BUTALA, SHARON (b. 1940)
Sharon Butala is best known for her descriptions of the physical and spiritual geography of her corner of southwestern Saskatchewan, near the Montana border, where she lives with her husband, Peter Butala, a cattle rancher. In 1996 the Butalas dedicated a portion of their ranch land to Nature Conservancy Canada so that the beauty of the native shortgrass prairie could be preserved. Butala's literary work has similarly been dedicated to preserving and communicating the aesthetic and cultural meanings of the prairie, especially the complex relationships between farming people and the land they work.
Born Sharon LeBlanc on August 24, 1940, in northern Saskatchewan near Nipawin, Butala moved to Saskatoon at age thirteen. After graduating from St. Mary's Roman Catholic School, she attended the University of Saskatchewan, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and art. A decade later she returned to the university for a bachelor's degree in education, specializing in learning disabilities. She married Peter Butala after her first marriage ended, leaving her urban life behind and embarking on a difficult but fruitful period of reflection, observation, and self-discovery through writing.
Butala's first published work was Country of the Heart (1984), which was nominated for the W. H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award. Subsequent to this successful debut, she has written extensively, publishing two collections of acclaimed short stories (Queen of the Headaches, 1985; Fever, 1990), five more novels, two nonfiction accounts, and a collection of essays (Coyote's Morning Cry, 1995). She has also written six unpublished plays. Of special interest is her loosely connected novel trilogy about life in rural Saskatchewan, comprised of The Gates of the Sun (1986), Luna (1988), and The Fourth Archangel (1992). Luna portrays the special challenges and rewards of rural women's lives, while The Fourth Archangel presents a visionary and compassionate account of the provincial farm crisis. These novels belong to the tradition of regional realism, with elements of the mythic and the magical.
Butala's first foray into nonfiction, The Perfection of the Morning (1994), tells of the slow process by which she learned to see nature truly. The book remained on best-seller lists for more than a year and brought Butala considerable recognition within Canada. In her sixth novel, The Garden of Eden (1998), Butala expanded her geographical parameters to Ethiopia, but her focus remained the capacity of the land to heal and human responsibility for its restoration and protection. Wild Stone Heart (2000), a companion volume to The Perfection of the Morning, chronicles Butala's respectful exploration of a 100-acre field of unplowed land; seeking to connect with the wild and with an Indigenous worldview in order to heal her spiritual malaise, she investigates the Aboriginal and settler pasts to uncover layers of unknowable presence. While maintaining her interest in emotional journeys and the beauty of the land, Butala's later work has increasingly turned to considerations of the mystical.
Janice Fiamengo University of Saskatchewan-Saskatoon