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Must Write

Edna Staebler’s Diaries

By Christl Verduyn & Edna Staebler
Subjects Waterloo Region, History, Canadian History, Biography & Autobiography, Life Writing, Language Arts & Disciplines, Creative Writing
Series Life Writing Hide Details
Paperback : 9780889204812, 312 pages, September 2005
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554588114, 312 pages, August 2009
Ebook (PDF) : 9780889209145, 312 pages, January 2006

Table of contents

Table of Contents for Must Write: Edna Staebler’s Diaries, edited by Christl Verduyn
Introduction: “Life as Writing”
Edna’s Chronology
Family Lines
1. 1920s Words to Express
2. 1930s Longing to Make Something
3. 1940s Must Write
4. “Duellists of the Deep” 1948
5. “How to Live without Wars and Wedding Rings” 1950
6. 1950s Writing
7. 1960s Must Work
8. 1970s Something to Write About
9. “Cape Breton Harbour” (excerpt) 1972
10. “The Great Cookie War” 1987
11. 1980s The Business of Publishing
12. 1990s Must Do
13. 2000 Still Interested and Interesting


Long before she became the renowned author of the best-selling Schmecks cookbooks, an award-winning journalist for magazines such as Macleans, and a creative non-fiction mentor, Edna Staebler was a writer of a different sort. Staebler began serious diary writing at the age of sixteen and continued to write for over eighty years. Must Write: Edna Staebler’s Diaries draws from these diaries selections that map Staebler’s construction of herself as a writer and documents her frustrations and struggles, along with her desire to express herself, in writing. She felt she must write—that not to write was a “denial of life”—while at the same time she doubted the value of her scribblings.
Spanning much of the twentieth century—each decade is introduced by an overview of key events in the author’s life during that period—the diaries vividly illuminate both her intensely personal experiences and her broader social world. The volume also presents four key examples of Staebler’s public writing: her first published magazine article; her first award-winning publication; the opening chapter of her book Cape Breton Harbour; and her lively account of the Great Cookie War. Must Write: Edna Staebler’s Diaries portrays an ordinary woman’s struggle to write in the context of her lived experience. “All my life I have talked about writing and kept scribbling in my notebook, as if that makes me a writer,” wrote Staebler in 1986. This volume argues that the very act of writing the diaries, with all their contradictory accounts of writerly ambition, success, and conflict, made Staebler the writer she yearned to be.


Scholars interested in Canadian life writing will welcome the publication of this selection of Edna Staebler's diaries.... Readers my think of Staebler as a folksy writer of cookbooks, creative non-fiction, and journalistic pieces, but the diaries reveal a woman and author of considerable depth, subtlety, and complexity. Arguably, the diaries are her major literary achievement not only because of their sheer volume -- Staebler kept a diary for eight decades--but also because of the quality of the writing.... Verduyn ... supplies invaluable contextual material through brief introductions to each chapter, through endnotes ... [and] ... a cogent (if brief) essay in which she locates Staebler's diaries in historical and critical contexts.... The inclusion of this extratextual material makes Must Write a thoroughly scholarly edition. Verduyn has honoured Staebler's writing achievements; she has also made an important contribution to Canadian life-writing studies by bringing to a wider audience a significant primary text.

- Linda Warley, University of Toronto Quarterly, Letters in Canada 2005, Volume 76, number 1, Winter 2007, 2008 January

This edition does important recovery work, bringing attention to a woman writer who is not well-recognized in the Canadian literary canon.

- Laurie McNeill, Canadian Literature, 191, Winter 2006, 2007 April