Red Deer Polytechnic instructor Jenna Butler is a finalist for the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-fiction for her book Revery: A Year of Bees.
Butler said she used storytelling to look at bees, natural ecology and climate change. Her book also ended up being a personal narrative about trauma recovery.
Butler said she carried issues about pain and fear with her after many years of abuse.
“I came to bees because I wanted to get over that and I figured bees had a lot to teach about energy and fear. When you think about bees, you think about how amazing honey is and how incredible the bees are. But you also think about getting stung. So the bees taught me a lot about managing my own fear and managing my own fear of pain,” said Butler, a creative writing and environmental writing instructor.
Butler and her husband have six beehives on their land in Barrhead County, northwest of Edmonton, where they are rehabilitating farmland with cover crops, and grow market garden vegetables and organic wildflowers.
She said their 160 acres is surrounded by neighbours who are seeing the impact of climate change first hand on their farms after floods, and most recently drought.
“Now we’ve got trees dying everywhere. People were having such a hard time finding pasture for cattle and finding enough hay. That will be a big issue this winter.”
Butler said she wrote her book for anyone who is interested in beekeeping, or those just wondering about bees and their connection to both pollination and how they’re impacted by climate change.
Released during the pandemic, Revery also caught the eye of many urban gardeners who were considering adding a beehive.
She said people are starting to look at bees, bears, whales and other wildlife in terms of their connection to the larger ecosystem. Revery, and books like it, have helped encourage that discussion.
“It’s really had a life of its own totally apart from me which is what you hope for in a book. I’ve heard from people around Canada and the United States. I’ve heard from friends and readers across Europe, and from all walks of life and all backgrounds. People want to exchange and tell their stories as well, which is my favourite part — the dialogue.”
Revery has already been used in the classroom at MacEwan University and can be incorporated into environmental literature, memoir and creative writing classes.
Butler said more students are looking for opportunities to talk about environmental change in their own lives.
“They want to talk and there’s not necessarily a place to talk about it. Environmental writing, it gives them the space to talk about these things and then creative writing gives them the space to bring in their own personal stories, and frame those, and learn how to tell them,” said the instructor who is currently on leave and will return to Red Deer Polytechnic in the spring.
Governor General’s Literary Award winners will be announced on Nov. 17.
Butler said becoming a finalist was surreal.
“I’m in the company of writers whose works I have read for years and incredibly admire. I feel like it’s a privilege. Whether Revery wins or not, I’m just over the moon to be in the company of writers like these.”
Butler is also the author of the poetry books Seldom Seen Road, Wells, and Aphelion, a collection of ecological essays, A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge the of Grizzly Trail, and a poetic travelogue, Magnetic North: Sea Voyage to Svalbard.
Revery was published by Wolsak & Wynn, of Hamilton, Ont.