Seneca English professor and award-winning author Bruce Hunter doesn’t like to write. “I find it difficult,” says this year’s recipient of the Banff Mountain Book Festival’s Canadian Rockies award. “But I like the end product: Seeing how people respond and reaching people.”
Hunter has spent his 25-year career reaching people. “I teach students from over 100 countries around the world and 65 different language groups. Part of what the book is about is different notions of culture: Deaf culture, aboriginal culture and listening.”
Set in the eastern slopes of the Rockies, In the Bear’s House is about a deaf boy who finds love and redemption in the wilderness. “The boy can’t hear but he learns to listen,” says Hunter.
“The title In the Bear’s House is an analogy to wilderness. You mind your manners when you’re in the bear’s house. You watch your step.”
Hunter wrote the book in the buzz of Second Cup coffee and morning commutes on the TTC, but his accurate depiction of mountain culture won him the award. “I didn’t expect to win at all.
It was too much of a long shot. I’m from Toronto,” says the Calgary import who moved here 29 years ago to attend York University.
Since moving Hunter has seen the city “change enormously.” Like his protagonist he’s kept up by listening. “When I started at Seneca it was multicultural in the narrow sense of the word, just as the city was … In order to stay current it’s an important characteristic of a teacher to know how to listen. So that’s what’s behind the book.”
Despite the specific geographic focus, In the Bear’s House has “a universality because of the larger scope of the story.” A scope Hunter attributes in part to teaching. “It has had a profound effect on me. One of the poems I started writing when I started teaching was ‘What my Students Teach Me.’ It’s stories about why they came to Canada. I haven’t finished the poem because I haven’t finished teaching. I keep adding to it.”
His newly selected poems are in the process of being published. “It’s really exciting because I sent the manuscript in and usually takes a couple of years, so this was fast tracked.” But he has no intention to stop teaching.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’m still having fun … I get a lot out of it”