It seems almost unfathomable that Thora Howell - teacher, librarian, champion of local literature - could have grown up without a library in her school.
However the dearth of good reading material had an interesting effect on the young Howell, who simply became more determined in her effort to ferret out books in her small community of Peace River.
It also served to galvanize her determination that no other child should have to endure that experience.
The sentiment carries through to today, in her organizational capacity with the Children's
Book Festival, which just wrapped up an epic year for participation, said Howell.
It was also the driving passion that caused Howell to become a librarian and elementary school teacher before settling into working at the community library in the Downtown Eastside for several years.
It is Howell's role in both exposing the community to Canadian literary heroes, and providing a nurturing influence on fledgling authors, for which she is best known.
In 1978 Howell and her husband Jerry moved to Nanaimo to open the Bookstore on Bastion Street, where it remained a literary hub for 21 years and is still remembered by many for that role.
At it's heart was a children's section that stood as a central component of the store, rather than on the fringes.
"I ended up working with a lot of librarians," said Howell.
In the early years she and Lynn Shoop, then the co-ordinator of library services for the school district, brought books to daycare centres in the hopes of exposing them to the best in children's literature.
"The very good ones tell universal stories," said Howell. "I think with children, it's hard for them to articulate things that might be going on in their lives, but they can hear a story, and it resonates."
It was also the in-store readings, for both children and adults, that form some of the fondest memories for Howell.
From Timothy Findley reading from his 1977 novel The Wars at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 to Margaret Atwood, Denise Chong, Wade Davis and Jane Urqhart, the list of writing heavyweights who took a tour through the store was long and illustrious.
Particularly memorable was Governor General award-winner Jack Hodgins reading from his 1999 novel Broken Ground.
"In the novel he talked about the people who came back from World War I and were given land up around Merville," said Howell.
"So many people came to that reading, they were just stacked up, and some of them had even brought their deeds to the homesteads. He had really touched a nerve."
Then there was the time an eager reader brought a photocopied version of Anne Cameron's book Daughters of Copper Woman to a reading, and asked for an autograph.
"Anne didn't suffer fools gladly at all, and I was downstairs and when I came up, it was dead silent. Someone said, 'Thora, you'd better get in there,'" she said.
"The woman just said, 'I just love this book so much I want to pass it around to people.' But people got the message about copyright that night."
At the centre of a lively writing community that extended out internationally, it must have seemed a long way from Howell's earlier life as a young woman residing with her first husband in Alabama in 1956.
"It was heavily segregated. There were people on the back of the bus, and coloured washrooms and white washrooms, coloured water fountains and white water fountains," she said.
From there she went to Vacaville, Calif., where she secured a position as a Grade 3 teacher and then moved on to her first role as a school librarian.
Upon her return to B.C., she found the stagnant world of Canadian literature had gone into full bloom, and from that moment on, she never looked back.
"I don't think I could have lived my life without books," said Howell.
"I've always been looking for. .. not answers, but for experiences. I still am. You read a really good book and it tells you the truth about something."
Julie Chadwick, Daily News / Thora Howell, now with the Children's Book Festival, is well known to Nanaimo book lovers.;
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