As a child I attended a french school by the name of École St Antoine in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I was a rambunctious and (to be completely honest) hyper-active child but, put a book in my hands, and I would sit quietly for hours - engrossed. I had an inate sense of the order of words. I remember, when first learning about the many rhyming schemes in poetry how something just clicked - it all made sense to me.
Throughout my years at St Antoine my essays, stories and poetry were occasionally recognized with prizes and I, a ham to the core, would often be called upon to read at assemblies in front of the school and once, as the winner of a province wide poetry contest, at an educators convention in Toronto. I remember that I wore my favorite yellow cable knit sweater (it was the eighties!) and that I wasn't even nervous. A photo, snapped of me that day as I read, still resides in my parents study. Years later, when I began experiencing stage fright, I looked back in amazement at this young boy who stood alone on a stage, in front of a darkened crowd, in a massive auditorium, and spoke the words with a confidence - almost a nonchalance - that I would never be able to recreate. My confidence came from a certainty that this is what I was meant to do. I knew for certain that this was my path because a very kind woman, a writer that I came to respect and admire, had told me that it was possible, maybe even probable. That woman was Jocelyne Villeneuve.
When I was in the fourth grade (Grade 4 for Canadian readers) I told my teacher, Madame Naccarato, that I wanted to be a writer. She, in turn, told me of her cousin - who was a writer and poet - and suggested that, if I wanted, I could write a letter to find out more about writing, and she would pass it along. This small suggestion made all the difference. Shortly thereafter, having delivered my first letter for Jocelyne, I began a correspondence that lasted for years. Jocelyne encouraged me to imagine, she encouraged me to try many different styles until I found my voice but, most of all, she always spoke to me as an equal.
It wasn't until my adolescence that I learned of her debilitating illness, nor the car accident that had left her bound to a wheelchair in 1967. It wasn't until my adulthood I learned of her passion for haiku, nor that she was, in many ways, its most prominent Canadian champion. It was difficult for me to align the woman of my adulthood with the correspondence of my youth. Her letters were so positive, her poems so transcendent - I had no idea of the difficulties she had experienced because she had not made them important. That was my greatest lesson.
The world lost Jocelyne 10 years ago but I had lost her about 5 before that. Wrapped up in my life, like any teenager, I lost touch with her. Even years after we had stopped exchanging letters, I would still get a Christmas card from her every December. I was lucky to have known her and am heart sick that I never got the chance to thank her properly for everything that she had given to me. So, thank you Jocelyne, for reaching out to a child you never met, and changing his life.
Haiku for Jocelyne - 11/04/08
Autumn day, so warm
that I leave my coat at home
and walk in the leaves
Perhaps better known for her writing of French-language stories, poetry and journalism, Jocelyne Villeneuve was nonetheless no stranger to publishing in English. She lived in Sudbury, where she was a champion of Franco-Ontarian culture. Wheel-chair confined as a result of illness and a car accident in 1967, the former librarian worked for many years as a freelance writer.
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Notice biographique: Jocelyne Villeneuve (1941-1998) est née à Val d’Or, Québec et a vécu en Ontario de 1953 jusqu’à sa mort. Elle a poursuivi ses études primaires à l’École Saint-Jean et son secondaire au Collège Notre-Dame à Sudbury. Elle a aussi étudié à l’Université Laurentienne et à l’Université d’Ottawa. Elle détient deux baccalauréats de l’Université Laurentienne, l’un en économie (1962) et l’autre avec spécialisation en littérature française (1973). En 1964, elle a obtenu un baccalauréat en bibliothéconomie de l’Université d’Ottawa.
En 1964, elle a travaillé comme bibliothécaire et chef de département au service des acquisitions de la bibliothèque à l’Université Laurentienne. À la suite d’un accident de voiture en 1967 et aussi dû à des problèmes de santé, elle opte pour la littérature et le métier d’écrivaine. Des gestes seront posés a paru aux Éditions Prise de Parole en 1977, ceci représente un premier roman de la plume de cette auteur franco-ontarienne qui a vu publier un bon nombre de ses articles et poèmes, contes et nouvelles. Un recueil de contes pour enfants intitulé Contes des quatre saisons a paru aux Éditions Héritage (1978), ainsi qu’un recueil de contes pour adultes intitulé Le Coffre (1979) aux Éditions Prise de Parole. La version française de deux légendes, Nanna Bijou: Le géant endormi (1983) et La Princesse à la mante verte (1983). La version anglaise de Nanna Bijou: The Sleeping Giant a paru chez Penumbra Press. Deux recueils de poésie ont aussi paru aux Éditions Naaman: La saison des papillons (1980) et Feuilles volantes (1985). Le livre Ménagerie (1985) qui a paru aux Éditions des plaines du Manitoba, sa neuvième publication littéraire rassemble cinq contes mettant en vedette des animaux. De plus, “Les feux Saint-Elme” a paru dans Rauque (Revue de création) en 1985. Un récit poétique Terre des Songes (1986) et Le geai bleu et le papillon (1992) ont paru chez les Éditions du Vermillion. En 1987, Contes de Noël est publié par les Éditions des Plaines et en 1988 Greenmantle a paru chez Penumbra Press, ainsi que Marigolds in Snow (1993).
Jocelyne Villeneuve est décédée le 8 mai 1998, à Sudbury.