In December of 1861, Scientific American wrote that, “There is nothing in the industrial world at the present time more remarkable than the production of petroleum.” That such a sentence could be uttered suggests a starry-eyed optimism around the new, dazzling technology of petroleum. This optimism might be difficult to compute for those of us living in the blackened ruins. It’s hard to think without judgement of a world when petroleum was novel and exciting, a source of wonder, particularly in a time of rapid scientific growth and advancement. This was just a few years before Darwin published On the Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection. The fossil record was being uncovered and people were digging up the bones of huge, curious lizards. There were so many other things to be excited about, and yet. Oil was already in the water, in the air, thickening the batter of our dreams.
CHEMICAL VALLEY was a heavily researched book, so I’m going to start sharing occasional insights into the research process. Here’s a little purple snippet: In 1971 the Bank of Canada issued a $10 bill as part of their “Scenes of Canada” series. The bill featured a “portrait of Sir John A. Macdonald engraved by George Gundersen appear[ing] on the front.” On the back of the bill, inked in regal purple: Sarnia, in particular the Polymer Plant in what is now called “Chemical Valley” (the riverfront cluster of 62 petrochemical refineries, which encroach on the territory of Aamjiwnaang, the local First Nation).
Photo Credit: The Bank of Canada Museum (bankofcanadamuseum.ca)
The Bank of Canada Museum notes that the back of the bill “features the Polymer Corporation in Sarnia, Ontario. The image was engraved by De La Rue based on a photograph by George Hunter. A Bank memo states that the Polymer plant was chosen because, unlike most industries ‘carried on in buildings of massive simplicity.'”
Furthermore, a “bank memo states that the Polymer plant was chosen because, unlike most industries ‘carried on in buildings of massive simplicity,’ it ‘provided detail ideally suited to engraving’ and, as a profitable and innovative Crown Corporation, had “achieved a world-wide reputation.”
In the book I call this bill a “Jetsons wet dream,” because Orbit City has a particularly gorgeous purple flavour in my mind as a child of the eighties.
It remains amazing to me that as early as 1971 Sarnia was seen as a beacon of progress, and that the entire oil industry was understood likewise. As always, the story of oil moves with astonishing speed. It wouldn’t take long, though, before the buildings began to rust and sprout weeds, for the air quality to deteriorate, for suspicious reproductive ratios to emerge in studies about birds.
The bill as homage to petrochemical progress also, of course, makes no mention of the settler-colonial violence required to “energize” this shore of the river, though the nearby street names contain the story–Chemical Valley itself lies at the end of Tashmoo Avenue, a stone’s throw from Confederation Street.
Chemical Valley, my new collection of short stories including a Journey Prize Finalist (“Chemical Valley”) and a National Magazine Award nominee (“Six Six Two Fifty”) is now available at your local independent book store. You can also buy online through the usual suspects or directly from the publisher, Biblioasis.
The book has received some lovely media from The Miramichi Reader and The Dalhousie Gazette. Madison Scanlan at The Gazette positions the book as a piece of “dirty nature writing” and asks if that might be your new favourite genre. For the Miramichi reader, Ian Colford notes that “Throughout the book, Huebert’s prose shines, frequently catching the reader off guard with startling but memorable turns of phrase and delirious imaginative leaps. And while the manic energy, eccentric humour and wry observations on life and love keep us entertained, the book’s rich emotional core draws us in, touching us at the most profound level.”
I’ve been doing events for the book throughout the fall, and am pleased to have a few more upcoming. I’m particularly excited about the panel with two much-admired luminaries, Catherine Bush and Shaena Lambert. Please do share/attend!
Saturday Oct 30 (4 p.m. EST; 5 p.m. ATL): Hamilton Reads Panel on Climate Fiction with Catherine Bush and Shaena Lambert.
Nov 2021 (Date TBA): Wordsfest, London, ON
December 2021 (Details TBA): In-person Halifax book launch
I am thrilled to announce the impending publication of my second book of short stories, Chemical Valley, now available for pre-order from the publisher, Biblioasis, or your local independent bookstore. There are lots of people to thank, including editor John Metcalf, designer Ingrid Paulson, my agent Stephanie Sinclair, and all the wonderful folks at Biblioasis. Also, as always, Natasha, for weathering the storm of my making.
I have several events lined up, at which I’ll be reading from this new work. Please do consider joining, and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like more info.
Mid-Novemeber, Chemical Valley online reading and interview, hosted by On Paper Books (online, exact date TBA)
Mid-October, 2021, Online launch, Chemical Valley, sponsored by Biblioasis (online, exact date TBA)
September 24th, Lunenburg Literary Festival
September 17th, 18th, or 19th (exact date TBA) University of King’s College Literary Society Eco Themed Reading, at King’s in Kjipuktuk/(Halifax) [in-person event]
August 27th, Wild Threads Literary Festival, PEI, morning workshop and evening reading (in-person events):
August 17th: Frye Jam, The Frye Literary Festival, 8 p.m. Aberdeen Cultural Centre, Moncton (in-person event)
I am deeply grateful to Asha Jeffers, Shannon Webb-Campbell, and Virginia Konchan, the jurors for this year’s J.M. Abraham Atlantic Poetry Award, awarded annually to the best poetry collection written by an Atlantic Canadian Author. Though I didn’t win the award, I’m deeply honoured to be among such company (Afua Cooper and shalan joudry were the other nominees). Congrats to Afua Cooper for a well-deserved win for her new collection, Black Matters.
Prizes aside, the jury citation is simply one of the most sophisticated and insightful statements ever written about my work. We get into this not for the prizes, but because we dream to connect to readers in this way, to have our work vivisected in all its bruised difficulty and slanted truth. So, here, in full, is the jury citation:
“Equal parts a lyric history of Canada’s petroculture and a necropastoral with wings, David Huebert’s Humanimus offers its reader a brilliant, learned, exquisitely crafted, and ingenious toxicology report on our contemporary landscape, both literary and ecological, and yet the tone is less doomsday prophecy than it is barbed with wit and song. Female personages ranging from Sigmund Freud’s mother, Beethoven’s lover, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, and “Miss Trans-Canada” abound, and the sheer inventiveness of Huebert’s verse (which invokes and reimagines such poets as Milton, Whitman, Stevens, Eliot, Donne, and Dickinson) is encapsulated in his title and epigraph (the ‘humanimalchine’), suggesting that language play and clever neologisms such as these point us toward a ‘phonemevolution’ between texts, and human and non-human ontologies, that is already well underway. Unparalleled in its brio, deft and muscular in its canonical revisionings, Humanimus carries us from Newfoundland winters and the “belligerent Atlantic” to the otherness of animals—owls, scorpions, bears, wild horses—before leaving us, dazzled and unsettled, on the steep ridge where language and perception meet, ‘spinning back to origin,’ and ‘soaring . . . on the roar of the world.”
So pleased that my strange little poetic collection, Humanimus, has been shortlisted for the J.M. Abraham Atlantic Poetry Award! The book was chosen from collections published across Atlantic Canada last year. You can buy a copy of Humanimus from your local bookstore, or from the publisher, Palimpsest Press: https://palimpsestpress.ca/books/humanimus/
The winner will be announced at the Atlantic Book Awards Gala on Thursday May 13th. The online event (http://atlanticbookawards.ca/time-to-celebrate-join-us-for-the-virtual-2021-atlantic-book-awards-gala/) is free to attend. Hope to see you there!
As a follow-up, I’ll be chatting craft with Tammy Armstrong, Afua Cooper, and Anne Simpson on Tuesday May 18th. This event, hosted by Amanda Peters, is also free to attend: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_3aw5zlcFQSGM5QIztGskqQ. Come out, join the chat, get crafty!
I’m very pleased to have my latest story, “Oil People,” appear in the most recent issue of Maisonneuve. This story is a revamp of the standard run-of-the-mill oil museum, Chernobyl babies, mutants, and juvenile sexuality tale. Thanks to Madi Haslam for her keen editorial ear and eye, and to Franziska Barzyk for furnishing the story with a beautiful illustration. This story is particularly close to my heart because it’s the impetus for a novel-in-progress. The story is available free for a limited time on the Maisonneuve website. If you happen to read it, and want to share some feedback, I’d love to hear from you.
Holy cow. My story, “Chemical Valley,” first published in The Fiddlehead, has been named as a finalist for the Writers’ Trust McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize! The story is up against Lisa Foad’s “Hunting” and Jessica Johns’ “Bad Cree.” I’m looking forward to reading both those stories, and all the other finalists, when I get my hands on The Journey Prize Stories 32. The winner will be announced on October 21, during an online Writers’ Trust event.
Here’s what the jury had to say about my story:
“In David Huebert’s ‘Chemical Valley,’ the narrator’s remarkable voice is laced with dark humour while displaying a tremendous depth of feeling as he cares for his dying partner and navigates a dangerous workplace replete with unpleasant coworkers. This is a complex story about love, death, and grief set in a contemporary Canadian community plagued by petrochemical-induced diseases and environmental ruin. The attention to language is so meticulous that tragedy is imbued with an aura of beauty. Each exquisite sentence in ‘Chemical Valley’ produces a sense of wonderment as the narrative crescendos to its harrowing conclusion.”
— 2020 Journey Prize Jury (Amy Jones, and Doretta Lau, and Téa Mutonji)
I feel enormously fortunate, and I’ve got many people to thank. First, I’m hugely grateful to all the hard-working staff and volunteers at The Fiddlehead, where this story was first published, and particularly to Fiction Editors Mark Anthony Jarman, Clarissa Hurley, and Gerard Beirne, and to Editor Sue Sinclair. I’m also hugely thankful to The Writers’ Trust of Canada, McClelland & Stewart, and Editor Anita Chong for making the Journey Prize happen and giving an opportunity to young writers. I’m also grateful to James A. Michener, who inaugurated the award by donating the Canadian royalties of his 1988 novel, Journey.
This whole thing is a big deal for me as “Chemical Valley” is the title story of a new collection I’ve been working on for some time now. Getting closer and closer to book meets world–can’t wait!
I’ve got some happy fiction news to report: 2 stories from my new collection-in-progress, Chemical Valley, have found stellar homes recently.
First, “Chemical Valley,” has been longlisted for The Journey Prize. This story, the lead piece in the new collection, was originally published in The Fiddlehead. I owe a huge thanks to whiz writer and excellent Fiction Editor Mark Anthony Jarman, and to all the rest of the lovely people at the Fid. I’m so pleased that this story will now be included in The Journey Prize Stories: 32 alongside the other talented longlisted writers like Canisia Lubrin, Paola Ferrante, and Jessica Johns. I’m also deeply grateful to judges Amy Jones, Doretta Lau, and Téa Mutonji. It’s my first time in the prestigious Journey anthology, a huge milestone. The story itself is new to me in its exploration of the gothic atmosphere. Set in the petrochemical mecca of Sarnia, Ontario, Jerry Oliver struggles with a dangerous workplace and the slow sickness and dread descending on this community. In the middle, there’s a little taxidermic twist.
I’m grateful to the Writers Trust, McClelland & Stewart, and Editor Anita Chong for making the Journey Prize happen and giving an opportunity to young writers. I’m also grateful to James A. Michener, who inaugurated the award by donating the Canadian royalties of his 1988 novel, Journey.
Second, “Swamp Things,” has found a home in the most recent issue of The New Quarterly. I’m grateful to TNQ’s superb Editor-in-Chief Pamela Mulloy, and to all the volunteers and staff at this excellent journal. In this issue, I’m honoured to have my work appear alongside talented writers like Kathy Page, Meg Todd, Wendy Donawa, and Dave Margoshes. “Swamp Things” is the story of a teenage girl living in Sarnia dealing with climate grief, pollution, and our world’s uncertain future while being taken advantage of by a charismatic teacher.
I’m grateful to the London Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council for providing much-needed funding as these stories came, gradually, to find their form.
I made a new book of poetry! This one has been in the works for years and I’m super thrilled to have it published by Palimpsest Press, where I was very fortunate to work with the talented editor and poet Jim Johnstone. Do I need to mention the cover? Thanks to Ellie Hastings for the cover design.
You can preorder the book online through Palimpsest or your local bookstore.
Here’s what another poet I deeply admire, Margaret Christakos, had to say about the collection:
“Huebert’s Humanimus conjures a farmyard of earthly debauchery, siding with the misused and woebegone animals humans seem to need to debase and consume. No quiet Canadian nature poetry here: Huebert steeps the “sphincteral” “demon fluid” of language’s baroque appetites into a “blubber-milk” “bite song” to frenzy between our dream-teeth. Poetic forms that favour repetition and transmutation of word and line structure act as sturdy racks for these sensational forays into the wild in us.” — Margaret Christakos