Gruending speeches interview in Beyond the Hill

Former MP Dennis Gruending was interviewed in a recent issue of Beyond the Hill magazine about his book Speeches That Changed Canada
Beyond the Hill magazine

I belong to a group called the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians, and they have a publication called Beyond the Hill. Their current issue carries an interview with me by Wade Morris about my recent book Speeches That Changed Canada. He asks not only about the book and the political speeches contained within it, but also about my next projects. It’s always delicate for writers to talk about what they plan to do next, but I did answer the question. You can read about it here.

 

Q&A with Dennis Gruending about speeches that changed Canada

Many of Canada’s most historically significant actions took a bit of convincing. In  his  new  book,  Speeches That Changed Canada, former MP Dennis Gruending curates a collection of speeches  that  were  pivotal  in  shaping  the  country.  Dennis navigates through centuries of Canadian politics, looking  at  issues  from  confederation to women’s right to vote. He deeply examines the speeches, looking at both their context and delivery.

Aside from being a former parliamentarian, Dennis has written several books, including best-seller Great Canadian Speeches in 2004. Dennis also runs two blogs – Great Canadian Speeches and Pulpit and Politics.

Beyond  the  Hill:  You  wrote  a book called Great Canadian Speeches  over  a  decade  ago,  and  you’ve blogged  about  speeches.  How is Speeches That Changed Canada different from your past work?

Dennis GruendingGreat Canadian Speeches was really a big research project. I didn’t have the time or room to put speeches into context in  any  great  detail,  but  I  gave  very brief  introductions  to  the speeches. As I did the book, it occurred to me that there were so many interesting things to write about related to many of these speeches. In Speeches That Changed Canada, I would tear the speeches down, look at what the orator was doing to his or her audience to convince them to do what they wanted them to do. I got a contract to write such a book, but then I ended up taking a very busy job for six years, and didn’t get back to the book.  I retired not long ago.  I was  asked  by  my  publisher  if  I  was interested in doing such a book, and I  was  very  much  interested.  That’s how Speeches That Changed Canada came to be.

Beyond the Hill: The book talks about history, politics, language, and performance.  What audiences were you considering while writing Speeches That Changed Canada?

Dennis  Gruending: I was thinking  of  anyone  who  is  interested  in Canadian  history,  which,  I  am. I’ve always been interested in politics – I was briefly an MP.  I  have  a  degree in  English  literature  and another  in journalism, so I’m very interested in language,  and  its  uses,  and  helping myself  and  other  people  know  how to  analyze  what  they’re  being  told, and  to  get  some  sense  of  what  the  person talking to us expects us to do and what tricks they’re using on us. So,  it’s  for  anyone  with  an  interest in  Canadian  history,  politics,  or  literature,  with  a  special  emphasis  on students,  professors,  and  people  on Parliament Hill.

Beyond the Hill:  So the book combines several experiences that you’ve had.

Dennis Gruending: That’s one of the very exciting things about it. As I said, the first book was mainly an immense research project. I read for several years. This book contains some of the speeches from the first book, and some new ones. There are fewer – there are eleven of them. That gave me the freedom to write more about each speaker and each speech.

Beyond the Hill:  What was the research process like for Speeches That Changed Canada?

Dennis Gruending:  First,  I  had to find the speeches. Each had to be important, in the sense that there had to be something at stake. It couldn’t be an ‘after dinner’ speech. It had to be like Louis Riel trying to save his life, or John A. McDonald trying to convince the people of Canada to have confederation. The speaker also had to be able to rise to the occasion. They had to have the rhetorical skills to take on their topic, to take on a point of crisis in some cases.  That’s how I chose the eleven speeches. Then, a lot of  reading.  For each speaker, I would read biographies, and give a great deal of attention to footnotes.  I find that biographers will write about a speech in passing. I would go to the footnote and find that  speech.  Anybody who wrote about someone as a speaker, I would follow that.  For example, someone wrote about John A. McDonald and they talked about how he spoke, and what his voice sounded like.  Those nuggets are not very plentiful, so I kept and used the ones I found. I was looking for the person’s rhetorical ability probably more than I was looking at their ability as a politician.

Beyond  the  Hill:  If  someone  is interested in speech writing  or  public speaking, what lessons could they learn  from  Speeches That Changed Canada?

Dennis Gruending:  I think the message goes all the way back to Aristotle. In Greek society, rhetoric was highly prized. Aristotle was trying to teach his students how to analyze what they were being told.  A  very important thing for us in our democracy is for people to be educated, in a sense that they can assemble and tear down what speakers are telling them, and  say,  ‘well,  he’s  saying  that,  but that’s not really quite so’, or, ‘they’re playing around with my emotions’.

Beyond the Hill: Do you have any plans to publish more writing?

Dennis Gruending: I have no immediate plans, but I have a few ideas. One is about my family’s history, and the society in which I grew up: Saskatchewan in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. I would go back in time to my grandparents  –  one  came  from Germany  and  another  came  from Ukraine  –  and  try  to  look  at  what life was like for them, and why they came to Canada, and what happened when they came here. That’s a fairly commonly told story, but not deeply researched.  Right now, I’m focusing more on Speeches That Changed Canada, and keeping my blogs going.

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Source: Beyond the Hill, spring 2019

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author and blogger and a former Member of Parliament. See his website for his latest book, Speeches That Changed Canada.

 

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