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Charlotte Gill: reading about eating dirt

Literary Journalism alum Charlotte Gill brought her book Eating Dirt back to the Centre last month. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

“I lost the afternoon in a wet smear of movement and sensation. At the end of the day I felt as if I’d been blown and beaten by the slaps of a car wash,” Charlotte Gill read from her book Eating Dirt to a packed house at Canmore’s Communitea cafe. It’s an account of Gill’s many years as a tree planter, and I’m feeling a little guilty about my cleanliness and the cushy office chair waiting for me at my job. But Gill has the skill to bring all of us into the clear-cut with her – which she does at one of the popular reading nights for Literary Journalism.

My experience with The Banff Centre has really gone hand in hand with the growth of my career over time.

In 2001, Gill brought the manuscript for her first book, Ladykiller, to the Centre. Since then, she’s been back for self-directed residencies, and she was also in the Literary Journalism program herself five years ago, making a graceful switch from fiction to nonfiction writing. “I knew I had this experience that lent itself really well to a first person story – a true story,” she says about the genesis for Eating Dirt. ”It just seemed that narrative non-fiction, literary journalism, was the right way to tell it.”

A self-proclaimed urbanite who leads a tea-drinking, cardigan-wearing writer’s life, Gill wondered why she was so attracted to tree planting, something that on the surface was so uncomfortable and unpleasant. “I decided that although I couldn’t think of an answer I would somehow let that inform the writing. If I had to encapsulate it in a nut shell I would say that for every bit of physical discomfort there is, there is an equal opportunity for an incandescent experience and I think that a lot of people really get hooked on those extremes. It’s almost like there’s no way to live in the middle.”

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