Borrowed Black: The Story Behind the Story

Where did the idea for Borrowed Black come from?

The name, Borrowed Black, came when I was a teenager, telling stories to my younger cousins in our cabin in the Maine woods.

In 1965, I spent the first of four summers in Cartwright, Labrador. I realized that the children had no books that were set in their land. The library bookshelves were lined with British, American, and Canadian classics but none that took place in Labrador. No published stories, it seemed, that were truly their own.

This bothered me. “Dear God,” I prayed, “please give me a story for the children of Labrador.” He answered my prayer and gave me Borrowed Black. I was twenty years old.

In June, 1967, when my uncle and I were flying from Castine, Maine, to Cartwright, Labrador, we were grounded by fog over the Gaspe Peninsula. We had to spend two nights at a fishing camp in Tabusintac, New Brunswick, before we could continue our flight north. It was there that I wrote Borrowed Black. The poem came quickly, in two days, with very little revision. It was as if it were not my own, that I was penning a story that had always been. Character names, yes, and bits of story, had been with me for two years but not the cohesive narrative that came to me those two days in June. I was twenty-two years old. It was not to see publication for twelve more years.

Because of its myth-like qualities, Borrowed Black has often been called a folk tale, but it is an original fantasy.

Since its publication in 1979, Borrowed Black has been translated into seven languages, appeared in 13 different editions, and has been adapted for stage five times. The following is a chronological list of the editions, productions, and awards for Borrowed Black.

1979   First edition (illustrated by Hope Yandell)—Breakwater Books, Ltd.
Illustrations featured as porthole art in display of Canadian books aboard the Newfoundland schooner, Norman and Gladys, which traveled
port-to-port from Halifax to Toronto

The Boston Globe Book Festival

1980   Stage production by Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador

1982   Lyric theatre production by David Lytle. Finalist in CBC Young Composers Competition

1988   Canadian second edition (illustrated by Jan Mogensen)—Breakwater Books, Ltd.
French edition—Les Editions Heritage Inc. Quebec

Dutch edition—Voor Belgie Uitgeverij Infodok Leuven
Danish edition—Alma
Norwegian edition—Aschehoug
Swedish edition—Carlsen
Lapland edition—Davvi

1989   U.S. edition—Ideals Publishing Corporation, Nashville, Tennessee
U.S. edition—Gareth Stevens Children’s Books, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Canadian Children’s Book Centre OUR CHOICE Award
Adaptation for stage by the Elysian Theatre Student Company, Newfoundland

1996   Adaptation for stage by the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia

1996-1999 Mermaid Theatre production of BB tours Canada and U.S.

1999   Paperback edition published by Prentice Hall Ginn for use in their sixth grade language arts program in Canadian schools

2005   25th anniversary edition—Breakwater Books, Ltd.
Inuktitut edition—Breakwater Books, Ltd.

2007   Produced by RCA Theatre Company, St. John’s, Newfoundland

2011   Produced by Gros Morne Summer Music Festival, performed on Glynmill Pond, Corner Brook, Newfoundland