Introduction for John Terpstra


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


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Ross Laird, author, psychotherapist, university professor, addictions and trauma specialist, poet and craftsman introduced John Terpstra's book The Boys.


Storytelling is the territory of the trickster, the mythological emissary of joyful, irreverent spontaneity. The task of the trickster involves joining together things that seem distinct, or separating things falsely conjoined. The trickster articulates and redraws meaningful connections; in so doing he becomes master of all the arts. In his book The Boys, or, Waiting for the Electrician's Daughter, (already, even in the title, we glimpse the creative connections within its pages) - John Terpstra embodies the role of the trickster with great and sensitive skill. In this gentle and yet unvarnished chronicle, Terpstra articulates and reworks the joints between things. He shows us, by way of gathered vignettes and reflections, by means of his elegant, poetic prose, the fragile balance between suffering and hope, between love and fear, between confusion and illumination, in the lives of three boys living with muscular dystrophy. We expect, in such a chronicle, to read about how hard the lives of these boys must have been. We expect of the storyteller a tone of sympathy, or spiritual rumination. Terpstra offers us neither. Craftsman that he is - woodworker, furniture maker, carpenter, poet - he reworks the joints, offering us wonder in place of horror, dignity in place of desolation. He shows us clarity and beauty where we expect to find bewilderment and pain. The brief lives of these boys - Neil, Paul, and Eric, the brothers of Terpstra's wife - are presented to us as reflections of something larger, something we rarely see in this age dedicated to the illusion of personal empowerment: Terpstra shows us life's fragility, its great sacredness, the many ways in which the meaning of a life is defined not by its acts but by its relationships.

John Terpstra has said that his creative process in writing The Boys was similar to the way he makes wood furniture: by piecing together various items collected over the years, by gathering fragments, allowing them to season, then delivering them into something fresh and surprising. He has been a consistent and dependable craftsman in all of his nine books, and in his furniture making as well. Joinery is a term used in woodworking to describe how closely wood surfaces meet, how finely the connections are wrought between things. In The Boys, Terpstra's joinery is exemplary. We read of the lives of the three boys - their whole and unblemished lives, their fullness of presence and their impact on those around them. Terpstra leads us beyond their suffering, connects us to their completeness, invites us to join with the boys and the strange magic of their days.

Terpstra hinges together different realities and values and versions of his tale, he merges memory with vision, he articulates the joinery of his chronicle with adept and caring hands. The words "art" and "articulate" derive from the same root, artus, which means to join together. Indeed, The Boys is a book of joining and joinery, of coming together as family, of finding the diverse threads of human experience and unifying them into a single bright strand of meaning and feeling. And finally, The Boys is a book of wonder. Like all the mythological tricksters, who trespass between this world and the next - Raven, Coyote, Krishna, Hermes - who force a crack between the worlds so that a great light might shine through, Terpstra cuts away the breach, carefully, gently, so that we might be illuminated.
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