For this month, Winnipeg River Arts Council revisits previously featured artist Donna Besel, an award-winning, best-selling author who enjoys visual arts, theatre, photography, guitar-playing, and song-writing. Besel knows the Eastman area well. She grew up in Whiteshell Provincial Park, went to Whitemouth Collegiate, and resided in Lac du Bonnet for more than thirty-five years. She now lives (and writes) on the Winnipeg River, near Powerview-Pine Falls.
Besel said, “In Manitoba, we have many well-known Winnipeg, Mennonite, francophone, and Indigenous writers. When Prairie Fire Magazine asked me to contribute stories to ‘Boreality Project,’ a multi-media, four-season artistic interpretation of the boreal forest, I started to fully identify as a boreal writer.”
Besel graduated from University of Manitoba with an English Honours Degree and studied education at Brandon University. In 2017, the University of Manitoba featured her in their alumni magazine (UM Today) in an article about overcoming adversity.
She said, “My favourite authors – Alice Munro and Elizabeth Strout. They write deep and astonishing stories about the realities of life.”
Besel’s writing has earned wide-spread recognition: CBC Literary Awards (three times), Canada Council for the Arts, Manitoba Arts Council. Her collection of short stories, Lessons from a Nude Man, captured fourth place on McNally Robinson’s 2015 annual bestsellers list, two nominations from Manitoba Book Awards and a spot on Canada’s Relit Awards. In 2016, she was artist-in-residence at the Deep Bay Cabin in Riding Mountain National Park. Her work has been featured on CBC Radio, and published in literary journals, anthologies, and magazines.
She loves writing of all kinds, leads workshops for writers of all ages, and has done presentations and workshops across Canada at universities, bookstores, libraries, conferences, forums, retreats, and Milner Ridge Correctional Institute.
Previously, Besel taught in Sunrise School Division. For the past nine years, she has worked in schools from Gillam to Sprague, leading creative writing workshops for K-12 students, supported by Manitoba Arts Council’s province-wide Artists in Schools program. Recent gigs include presentations at “Proutopia” (Winnipeg Beach arts festival), guest lectures at Canadian Mennonite University, and co-facilitation of “Wild Writing in the Boreal,” a writers’ weekend at Falcon Trails Resort (upcoming on November 15 to 17).
Besel’s message to writers: “You have something to say and you have the right to say it.”
Another inspirational quote comes from writer Anne Lamotte: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”