Introduction for Russell Wangersky

author photo

book cover
The highlight of the presentation ceremony is the introduction of the authors by distinguished individuals.

Given by Elizabeth Bachinsky, former editor of UBC’s literary magazine PRISM international.

Please Welcome Russell Wangersky,

Russell Wangersky is an exceptional writer whose first collection of short stories The Hour of Bad Decisions was longlisted and nominated for numerous awards including the Giller Prize and the Commonwealth Writer's Prize. He is the editor of the St. John's Telegram in Newfoundland. His columns and editorials appear in newspapers and periodicals across Canada. But before this writing life, Russell was a volunteer firefighter in Wolfville where he absorbed years worth of material for the stuff of his writing.

I first became aware of Russell's work when I was an editor at UBC's literary magazine PRISM international in 2004. Russell won our nonfiction prize that year with a story called The Mechanics of Injury in which the narrator begins "I don't fight fires any more. My heart still judders in my chest when I hear the trucks coming...It would have been simpler if I had been permanently burned. If I had been seriously hurt, there would be a visible reason, a badge that wears like an honorable discharge. But nothing is simple."

That year my husband was still a volunteer fire fighter in Mission BC, a small town not unlike Wolfville in many ways. And that year we attended the funeral of one of my husband's colleagues who had taken his own life.

Russell's work stood out to me then as it does now as painfully observant, compassionate, raw. It is the sort of work that reaches out to professionals that deal with trauma every day and night and says I have seen this too.

Burning Down The House is a powerful account of the damage done to Canada's most trusted citizens, our volunteer firefighters. Here are the people we have asked to care for us, to help us when we are most vulnerable. And yet, as Wangersky so bravely reveals, the image of the big strong man climbing up the ladder to save us was never real.

Today, my husband is the facilities manager for the Justice Institute of British Columbia's Fire and Safety Training Centre where he was fire technician for more than ten years. He has spent his entire professional life in the fire service and has seen thousands of recruits pass through those doors. They are young men and women looking for decent work in an exceedingly decent profession. They are incredibly physically strong and come to the JI in the highest of spirits and with the biggest of hopes. They can't imagine in those first days how they will be called to respond.

Burning Down the House is there to guide and prepare them. It is a deeply important book and I am very proud to introduce Russell today.

- Elizabeth Bachinsky, Feb 2, 2009
British Columbia Achievement Foundation
T. 604.261.9777 | Toll Free 866.882.6088 (in BC)

Previous Award Winners