1948 Sarah Binks by Paul G. Hiebert

Story of my copy of Sarah Binks

“The bookshelf at home holds a first-edition, first-printing copy of the 1948 Leacock Medal winner, Sarah Binks, which I bought from a used-book store in Winnipeg. The store considered it a treasured “old friend” and sent it to me inside two layers of packaging.”



I made reference to my copy of Sarah Binks in starting this chapter of the book (What’s So Funny? Lessons from Canada’s Leacock Medal for Humour Writing) because I thought its physical nature paralleled the content.

The book that I own was signed by the author, Paul Hiebert, but it also has a notation in the front pages indicating the original owners, a couple who changed laws and affected the practice of medicine in Canada. In their seventies, this amazing people left Canada to work for a decade helping hospitals in Africa. Interesting today with the terrible health issues on that continent. 

But my point in my humour writing book was that this copy of Sarah had a story wrapped around it just as Sarah Binks, a poetry collection, has a biography-style narrative wrapped around it. The imaginary Sarah writes bad poetry, lots of it, and this ability to produce quantity over quality brings her the peculiar Wheat Pool Medal and fictional fame in her native province. Among “the highest awards . . . ever . . . bestowed upon one of Saskatchewan’s Daughters” and the “highest award in the bestowal of Saskatchewan people,” the Wheat Pool Medal recognizes increased production in unspecified fields and, like crop planting, does so through a rotational system. 

          You might laugh at some of Sarah’s award-winning bad poetry in isolation, but that over-the-top, gushing account of her modest life experience amplifies the humour. As the biographer, Hiebert tells us earnestly that Sarah’s literary influences include the hired man and a neighbor, Mathilda, the least cross-eyed of the Schwantzhacker sisters. He reports with admiration that the Horse-Breeders Gazette and other farm publications profiled her poems and that an agricultural fair honoured her work with the presentation of a horse thermometer.  In the book, Sarah dies tragically trying to take her own temperature with the poetry prize. 
          Like all great satire, Sarah Binks invites interpretation. You could even say the book, as a pretend life history that mocks literary awards, won the Leacock Medal for Humour for making fun of the Leacock Medal for Humour.



For more on Sarah Binks and Paul Hiebert go to - Sarah Binks Trivia 
also  Paul Hiebert and the National Research Council in Ottawa