by BK Munn
Teva Harrison, the cartoonist and writer whose eloquent, joyous, and heart-breaking In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer was nominated for the 2016 Governor General’s Award in Non-Fiction, died April 28 in Toronto.
Harrison was raised in Wiilliams, Oregon but spent time with her maternal grandparents in Los Angeles. In 1994 she graduated from highschool in nearby Grants Pass. Oregon before attending Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Her early career was spent working with a variety of arts and non-profit agencies, beginning with a job as director of the Olympia Film Society and continuing through to a position in Nature Conservancy Canada. While stranded in Toronto during 9-11 she met and fell in love with David Leonard. Harrison and Leonard married in 2002, and Harrison moved to Toronto, taking a job at Quill and Quire magazine.
Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2013 and began posting comics about her experiences with treatment and living with the disease on a blog beginning in 2015. The blog came to the attention of House of Anansi publisher Sarah MacLachlan who encouraged Harrison to compile a collection of strips into a memoir. In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer was published in 2016 and won the 2017 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for nonfiction, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award and a nominee for the Joe Shuster Award for Best Cartoonist.
Harrison made frequent media appearances talking about her art and about her battle with cancer. Her comics were published by The Walrus, Humber Literary Review, and Carte-Blanche, and her essays appeared in The Globe and Mail, Quill and Quire, Readers’ Digest, and Huffington Post.
In a 2016 profile, Harrison reflected on how her battle with cancer had transformed her into an artist:
“I’m kind of torn,” says Teva. “This is all so cool… I should always have been making art. I should always have been. I get caught up in things, I get excited, especially when there’s a good cause to work on, and I do the thing I’m doing very intently. And so I was doing other things—and they were all valuable, I don’t want to discount them. But I am happier when I’m drawing. I’m a better person, I think, because it brings me to my purpose.
“It does feel really good to quite suddenly have shifted to being, in many ways, doing the things I always should have been doing—making art and writing and sharing and talking—and I love that I got to lead a workshop at NorthWords about telling your own stories and how to bring those stories to the surface, because I think that’s such a valuable thing. And I’m loving drawing comics, which is something I didn’t plan to do. I’m really glad to know that this is how I react to something like this—that my reaction is to fight to get the most I can out of what I have left.
“If only it wasn’t all happening because I have cancer… I’ve had such lovely opportunities come out of this, but honestly, I would trade it all to be healthy. I would.”
An exhibit of her work ran at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2018. In fall of 2017, Anansi published The Joyful Living Colouring Book by Harrison. A collection of Harrison’s poetry and art, Not One of These Poems Is About You, is forthcoming.
Harrison took part in several treatment programs and clinical trials for her cancer, which, although they eased and helped her to manage the disease, did little to alter a diagnosis that was ultimately terminal. After a series of hospital stays over the past month, Harrison passed away quietly in her sleep on Sunday, according to a tweet by David Leonard, who wrote in part, “Her great joy was the kindness that people show, and the magic evident in the every day bits of living. She was a pure beating heart. Carry magic with you. Hold people close. The world needs it.”