We are delighted that Calgary queer author Suzette Mayr has won the 2022 Giller Prize for her latest novel, The Sleeping Car Porter. It is the story of Baxter, a closeted gay Black man working as a porter on a Canadian passenger train in 1929.
Of the winning book, the jury wrote:
“Suzette Mayr brings to life –believably, achingly, thrillingly –a whole world contained in a passenger train moving across the Canadian vastness, nearly one hundred years ago. As only occurs in the finest historical novels, every page in The Sleeping Car Porter feels alive and immediate –and eerily contemporary. The sleeping car porter in this sleek, stylish novel is named R.T. Baxter –called George by the people upon whom he waits, as is every other Black porter. Baxter’s dream of one day going to school to learn dentistry coexists with his secret life as a gay man, and in Mayr’s triumphant novel we follow him not only from Montreal to Calgary, but into and out of the lives of an indelibly etched cast of supporting characters, and, finally, into a beautifully rendered radiance.”
We last saw Suzette two years ago in the depths of the Covid pandemic at the Fernie Pride Festival. There was a window in September 2020 when public health restrictions allowed for outdoor gatherings in restricted numbers. So despite the evening chill and the anxiety of the early pandemic, Suzette came out for Pride. Her author talk and reading was from Monoceros—a previously celebrated, queer-themed work, which had been long-listed for the Giller Prize.
Our literary event host, author Angie Abdou, and Suzette were good-humoured about the hot drinks, warm clothes and torch heaters that made the event possible. Despite the obstacles, we were all so grateful to be together after months of being home alone. Thank you, Suzette, for showing up for the queer community the way you do. We’re such big fans and proud of your success—congratulations!
Walter’s Halloween night assertion set into motion a three-month-long ordeal that culminated in February 1902. After a series of appearances before the Supreme Court of North West Territories that paradoxically archived unspeakable sexual encounters, Smith was proclaimed “not guilty” of gross indecency: the federal crime that regulated sex between men in Canada and its territories since 1892. Walter was removed to Ontario, where he was enrolled in Ottawa College before returning to Calgary, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. Walter and his headstone remain at rest atop the Calgary skyline in the Catholic Cemetery.
While much remains unknown about the nature of the relationship between Walter and Smith, in what follows, I offer some observations about how efforts to regulate sex between men can shed light on how queer carnal acts were perceived as threats to male settlers, their bodies, and the state’s efforts to reproduce heterosexual settler colonialism in early-Calgary.
October is LGBT History Month in North America. Founded in 1994, by Missouri high-school history teacher Rodney Wilson, the event was intended to highlight the lack of queer issues in the education curriculum.
October was chosen by Wilson because National Coming Out Day had already been established (October 11th), and October commemorated the first march on Washington by gay activists in 1979. LGBT History Month is intended to encourage honesty and openness about being queer.
Since 2006, Philidalphia-based Equality Forum has been curating lists of LGBT icons, adding 31 every year to match the number of days in October. In 2022, they are up to 496 people! Although very American in its programming, notable Canadians who have been declared icons include: k.d. lang, Irshad Manji, Elliot Page and Rufus Wainwright.
For educators, there are free downloadable images and bios of every inductee, as well as other resources to teach about queer lives and queer history.
In 2022, one of our favourite authors, Radclyffe Hall, was inducted—something we’re happy to celebrate. Our Past Matters.