Anne Cameron: a voice like no other
Anne Cameron, a British Columbia original, was born in Nanaimo, BC on August 20, 1938, and she died of bacterial pneumonia on November 30, 2022.
Easily one of the province’s most ground-breaking writers, the 16th recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award and the author of possibly the bestselling work of fiction ever published within British Columbia by a BC-born author (Daughters of Copper Woman), she was also an accomplished screenwriter (Dreamspeaker, Ticket to Heaven, Bomb Squad, The Tin Flute, A Matter of Choice, Homecoming and Drying Up The Streets) and a dutiful and doting mother and caretaker for three generations of children.
“I don’t think anyone has captured the idiom of the working-class, BC, coastal small community as well as she has,” says Howard White, Cameron’s longtime publisher, in a Tyee interview. “I sort of think of her as the William Faulkner of the BC coast.”
Cameron was also a ground-breaking feminist. Long before the movie Thelma and Louise, Cameron wrote her cowgirl buddy western The Journey in which 14-year-old Anne, abused by her uncle, sets off on her own and teams up with Sarah, a prostitute who has been tarred and feathered by a vigilante killer and his supporters. The pair ride off into the sunset in the late nineteenth century, defending themselves as necessary.
When she received the aforementioned Woodcock Award, Cameron told Vancouver’s Xtra West, “I didn’t expect I would ever get any kind of award because my work is so political. It is political in the sense that the personal is political. There are queers all through my books, and why not? Their being queer is not why they are in my stories. It’s just part of who they are. There are queers throughout every neighbourhood; being queer colours every minute of every day. That’s who I am.”
Anne Cameron is a “strong voice for the emancipation of women, regardless of their sexual preference,” said Vancouver’s city councillor Ellen Woodsworth when she presented the Woodcock Award on July 29 and declared Author Appreciation Day in Cameron’s honour. She added, “Anne Cameron is a very powerful character in her own right.”
“Her books are cutting edge,” said Alan Twigg, founder of the Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for BC authors. “When we started the award fifteen years ago, it was for people like Anne Cameron who are highly original and deeply British Columbian.”
Anne Cameron’s audacious Daughters of Copper Woman (1981) has been reprinted at least fifteen times and translated into numerous languages. Often her books were comedies of manners, celebrating perseverance in the face of adversity, and she delighted in West Coast culture-at-large, capturing the inventive ways people spoke, and the freedom to be unconventional beyond European traditions. “I always enjoyed Cam’s humour, admired her publications, and respected her serious commitment to good causes,” says fellow Vancouver Island novelist, Jack Hodgins. “She was an extraordinarily compassionate person and a uniquely colourful figure in Nanaimo’s human landscape.”
Some of her funniest and best writing appeared “under the literary radar” in a series of 78 wide-ranging opinion columns under the heading WESTERN EDGE: Letters from Tahsis for this online periodical BCBookLook. These appeared between February of 2006 and March of 2008 and remain freely available. [https://bcbooklook.com/category/westernedge/ ]
The writing voice of Anne Cameron remains as unmistakable as the singing voice of Buffy Sainte-Marie and Joni Mitchell. She wasn’t copying anyone. You’re either a fan or you’re not.
Author photo by Peter Robson