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Sandra Birdsell

Author of The Russlander

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Sandra Birdsell is the daughter of a Russian born Mennonite and Métis father who met in Morris Manitoba, at the Scratching Chicken hotel. Her mother worked at the hotel as an upstairs maid, and her father worked downstairs apprenticing as a pool shark, and barber. Five children later, Sandra was born and there were five more Bartlette children yet to come. Sandra's mother is reputed to have held a low opinion of poets, saying, that liars and poets will wind up in hell. At the age of ten, the author embarked on a career as a poet and wrote a poem about dying and being denied heaven. She was awarded first prize in the Most Serious Poem category, by the student council of Morris MacDonald Collegiate. The prize being, five dollars worth of free dry cleaning.

Thus, the writer, Birdsell, was born. But not before she married, had three children, two dogs, several cats and a collection of ill-fated goldfish, turtles and hamsters. She also toiled at various other professions, such as reading income tax forms for Revenue Canada, a stint as a cocktail waitress in a knock-off Playboy Bunny club, an Avon Lady, communications writer, seamstress and hapless secretary in her first husband's manufacturing business.

Although she always desired to be a dancer, actor and clown, writing became her first love. That was twenty years ago. Since then she has published eight books and has been fortunate to receive accolades and nominations for awards.

She discovered the short stories of Alice Munro while working as a stringer for the Canadian Book Information Centre. She swears that Munro's Who Do You Think You Are, was the only book she ever stole from a book display. She began writing short fiction when she attended a workshop and heard a young man read a story about growing up in small town Manitoba.

Her first creative writing instructor was James Walker at the University of Winnipeg. This was a university at noon course, and Birdsell had enrolled as a mature student. When Professor Walker came into the room, he was aghast to find nearly twenty-five would-be writers crammed around the table. He said, I want you to know that there are likely only two people in this room, who are writers. Birdsell remembers looking around the table and asking herself, I wonder who the other one is?

She then studied with Robert Kroetsch at the University of Manitoba. He was instrumental in coaxing the people at Turnstone Press to have a look at her stories. In a review of those first stories, Night Travellers, William French at the Globe and Mail said, "Birdsell has us well and truly hooked." By this time, Birdsell, herself was well and truly hooked, and couldn't think of anything she would rather do, other than write.

When Birdsell's three children grew old enough to find the refrigerator and fill their own bottles, writing began to take up more and more of her time. Writing and attending readings, and discovering South American authors, and British authors and American. She especially was enchanted by the work of Flannery O'Connor, and then later, by Anton Chekhov.

The further west I come, the better I feel in my skin, Birdsell is quoted as saying. Birdsell moved to Regina from Winnipeg in 1996, a distance of about six hours west on the Trans Canada. She wrote three books in a room the size of a postage stamp, while listening to the cars whiz by on the highway. But the prairie landscape was only a twenty minute walk from her back door and she went out into it early morning, spring, winter and fall. That landscape and its people continued to influence and inspire her work.
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