Oscar of Between

A Memoir of Identity and Ideas

Betsy Warland

In 2007, at the age of sixty, Betsy Warland finds herself single and without a sense of family. On an impulse, she decides to travel to London to celebrate her birthday, where she experiences an odd compulsion to see an exhibit on the invention of military camouflage. Within the first five minutes of her visit, her lifelong feeling of being aberrant reveals its source: she had never learned the art of camouflage.

This marked the beginning of Oscar of Between: A Memoir of Identity and Ideas. Taking the name Oscar, she embarks on an intimate, nine-year quest by telling her story as “a person of between.” As Oscar, she is able to make sense of her self and the culture that shaped her. She traces this experience of in-betweenness from her childhood in the rural Midwest, through to her first queer kiss in 1978, divorce, coming out, writing life. In 1984, she and her lover wrote lesbian erotic love poetry collections in dialogue with one another, the first and only tandem collections on this subject in English Canada. After the two split, she experienced years of unacknowledged exclusion from a community in which she thought she belonged.

In the process of writing Oscar’s story, Warland considers our culture’s rigid, even violent demarcations as she becomes at ease with never knowing what gender she will be addressed as: “In Oscar’s daily life, when encountering someone, it goes like this: some address her as a male; some address her as a female; some begin with one and then switch (sometimes apologetically) to the other; some identify Oscar as lesbian and their faces harden, or open into a momentary glance of arousal; some know they don’t know and openly scrutinize; some decide female but stare perplexedly at her now-sans-breast chest; some are bemused by or drawn to or relate to her androgyny; and for some none of this matters.”

A contemporary Orlando, Oscar of Between extends beyond the author’s personal narrative, pushing the boundaries of form, and by doing so, invents new ways to see ourselves.

“On its own merits, Oscar of Between is an achievement. It reminds readers of the vitality of Warland’s creative vision. Rigorously inquisitive, always probing the boundaries of language and identity, and centrally concerned with questions of beauty and transcendence in all forms, Oscar of Between straddles multiple poetry traditions and challenges the boundaries of poetry and prose. In the best of all worlds, Oscar of Between will bring Warland to greater attention in Canada and the United States, returning her work to the vital public conversations about poetry happening today”
— Julie R. Enszer, Lambda Literary Review

“Warland’s Oscar of Between is an astonishing book by a truly luminous writer. Intellectually and emotionally brave, there isn’t a word that doesn’t ring deeply, deeply true.”
— Melanie Brannagan Frederiksen, Winnipeg Free Press

“Regardless of her affinity for evoking specificity in certain moments, Warland is not concerned with telling her/Oscar’s story in any kind of linear way. Instead, she lays out impressions and memories, often grouped by time and place, and leaves it to the reader to order them together. Her achievement is that she distills experiences down to their most essential pieces, and communicates in a paragraph what it might take another writer a chapter to describe”
— Maree J. Hamilton, Autostraddle

The book is her 12th in a career spanning three decades and many more genres, from creative non-fiction to erotic poetry, making Warland one of Canada’s most prolific and important queer writers.”
— Isaac Wurmann, Daily Xtra