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Esther Birney Series on Zoom Spring 2021 Topics

Thursday, April 1, 2021, 10:30 AM until 12:00 PM
Additional Info:
Registration is not available online - contact the event coordinator
Payment In Full In Advance Only
Join us for this well-curated literary arts series including intriguing topics given by knowledgeable presenters. (See below for a complete list of topics and information about using Zoom.)

If you are a current member and would like to join this series, please register by contacting BevAnn directly at Thank you. If you are already registered for the Winter term, you do not need to re-register.
Available Slots:
No Fee
No Fee
Note: If you don't have access to the Zoom application on a computer, tablet or smart phone, Zoom presentations are also available by dialing in using a landline or cellphone. On the day and time of the course, call 778-907-2071 (within Metro Vancouver) and enter the Meeting ID and Passcode that were given after registering for the course. If you live outside of metro Vancouver, please look up the local phone number for your locationat (The calls are muted when you join the meeting, to unmute yourself, please press *6 (as per instructions on the phone). 

April 1 – Dr. Heidi Rennert – “Mrs. Beeton's Laboratory”


Science, Technology, and Domestic Sciences in the Victorian Home


Mrs. Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management, perhaps the most iconic text on Victorian domesticity, was part of a wider movement in redesigning the middle-class Victorian home in increasingly scientific and technological ways. This talk will contextualize the emergence of domestic sciences within the new scientific and technological innovations of the nineteenth century. In addition to Beeton's manual, this talk will discuss the sciences behind housekeeping manuals, cookbooks, and the recipe to consider how Victorian domestic scientific literature influenced a cultural and literary tradition that still carries on today.


Heidi Rennert is a PhD Candidate in English Literature and the Science and Technology Studies program at UBC. She completed a M.A. in English at UVic, where she completed SSHRC-funded research on early Victorian cycling and travel literature. In addition to her studies, she is a Graduate Academic Assistant with the Public Humanities Hub and an avid bread baker. 


April 8 – Dr. Erica Machulak – “Chaucer and the Beauty of Chaos”


The fourteenth-century poet Geoffrey Chaucer was a master of mashing up wildly different ideas, stories, and languages to create innovative poetry. Chaucer’s poetry pushed the limits of what English had been able to do as a literary language, and readers of his work can reexperience that process of invention by reading his lines aloud. In this talk, the presenter will invite members of the audience to read aloud (with microphones or to themselves) to experience the creativity, strangeness, and familiarity of Middle English words.

After warming up with The Canterbury Tales, we will turn our attention to Chaucer’s House of Fame. House of Fame is a dream poem that touches on enduring themes such as isolation, storytelling, and the authenticity of language. It is a beautiful and engaging text that poses questions about how we decide what is true, who gets written into history, and how we engage with our past and present.

Participants who wish to are very welcome to read a translation of the House of Fame in advance. This reading is not required to participate in the presentation.


Erica Machulak, PhD in medieval English literature and the founder of Hikma Strategies, an organization that helps clients bring complex ideas to new contexts through communication and collaboration. As a writer, editor, and facilitator, she believes that the world needs to hear more from people who resist easy answers.

April 15 – David Gaertner – “Like an echo turned inside out”


Shallow Reconciliation and the Indigenous Future Imaginary


“I heard a sound like an echo turned inside out.”

          -Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves

On the penultimate page of her 2017 dystopian novel The Marrow Thieves, Métis author and editor Cherie Dimaline evokes the sound of an echo as a means to capture the electricity that emanates from the reunification of two residential school survivors. The scene is significant for a number of rea­sons, not least because it contains the only instance of the word “reconcilia­tion” in a novel in which one of the primary plot points is the return of residential schools in an apocalyptic future.

As an activation site for close reading, this phrase offers a poetic moment of reflection from which to contemplate reconciliation as it resonates out of the TRC and into what Jason Edward Lewis terms the “Indigenous future imaginary.” In this talk, I read Dimaline’s novel against the mainstream discourses of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions as a means to interrogate the limits of reconciliation within a colonial state. Via the figure of the echo and alongside the work of Indigenous futurism scholars such as Lewis, I look toward the future of reconciliation in Canada and posit the existence of a settler state turned inside out.  

David Gaertner
is a settler scholar and assistant professor with the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies at UBC. His articles have appeared in Canadian LiteratureAmerican Indian Cultural and Research Journal, and Bioethical Inquiry, among other publications. His most recent book, The Theatre of Regret: Literature, Art and the Politics of Reconciliation in Canada is now available from UBC Press.

April 22 – No presentation.

April 29 – Dr. Kirby Manià
– “Writing and Media on the crossover between literature, urban spaces, and the environment.”


In this talk, Kirby Manià will discuss the shifting registers of the garden as a sociocultural imaginary. Using a literary approach, it will focus on how gardens have been used as spaces through which to conceptualise nature. During the colonial project, European settlers imported various “socio-natures” into the colonies to shape the environment in ways that were reflective of the landscapes of home. Thus gardens and urban parks became environmental symbols of not only colonial tastes, but also of European relationships with the natural world (which were inherently anthropocentric and hierarchical). The lawn and the manicured garden replaced native plants and blotted out Indigenous relationships with the natural world. This talk, whilst considering literature from various parts of the Commonwealth, will place particular emphasis on the ramifications of “nature” imported by British colonists in Johannesburg, South Africa.


Kirby Manià earned a PhD in English from the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg. South Africa). Her research focuses on the crossover between urban spaces, literature, and the environment. She is particularly interested in post-apartheid/post-transitional South African literature(s), urban ecology, environmental justice, crime writing, postcolonial ecocriticism, and writing pedagogy.


May 6 – Dr. Paul Budra – Shakespeare and Gardening

Although conspiracy theorists like to imagine that plays and poems of William Shakespeare were written by a dashing courtier using a pseudonym, those works bare the traces of a man who grew up in the countryside surrounded by gardens, orchards, and fields. In Shakespeare's writings we can find a deep knowledge of gardening and plant lore.   

Paul Budra
is professor of English at SFU where he teaches Shakespeare and early modern literature. He has published six books and numerous articles on Renaissance literature and contemporary popular culture. He is a past chair of the English Department, a former Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and he has served as the president of the Pacific Northwest Renaissance Society. Dr. Budra delivers a series of public lectures at Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach Shakespeare festival every summer.


May 13 - Antonia Reiseger and Jean Kittson - A Poetry Reading from Our Cousins Down Under (Australia)

(Prerecorded to accommodate Eastern Australian Time Zone)

Poet and former English teacher
Antonia Reiseger grew up outside Melbourne Australia. She has published two books of poems and in various journals. Antonia has always been interested in language and its relationship with culture, but it is not until recently that she has spent most of her time writing poetry. 

Jean Kittson is an extremely popular Australian performer, writer and comedian in theatre and print, on radio and television. She will read selections of Antonia’s poems inspired by her growing up years in rural Victoria, just outside Melbourne. She will also read works Antonia wrote while inspired by middle eastern poets, the recent events in her life and COVID-19.

Copies of the poems are available. Please email Glenys Acland:

For those members who have questions for Antonia, Glenys will facilitate communication by email after the presentation.


May 20 – Sherrill Grace – Tiff: A Life of Timothy Findley

Timothy Findley (1930-2002) was one of Canada’s foremost writers—an award-winning novelist, playwright, and short-story writer who began his career as an actor in London, England. Findley was instrumental in the development of Canadian literature and publishing in the 1970s and 80s.

Tiff: A Life of Timothy Findley
 is the first full biography of this eminent Canadian writer. Sherrill Grace provides insight into Findley’s life and struggles through an exploration of his private journals and his relationships with family, his beloved partner, Bill Whitehead, and his close friends, including Alec Guinness, William Hutt, and Margaret Laurence.

Sherrill Grace, OC, FRSC, is a University Killam Professor Emerita at the University of British Columbia. She specializes in Canadian literature and culture and has published extensively in these areas. She has lectured widely in North America, as well as in Germany, Italy, England, Belgium, France, China, and Japan.