For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council updates the profile of a previously featured artist, Donna Besel. This award-winning author loves writing of all kinds. For almost ten years, she has taught creative writing workshops in schools from Gillam to Sprague, through the Manitoba Arts Council’s province-wide “Artists in the Schools” program. Her message to writers, young and old: “You have something to say, and the right to say it.”
Besel knows Eastman well. She grew up in Whiteshell Provincial Park, went to high school in Whitemouth, and lived in the Riverland area of Lac du Bonnet for almost thirty-five years. She is now located further north on the shores of the Winnipeg River, in St-Georges.
She likes to paint and draw, plays guitar, writes songs, and has taught visual art, music, and drama. Since its inception in 2009, she has served on the WRAC board and strongly believes in its motto: “Connecting people through art.”
Besel’s work has appeared in various national publications and on CBC radio, and she has presented at forums, conferences, workshops, libraries, and universities. Her writing has won prizes from publications such as Prairie Fire and This Magazine, and reached finalist level in CBC’s Literary Awards three times.
In 2012, she spoke about life as a rural writer at the Manitoba Writers’ Guild national symposium. For seven years, she served on the MWG board, a province-wide organization, supporting writers and writing.
In 2016, the Manitoba Book Awards nominated Besel as one of Manitoba’s most promising writers and nominated her collection of short stories, Lessons from a Nude Man, for the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction. This book also earned a fourth place spot on McNally Robinson Bookstore’s 2015 bestsellers list. In the same year, she received a Canada Council grant and a two-week residency at the Deep Bay cabin in Riding Mountain National Park from Manitoba Arts Council.
In January of this year, Canada’s ReLit Awards nominated Besel’s book for their national shortlist. In May, the University of Manitoba featured her in their alumni magazine, UM Today, in an article about overcoming adversity.
When asked what motivates her writing, Besel quotes from Anne Lamott, a famous writing teacher: “You own everything that has happened to you. Tell your stories.”