Burns Lake author Michael Riis-Christianson’s coming-of-age memoir book ‘I Heard the Turkki Call My Name’ is about growing up at Ootsa Lake in the 1970s, has been nominated for the Leacock Medal for Humour.
The medal, named in honour of celebrated Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock, is awarded annually by Stephen Leacock Associates for the best Canadian book of literary humour published in the previous year. The national award, which includes a cash prize of $25,000, has an international reputation and is the only one that recognizes Canadian humour writing.
This list of previous winners reads like a Who’s Who of Canadian literature. Iconic Canadian writers like Robertson Davies, Pierre Berton, Farley Mowatt, and Stuart McLean have all won the award at least once. Wayne Johnston won it in 2023 for his memoir Jennie’s Boy, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Canada.
Riis-Christianson self-published I Heard the Turkki Call My Name earlier this year. He began writing it during his first bout with clinical depression almost four decades ago. Half of the book’s 25 short stories were written over eight months in 1988; the remainder were completed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The experience, he said, was cathartic.
“I started writing the book because I wanted to understand who I was and why I felt the way I did,” he says. “I also wanted to make myself laugh during a dark time. I succeeded, and committing these stories to paper gave me a new perspective on my childhood.”
Reader and reviewer response to I Heard the Turkki Call My Name has been overwhelmingly positive. An editor who read the manuscript last fall described it as “simply beautiful” and “uproariously funny,” adding that “I know I’ve read something good when it stays with me.”
Journalist Frank Peebles, who grew up in the Lakes District, was also generous with his praise.
“He [Riis-Christianson] makes us fall in love with people we’ve never met, pine for a place we’ve probably never been, and see the themes and dramas in our lives so much brighter,” Peebles wrote in a recent review. “He tells us, without saying anything of the sort, that we are all interesting people who have lived interesting lives. … Most of us don’t have the gifts of recall or storytelling that Riis-Christianson possesses, so thank the bright stars of Ootsa Lake that someone with those sharpened skills has put in the work to give us ourselves, even if we’ve never been there or done that.”
Ironically, Riis-Christianson almost shelved the manuscript before his wife, Sashka Macievich, convinced him to send it for an editorial evaluation.
“I had looked at the book for so long that I was convinced it had no redeeming features,” he says. “I thought, ‘no one’s going to want to read this nonsense, and they might not even find it funny.’ I’m glad I didn’t listen to my inner critic.”
Riis-Christianson is pleased the book has been so well received.
“It’s an honour to be considered for the Leacock,” he said. “I grew up reading Eric Nichol, Farley Mowatt, and many other authors who have won this prestigious award in the past 76 years. Never in my wildest dreams did I think something I wrote would be considered worthy of consideration.”
It will be some time before Riis-Christianson learns what the award’s judges think of I Heard the Turkki Call My Name. This year’s long list will be announced at the end of April 2024, and the winner won’t be disclosed until later next year.
Riis-Christianson is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, Lakes District News, Gulf Islands Driftwood, and several pieces of unaddressed admail. His first book, History Matters, was published in 2022 and is currently in its second printing. It was nominated for the BC Historical Federation’s historical writing award.
I Heard the Turkki Call My Name, published by FriesenPress, is available online, in local bookstores, and at the Lakes District News, the Lakes District Museum and the Burns Lake Public Library in Burns Lake.
For more information on the Leacock Medal, visit Stephen Leacock Associates.