Sunday, October 23, 2011

Community Centred at the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival

One Irish man (Dermot Healy) and three Canadian women (Suzette Mayr, Farzana Doctor and Angie Abdou) made up Saturday’s Community Centred event. It initially appeared that Healy was the odd one out, but all four authors contributed to a lively panel discussion on the many definitions of community.

Mayr began with a reading from Monoceros, which is based on a true event; a 17-year-old boy committed suicide after homophobic bullying at a Calgary school. Using multiple voices, the novel explores the way a tragedy can affect a broad spectrum of people. We heard from the boy’s (secretly gay) guidance counsellor, who wonders “What was the last thing he said to the dead boy? Good luck. Or Perk up.” Mayr spoke about the importance she placed in documenting contemporary Calgary (which reminded me of Chimamanda Adichie’s admonition about the dangers of the single story). We learned that her publisher asked her to disguise Calgary in an earlier novel, Venous Hum, in order to make it more appealing to an American audience. (Venous Hum is on my top ten list of favourite books, by the way.)

Farzana Doctor’s new book, Six Metres of Pavement, is also based on a true and tragic story. A news clip about a man who forgot his child in the back of his car stayed in the back of Doctor’s mind for a long time, wondering how that man would be able to carry on with his life afterwards. Six Metres of Pavement was discussed earlier this year at the Lesbian Book Club that meets at Audreys Books in Edmonton; we had previously discussed her earlier novel, Stealing Nasreen. Both books feature intersecting communities in Toronto.

There's a wonderful cross-section of people in the community Angie Abdou created for Canterbury Trail. She said that each of her characters thinks he or she is the main character, but really it is the place/geography that carries that role. It was nice to have the opportunity to thank her in person for commenting on my review of her newest book. The excerpt she chose was in the voice of Michael, a real estate developer who was uncharacteristically stoned on mushroom tea. His pregnant wife, Janet, fondly remembered Michael’s former ski bum self, murmuring, “Long time, no see.”

Abdou's last line was the perfect lead-in to the final reading, Dermot Healey’s Long Time, No See. Healey said he incorporated details he encountered in his County Sligo community and calls himself a “global local.” One of my favourite lines from the book is: “Memory is a stranger who comes to call less and less.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the writeup. I enjoyed that VIWF event a great deal. The readings were excellent, as was the conversation.