Constance Lindsay Skinner

Constance Lindsay Skinner, writer, editor, journalist (born at Quesnel, British Columbia 7 Dec 1877; died at New York, NY 27 Mar 1939). Born in rural British Columbia, Constance Lindsay Skinner moved to Vancouver in 1891. Two years afterward, Skinner left her parents to live with an aunt in California. While in California she worked as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Examiner, serving as a drama and music critic and writing political commentaries. She then moved to New York City, where she would publish numerous works and live until her death in 1939.

A prolific writer, Constance Lindsay Skinner published 14 novels, 28 short stories, 3 plays and 60 poems during her lifetime. Skinner also served as editor on the first 6 volumes of the innovative Rivers of America Series and was largely responsible for its conception. The series serves as a tribute to the North American landscape, and is of particular interest because the contributors were all literary figures rather than historians. Skinner's interest in the natural world, however, preceded her work on the series. The majority of her fiction pieces are set in western Canada, where she spent the first 14 years of her life. Included in this is the POETRY collection Songs of the Coast Dwellers (1930).

Published in 1930, Song of the Coast Dwellers showcases Skinner's strengths and interests as a writer. Written as a series of dramatic monologues, the poems showcase Skinner's poetic skills and her interest in FIRST NATIONS cultures and the female experience (seeSTATUS OF WOMEN). Exploring themes such as sexual and emotional abuse, Skinner's collection is risqué for its time. In exploring these themes, Skinner highlights the difficulties faced by all members of her gender, regardless of culture. She oscillates between portraying the female as victim in a male-dominated world, and praising masculine authority. The result for her readers is a varied examination of female experience at the time.

Songs of the Coast Dwellers was by no means the only work published by Skinner that focused on these themes. Roselle of the North (1927) features a female protagonist and tells the story of a Caucasian girl who is adopted by a CREE tribe. The NOVEL, targeted to a teenaged female audience, warns its audience that any behaviour outside what was considered appropriate for women would be met with punishment. This approach is particularly interesting because the expected direction of novels with First Nations settings and characters at that time was an examination of the culture, frequently romanticized. With Roselle of the North, however, Skinner subverts those expectations somewhat and uses the setting to extol what she saw as a feminine ideal.

Other publications, such as Red Willows (1929), also explore the relationship between First Nations and settler cultures in a rural Canadian setting, participating in the growing genre of frontier writing. Such themes, along with natural and historical settings, are the hallmark of most of Skinner's creative and editorial work. Skinner's focus on First Nations cultures and customs in her writing was certainly influenced by her early experiences. Though she moved to Vancouver in her teenage years, she spent her childhood in QUESNEL, a trading post community in rural British Columbia where her father worked for the HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY. There she met local DENE people and learned something of their culture. Constance Lindsay Skinner stands out in Canadian literary history not only for her creative work, but also for the themes she explored in the process. Though not alone in being a female writer, she is unique for making a living as one at a time when such an accomplishment was rare, particularly for a woman. The WNBA Award (for individual women), formerly known as the Constance Lindsay Skinner Award, is handed out annually to a "living American woman who derives part or all of her income from books and allied arts, and who has done meritorious work in the world of books beyond the duties or responsibilities of her profession or occupation."