Engaging in a national dialogue

Queen’s alumnus John Boyko discusses his novel ‘Blood and Daring’ as part of “Write Thinking”

John Boyko seeks to engage people in a dialogue on what he calls the current “existential angst of Canada and the US.”
John Boyko seeks to engage people in a dialogue on what he calls the current “existential angst of Canada and the US.”

Wednesday night at Stauffer Library took a new perspective on an educational turn.

This year’s “Write Thinking” speaker series was kicked off by Queen’s alumnus, historian and author John Boyko, BEd ’80, with his new book Blood and Daring: How Canada fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation.

The series is organized by the Queen’s Alumni Review and will feature events with alumni authors.

Boyko’s latest work seeks to engage people in a national dialogue on what he calls the current “existential angst of Canada and the US.”

He communicates important ideas about Canadian nation-building during the American Civil War: in its role as a safe haven against the South’s slave trade, in the participation of Canadians in the army during the Civil War and the constant struggle of remaining separate from America.

As he began his talk, the author left the podium and the microphone so as to move and talk naturally to the audience.

“[My book] is about interesting ideas told through interesting people,” Boyko said.

Good writing, he said, isn’t only about covering serious topics but also presenting the information in an engaging and inviting way — a point made relevant by his ability to public speak.

Blood and Daring is a book about ideas, events and people. To Boyko, ideas are the most important part of a novel as they catch the interest of the audience. All of these aspects combine in order to engage the reader, while effectively communicating the ideas.

In his novel, Boyko makes the argument that Canadians and Americans are currently set to redefine themselves again as they did in the 1860s during the American Civil War.

These ideas are told through the stories of John Anderson, a slave from Missouri; William Stuart, US President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State; and Sarah Emma Edmonds, a Civil War nurse and spy.

Using these characters, Boyko’s novel emphasizes the historian’s work of “inviting people thorough the doors of ideas, events or people.” He spoke of the importance of knowing our own history as Canadians to help us understand where were are now and where we may want to go in the future.

The author said he deplores but has hopes for the way history is taught in the Canadian public school system, especially with new technology and social media, which teachers may use to further facilitating learning.

Boyko compared not knowing history to amnesia.

“I think we need to teach history unless we want an entire nation of [constantly confused] amnesiacs,” he said.

It was an evening about the serious topics of education, history and politics, but they were approached with humour and grace by the speaker and the audience. In that way, the talk felt more like a pleasant dialogue.

Iain Reid, author of The Truth About Luck: What I Learned on My Road Trip With Grandma, will be talking at the Speaker’s Corner on Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. as a part of “Write Thinking.”

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