Jiles, Paulette 1943-
JILES, Paulette 1943-
PERSONAL: Born April 4, 1943, in Salem, MO; immigrated to Canada, 1969; married. Education: University of Missouri, B.A. (Spanish literature), 1969.
CAREER: Writer, poet. Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC-Radio), Toronto, Ontario, Canada, freelance reporter, 1968-69; journalism consultant to native Canadian communication groups in Arctic region, 1973-83; David Thompson University, Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, instructor, 1983-84; Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, writer-in-residence, 1987-88; appeared in documentary film Rose's House, 1976.
AWARDS, HONORS: President's Gold Medal, 1973; Pat Lowther Memorial award, 1984; Gerald Lampert award, 1974; Governor General's Award, 1984, for Celestial Navigation; A.C.T.R.A. award, 1989, for Money and Blankets; "Read This!" choice citation from Good Morning America, 2002, for Enemy Women.
Rose's House (screenplay), National Film Board of Canada (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1976.
Sitting in the Club Car Drinking Rum and Karma-Kola: A Manual of Etiquette for Ladies Crossing Canada by Train (novella), Polestar Press (Winlaw, British Columbia, Canada), 1986.
The Late Great Human Road Show (novel), Talon-books (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1986.
Cousins (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
North Spirit: Travels among the Cree and Ojibway Nations and Their Star Maps, Hungry Mind (St. Paul, MN), 1995, published as North Spirit: Sojourns among the Cree and Ojibway, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.
Enemy Women (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 2002.
Waterloo Express, Anansi (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1973.
Celestial Navigations, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1984.
The Jesse James Poems, Polestar Press (Winlaw, British Columbia, Canada), 1988.
Blackwater, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.
Song to the Rising Sun: A Collection, Polestar Press (Winlaw, British Columbia, Canada), 1989.
Flying Lessons: Selected Poems, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.
Also author of radio plays My Mother's Quilt, 1987, and Money and Blankets, 1988. Work represented in anthologies, including Canada First, edited by P. Anson, Anansi, 1970, and Mindscapes. Contributor of short stories to Saturday Night.
ADAPTATIONS: Enemy Women has been optioned for a motion picture.
SIDELIGHTS: Novelist and poet Paulette Jiles became nationally recognized in 2002 with the publication of her historical novel Enemy Women. Although many reviewers cited Enemy Women as her first novel, Jiles is in fact an accomplished writer with many other books to her credit. Well before Enemy Women hit the stands, Jiles had become well known in her adopted country of Canada for what New York Times Book Review contributor George Garrett called, "a realized sense of place—places really . . . a real world with sharp corners and edges and with real people with muscles and bones, minds and spirits, hopes and memories, characters who cast shadows." Among her works are the novel Cousins and the poetry collections Blackwater and Celestial Navigation, the latter winning Canada's prestigious Governor General's award in 1985.
Jiles's first volume of poetry, Waterloo Express, met with an enthusiastic reception in 1973. Dennis Lee commented in Saturday Night that "the author is often presented in folk outline: she laments a string of busted love affairs, hits the road again and again to forget, and can talk as sardonic and lowdown as any blues momma. Yet the TNT and agony she drags around come crackling out in images of manic brilliance, controlled by a frequently superb ear." Linda Rogers of Canadian Literature was similarly impressed with Jiles's use of language. Her "images have a life of their own," Rogers explained, and "in visual terms, the poems are like the paintings of Marc Chagall. Gorgeous disconnected figures float by. . . . All the paraphernalia of life's circus is assembled in a giant mobile moving in the wind."
It was over a decade before Jiles's second book, Celestial Navigation, was published. Containing twenty-one poems from Waterloo Express, the volume also includes many newer poems, comprising a "collection that derives its dynamic energy from Jiles's skill with language," wrote Books in Canada reviewer Judith Fitzgerald. "Whether she focuses on interpersonal relationships or interplanetary movements, all things flourish where she turns her eyes." Celestial Navigation, which also includes several long, narrative prose poems, uses storytelling to create what Canadian Poetry essayist Susan J. Schenk called "a distinctively female, profoundly personal response to experience. . . . [T]he voice talking . . . is for Jiles a means of both displacing personal experience, locating it in the experiences of others, and revealing intensely personal thoughts and emotions."
Jiles's 1988 verse collection, Blackwater, was her first volume to be published in the United States, where she was born and raised. The collection incorporates her Jesse James Poems, a montage of poetry and contemporary newspaper articles, photographs, and other artifacts related to the outlaw gang that Garrett termed "a major achievement" through Jiles's ability to colorfully recreate, "with an eccentric linking of narrative points of view . . . the rowdy, bloody adventures and misadventures of the James boys." Blackwater also contains several short prose works, as well as Jiles's 1986 comic novella, A Manual of Etiquette for Ladies Crossing Canada by Train, which was published in Canada under the title Sitting in the Club Car Drinking Rum and Karma-Kola. A parody of the 1940s detective novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, A Manual of Etiquette follows its heroine as she avoids the payment of $50,000 in overdue bills by fleeing across country.
Song to the Rising Sun contains both poetry and several of Jiles's radio scripts. The collection focuses on the poet's recollections of her youth, growing up in Missouri's Ozark Mountain region around a number of colorful—and talkative—friends, neighbors, and relatives. "The poet's voice sounds everywhere with a strong incantatory beat and a marked use of repetition," according to Contemporary Women Poets contributor Patience Wheatley. Jiles's 1995 collection, Flying Lessons: Selected Poems, incorporates some poems from Song to the Rising Sun along with new material. Jiles has also published North Spirit: Sojourns among the Cree and Ojibway, a 1995 nonfiction work that recounts her experiences while living among Canada's northern tribes in the 1970s and 1980s.
It was the 2002 novel Enemy Women that became Jiles's first bestseller. The Civil War-era story is based upon Jiles's own family history and on research she did on women prisoners in Missouri during the Civil War. Set in the Ozark region of Missouri, the novel recounts the wartime experiences of Adair Randolph Colley, an eighteen-year-old thrown into desperate circumstances with little more than her wits to guide her. After Adair's father is beaten and taken away by the Union militia, she follows the troops in hopes of finding out his whereabouts. Instead she is arrested as a Confederate spy and consigned to a women's penitentiary in St. Louis. Amidst the horrifying conditions of the jail, Adair falls in love with the Union officer in charge of the facility, and he helps her to escape even as he leaves the post himself for active duty in the front lines. Christine Wald-Hopkins in the Denver Post called Enemy Women "a patchwork of varied and disparate pieces—a love story, a grownup girl-and-horse story, a little personal family history, straight historical exposition and a narrative pieced together by period documents."
Enemy Women became a bestseller after it was chosen as the second "Read This!" selection by the television show Good Morning America. The book's success was also propelled by reviews and by the popularity of Civil War titles in general. Like Cold Mountain before it, Enemy Women reveals another side to the famous conflict, that of civilian suffering and the unjust incarceration of innocent people who were merely under suspicion of collaboration with the enemy. According to Linda Brazill in the Capital Times, "It's the intimate knowledge of how things worked, smelled and tasted more than a hundred years ago that lend [Jiles's] tale its strength and immediacy. Jiles covers what should be familiar territory by now—the Civil War—but she makes it seem like not only a new story but one that is more related to contemporary history and politics than I would have imagined possible." Brazill further noted that Jiles is "a talented writer whose book is filled with memorable images and passages that beg to be read a second time." A reviewer for the Tampa Tribune noted that Jiles's "poetic experience rings through in her prose. The narrative is rich with exquisitely sensual descriptions of the sights, smells, and sounds of a country at war."
According to Michelle Vellucci in People, Enemy Women succeeds "because of the vitality of its heroine. Adair is a spitfire with a brash sense of humor and a will of granite. Hers is a love story with grit." In the Houston Chronicle Eileen McClelland noted that the "storyteller's skill provides a breezy read through . . . heavy matters that serve as an interesting backdrop to a romantic journey. . . . It's easy to cheer Adair on in her wild journey home."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 13, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Books in Canada, October, 1984, pp. 27-28; January-February, 1987, p. 15.
Canadian Forum, August, 1974; August-September, 1987, pp. 48-49.
Canadian Literature, summer, 1974; spring, 1988, pp. 209-211.
Canadian Poetry, spring/summer, 1987, pp. 67-79.
Capital Times (Madison, WI), May 17, 2002, Linda Brazill, "Civil War Woman's Tale Comes to Life," review of Enemy Women, p. A13.
Christian Science Monitor, March 7, 2002, Ray Burson, review of Enemy Women, p. 20.
Denver Post, March 24, 2002, review of Enemy Women, p. EE-03.
Houston Chronicle, April 14, 2002, Eileen McClelland, "Fighting Woman," review of Enemy Women, p. 18.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, February 19, 2003, John Mark Eberhart, review of Enemy Women, p. K5766.
Library Journal, February 15, 2002, Ann Fleury, review of Enemy Women, p. 178.
New York Times Book Review, October 23, 1988, p. 22; February 24, 2002, John Vernon, "P.O.W.," p. 9.
People, February 11, 2002, Michelle Vellucci, review of Enemy Women, p. 41.
Publishers Weekly, December 20, 1991, review of Cousins, p. 79; January 7, 2002, review of Enemy Women, p. 46; July 15, 2002, Daisy Maryles, "GMA Makes an 'Enemy', " p. 18.
Quill & Quire, December, 1986, p. 38.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 3, 2002, Colleen Kelly Warren, "Novel Set in Missouri Blends Love Story with the Civil War," review of Enemy Women, p. G8.
Saturday Night, December, 1973; December, 1977.
Tampa Tribune, March 3, 2002, "Civil War Story Captures Human Spirit," review of Enemy Women, p. 4.
Readers Read Web site,http://www.readersread.com/ (February, 2003), interview with Paulette Jiles.*