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Maud Lewis novel by Halifax author longlisted for international literary award

Novel aims to give the Canadian folk artist a voice

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A woman with grey hair and a green scarf poses in front of a tree on a snowy day.
caption Halifax author Carol Bruneau poses for a photo. Bruneau’s latest novel was longlisted for the 2022 Dublin Literary Award.
Claire Henry

Writing a novel about a Nova Scotian icon was daunting for Carol Bruneau. 

But after three years of research and writing, the Halifax author published Brighten the Corner Where you Are – a novel based on the life of Maud Lewis. Now, the novel is longlisted for an international literary award. 

On Monday, the Dublin Literary Award released its list of 79 novels up for the 2022 prize. The novels are nominated by libraries from across the globe and must be written in or translated into English. 

“It’s a huge honour. And I mean, the company that the book is in is just so brilliant,” Bruneau said.

There are seven novels nominated by Canadian libraries on the longlist, including Butter Honey Pig Bread, by Francesca Ekwuyasi and Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Simpson.

In Brighten the Corner Where you Are, Bruneau writes in the voice of Maud Lewis, narrating from the afterlife. Bruneau said that with the novel, she wanted to “go a little deeper into her story, to imagine her as a human being with agency … not just this passive little person.”

Since 1965, Maud Lewis – a Nova Scotia painter whose artwork and life story reached international fame – has been represented in photographs, documentaries, galleries, articles, and a feature film.

“We think we know a lot about who Maud Lewis is, but there’s an awful lot of gaps there,” Bruneau said. 

“So that those gaps gave me licence to sort of enter in and see ways to fictionalize the story.”

Hands holding a novel titled Brighten the Corner Where you Are against a snowy background.
caption Brighten the Corner Where you Are is a novel about the life of iconic Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis.

Bruneau wanted to portray Maud Lewis as a person who had flaws and made choices.

“That’s the complexity of a real life … that’s certainly not the kind of image that’s projected of ‘The Maud’.”

Bruneau also said that Maud Lewis’s story is relevant during the pandemic.

“I think Maud’s story is exemplary for us in so many ways … when you are confined, and your movement is completely limited … then you really notice what’s in front of you,” she said.

“It’s easy to skip by all this wonderful stuff out there. We live in a really, really wonderful world. And that sense of wonder is something that’s getting beaten out of us a lot lately.”

The Cape Breton Regional Library nominated Bruneau’s novel for the award. Tara MacNeil, a program co-ordinator with the library, said the novel is popular with book clubs. 

“We kind of wrap (Maud Lewis) in our arms, and she’s our folk artist, and it’s our landscapes, and it’s our beautiful countryside. And so we’re quite proud of that. But I think on a bigger scope, it’s still a story that could inspire anyone,” she said.

MacNeil said that the Cape Breton Regional Library has been nominating books for the award since 2001.

The Dublin Literary Award will reveal its shortlist on March 22 and the winner on May 19. The winner is awarded a prize of 100,000 euros.

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Wilson Henry

Wilson Henry is a writer and amateur comics artist based in Halifax. Their interests include visual art, horses and podcasting.

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  1. J

    Jann Wabick

    The first I knew of Maud was the film. It stunned me that I did not know of her. It is nice to think that one can put more flesh on what I learned.
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