says Wright. “She was one of the suffragettes who obtained the vote for women and she was also a farmer. My people were also farmers. “
As sometimes happens, reading leads to other reading.
“[Clung] talks about the books people were reading at that time. One of these books was Trilby,” explains Wright. “I grew up all my life knowing that my grandfather’s horse’s name was Trilby. I was recently in my parent’s basement and found the book – I’ll be reading it this summer.”
Trilby, a novel by George du Maurier, was published in 1895 and was one of the most popular serials of its time.
Next on Wright’s list is James Daschuk’s Clearing the Plains.
After twenty years of friendship with Angeconeb, Wright became aware of his struggles as a child with the residential school system.
“I’m deeply aware that the story of my people is very different than the story of Garnet’s people,” she explains. “Clearing the Plains is the other side of the story. While Europeans were colonizing, aboriginals were going through a horrific experience. I think it’s very important for all of us to be aware of both these experiences – both sides.”
Wright’s daughter selected the next book on her summer reading list: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, a Native American. It is a book she describes as a “very funny graphic novel, which really relates to teenagers.” Wright explains how the book deals with serious subjects but in a light, comical way.
Last but not least on Wright’s summer reading list, are two works of fiction.
“While I’m sitting in the shade [at the family cottage], I’ll read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013). It’s American fiction. My mother says it’s great. You can’t put it down.”
And since Ottawa summers tend to be short, if time allows, Wright’s final choice for summer reading is The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.