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Powerful and unique book on addiction lands Concordia grad Governor General’s Award

Hannah Green’s Xanax Cowboy is an autobiographical collection of poetry on addiction, sobriety and Western motifs
February 20, 2024
By David Silverberg

Image of a smiling woman in a leather jacket and sunglasses a top her head holding a clipboard with Sheep Poetry printed on it. In 2023, Hannah Green won the $25,000 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry.

When Hannah Green, MA 20, looks back at her early influences on shaping Xanax Cowboy (House of Anansi Press), her debut literary collection that won the 2023 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry, she immediately credits a Concordia professor.

“I couldn’t have written the book without what Stephanie Bolster taught me,” she says about the English professor. “She told me I was too technical in what I was writing, and that I was writing myself out of my work. What she told me really clicked.”

Green, speaking from her Winnipeg home, says she put herself so much into the poems, she estimates it’s 90 per cent autobiographical. Xanax Cowboy is formatted as a long poem focused on the titular character’s behaviour and philosophies while dodging the slings and arrows of addiction. Green says her main vices have been Xanax, alcohol and cocaine.

“It’s been amazing to hear from people who said my book has helped them in some way with their own addiction,” Green says.

Also unique to the book is how she formats its structure. One poem is a list of sentences that begin with “One lasso is” while another piece resembles a page from a screenplay and another riffs off hashtag culture: “#instagram-is-comparable-to-eternity #imagine-scrolling-forever.

“I wanted to create a book that messes with form. I didn’t want to write in one specific style, but include all the styles that appeal to me,” Green says.

From Winnipeg to Montreal and back again

Book cover image of author Hannah Green's latest book, Xanax Cowboy “I couldn’t have written the book without what Stephanie Bolster taught me,” she says about the English professor | Photo: House of Anansi Press Inc.

Growing up in Winnipeg, Green journaled but never dove into writing during her childhood. “English teachers disliked me, and I think I got something like a 60 in English,” she recalls with a laugh.

But at 19, she stumbled upon a collection of poetry by Charles Bukowski at a thrift store, which sent her “full tilt into poetry.” It led her to enrol at the University of Winnipeg to pursue a BA in English.

Feeling an itch to leave her city, Green says she threw her efforts into producing “a solid entrance package” to apply to the Master of Arts in English program at Concordia.

As much as she valued the tutelage and inspirational advice from Bolster, Green didn’t take to Montreal as much as she thought she would. “I shut down a lot, and stayed in my apartment most of the time, drinking way too much,” she says.

It was only in her final year of study that she began to shape her poetry into a manuscript that would eventually become Xanax Cowboy. Along the way, an early version of the book was a finalist for the lauded RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers.

“Then out of the blue, Kevin Connolly from House of Anansi approached me and asked to see more of my writing, and that was a dream come true because I always wanted to be published by Anansi,” Green says.

The book hit shelves in April 2023 amid favourable reviews from The Toronto Star, Quill & Quire and ARC Poetry.

When the pandemic struck, Green moved back to see friends and family in Winnipeg and never left, as she found the city to offer more solid footing to reach sobriety.

Poetry continued to be central in her life in another way, too: She volunteered to be a poetry editor at the literary magazine CV2, a position she still holds today.

Her job, apart from writing, remains what she secured in Montreal during her years at Concordia: She works as a content writer for a digital marketing agency.

‘I couldn’t tell anyone but my mom’

After she was named a finalist for the $25,000 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry, Green didn’t think too much of it until she got a call from a staffer from the prize committee.

“When she told me I won, I had to make sure she got it right, and I kept telling her, ‘You know you called Hannah Green, right?’” she says.

She adds, “I couldn’t tell anyone but my mom — they swear you to secrecy there — and once the news came everyone wanted to celebrate, but I was sick with the flu for like two months.”

Green says an in-person ceremony celebrating the literary winners of the Governor General’s Awards will take place in the spring. For now, she is toying with the idea of writing a second book based on material she didn’t include in Xanax Cowboy

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