More History

image1065          Sharon with Ila, 7 yrs, & baby (Brynna) Kirsten. Peterborough, Ontario, circa 1983.

Sharon Berg raised two daughters (Ila b. 1976 and Kirsten b. 1983) and began to write seriously just before her first daughter was born. She always saw herself as a novelist, but poetry was easier to work with in the few breaks she got while her children napped.

Sharon made her debut on a stage in 1976, reading her poetry with a distinctive passion. She was part of the writing workshop Phoenix, which grew out of Don Cullen’s Bohemian Embassy-Don CullenBohemian Embassy at Toronto’s Harbourfront. That workshop was led by George Miller and later by Brian Purdy and a few select members of the group. They operated with the age-old concept of poetry as a medium best suited to voice. As a result, Phoenix soon founded The Axeltree Coffee House offering the opportunity to participate in the Open Mic or to be a featured author to the general population of authors in Canada. It became the longest running venue of its type in Canada at the time. This has strongly influenced Sharon’s development as a writer and performer.

Her first full-sized book, To a Young Horse, was published by Borealis Press in 1979. It received considerable good press through reviews and continues to receive good response from authors who know it. Russell Thornton says he carried it around with him for years.

She spent two periods at The Banff Center in 1982 and 1987. In the earlier stay of six weeks, she managed to finish writing and organizing the manuscript for The Body Labyrinth, Coach House Press, 1984. She was 30 when it was published, and Dennis Lee said she was one of the young authors to watch. Not only was she able to write skillfully, but she had also perfected her reading style when delivering poems aloud.

Later, she was drawn to studying First Nations issues and education, giving her a foundation for her teaching career. However, she dedicated herself to her work as an educator to the point that she wrote very little during her career as a teacher. She retired in April 2016, and has since worked to revive her place in Canadian literature as the author of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction that focuses on First Nations history and education.

image420 the-body-labyrinth-coverSharon released To a Young Horse and followed fairly quickly with The Body Labyrinth. Then life got in the way of her writing, first with the illness of her children and then with her studies at university. She began with her B.A. in Natives Studies from Laurention University, followed by a B.Ed (K-6) from OISE/University of Toronto. She went on to study Magazine Journalism at Ryerson University before she took her M.Ed with a focus on First Nations Education at York University. Finally, she studied for her D.Ed at University of British Columbia, continuing to focus on First Nations history and education. During that time, and while she worked as an elementary school teacher in Brampton and Mississauga, Ontario between 2000 and 2016, all of her writing slowed to the point that it was almost non-existent.

In January 2006, Sharon founded Big Pond Rumours International Literary E-Zine in order to reconnect with the writing community. She held contests in each issue. Her half brother, Brian Purdy, was the Associate Editor for fiction while she selected the poetry and fiction. After her father died at Christmas in 2008, she took a hiatus from the E-Zine and did not start it up again until Winter 2015. At that time, she operated the Zine entirely on her own, though Mary Frost joined her as an Associate Fiction Editor in 2018. 

Now she has retired from teaching, she lives in Sarnia, Ontario, and has turned her focus back to her writing. She first took her M.Ed. thesis and created The Name Unspoken: A History of Wandering Spirit Survival School. She then collected the short stories she had been writing in between her poems since she was in her early 20s and sent that manuscript out to a publisher in 2017. They rejected it, so she revised the order of the stories and sent a query to Porcupine’s Quill with about 25 pages of fiction. They responded the next day, asking to see the entire manuscript. Five days later, she received news that the press wanted to publish her debut collection of short fiction, Naming the Shadows (September 2019). This support for her fiction inspired Sharon to take up work on a novel she had already begun in her twenties. 

Big Pond Rumours Zine and Press held many contests with guest judges over the years, including: Rosemary Aubert, Gary Barwin, Heather Roberts Cadsby, Paul Duffy, L.M. Falcone, Robert Priest, Brian Purdy, and Myrna Somers. Sharon is proud of the support she offered to the efforts of both new and established authors through her E-Zine and her chapbook press. She discovered plenty of new talent and provided a venue for established authors as well. Yet, at this point in time, it is a distraction from Sharon’s writing, so the magazine has been put on hiatus once again after the Summer 2019 issue. 

 

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