Apples on a Windowsill by Shawna Lemay

Shawna Lemay’s engrossing collection of essays, Apples on a Windowsill, should be required reading for anyone with an interest in creating art and being human in challenging times.

Throughout these twenty pieces, Lemay’s discussion ranges far and wide. Her subject repeatedly changes shape, but her argument always returns to the search for beauty in the everyday, the confluence of art and life. Or — to put it another way — the transformation of ordinary life into art. Without declaring it as such, Lemay describes her own life as one that is committed to art: making it, loving it, living with it. Her husband Rob is also an artist, a painter of no small repute, and, as we see, they support one another in their interests. Many of the essays here describe their joint ventures to galleries, in Rome and other cultural centres, where they might plant themselves in front of a painting and stay there for as long as it takes for them to reach some kind of understanding of how the work affects them.

Alive with wonder at the splendour to be found right before our eyes, even in the most unpromising circumstances … Apples on a Windowsill is an intimate act of sharing for which we can and should be grateful.

Lemay has done a lot of reading and talks lucidly about time-honoured techniques of making art —painting and photography — building an historical context for what she and Rob are doing. She wants us to understand her own artistic process, why she does what she does, why she’s passionate about it, why it matters. As a photographer her chief obsession is still life, and she goes into lengthy and fascinating detail regarding the everyday found objects that make their way into her photographs — describing rummaging through drawers and closets for neglected or forgotten items, visits to the florist, forays into supermarkets hunting for fruits and vegetables that she will bring home and arrange into a tableau worth preserving, textures and surfaces that make all the difference, the spray of sunlight that she rushes to capture because it will last for only a few precious seconds.

Lemay often speaks in terms of transcendence: “In the place where poetry and still life meet there is a radiance.” But a good portion of the book is given over to the mundanities of life in the time of Covid-19. Something of an artistic manifesto, Apples on a Windowsill also functions as a journal or memoir, with Lemay recording her coping mechanisms for surviving a pandemic. And though beauty is clearly her passion, she does not shy away from the ugliness she sees in the world and forces that conspire to discourage the artistic enterprise, forces she’s continually striving to overcome, the chief one being self-doubt.

From the first page, Shawna Lemay’s voice is candid and thoughtful, charmingly self-deprecating and alive with wonder at the splendour to be found right before our eyes, even in the most unpromising circumstances. The book entertains and informs, but most of all it inspires. Apples on a Windowsill is an intimate act of sharing for which we can and should be grateful.

Shawna Lemay is the author of The Flower Can Always Be Changing (shortlisted for the 2019 Wilfred Eggleston Award for Non-Fiction) and the novel, Rumi and the Red Handbag, which made Harper’s Bazaar’s #THELIST. She has also written multiple books of poetry, a book of essays, and the experimental novel HiveAll the God-Sized Fruit, her first book, won the Stephan G. Stephansson Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Calm Things: Essays was shortlisted for the Wilfred Eggleston Award for Non-Fiction. She lives in Edmonton.

Publisher: Palimpsest Press (January 15, 2024)
Paperback 5.25″ x 8.25″ | 250 pages
ISBN: 9781990293665

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Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in many literary publications, in print and online. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Journey Prize, the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, and others. His latest novel, The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard, was the winner of the 2022 Guernica Prize and was published by Guernica Editions in 2023. He lives in Halifax.