Butala, Sharon (1940-)

Sharon Butala.
Duane Prentice (Nomadic Visions, Victoria, B.C.)

Sharon Butala was born on August 24, 1940, in Nipawin, Saskatchewan. She attended the University of Saskatchewan to obtain a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Education, and then worked as an educator of special needs teenagers in Saskatoon. In 1976 she left academia to live with her husband, Peter Butala, on a ranch near Eastend; she also began her writing career, which focused on the character of the land and the personalities of ranchers and small-town people. Butala first wrote short stories, such as: “The Perfection of the Morning: An Apprenticeship in Nature” (1994), “Coyote's Morning Cry: Meditations and Dreams from a Life in Nature” (1995), “Wild Stone Heart” (2000), and “Old Man on His Back” (2002). She has also written several plays including Natural Disasters (1986), A Killing Frost (1988) and Rodeo Life (1993).

Although Butala found the move to her new rural home difficult at first, she eventually came to embrace the vastness of her surroundings and used it as inspiration for her writing. However, the underlying theme in all her work has been understanding and exposing the female soul. She is also active in preserving the Saskatchewan landscape: in 1996, she and her husband turned over a portion of their 13,000-acre ranch to the Nature Conservancy of Canada; this land now makes up the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area, a vast expanse of mixed-grass prairie that is to remain undisturbed. Also committed to preserving historical sites, she recognized the importance of Wallace Stegner's accomplishments in literature and ensured that his home in Eastend was declared a historical site and made into an artists' retreat.

Since the beginning of her writing career over twenty years ago, Butala has been recognized numerous times for her work. Awards include the Marian Engel Award for a Woman Writer in Mid-Career in 1998; the Non-Fiction Award and Spirit of Saskatchewan Award from the Saskatchewan Book Awards in 1994; and in 1991 both the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Member's Achievement Award and a Silver Award for Fiction from the National Magazine Awards. She was also shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction in 1994 for “The Perfection of the Morning,” and for Fiction in 1986 for Queen of the Headaches, as well as for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Canada-Caribbean Section, for Fever in 1992. Butala has also received awards for her commitment to preserving Saskatchewan ecology and her contributions to the literary world; these include an honorary degree from the University of Regina in 2000, the Queen's Jubilee Medal in 2002, and an honorary degree from the University of Saskatchewan in 2004. She was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002.

Melanie Neuhofer

Further Reading

Butala, S. 2002. Old Man on His Back: Portrait of a Prairie Landscape. Toronto: Harper Collins.