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Nanaimo playwright wins prestigious Governor-General’s Literary Award

Dorothy Dittrich’s The Piano Teacher: A Healing Key tackles the process of grief
Dorothy Dittrich holds a copy of her play ‘The Piano Teacher: A Healing Key’ which won the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Drama on Nov. 16. (Pat Neuton Photo)

A Nanaimo resident has recently been honoured with one of the highest awards of recognition in the country.

Dorothy Dittrich, who moved from Vancouver to the Island in February, received the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Drama in mid November for her play The Piano Teacher: A Healing Key.

The play, which was published in 2022, was originally written in 2016 as a Silver Commission for the Arts Club Theatre, produced the following year, and toured the Lower Mainland in 2018.

The Piano Teacher: A Healing Key, published by Talonbooks, tackles the heavy topic of grief, as well as the “healing power of music” and friendship. The story follows Erin, a pianist forced to deal with the loss of her spouse, and subsequently, the loss of her own musical expression. The main character soon meets an unconventional piano teacher who reacquaints her with the instrument and “gives her new hope for the future.”

“It’s not autobiographical… But I had been extremely interested in the subject of grief,” Dittrich said. “Because, in our culture… it’s increasingly in our awareness, but it isn’t a subject that people are comfortable with.”

She said as a difficult subject often left not discussed, the playwright wanted to show that grief is a natural process that happens over time but can still linger.

“And I think there’s a really interesting connection to music.”

The act of learning and practising music is addressed, in the sense of understanding how to stay with something extremely difficult.

“This teacher says to [Erin], in the play, ‘how would you learn a new piece?’ And the student says, ‘by going through it one note at a time,’” Dittrich said. “And how do you go through such a horrible thing as grief… Well, one minute at a time.”

The play itself took the writer approximately three years to finish, since that time was also spent completing a master’s degree in liberal studies at Simon Fraser University.

“[Liberal studies] is studying basically what makes us tick and grief is such a big subject in literature … And I actually studied it in the context of Confucianism – the grief processes in ancient China.”

Next to the prestigious Governor-General’s Award, Dittrich has won a Jessie Richardson Award for Outstanding original script for The Piano Teacher: A Healing Key as well.

Other plays written by Dittrich include The Dissociates, Lesser Demons, Two Part Invention and If the Moon Falls.

The Governor-General’s Literary Awards for this year were also granted to Sheila Heti for Pure Colour in fiction, Annick MacAskill for Shadow Blight in poetry, Eli Baxter for Aki-Wayn-Zih: A Person as Worthy as the Earth in non-fiction, Jen Ferguson for The Summer of Bitter and Sweet in young people’s literature in text, and Naseem Hrab and Nahid Kazemi for The Sour Cherry Tree for young people’s literature in illustrated books.

READ MORE: Governor-General award-winning playwright featured in theatre series in Nanaimo

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Mandy Moraes

About the Author: Mandy Moraes

I joined Black Press Media in 2020 as a multimedia reporter for the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, and transferred to the News Bulletin in 2022
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