McNally Robinson in Winnipeg describes itself as the most ‘eventful’ bookstore in Canada, as well as its biggest. Clearly, it knows how to throw a party.
We arrived early at the Grant Park store last night for my first book launch and wandered through tall stacks of books and customers, wondering just where and how they were going to stuff several dozen guests and a nervous new author.
But a half hour before the launch, those stacks had magically rolled away to open up a lovely atrium space; events co-ordinator John Toews was merrily unstacking row upon row of chairs (it’s how he gets his exercise, he joked); cookies and drinks had appeared beside a mic-ed up podium and an autograph table loaded with bright pink books and a selection of sharpies.
People started to arrive and claim John’s chairs. Some I knew casually, some I loved dearly; all began to quietly visit and wait for the show to begin. My Grade 9 science teacher was there. My Grade 10 English teacher, old friends and neighbours, family members I hadn’t seen in months. When the chairs had filled up, people spilled out back and stood. Some came because they were on a shelter board, or had worked in the shelter industry, or were still working in a shelter.
But in that crowd was one woman I would not meet. She reached out later, with a comment I’ll never forget.
My speech was basically about how I came to write Runaway Wives, and why it had become a passion for me — about how much I had learned about violence against women, and shelter work. I ended by saying I had two hopes. The first was that these shelter founders and their legacy would be recognized somehow — I suggested they all deserved an Order of Canada. And the second was to raise some money for the nation’s shelters, through donations to the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
John had kindly given his consent to the Shelter Project fundraiser, setting up my girlfriend Susan and her three girls at a wee table near the front so they could take donations and hand out thank-you coasters. When the free-for-all for autographs opened up, I was too occupied to see if anyone was paying them a visit. They were, thankfully. We ended up raising hundreds, far more than my greatest expectation.
And the launch exceeded all expectations, too, turning into a night of hugs and laughter and goodwill. A great party.
For some reason, the woman in the crowd never approached my table. Instead, she went home, found this website, and sat down to write me a note:
“Hello, I attended your release tonight at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg. You commented that you thought these amazing women should receive the Order of Canada.”
She wanted me to know that her mother had recently won one of Canada’s highest honours. And then she explained why she had come to McNally’s that night.
More than 30 years ago, she wrote, her mother, brother and she had “sought safety in a women’s shelter. It was that place of escape, of safety, that gave my mom the opportunity to leave her abusive husband and begin a new life for us. I was reminded tonight of how grateful I am to the women who fought to help women like my mom. They may not yet have been named to the Order of Canada themselves, but they have created a crucial bridge to allow other women to rise to their potential and beyond. Thank you for writing this book.”
My life feels eventful these days. I am so grateful.