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Da Costa bears criticism

Calgary Herald

Tuesday, May 06, 2003


Paulo da Costa chose Canada as his place of residence despite an encounter with a grizzly bear.

Paulo da Costa will read from The Scent of a Lie at noon today at McNally Robinson Booksellers as part of the Commonwealth Writers Prize celebrations.

Calgary author Paulo da Costa knows a thing or two about standing his ground — in the face of both critics and carnivores.

His face-to-face with the carnivore came a dozen years ago on a hike in the Alberta Rockies. The Angola-born, Portugal-raised writer hit the trail alone for a bit of soul-searching as he struggled to decide whether to stay in Canada. What he found on the search was an agitated young grizzly bear.

“It charged me, again and again and again,” da Costa remembers over tea at a suburban Second Cup. “It would get as close as my toes, and then stop. And then it would charge again.”

An avid backcountry hiker, da Costa chose to brazen it out.

“I felt so centred,” he says. “I can’t even describe it fully. Just calm and absolutely still.”

To ask whether the experience changed his life seems almost inane.

“It changed everything. It changed my writing completely, it changed me, just everything.”

The writing — something he’d “always done,” in a number of languages — became more self-assured. The Scent of a Lie was written soon afterward, but had to withstand attacks of its own.

“It was turned down by every publisher out there,” he says with a laugh. “And I just kept sending it out again. I just kept trying.”

A decade later, a publisher finally accepted the book. This year, The Scent of a Lie was named the Commonwealth Writers Prize best first book, Canada-Caribbean region. He’s enjoying the crazy ride that has since ensued, although it doesn’t leave much room for writing.

“It’s been quite a surprise to me how busy I’ve become,” he says. “There are interviews to do, and requests for submissions to anthologies. I didn’t really know there’d be so much involved. It’s great, just very different.”

Da Costa is also the editor of Filling Station, a local literary magazine that brings together new local, national and international work.

He says Calgary’s writing community is an incredibly supportive one.

“There is a true sense of working together, of mentorship and collaboration. It makes it a wonderful place to live and work.”



© Copyright 2003 Calgary Herald

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