Volume 92, Issue 95
Friday, March 26, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Barfoot steps into others' lives
Gazette file photo
By Aaron Wherry
Comparison can be the highest form of flattery. The marketing machine which sells the work of artists, authors and musicians uses it to give their product an identity. However, when the product is a human being, it can get personal.
Canadian author Joan Barfoot's career has spawned some high acclaim and lofty comparisons to authors such as Margaret Atwood and Margaret Laurence.
"I don't know about comparisons because everyone's work is different. I think literary comparisons work as an identifier of what kind of work this is not that they're necessarily similar," Barfoot says. "I don't think it troubles me all that much and it certainly can't trouble Margaret Laurence. I don't mind it because they can be a bit of a marketing tool. I think I am a good writer, I've done some good stuff and my writing has some value in this world."
What's disconcerting is the tendency for female authors to be compared predominantly with female authors and males to males. This segregation raises interesting questions about the validity of these comparisons.
"I don't think women's writing is completely similar. There might be common themes, just as there are with men, but each writer has their own concerns," Barfoot explains.
"There's a wide stereotype that falls apart pretty quickly. Female works might be more personal or more focused, but I'm hesitant to say anything like that because it falls apart almost immediately."
These classifications and judgments can make it hard on writers, most of whom struggle with the psychological ramifications of choosing the pen and paper as their lifetime profession. Barfoot is no different despite having won many accolades for her work she feels she still must prove herself.
"Every writer is scared that what they're doing is crap. So it's a very manic depressive state of being. But you can't do it unless you think it's something of value and you're extremely determined, because it's hard work and it's lonesome," Barfoot says.
However, motivation has never been a problem for this author. "I'm addicted to writing. If I don't write for a while I'm unhappy and I go through withdrawal symptoms," she explains. "The other part is that I don't see much value in writing to yourself because the act of writing is an attempt to communicate. The purpose is to have listeners and readers."
For Barfoot, despite its purpose being directed at others, writing remains a very inward profession. She explains that by creating characters, authors are able to vicariously live a number of interesting lives, including their own.
To this end, Barfoot's profession as a journalist helped in her pursuit of understanding other people's behaviour and beliefs. In 1969 she was the co-editor of The Gazette at Western and has had terms with the Windsor Star, London Free Press and Toronto Sun followed. Through these types of experiences, she was able to gain an intimate look into the lives of everyday people.
"Journalism is one of those golden professions where you get to look into people's lives. It's a crash course in human nature," Barfoot explains. "You see people in horror, crisis, triumph and you realize people can do anything. I can't think of a better way to learn about humanities."
Her experiences and hard work have culminated in Barfoot's eighth book Getting Over Edgar another work which has drawn rave comparisons to the likes of Atwood and Laurence.
"It's what I wanted it to be, it's funny, touching and I hope it's really human," she says. "That probably sounds pompous but that was the goal."
Copyright © The Gazette 1999