It was 1995, and Greg Hollingshead had just joined the who’s who of Canadian writers—a list that includes Mordecai Richler, Alice Munro, and his colleague and friend Rudy Wiebe—in winning the Governor General’s Award for Fiction for his collection of short stories, The Roaring Girl.
Now a first-order member of Canada’s literary elite and the focus of the highest praise, Hollingshead recalls one of the most touching moments of that whirlwind year, when he arrived back at the University of Alberta fresh from accepting the award to a classroom draped with streamers and balloons courtesy of his creative-writing graduate seminar class.
That simple yet immensely thoughtful gesture spoke volumes, both about how his students held their mentor in high esteem and about how Hollingshead regarded them.
“What I remember most about my time at the U of A is the students, who really are a great bunch of young people, if I may be allowed to generalize about 30 years of a student population,” said Hollingshead, a professor emeritus since 2005, who grew the U of A’s vaunted English department’s legend a little bigger recently after being named the university’s newest member of the Order of Canada.
“I remember the graduate creative writing seminars, particularly from that point in the class, or term, when the students started to carry the ball themselves.”
Hollingshead says he also cherishes the long commitment to teaching creative writing in the department and “the presence of creative writers on staff—Rudy Wiebe, Douglas Barbour, Bert Almon, Kristjana Gunnars and Thomas Wharton, to name just a few.
“I will always remember conversations in hallways, stairwells and the parking lot with colleagues.”
Hollingshead came to the U of A in 1975 to teach 18th-century literature after completing a bachelor and master of arts at the University of Toronto in the late 1960s and a PhD from the University of London in 1975.
Since 1976, Hollingshead has published more than five dozen stories and essays in magazines and anthologies in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. His first book was a story collection titled Famous Players (1982) and his first novel was Spin Dry (1992).
After the success of Hollingshead’s fourth book and third story collection, The Roaring Girl, he published his second novel, The Healer (1998), which was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize in 1999.
Hollingshead’s third novel, Bedlam, was named a Globe 100 Book of the Year for 2004, was shortlisted for the regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book, the Grant MacEwan Author's Award, the Georges Bugnet Award and the City of Edmonton Book Prize. In 2006, it was named a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice.
In 2007, Hollingshead was awarded the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Gold Medal for Excellence in the Arts. In 2010, he was inducted to the City of Edmonton Salute to Excellence in the Arts Hall of Fame.
Dividing his time between Edmonton, Banff (where he directs writing programs at the Banff Centre) and Algonquin Park in Ontario, Hollingshead says he is finding retirement anything but idle as he fills his time with “getting a lifetime of papers in order. Writing short stories. Thinking about another novel.”
As a member of the Order of Canada, Hollingshead joins Wiebe, and comparative literature professor Henry Kreisel, as longtime members of the U of A Department of English to be recognized with one of the nation’s highest honours, which is given out in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to Canada.