Jan Andrews 1942-2017: Canada’s storytelling community loses a leading light

Jan Andrews in action.

Canada’s storytelling community has lost one of its leading figures with the death of Lanark County’s Jan Andrews.

In a Facebook post on the weekend, her partner Jennifer Cayley wrote that “Jan is gone. Just after 10:30 on Saturday Sept. 2nd on what might possibly be the most beautiful day we have had all summer, Jan died.”

The writer and storyteller had celebrated at the Governor General’s residence and her very first pride parade, Cayley wrote and then that night, while staying in Ottawa, “Jan got up in the middle of Sunday night to read as she often did.”

Andrews took a wrong turn and fell down a set of stairs. Her injuries, which included a brain trauma, were very severe and after several days in intensive care Andrews passed away.

Plans are underway for a memorial service, but no details have been announced yet.

Andrews was born in Britain in 1942 and came to Canada in 1963 and settled in Saskatchewan. She eventually moved to the Ottawa area where she worked in the federal public service. But she was already a devoted and on her way to being a widely recognized educator, storyteller and writer for children and youth.

Her art became her life and it took her across Canada, to Australia, the United Kingdom, Italy and the United States.

Andrews was the first president of Storytellers of Canada-Conteurs du Canada(SC-CC) and founded the organization’s StorySave project, which gathered and preserves the stories of elders.

She was also the artistic director of two long-running Ottawa storytelling series (one of them held at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage). She has helped found an arts education organization and produced and performed in complete tellings of The Iliad, The Odyssey and The Mahabharata.

She and Cayley founded 2 Women Productions. Based in Lanark County, the company organizes and promotes “performances by ourselves and other tellers.”

Andrews has also been awarded the SC-CC’s Story Keeper Award.

Her most recent show is Written in the Body, based on her own life as a “seventy-something lesbian with gender confusion.”

She has also written several well-regarded books for children and youth. For her work Andrews was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2016.

Andrews once told an interviewer that “I write for young people because I can’t seem to help it. … I cannot imagine not telling stories, not writing, not giving workshops and organizing events to help others who want to do the same.

“Do I like being a storyteller and a writer? I love it, but not every day. All jobs have their frustrations and mine is no exception. Each book is a voyage of discovery; each has its times of struggle. Maybe that’s why I like it. Maybe it’s the hardest thing I know how to do.”

Andrews’ first book was called Fresh Fish … and Chips. It was published in 1973. By the mid-1970s she was working as a writer and educator focusing on children’s literature. Her storytelling career began in earnest in 1986.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.