Having first come to public attention during her more than 10 years in the co-host’s chair at CBC Winnipeg Information Radio, Lesley Hughes interviewed a multitude of global movers and shakers, community leaders and everyday citizens. And after working on that flagship program, her contribution to political thought, popular culture, literature, social commentary and human interest has continued with her usual intensity. Hughes plucks the gem of each story, and presents it to us – to enjoy and share. Here are a few examples.
James Bond – series
It’s little known that the man who inspired the James Bond novels (according to author Ian Fleming) was a Winnipegger: Bill Stephenson, a local rascal who eventually conquered the world, made a fortune and was better known as Sir William Stephenson. Hughes prepared a five-part radio documentary for CBC Winnipeg’s Information Radio.
(With special thanks to Janice Moeller and Keran Sanders.)
Here’s a sample. Click on top right “x” button of media player to exit
|Canadian Dimension Magazine|
Disaster Culture and Our Beloved Ugly Ducklings – column
More people watched Susan Boyle win over an audience blinded by the prejudices of popular culture than the record numbers who watched Obama’s inauguration. The webiverse shook! This analysis appeared in Canadian Dimension: a magazine for people who want to change the world.
Click to Show/Hide
It was the most compelling television moment since Jack Ruby murdered Lee Harvey Oswald, except that this time, nobody died. Quite the opposite, in fact: a star was born.
When frumpy Susan Boyle told the judges at Britain’s Got Talent reality show that she wanted to be a singer, the audience behaved exactly as they have been programmed to behave. They were not merely surprised and amused; they were disgusted; they rolled their eyes and steeled themselves, waiting for her moment in the spotlight to be over. They might have stoned Edith Piaf.
This woman so clearly had nothing to offer. She lacked Madonna’s bullet breasts, Diana Krall’s legs, Britanny Spear’s grinding ass and Avril Lavigne’s heroin eyes. Yet the old fool was asking for their approval.
Who did she think she was?
Ironically, her audience would not recognize themselves in the song Boyle chose to sing, words describing brutish predators and originally written for the scorned Fantine in Les Miserables.
…but the tigers come at night /with their voices soft as thunder/ and they tear your hope apart/ and they turn your dream to shame…
The lyrics described them, of course, but never mind. After Boyle’s song, they rose to their feet in adoration. Judges and audience members alike could hardly speak, shell shocked “that someone who looked like that could sing like that.”
It was more than an Ugly Duckling Becomes a Swan, or even a Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover moment. It was a moment in which disaster culture, a partner of disaster capitalism was laid bare for all to see.
Since then, more than one hundred million people have watched the middle-aged Scot sing on YouTube. In just two weeks, she blew away every video record in web history, pulling in more than five times the viewers of Barak Obama’s Inauguration Speech.
There are endless commentaries on the web, but the easiest way to under-stand this phenomenon is by watching yet another video in which not a word is spoken. In this one, found at Susan-Boyle.com, a nameless woman watches the now iconic performance. It has been viewed half a million times.
The woman has an impassive, working class face. She appears to be watching in a darkened kitchen. As Boyle begins to sing, the watcher’s face shifts slightly, eyes widening just a little. Soon after, they fill with tears, though the tears do not fall. The song continues and she puts one hand to her face, then two. The woman nods, and tilts her head in curiosity and compassion; by the time Boyle gets to I had a dream my life would be/so different from this hell I’m living, the watcher is transformed. She has alternately wept, grinned, laughed, wiped her nose and surrendered completely to the singer and her song. It is the world’s unfiltered response.
Boyle’s one woman audience wept in her kitchen because she saw an un-packaged woman, confident in her best discount dress radiate strength and beauty. She laughed because she saw mindless ridicule and contempt run for cover. She rejoiced because she saw a woman who had no potential as a sexual product define herself with her talent, and, by Goddess, there was no denying her.
Just as our disaster capitalism waits for a chance to rob communities of their money, our disaster culture robs ordinary women, especially artists, of their allegedly exclusive capitalist reward: self fulfillment.
The world of capitalist entertainment will not now open its closets and let the plain girls out. But for a moment, we saw our popular culture for the gender-bent, soul destroying wreck it is.
Humphrey Bogart promised Ingrid Bergman they would always have Paris.
The rest of us will have Susan Boyle.
Spirit of Leadership – Celebrating Legacies of Vision & Action – interview series
In March of 2008, Winnipeggers celebrated the leadership of five outstanding women in their community at a luncheon which raised $75,000 for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. Hughes wrote and narrated their video profiles.
(With special thanks to Chris Thenhaus)
Here’s Yhetta Gold. Click to Show/Hide
The Way We See It – documentary
This documentary film is a Morningside Production written and narrated by Hughes. The Way We See It tells the stories of four families trying to help family members who live with mental illness. The work is a touching exploration of their challenges – some successes and dire frustrations which these families face. Viewers are invited to see for themselves.
(With special thanks to Geoffrey Hughes)
Here’s Devi Sud. Click to Show/Hide
|Globe and Mail|
‘No matter what they give Brazil, it goes to the politicians, not the people’ – opinion
In June of 1992, the world witnessed its first Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil. Thousands of northern journalists attended, curious to see if the United Nations could awaken the planet’s conscience concerning the future of the environment. Hughes was one of them, and she filed this report for the Globe and Mail.
|Winnipeg Free Press|
Hughes is a popular book reviewer in the Winnipeg Free Press book section, which appears every Saturday.
Excesses of Murdoch’s media empire uncovered, unravelled and under fire – Rupert Murdoch book review
Hughes, an unrelenting advocate for serious media reform, couldn’t wait to get her hands on this exposé of the Murdoch news empire. (Even she was shocked!) Hughes shared her discoveries with readers of the Winnipeg Free Press.
If you’re not laughing with her, she’s talking about you! – Joan Rivers book review
Following in the brave and brash footsteps of her beloved mentor Phyllis Diller, Rivers is forever closing in on the unspeakable, but her material respects the golden rule of comedy – that it contain at least enough truth to be recognized in laughter…
Testing the ‘last nice country’ – feature article
As the Canadian Museum for Human Rights slowly advances to its opening, Hughes asked whether Canadians are really as committed to human rights as they imagine they are. Her feature article from the Winnipeg Free Press may surprise you.
|Winnipeg’s Community Newspapers|
On losing Carol Shields – column
Hughes wrote this remembrance of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Carol Shields, after hearing about her friend’s death in the least personal way…on the radio. She shared her response in one of her columns in Winnipeg’s five community newspapers.
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It was Wednesday afternoon when I switched on CBC Radio One and heard Neil Besner, head of the University of Winnipeg’s English Department, elo-quently discussing the work of writer Carol Shields. A shiver of fear swept across my mind. Had MY friend died of the breast cancer which shadowed her every move for the last five years? I listened intently, but there was no mention of death. And summer shows in which book lovers swap reading ideas are common. Feeling the relief of reprieve, I proceeded along a normal day.
Later in the day, the reprieve vanished. Carol Shields, great in her art and in her soul, she who embraced Canada and was totally embraced in return, had indeed died. The list of people to call and comfort was so overwhelming that I couldn’t decide where to begin, and retreated instead into a sorrowful sleep.
Her death has been observed as it should, with sympathy from the Prime Minister. And the Governor General. The flag in front of the National Arts Centre was lowered. Heartfelt tributes are pouring in to her home in Victoria, all of them deserved, most of them inadequate.
The day after her death, I was driving through the Exchange District where a million Fringe Festival posters advertise plays with clever titles. One of them spoke to me. It said: Miss Me Already?
With that, I smiled, thinking how much Carol would enjoy the irony of it. Carol could have made a poem out of that, a short story, possibly a novel. She loved the mysteries that life presents, coincidences, even cliches, from which she could create the opposite of the expected.
People who enjoyed Carol’s work and friendship speak of her in superlatives. She had the finest eye, the sharpest ear, the wisest spirit. A slight, silver blond who much of the time radiated an air of mild bewilderment, she led the most charmed life I have ever seen. She was lovely, talented, happily married and the mother of five children, all of them devoted to her. Fame and wealth came late in life when she could appreciate them. She was a brilliant teacher and mentor to numerous young writers. Nobody, either in her life or in her fiction was insignificant to her.
Just a few weeks ago, at McNally Robinson Booksellers, Prairie Fire Press launched a new book about her life and work, The Arts of a Writing Life, edited by Neil Besner. After the launch, people were invited to record messages to Carol on videotape. I was the unseen interviewer, helping them to focus on exactly what they wanted to say. It was easy: they all said the same thing; thank you, we love you.
Although she is loved around the world (her work has been translated into 17 different languages) Winnipeggers owe her a special debt. As another celebrated Canadian writer has said, for people who only know our city through her work, it has become a city of love. Not only did she make it the scene of ever-changing love stories, but she actually loved it in real life.
When I interviewed her for a profile in Chatelaine Magazine, she told me the things she loved about Winnipeg. “It’s a mannerly city,” she wrote, “a stone city rising up out of our soft prairie loam.” She loved also “the cheerful resistance to winter, the purity of the light, the leafiness, the abundance of lilacs. And the arts community, so isolated, but so faithful to their talents.”
You could map the city by her stories.
The stately architecture of Crescentwood was the stage for The Republic of Love. A tiny yard in the city’s west end gave rise to the maze which symbolizes male confusion (and good intentions) in Larry’s Party. Then there ís the unforgettable Mrs. Turner Cutting the Grass in River Heights, an unsung piece from the short story collection, Various Miracles. With her all seeing-eye, Carol reveals the frumpy Mrs. Turner’s life as deeply lived, and lived beyond anyone’s right to judge it. “And O how like an ornament she shines.” the story concludes.
But never, never as brightly as Carol Shields herself.
She told me once about shopping lazily in an antique store, and coming across a wonderful old wooden cabinet. She was undecided whether to take it home. When she decided to buy it, she returned only to find that someone had pinned a note on its front. “Sorry cabinet not for sale” it said.
The all important comma was missing, but a sorry cabinet struck her as a wonderful idea. You could sneak downstairs at night and leave your apolo-gies inside and other people would always know where to find them.
If I had a sorry cabinet, I would leave this note for Carol:
Sorry, so very sorry you are gone. Thankful, so very thankful that you were here.
Canada’s Everywoman at mid-life – commentary
Cartoonist Lynn Johnston spoke to hundreds of Manitoba farm women, who loved every word she said. Hughes was among those paying close attention to what Johnston has learned from life.
We just don’t laugh enough – commentary
Comedy, as Rex Harrison mused, is a serious business. Hughes is among those who appreciate laughter, and remind others to do the same. The Winnipeg Sun published this.
A spontaneous tableau of womanly life – commentary
Miss a chance to interview one of the doyennes of the global women’s movement? Gloria Steinem. Not even if you have to get up at dawn and ride along to the airport. Hughes thinks the taxi driver was listening!