Former St. Thomas University student Wayne Curtis began his writing career while working in Ontario factories General Motors and Kimberly Clark. While there, he wrote letters to his girlfriend who lived in Blackville, Miramichi.
When other workers in the factory’s boarding house noticed Curtis was writing these letters, he said they admired his work and asked him to write to their girlfriends too.
50 to 60 years and 19 novels later, he’s won the New Brunswick Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Arts for his excellence in and contribution to the arts in the province.
“I think the lieutenant-governor’s award, because this is where I live, was the most valuable to me,” said Curtis.
He said it was a “beautiful feeling” to be recognized by his peers.
Curtis, 76, won the award on Nov. 4.
Curtis has written extensively about the province and its wildlife. His resume also includes several newspaper and magazine articles, seven collections of short stories, eight essays and a book of poetry.
Curtis writes about New Brunswick because he grew up in Miramichi, so it makes sense to write fictional stories about real events he’s experienced.
Curtis’ most recent book called Fishing the High Country is about the Miramichi river. It shares stories about the river communities’ way of life and culture. The book was published by Goose Lane Editions, Canada’s oldest independent publisher.
Curtis quit school in Grade 10 to help his father raise a family and take care of their farm in Keenan, Miramichi.
He later worked in factories and sent the money he made there home to his family. He started writing short stories for magazines for a bit more money.
Curtis soon realized that if he wanted to pursue writing professionally, he would have to go back to school. He got his GED in 1975 and then enrolled at STU part-time for eight years until he was no longer able to afford classes.
In the spring of 2005, Curtis received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from St. Thomas University.
“That was a great reward for me, I was very grateful, and I always praise St. Thomas for that reason.”
Susanne Alexander, the publisher of Fishing the High Country at Goose Lane Editions, said in an email that Curtis is one of New Brunswick’s hidden talents and one of their finest lyrical essayists.
“New Brunswick rightly recognized one of its own … over time, Wayne Curtis returned time and time again to the Miramichi, writing about the siren call of this place and those who are drawn to it.”
Curtis said out of all the books he’s written, One Indian Summer is his favourite. He wrote it in less-than-ideal conditions – experiencing marital problems and the loss of his house through the divorce. The book looks at the family farm and the deterioration of it in the 1950s.
Now residing in Fredericton, Curtis has been writing for 60 years, his favourite genre being short stories, mostly about his hometown surroundings.
He said writing makes him feel whole.
“When I’m not writing, I feel that time is wasting. I want to tell all this stuff before it’s lost forever because I feel if I don’t write it, I don’t know who else will.”