CanLit Rewind: Tangles by Sarah Leavitt

October 29, 2015

Currently one in four Canadians are acting as caregivers. Millions of people are coping with the fear, anxiety, and many changes that come along with this role and yet it's still something that isn't talked about or written about much. When writer and cartoonist Sarah Leavitt's mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1996 she was thrust into this role and knew it would bring about great changes in her family. She felt it was important to document this time period in her mother's life—and not only the suffering, but the “intense love and little bright spots of laughter” as well.

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This year marks forty years of supporting and celebrating some of Canada's finest literary presses for our parent organization, the Literary Press Group of Canada. To help celebrate, for the entire month of October All Lit Up will be highlighting books from our publishers that either helped launch a new voice in CanLit or made an impact at the press it was published with. Go on a CanLit Rewind with us to rediscover some backlist gems!

 

Currently one in four Canadians are acting as caregivers. Millions of people are coping with the fear, anxiety, and many changes that come along with this role and yet it's still something that isn't talked about or written about much. When writer and cartoonist Sarah Leavitt's mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1996 she was thrust into this role and knew it would bring about great changes in her family. She felt it was important to document this time period in her mother's life—and not only the suffering, but the “intense love and little bright spots of laughter” as well.

As was Sarah's way, this journey was recorded in both images and words. In 2010 Freehand Press transformed Sarah's spare black and white drawings and simple but powerful text into an illustrated memoir. Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer's, My Mother and Me provides insight into the complexity of the disease but also reveals a bond between mother and daughter that can never be broken.

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Before publishing Tangles, as the trade imprint of academic publisher Broadview Press, Freehand Books focused primarily on fiction and poetry. In addition to being among the first books of non-fiction that we published, Tangles was also one of the first works of graphic literature produced by the press. Freehand’s mandate is “to publish excellent Canadian literature,” but before 2010, we hadn’t really developed our non-fiction or graphic list.

The publication of Tangles was an important step in expanding the types of books that we publish. The same year that we published Tangles, we also published another graphic memoir, Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness (Clem and Oliver Martini). In expanding the scope of genres, we opened up a new avenue for telling quality Canadian stories.

Tangles made huge waves in establishing graphic works as legitimate and effective forms of literature. It was the first piece of graphic literature to be shortlisted for the prestigious Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Prize, and it was also nominated for the Alberta Readers' Choice Award and the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize.

Leavitt herself says about the difference between "comic" and "graphic literature": "The more I study the history of comics, the more I understand that an apparently simple gag comic can actually be a sophisticated combination of text and image with multiple layers of meaning. I think that for discussing or studying comics, it’s more useful to distinguish between different genres, styles, or time periods, as one would with literature or film or art."

Tangles has also been an important book in establishing Canadian Literature on the world stage. Following its release in Canada, it has been picked up by publishers around the world. It has been published in the US, UK, Germany, and France to international critical acclaim in publications such as the LA Times, Vanity Fair, Globe and Mail, The Guardian, and Die Welt. And it’s a story that continues to have an impact: Tangles is due to be published in Korea in 2016.

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We've only got one more title to go in our CanLit Rewind. If you've missed any of our featured titles, you can catch up on every single one here.


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