Writers spread the words at STARFest, Edmonton Poetry Festival

St. Albert Gazette: One of the most powerful Alberta writers of this decade will be a special guest at STARFest Conversations on Sunday.

Theresa Shea, a historical fiction novelist, will discuss her latest book, The Shade Tree, winner of Canada’s Guernica Literary Prize. This blistering indictment of the Jim Crow era deals with topics of systemic racism, slavery, feminism and the destructive strictures of society.

“I always wanted to write a book with characters I would want to go back and read. In fiction, you see what they think within the context of the world they live in. Sometimes, you understand why they do what they do,” said Shea.

The Edmonton-based author has a doctorate in literature, and wrote the novel over a 10-year period using every tool available including YouTube to develop an understanding of character and circumstance.

“I hope it blows up the myth that when slavery was abolished, it was fine. It wasn’t.”

From the start, The Shade Tree follows the lives of three southern women living in Florida and later Washington from 1930 to 1963. Sisters Ellie and Mavis are entitled daughters of a white orchard owner. The third is Sliver, a Black midwife who lives on a more affluent neighbouring farm.

Ellie, the older sister, is “smart, beautiful, bored and devious.” She lies about a sexual relationship with a Black man and he is lynched. Recognizing her power as a white woman, she develops a pattern of sexually exploiting Black men.

“She sees what goes on – white men helping themselves to Black women. But she gets caught, is separated and sent away,” said Shea.

Read the full text article at: https://www.stalbertgazette.com/local-arts-and-culture/writers-spread-the-words-at-starfest-edmonton-poetry-festival-6868005

Alberta Views Magazine: The Shade Tree Review

“Some histories bear revisiting, and the world of the southern States under Jim Crow laws comes sharply into focus in Theresa Shea’s The Shade Tree, recent winner of Canada’s Guernica Literary Prize. A trio of women are key, as Shea probes the culture and character of a Florida town in the 1930s and 1940s,”

Read Full Review

The Shade Tree: Wins 2022 Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction

Release Date: June 11, 2022

The Shade Tree is announced as the winner of this year’s George Bugnet Award for Fiction during the 40th Anniversary Gala of the Alberta Literary Awards presented by the Writers’ Guild of Alberta.


The Writers’ Guild of Alberta is the largest provincial writers’ organization in Canada. Formed in 1980, it provides a meeting ground and collective voice for the writers of the province. The Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction is sponsored by the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. It is awarded for a novel or collection of short fiction by an Alberta author in the previous year.

In making the award, the jury remarks included the following, “Nuanced, emotional, complex — The Shade Tree is an engaging work of fiction that unfolds systemic racism, slavery, and feminism. Theresa Shea pushes boundaries in this coming-of-age story. A brutal but compelling journey of two sisters, one who savagely exploits her privilege while the other awakens too late to the knowledge that she is also an accomplice to social injustice.”

Excerpt: Dog Days of Planet Earth

Published in Edify:

On a grey February morning in 1985, 52-year-old Trevor Westmore walked out of the penitentiary a free man.

“Wait here,” the guard said.

Membranes of ice covered the puddles in the parking lot. The sky was gun-muzzle grey. Nearby, river ice changed in light from grey to blue to green, deceiving animals and people alike with a false sense of security.

The Shade Tree, short-listed for Georges Bugnet Award

The Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction is sponsored by the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. It is awarded for a novel or collection of short fiction by an Alberta author in the previous year.

Online Readings with the Finalists

The tEmz Review- The Shade Tree

Reviewed by K. R. Wilson

Novelist Theresa Shea attended the civil rights march in Washington in 1963 with her mother and sister. She was three months old. While she would’ve been too young to remember the experience, the fact of it has plainly stayed with her, and shapes her impressive new novel The Shade Tree, the winner of the 2020 Guernica Prize.
The Shade Tree follows three women from two families through the horrors of Jim Crow America, from rural Florida in 1930 to Washington in 1963. Two of the main characters—sisters Mavis and Ellie—are privileged daughters of a struggling orchard owner. The third, Sliver, is a Black kitchen worker and midwife on a more prosperous neighbouring farm. The novel sensitively and carefully highlights the contrasts in their experiences of the racism of the time, including the ways the perspectives of the two white sisters diverge over three decades.
Ellie, the elder sister, chafes under the control of her father, and later of her husband, while staying willfully oblivious to her own ugly control over the Black people in her community, and in particular the Black men who work her family’s orchard. That ignorance has its consequences: her defiant pursuit of the exploitative freedoms the white men around her indulge in has catastrophic results for her Black neighbours, and drastically redirects the arc of her own privileged life.
Mavis, the more sensitive of the two sisters, gradually develops the ability to look beyond the strictures of her society and, eventually, to look for ways to help improve things. There are no glib white saviours here, though. In the late stages of the book, Shea herself signals through Mavis her own determination not to presume a perspective she doesn’t have.
Importantly, of the three women, Sliver is—within the constraints of the society—the one with the most agency, and functions as a sharp corrective to the privileged perspectives of the two white women. In a telling scene at a family funeral, she fairly observes of Mavis “how easily white women turned on the tears … That was just a skill they learned like how to wipe their backsides. When they got caught doing something they shouldn’t be doing, they cried and lied and cried and lied.” Sliver is written with respect and empathy and gives the novel a context and depth that it would have felt jarringly incomplete without. She’s also, simply, a wonderful character. In one of the book’s more luminous images, she recalls how her husband Gideon juggled oranges for her when they first met: “And just like she knew the sun would set that evening and rise the following morning, so too did she know she would marry the boy who made oranges dance in the sky.”
The subjugation of the white society’s women is important to the story, but Shea in no way equates it with that society’s dehumanization of the Black population. Nothing the white women suffer remotely compares with the frequent beatings and killings of Black men, often on the slimmest of pretexts. In one harrowing chapter, the lynching of a Black man for a fabricated theft becomes the occasion for a neighbourhood picnic, complete with souvenir photos taken with his body.                   
The book consistently avoids taking the easy route that more conventional fiction might: even when things take a turn for the better, the characters encounter—or create—fresh obstacles, and respond to them as messily as we might in their places. It also wears its research well. With the occasional slight exception (I’m looking at you, Paul Newman) its historical details are always in the service of the narrative, avoiding the tendency in some historical writing to include every shiny thing the author has unearthed. And while the occasional plot detail might feel a bit strained (probably inevitable in a book of this scope) each is given a realistic explanation.
The Shade Tree is compellingly written and meticulously crafted, with short, tight chapters, richly drawn characters, a tautly woven narrative, and precise, evocative descriptive passages. It is an unsettling but rewarding read.

Visit original at: https://www.thetemzreview.com/review-k-r-wilson.html

Review: The Shade Tree (Historical Novel Society)


In the 1930s, Ellie and Mavis Turner live on their father’s failing Florida orange grove. Ellie is head-turningly beautiful, her father’s spoiled favourite. Selfish, mean-spirited, vindictive, lustful, and a proficient liar, she bears a striking resemblance to Steinbeck’s Cathy Ames. When her father sells her to a rich landowner in exchange for badly-needed money, Ellie is outraged but pays dearly for her underestimation of the man’s determination to have her. Her refusal to marry him is the catalyst for all that follows.

Young Mavis wholeheartedly believes in her older sister’s good nature, despite everything she sees to the contrary. Although slow to take root, Mavis’s character grows and matures as she seeks to understand why white privilege is so endemic it is barely noticed. Juxtaposed against Mavis’s growing maturity, Ellie inevitably sees herself as the victim and can justify her actions as warranted revenge for whatever has been done to her. Shea does little to forward Ellie’s growth beyond her churlish cruelty and petulance, and this serves the narrative well.

A midwife, living on the Yates plantation, Sliver is always there to catch new life as it emerges, regardless of colour or parentage. She is the sieve through which the events run, filtering out right from wrong and bringing perspective. Her silence about much of what she sees and feels is well-founded, but some secrets should not be kept forever.

For fifty years, readers share a harrowing journey with these three women, whose lives become inextricably entwined. The novel explores young white women’s attraction (although forbidden) to Black men. With non-Black authors currently discouraged from writing Black stories, Shea successfully finds neutral ground in this situation, leaving the reader to discern the innumerable wrongs and the uplifting rights. Mesmerizing, engrossing, and brilliantly plotted, this is an achievement that will echo long after the last page is turned.

Review: The Shade Tree, Earthly Abode

“I will begin my review of The Shade Tree by talking for a while about To Kill A Mockingbird, because I find it difficult to review the former without first mentioning the latter. Many of you have heard of Harper Lee’s award-winning novel; some may even have studied it in school, like I did. It’s set in the south of the States in the 1930s and discusses the themes of racism and class through the eyes of a young girl named Scout, watching and learning of the prejudices rampant in her small town.

How well it discusses race, though, is a question with different answers depending on who you ask. On the one hand, it’s a good thing that it talks about race in the first place: prejudice and antiblackness make up a good portion of the plot, with the characters cleanly divided between the good – those who aren’t racist – and the bad – those who are.”