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Honorary degree citation - Eleanor Wachtel

By: Linda Kay, June 2010

Mr. Chancellor, it is my honour to present to you Ms. Eleanor Wachtel, CBC Radio broadcaster and Canada’s preeminent voice in literary conversation.

On Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., the best and brightest literary talents come alive in the very capable hands of host Eleanor Wachtel on the award-winning CBC Radio One program, Writers & Company.

Every week, she fosters an appreciation for writing, culture and the arts. Praise for Ms. Wachtel is not hard to come by.

She is, according to novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, “one of the very finest interviewers or authors I’ve come across anywhere in the world.”

A listener described her as a “tremendous interviewer: for the spaces she leaves; for the vast knowledge she has; for being approachable and easygoing, but at the same time always being ready and able to dive off into questions - about living and writing and books themselves - and helping her interviewees be comfortable and engaged enough to dive right along with her. There is certainly no show like it.”

Ms. Wachtel has redefined broadcast journalism about literature, extending her reputation internationally as the master of conversation.

Née à Montréal, Mme Wachtel a obtenu un diplôme « first class honours » en littérature anglaise à l’Université McGill.

Elle est ensuite devenue professeure associée en étude des femmes à l’Université Simon Fraser avant d’occuper divers postes dans le milieu de la
radiodiffusion, dont celui de journaliste présentatrice, d’animatrice radiophonique et de commentatrice artistique.

Among her many award-winning broadcast roles with the CBC are literary commentator for State of the Arts and contributor to The Arts Tonight, which she later hosted for over a decade. She is also host of Wachtel on the Arts on CBC’s Ideas.

Over the years, she has written multiple articles and has co-edited two books, The Expo Story in 1986 and Language in Her Eye in 1990. She is co-author of A Feminist Guide to the Canadian Constitution.

Ms. Wachtel has published three collections of interviews from her show, Writers & Company, More Writers & Company and Original Minds, and contributed to the best-selling books, Dropped Threads: What We Aren’t Told and Lost Classics. Her most recent book is Random Illuminations: Conversations with Carol Shields, a book of conversations, correspondence and personal recollections with the Pulitzer-Prize winning Canadian writer and friend who died in 2003.

Just this year, she travelled to Chile to interview writers and filmmakers for a special five-part series, arriving in Santiago just hours before February’s
catastrophic earthquake. Through tremors and aftershocks, she kept her appointments and carried on with interviews of authors Antonio Skarmeta and later, Isabel Allende.

Ms. Wachtel’s interview style has been described as deeply immersed, and involves extensive research. The resulting Writers & Company interview sheds
light on the intersection of the author’s life and work, all in a one-hour format of intelligent and engaging radio.

In 2002, Ms. Wachtel was named winner of the Jack Award for the promotion of Canadian books and authors, named in honour of the late publisher Jack
McClelland. She was appointed Member of the Order of Canada in 2005.

For her thoughtful questioning; for opening up the literary worlds of India, Australia, Mexico, South Africa and other countries; for taking us on a journey full of self-discovery and new perspectives, we are so pleased to recognize Eleanor Wachtel here today.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and honour to present to you Eleanor Wachtel so that you may confer upon her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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