Beautiful Books: Squawk

Annie, the protagonist in Squawk (Playwrights Canada Press) is one we can really root for: she’s feisty, she’s strong-willed, and she’s soon aging out of foster care. We’re drawn into her story first through the ineffable cover imagery featuring Les grand vents by Dominique Fortin, which author Megan Gail Coles distinctly chose for this play. She tells us more about the pairing, the meaning behind the title, and growing up in northern Newfoundland.


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I have long been a fan of Dominique Fortin’s work. Her art often blends the dangerous animal kingdom with images of pensive girlhood. Many of the girl children take gentle possession or quiet ownership of the tigers and deer with whom they co-exist in these multi-media pieces. And the contrasting notions of threat and tranquility feel very much in keeping with my own work which often explores the light and dark sides of our human nature in equal measure. We were routinely reminded to “knock off our squawking” as little girls growing up in northern Newfoundland. Bird imagery and references to our voices, which were meant to be silent, regularly surfaced in adult conversation. We were children grown comfortable in the trees, water always over our rubber boots, forever dashing off into the scrub spruce through deep snow. I love the woods. And so Fortin’s work also speaks to that part of me that yearns for the wilderness. She is also very present in her work as I am very present in mine. It can be vulnerable-making to be so front facing in your art and so I encourage and admire this in others.The cursive title also references a word once used to refer to women of Indigenous descent. I heard this word as a child used in reference to my grandmother and, while I did not understand it fully, I knew it was not good. This meant I, too, was not entirely good because I was very much of my nan who I spent my infancy with while my mother attended nursing school hundreds of kilometres away. There has never been a time when my grandmother’s voice was not bandying around in my skull. So the birds on the cover are all the unspoken words that my protagonist sets free. The birds are our hard-fought and new-found freedoms. Annie discovers the power of her own voice as girls are want to do. She takes ownership of her narrative by acknowledging that many secrets are not meant to be kept.Les grand vents felt like the most perfect image for the play, which is an investigation of the perilous beauty I associate with the north and being reared a girl in this modern world. I am very proud of it. I think it’s gorgeous and brave. * * *
Megan Gail Coles is a graduate of Memorial University of Newfoundland and the National Theatre School of Canada. She is Co-​Founder and Artistic Director of Poverty Cove Theatre Company. She is presently working on her debut novel and a trilogy of plays. Megan’s first fiction collection, Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome (Breakwater Books), won the BMO Winterset Award, the ReLit Award and the Margaret & John Savage First Book Award, and earned her the one-​time Writers’ Trust Five x Five prize. Megan resides in St. John’s, where she is also Executive Director of Riddle Fence.* * *Thanks to Megan for sharing the idea behind using Les grand vents as the cover art for her new play, Squawk, and to Jessica at Playwrights Canada Press for connecting us. For more books that look as good as they read, check out Beautiful Books, here.