Fellow in Focus: Sherrill Grace, FRSC

With a 60-hour work week Dr. Sherrill Grace doesn’t have a lot of free time for other pursuits. But she considers volunteering to be an essential contribution to her community and has dedicated many hours to serving on national adjudication committees, refereeing manuscripts and giving interviews, such as this one.

In addition, she volunteers on the board of the Vancouver Institute, sits on several editorial boards for journals in Canada and Europe, and has given free lectures on a couple of occasions to Vancouver Institute members.

Whether for work or volunteering, all of her pursuits are for the same goal:

“To share my love of the arts, to inspire—just a little—this love in others, and to convince others that literature, and the arts works in the world, that it has an impact on our daily lives, that it helps shape who we are. We ignore these aspects of being human at our peril.”

Her dedication and love for her work have earned her an impressive number of accolades. Most recently she was designated University Killam Professor at the University of British Columbia where she is a Full Professor of English. The designation recognizes exceptional members of faculty who have distinguished themselves as scholars in research and teaching. She was also recently awarded the Lorne Pierce Medal of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canada Council Killam Prize in the Humanities and the Canada Council Killam Research Fellowship.

Her appreciation of the arts was fostered in childhood, with regular trips to Stratford, Ontario with her parents to see the theatre and a pervasive love of books. “I always loved literature and read from a very early age,” says Dr. Grace. “Even as a teenager—I must have been rather a bore—I loved to be private and read.”

Her career began at the University of McGill as an assistant professor in English, after completing her Masters and PhD at McGill (she did her undergrad, also in English, at the University of Western Ontario). In 1977 she left central Canada, where according to Dr. Grace, her heart and soul still reside, for the west coast and a teaching position at the University of British Columbia. She served as Associate Dean of Arts at UBC for three years, as a UBC Senator for nine years and Head of the Department of English at UBC from 1997 to 2002.

I decided that rather than mapping out a career trajectory, I would be happiest if I concentrated on doing each thing as well as possible and allowing the future to happen. I have continued to operate on that principle and it has never let me down. Ambition for me means doing a job well—as well as I can—and finishing it,” says Dr. Grace.

This approach has proven to be successful for Dr. Grace, who has produced hundreds of scholarly articles, review articles, monographs, as well as books, and has sustained a passion for her work.

In total she has published 23 books, most recently, On the Art of Being Canadian in 2009, Making Theatre: A Life of Sharon Pollock in 2008, and Canada and the Idea of North in 2007. She’s currently finishing a book on the two World Wars entitled Landscapes of Memory, and laying the groundwork for a biography of Canadian novelist and playwright Timothy Findley who died in 2002.

“Findley has an enormous amount to say about the 21st century and we should be listening to his voice. Hopefully a biography will assist this voice in being heard more clearly.”

Her enthusiasm for her work is particularly prevalent when discussing Canada’s North.

“One of the most important aspects of my research, teaching, speaking and publications is my study of the Canadian North,” says Dr. Grace. “My duty is to use my knowledge to help others understand how the North is viewed, why it is important to our lives, and what we must do to protect the Canadian North, and the circumpolar North of which we are a part.”

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