Alumni Cheryl Kloppenburg (BA’70, Arts’71, LLB’75, MA’75) and Henry Kloppenburg (BA’65, LLB’68) created the annual Kloppenburg Award for Literary Excellence to celebrate a Saskatchewan writer who has written a substantial body of literary work.
By: Shannon McConnell, MFA in Writing, University of Saskatchewan
There is something comforting watching the Rocky Mountains slip into hills, then slowly melt into the rolling prairies around my car as the kilometers increased between me and my home on the West Coast. As a born and raised British Columbian, I had only heard stories about what it was like east of the Rocky Mountains. The promise of an abundant and welcoming arts community for writers drew me to move to Saskatoon to do my Master of Fine Arts in Writing program at the University of Saskatchewan.
As a new resident to the city, I was grateful for the opportunity to get a first-hand glimpse into the writing community in Saskatoon. The day before the award was to be given out, I had the opportunity to sit down with the Kloppenburgs at the University of Saskatchewan’s University Club and learn about their life in Saskatoon, their law practice and their passion for giving back to the province for which they have planted their roots.
The first thing that I learned, was that the Kloppenburgs are very welcoming people. Being born and raised in Saskatchewan, it is clear that the province and its people hold a great significance for them.
Henry Kloppenburg was born and raised in Humboldt, SK, and in 1996 established the 159 acre Kloppenburg Wildlife Refuge near Humboldt to protect the natural wildlife in the area. His educational pursuits took him from to the University of Saskatchewan, all the way to Oxford University, UK where he was a Rhodes Scholar of Exeter College. Added to his impressive accomplishments, he served as a Law Clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2011.
Cheryl Kloppenburg, like her husband, is a tremendously accomplished lawyer, having completed her entire post-secondary education at the University of Saskatchewan, where in 2007 she was named as one of 100 Alumni of Influence in the University’s first 100 years. Alongside her educational achievement, Cheryl has a strong desire to support, recognize and advance art and culture in Canada. Her passion for public service can be seen through her involvement with improving health care and social services, through serving as a board member and president of the Victorian Order of Nurses Saskatoon Branch for many years.
Despite their many accomplishments abroad and throughout Canada, the Kloppenburgs chose Saskatoon as the destination to grow their law practice. Between the two of them, they have been practicing law for 83 years, which has allowed them to connect personally with the community in Saskatoon. They now divide their time between their law practice and their philanthropy work in which they generously give back to and support the community that cultivated them.
In 2011, the Kloppenburgs donated a 55-piece collection of Inuit art, which is a culmination of 40 years of collecting. The display of several dozen artists from different communities in the Canadian Arctic can be seen in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources. Unlike some collectors, the Kloppenburgs don’t hoard artworks and keep them in storage, but rather they collect them to share them with the people of Saskatoon.
In a similar vein, Saskatchewan has a long history of producing renowned writers who have made significant contributions to literature in Canada. Knowing the talent that the province has, the Kloppenburgs felt that writers in Saskatchewan weren’t getting the recognition that they deserved. In 2010, Henry and Cheryl created the annual Kloppenburg Award for Literary Excellence thereby fostering an avenue to acknowledge and celebrate a Saskatchewan writer who has written a substantial body of literary work. The winner receives an award of $10,000, a framed print from esteemed Saskatchewan artist Dorothy Knowles and is publicly recognized at a ceremony attended by a great number of their peers and local dignitaries. Each year, Henry and Cheryl Kloppenburg take great pride in being able to present the award to the chosen writer.
The 2015 ceremony took place on September 15th at the distinguished Saskatoon Club, which holds over 100 years of history in the Central Business District of the city. Despite being a rainy overcast day, the mood inside the prestigious main dining room of the club was exciting, with an undeniable curiosity palpable amongst the congregation. Great pains are always taken to maintain the anonymity of the winner, which only adds to the intrigue on the day.
Among those in the know were, of course, Henry, Cheryl and the winner, all of whom were required to keep the recipient’s identity under wraps until the moment the announcement is made. Adding to the prestige of the event the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan, Her Honour the Honourable Vaughn Schofield, was in attendance to pass on her congratulations.
It was during the bustling moments before the ceremony, when everyone had gathered in the club, that I first observed the true camaraderie of the writing community in Saskatoon. From an outsider’s perspective, the room full of writers and dignitaries appeared more like a reunion rather than an awards ceremony. There was a sense that in Saskatchewan’s tightknit writing community all the faces are familiar and all hold each other’s works in high regard.
The newest winner of the Kloppenburg Award would be joining the ranks with enormously accomplished writers. Previous recipients of the Kloppenburg include: novelist and short story writer, Sandra Birdsell (2014), novelist, dramatist and short story writer, Diane Warren (2013), novelist Sharon Butala (2012), poet Lorna Crozier (2011) and novelist and short story writer, Guy Vanderhaeghe (2010).
Before unveiling the winner and the beautiful print by Dorothy Knowles, Henry and Cheryl spoke about the inspiration behind the Kloppenburg. The Kloppenburg Award holds an extra weight of importance, because no other province has a comparable award that showcases the talent of writers in their community. Appropriately, that same community broke out in applause for one of their own, when Cheryl announced the 2015 winner of the Kloppenburg Award, novelist and poet David Carpenter.
2015 winner of the Kloppenburg Award, former University of Saskatchewan English professor David Carpenter
David Carpenter, born and raised in Edmonton, has called Saskatchewan home for himself and his wife, Honor Kever, since the 1970s. He has been producing significant literary work for over 35 years. A prominent veteran Canadian writer, Carpenter’s works have spanned many genres, including: literary and personal essays, novels, short fiction and poetry. He is known for using humour, poignancy and captivating characters in his work, which often explores different aspects of the Western Canadian experience, including hunting, fishing, the seasons, exploration and occasionally murder. He has also served as editor of The Literary History of Saskatchewan, Volumes 1 and 2, which examines “Cree writing in Saskatchewan as it emerges from the oral tradition to printed works, to poets, novelists and dramatists of the twentieth century.”
David Carpenter had previously attended the award ceremony, but never expected to actually someday be a recipient. In a short speech, he recognized that this award is an opportunity for the literary community in Saskatchewan to appreciate their own and that “writers dream of success, but expect the opposite.” Acknowledging the elite group that he now found himself a member of, he admitted that he was “bursting with gratitude” with being the newest recipient of the Award.
In particular he drew attention to the fact that in spite of how the province relies on an extractive economy, it is home to a vibrant arts community and “there are things created here that can’t be measured on a balance sheet or in metric tons.” To the delight of those in attendance, Carpenter read an excerpt from a new work of fiction, “The Listener” that follows the lives of two clockmaker brothers in Canada.
Notably and somewhat fittingly, Carpenter has served as a mentor for the Master of Fine Arts in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan, giving a developing writer one-on-one critique and support through their thesis writing, thus bringing a new generation into the Saskatoon writers’ circle and perhaps inspiring a future Kloppenburg winner in the process. Previously, Carpenter has also served on the faculty of the English Department at the University of Saskatchewan.
As I begin my journey in the MFA in Writing program at the U of S, I am greatly looking forward to crossing paths and building relationships with many of those in the Saskatoon writing community. As a developing writer, the Kloppenburg Award means that the strong artistic community in Saskatoon is valued and appreciated, and the work and talent that is fostered in the city is important. It is something to aspire to and a comfort to know that there are people out there, like the Kloppenburgs, who are willing to recognize the sort of contribution that can’t be, as Carpenter observed, recorded on a Balance Sheet.
Shannon McConnell grew up in Surrey, British Columbia. She is currently pursuing a MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan.