Wayne Tefs’ roller-coaster of a life feted
WINNIPEG’S writing community lost one of its most accomplished writers and editors, and one of its first builders, when Wayne Tefs died on Sept. 15 at age 66. He had been diagnosed with a rare type of cancer called carcinoid syndrome in 1994; he chronicled his experiences living and battling with the disease in 2002’s Rollercoaster: A Cancer Journey, one of 13 of his books published in his lifetime. Tefs’ legacy in, and imprint on, Manitoba’s literary community began nearly 40 years ago. In 1976, Tefs co-founded local literary publisher Turnstone Press, serving as its fiction editor for many years as well as publishing a number of his own novels via the publisher. Writers such as Di Brandt, Margaret Sweatman, Miriam Toews and Linda Holeman all got their start with Turnstone. Tefs worked closely with writers to help move their manuscripts forward. “Writers don’t just appear — there’s always talent, but there’s also a lot of hard work, and having mentors around to develop your craft is important,” says Jamis Paulson, Turnstone’s associate publisher. “He had a high bar, and he expected himself and others to meet it — that was what you ended up seeing in what Turnstone produced. We like to think we set a high standard for literary publishing in Canada, and Wayne was part of that.” Between 1983 and 2012, Tefs’ own output included Figures on a Wharf (1983), 4x4 (2004), Bandit (2011) and On the Fly (2012). Bandit earned five nominations at the 2012 Manitoba Book Awards, while 2007 novel Be Wolf won the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award at the 2008 event. “Wayne wrote for the sake of writing,” says former Free Press books editor Morley Walker, who enlisted Tefs as a reviewer. “He didn’t attend the Manitoba Book Awards when his books were nominated. In a sense, this was a shame, since he never attained the recognition he deserved.” Fellow author and Turnstone Press co-founder David Arnason laughs as he remembers his friend. “He didn’t come out to all the launches and awards — he said he didn’t have to be humiliated any more in his lifetime.” In Rollercoaster, Tefs explored ways he could edit his life. “He talked so frankly about how much revision he had to do on himself, and how often he failed at it,” remembers Charlene Diehl, director of the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. After his diagnosis in 1994, Tefs took up cycling with a passion, going on two-wheeled adventures around the world. “I gained a lot of respect for Wayne in the way he found balance in life,” says Paulson. “Some of us in the publishing world have a tough time separating work from the rest of life. He had boundaries, and committed a lot to his family and his health. I learned a lot from him.” Tefs’ latest novel, Barker, was set to be launched this fall via Turnstone Press. “In some ways Barker is very different,” says Paulson. “It’s like a Prairie Odyssey — his main character is reflecting upon his life, but as he’s reflecting, he’s living it. There are tinges of regret and a bit of a struggle to understand ‘Why am I who I am?’ and coming to peace with that.” Arnason edited Barker, which he took as a huge compliment. “It’s an incredibly good book, quite different from a lot of what he had written. The editing of it was no huge job because he was such a confident editor,” he says. Barker will be released at McNally Robinson Booksellers at 3 p.m. today with a reading of passages from the novel by Arnason and Dennis Cooley, as well as remembrances from those close to Tefs. “This will be the chance for the public to come out and talk about Wayne as a writer, and how he impacted their reading or writing,” says Paulson.
Novelist Wayne Tefs’ final book, Barker, will be released posthumously today.