Collection springs from reflections on offhand remark

Rona Altrows wanted to hear from women in their fifth to tenth decades of life

You Look Good for Your Age: An Anthology, collected by Calgary-based writer and editor Rona Altrows, takes on the subject of women, aging, and ageism with vigour.

The anthology includes the contributions of 29 women ranging in age from their forties to nineties. The short stories, essays, and poems run the gamut of experiences from the subtle to the blatant in framing perspectives around aging.

For Altrows, her encounter with the titular phrase came while being fitted for a CPAP device after an apnea diagnosis. The respiratory therapist when checking Altrows’s birthdate on her medical chart remarked, “You look good for your age.”

“She meant it as a compliment,” says Altrows, “but inwardly, I bristled. In the following days and weeks I couldn’t stop thinking about it – what was stated and implied by those words.”

Altrows continues, “Once the overthinking reached the point that I would burst if I did not do something, I wrote about it. And then I realized that I wanted to hear the voices of other people who identified as female. That is how the idea for the anthology came up. When I approached prospective contributors, I would tell them the title and the theme, but what they wrote, as long as it honoured and explored that theme, was entirely up to them.”

For this book to be true to the principles of equity Altrows believes in, she approached writers of various ethnicities, and also ensured she could feature the voices of women in their fifth to tenth decades. “Because ageism starts being thrown women’s way when they are in their forties,” Altrows observes. Contributors include Sharon Butala, Joy Kogawa, Laurie MacFayden, Moni Brar, Joan Crate, Aritha van Herk, and Madelaine Shaw-Wong.

Rona Altrows
Rona Altrows

“For this anthology, I decided to go with personal invitations to submit. In most cases I invited writers – some well-known and others not yet well-known, but I hope they will be, starting now – whose work I knew and loved. Nobody had an automatic in, though. If a piece did not, in my opinion, resonate with the theme, I would have to say no, and I did.”

The book’s section titles are Insight, Elders, Body, Love, Timelines, and Enough!, with pieces exploring meditation, caring for aging parents, the death of friends, medical issues, and intimate body care rituals, among much more.

“I found myself constantly surprised, not so much by the themes, but by the multitude of inventive ways in which contributors expressed themselves,” says Altrows.

She anticipates a wide readership of people who like to read, think, and feel. “I do not say that facetiously. We are all aging, so why should the book be of interest to only specific demographics, when it is full of moving, stimulating, thought-inspiring work? What reader wants to miss out on that?”

Altrows enjoyed working with the people at the University of Alberta Press. “They are professional and kind,” she says.

“And I want to thank my contributors, without whom there would be no book. They are very much my co-creators for this project.”