Marthe, the protagonist in Aimee Wall’s debut novel, We, Jane, is slightly skittish about returning home to St. John’s after spending years in Montréal.
But the power of a newfound collective and the desire to contribute to a greater good is enough to draw her back.
Latest book club selection
We, Jane is the subject of an upcoming Coast Lines book club event on March 9, hosted by the Office of Alumni Engagement.
Ms. Wall’s (BA’08) book was longlisted for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize and shortlisted for the 2021 Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction and the 2021 Concordia University First Book Prize. It received Le Grand Prix du Livre de Montréal Jury Selection and was longlisted for the Miramichi Reader’s The Very Best Fiction Book Award.
The Jane in the title refers to the Jane Collective, a clandestine group formed in Chicago in the 1960s, that helped women with unwanted pregnancies work around the law in a time when abortion was illegal.
The book probes the importance of care work by women for women, underscores the complexity of relationships in close circles and beautifully captures the inevitable heartache of understanding home.
“I’ve always been interested in reproductive justice,” explained Ms. Wall, when asked how the book came to be. “I had been reading an article about the original Jane Collective, and ordered a book called The Story of Jane by Laura Kaplan who was a member of Jane. It’s the history of the group and I was completely fascinated with it. And I was really taken with the narrative possibility of a woman named Jane that was a multitudinous person, or many people. I don’t even think I made a conscious decision to set it in Newfoundland – it was just kind of obvious to me that it would be set there.”
Dr. Amanda Bittner, a political science professor at Memorial, will take part in the event. The book had such an impact on her that she changed her approach to teaching gender and politics.
“I inhaled the book overnight, and reading it helped me to notice how effective it is to be able to think through seriously complex political issues like feminism, bodily autonomy and availability of public health resources by seeing them through the eyes of really compelling and well-developed fictional characters,” said Dr. Bittner, who will also defend the novel in N.L. Reads. “Because of this book, I decided to assign only novels for my fourth-year seminar in gender and politics.”
Remembering Memorial’s creative writing days
Ms. Wall, who also works as a translator, remembers her time at Memorial as being pivotal to her writing career.
“It was a big step to do those (creative writing) classes. You get over that initial hurdle of showing your writing to anybody else, and then learning how to workshop with other people, meeting other writers and kind of allowing yourself permission to take yourself a little more seriously. And then you stay in touch with the people in the classes, and can grow together, and then, also, in retrospect, I think maybe it’s a function of St. John’s — it was kind of amazing that we had access to really incredible established writers so early on. It was definitely the start of things for me, for sure.”
Coast Lines with Aimee Wall will be live-streamed on Wednesday, March 9, and features Ms. Wall, host and alumna Angela Antle (BA’91) and Dr. Amanda Bittner. The event is free to attend. Viewers will have the opportunity to ask questions. Register today!