Retired SFU professor rakes in literary award nods

David Stouck_credit Wayne Wiens

After 40 years of teaching in SFU’s English department and penning over a dozen books on Canadian literary authors, it seems an odd departure for David Stouck to write a book about an architect. But in fact, a book about Arthur Erickson is a serendipitous fit for a retired SFU professor, as Erickson designed the Burnaby campus.

Stouck actually wasn’t the one who came up with the idea for the book; it was Ethel Wilson’s niece, Mary Buckerfield White, whom he had interviewed during his research of Ethel Wilson. Mary contacted Stouck in 2004 and said no one was writing about her long-time friend, Arthur Erickson. Despite knowing next to nothing about architecture, and very little about Erikson, Stouck decided to take on the project.

“I thought it would make an interesting retirement project,” Stouck comments lightheartedly, “[but] I was skeptical, because I did not know the technical language of architecture.”

What he didn’t realize was the sheer amount of background research he would need to conduct — educating himself in everything from painting and philosophy to Japanese and Indonesian culture.

“It was a huge job,” states Stouck, “[Erickson] had a huge life.”

Stouck began research in 2005 and conducted nearly weekly interviews with Erikson, bringing archival material to Erickson’s house on the weekends to help jog his memory. He was surprised to learn about Erickson’s personal life, which became rather flamboyant when he moved to LA.

Stouck finished writing in 2011, two years after Erickson passed away. Then, after a small snag with the publisher, the book Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life was published in September 2013. The research process took Stouck and his wife traveling, as Erickson told him that to understand his influences, he would have to visit Florence in Italy, Kyoto in Japan, and the island of Bali in Indonesia.

Stouck began research in 2005 and conducted nearly weekly interviews with Erikson, bringing archival material to Erickson’s house on the weekends to help jog his memory.

“SFU is a good example of how Bali influenced him,” explains Stouck. “The landscaping of a mountain top in Bali, the buildings hug the landscape, and are very low.” All the other architects who put in proposals for SFU’s Burnaby campus had huge high rises as a central focus.

When Stouck and his wife visited Bali they saw terracing of the rice fields up and down the mountainside; those who are familiar with SFU Burnaby will understand how Erickson applied this concept.

“Japanese influence was really important too, both in landscaping and design. The idea that the building doesn’t rise up, but should be an intimate part of the landscape.”

Erickson also studied philosophy and believed in the creation of open, common areas for gathering and interdisciplinary mingling — which is reflected clearly in Convocation Mall and the AQ.

Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life has since been nominated for several awards, including the RBC Taylor Prize and two categories of the BC Book Prizes, for which the shortlist was announced on March 13.

Also on the BC Book Prize shortlist is Renée Sarojini Saklikar, graduate of the SFU Writer’s Studio and founder of Lunch Poems at SFU. Saklikar is nominated for her debut collection children of air india: un/authorized exhibits and interjections, reflecting on the Air India Flight 182 bombing in 1985.

The Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize includes two other poets with SFU connections: Jordan Abel, shortlisted for his title The Place of Scraps, is an instructor in the Continuing Studies department. Russell Thornton’s book of poetry, Birds, Metals, Stones and Rain, was also shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 2013; Thornton completed his MA at SFU.

On Thursday, April 3, there is a free soirée to celebrate the shortlisted authors at Joe’s Apartment at 6:00 p.m. The winner of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence, a lifetime achievement award, will also be announced at the event.

In mid-April, the BC Book Prizes On Tour will kick off, touring select authors (to be announced) around the province to visit schools, bookstores, and libraries in various communities. The winners of the BC Book Prizes will be announced May 3 at the Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prize Gala, an award celebration to be held this year at the Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside Hotel.