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Canadian literary event roundup: April 20-26

  • Fan Expo Vancouver celebrates science fiction with Spider Robinson, D.D. Brant, A.M. Dellamonica, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Vancouver Convention Centre (April 21-22, check website for times)
  • Blue Metropolis Festival offers readings, panel discussions, master classes, literary performances, slams, and awards, Opus Hotel, Montreal (April 20-23, check website for times)
  • Michael Christie reads from The Beggar’s Garden, Waverley Resource Library Auditorium, Thunder Bay (April 23, 7 p.m., free)
  • Seven Readings for Seven Masters, University of Toronto Masters of Arts in creative writing graduates read, Supermarket, Toronto (April 23, 6 p.m., free)
  • This Is Not a Reading Series presents the launch of Richard Stursberg’s The Tower of Babble: Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC, Gladstone Hotel, Toronto (April 24, 7:30 p.m., $5)
  • Gary Geddes reads from his travel memoir Drink the Bitter Root, Runnymede Library, Toronto (April 24, 7 p.m., free)
  • The Anansi Press Poetry Bash features readings by Erin Knight, Dennis Lee, A.F. Moritz, and Erin Mouré, Tranzac, Toronto (April 25, 6:30 p.m., free)
  • John Gould reads from 7 Reasons Not To Be Good, Christianne’s Lyceum of Literature and Art, Vancouver (April 26, 7 p.m., free)

Quillblog is looking for photos from literary events across Canada. Send your photos to scflinn@quillandquire.com

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Book links roundup: Daniel Karasick wins CBC short story contest, Invisible Publishing prevails, and more

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Quillcast episode four: Clark Blaise and The Meagre Tarmac

Quillcast is a podcast series from Quill & Quire featuring behind-the-scenes conversations with authors and publishing insiders. In this episode, recorded during Toronto’s International Festival of Authors in October, Catherine Bush interviews Clark Blaise about his career and the writing life.

Blaise recently released his first new short story collection in nearly two decades. Shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, The Meagre Tarmac (Biblioasis) is a collection of linked stories exploring various characters from the South Asian diaspora. Bush is coordinator of the University of Guelph’s creative writing MFA program and the author of three novels, including Claire’s Head.

Clark Blaise, pictured with his wife, Bharati Mukherjee, at their California home

Quillcast is produced with media partners The Walrus, Open Book: Ontario, and Open Book: Toronto, with support from Toronto Life. This project has been generously supported by the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Entertainment and Creative Cluster Partnerships Fund.

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

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MFA program rankings come under fire

Earlier this month, nearly 200 creative writing faculty from across the U.S. signed an open letter in objection to Poets & Writers magazine’s 2012 ranking of MFA programs.

From the letter:

To put it plainly, the Poets & Writers rankings are bad: they are methodologically specious in the extreme and quite misleading. A biased opinion poll – based on a tiny, self-selecting survey of potential program applicants – provides poor information.

Now Poets & Writers has issued a response, arguing that their survey of writing program applicants – rather than current students, alumni or faculty – provides valuable information:

While applicants are not experts on creative writing programs, they do have a vested interest in researching the various qualities of a number of programs and comparing them.

This back-and-forth is sparking debate about how to judge a writing program and who should be doing it. Perhaps more interesting, the exchange is also raising questions about what’s worth most in a writer’s training.

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Anne Giardini is the boss

Though novelists who are also doctors (Chekhov, Maugham, Vincent Lam) get the most attention, there have been a few creative writers who have occupied lofty positions in the business world, too. Criminally underrated novelist Henry Green, for example, owned and ran a factory.

Aaannnd, that’s about all we can think of right now. (Feel free to suggest others in the comments.)

The Globe and Mail does bring to light a much more contemporary example of a writer-executive: Anne Giardini, author of Advice for Italian Boys, and, as of last fall, president of Weyerhaeuser Co..

From the Globe Q&A with Giardini:

Are you a weekend writer?

Do you write in hotel rooms?

And airplanes. First, I catch up on whatever reading I have, and then my reward is to do a bit of writing.

Is there something about you that likes precision – in law and in prose?

I think that’s true, and the two careers reinforce each other. I’ve always believed that language in the wrong hands can be dangerous, and it’s a powerful tool both for law and for creative writing.

[...]

Will you eventually move into full-time writing?

I think I would hate that. What would worry me is the tyranny of the empty page. I can ignore that now because I’m busy at work. I really believe I do my best writing when I’m working on other things – so that when I come to write, I’ve worked a lot of it through. I have what I want to say fully formed. It more or less cooks on the back burner.

Your mother must have been proud to see a child become a writer.

I would think. Sadly, she died before my first book came out, but I think she felt confident there would be one.

NB: That last question is not a complete non sequitur – Giardini’s mother was the late Carol Shields.

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The duties of an editor

The Calgary Herald looks at Knopf Canada’s New Face of Fiction program, which this year includes Jessica Grant’s Come, Thou Tortoise. (Grant is an erstwhile Calgarian, having earned a creative writing degree from the university there.) And the piece suggests that one of the signs of a really dedicated editor is remembering a birthday. Not the author’s birthday, but her character’s.

Diane Martin was among those who helped groom Grant’s debut novel Come, Thou Tortoise. Still, the University of Calgary graduate was surprised when Martin phoned her with birthday greetings on Feb. 29. It was not Grant’s birthday, mind you, but the fictional birthday of Come, Thou Tortoise’s endearingly oddball protagonist, Audrey.

“She wanted to say happy birthday to Audrey,” says Grant, in an interview from her home in St. John’s, N. L. “She knew my character’s birthday! That, in a nutshell, was how I was treated by the people I worked with.”

Not quite up there with a three-hour phone call every day for six months, but still impressive in some way, Quillblog supposes.

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Montreal resident picks up Man Asian prize

The winner of the second annual Man Asian Literary Prize has a Canadian connection – the 31-year-old Filipino author lives in Montreal, where he works as a copy-editor at The Gazette.

Miguel Syjuco, who received an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, picked up the $10,000 (U.S.) prize yesterday in Hong Kong for his debut novel Ilustrado, which tells the story of fictional man-of-letters Crispin Salvador. The novel was written in English but has yet to find a North American publisher. (The Man Asian is awarded to books that are unpublished in English.)

The judges’ panel was presided over by the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, who praised the book for its stylistically daring premise:

Ilustrado seems to us to possess formal ambition, linguistic inventiveness and sociopolitical insight in the most satisfying measure. Brilliantly conceived, and stylishly executed, it covers a large and tumultuous historical period with seemingly effortless skill. It is also ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humour.

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David Sedaris: survivor

A new collection of David Sedaris essays – entitled When You Are Engulfed in Flames – comes out next week, and Entertainment Weekly has used the opportunity to check in with the humorist and to find out how he survived all those accusations of “reportorial inaccuracy” that dogged James Frey and Augusten Burroughs, et al.

If you ask Sedaris, the Frey backlash, culminating in a public shaming by Oprah Winfrey, was overblown. ”His punishment outweighed his crime,” says Sedaris. ”I don’t recall Oprah Winfrey calling George Bush a liar when he was on her show. And those lies cost thousands of people their lives.”

So to get back to that question he always gets from the crowd: As he’s strip-mined his own North Carolina upbringing and subsequent adulthood, how much has Sedaris himself made up? Plenty, he has frequently and cheerfully confessed. But it doesn’t matter because he’s a humorist, right? The New Republic begged to differ last spring. In an article titled ”This American Lie” by Alex Heard, TNR accused Sedaris of doing more than just stretching the truth. ”With some of his stories, especially the early ones, like in Naked,” says Heard, ”he’s taken every liberty a fiction writer [does]. It makes the story very funny, but also makes it something you shouldn’t call nonfiction.” Responds Sedaris: ”I’ve said a thousand times I exaggerate. Why is it news when somebody else says it?”

Some of the sleuthing Heard did seems solid, including, for example, getting Sedaris to confirm that he invented details of encounters with mental patients in 1970. But many a bizarre situation checked out true, and Heard’s contention that Sedaris’ work amounts to a mean-spirited exploitation of his family and others seems, well, grossly exaggerated. Sedaris’ Little, Brown publisher, Michael Pietsch, shrugs off Heard’s piece as ”a ludicrous exercise” that ”ignores a great American literary vein of essays in which great writers take liberties with their personal experiences.”

But the more pressing question is: how much longer will Sedaris be able to mine his personal life for stories? As the EW article points out:

[...] fame and scrutiny change things, including audience perceptions, and Sedaris worries that success may be dulling his outsider-loser edge. Maybe nibbling at his credibility, too. The withering assessments of his own lunacies haven’t diminished, but the events are tamer and backdrops fancier: swanky hotels, the first-class section of an airplane. ”I don’t know if I’ll get away with it,” says Sedaris. ”I’m trying to write about what’s happening to me now. So there I am sitting in first class, right? I don’t know if people will say, ‘F— you, I never get to sit in first class!”’

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A wondrous news brief from the NBCC

The National Book Critics Circle handed out its annual book awards on Thursday, and among those honoured was Junot Diaz for his debut novel, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – a tragicomic family saga that New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani compellingly described as “Mario Vargas Llosa meets ‘Star Trek’ meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West.” The other winners were Haitian-born Edwidge Danticat for her memoir Brother, I’m Dying; New Yorker music critic Alex Ross for The Rest Is Noise; poet Mary Jo Bang for Elegy; Tim Jeal for his biography Stanley, the Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer; and Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid.

Besides their Caribbean origin, Danticat and the Dominican-born Díaz share some striking similarities. Both authors are young (Danicat, at 39, is a year younger than Díaz), and both got their start after completing creative writing MFAs at New York universities (at Brown and Cornell, respectively). Less superficially, both books address the themes of immigration, murky family lineages, and the recent, brutal histories of their respective home countries. And, evidently, they’re friends – or at least friendly colleagues. Here‘s Danticat and Díaz in conversation in Bomb, the literary quarterly; here they share the stage at a Lannan Foundation reading in California; and here‘s Danticat discussing Díaz’s short story, “How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie),” for a New Yorker podcast.

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High school student expelled for short story

From The Globe and Mail:

A 17-year-old student has been expelled from his Brampton, Ont., high school for a fictional essay he submitted in a creative writing class about a disgruntled student who murders one of her teachers.

Brendan Jones, a Grade 12 student at Heart Lake Secondary School northwest of Toronto, was expelled last week, leaving him facing an uncertain future. Brendan is just three credits shy of graduating from high school and was hoping to study criminology at university next fall. But it is not at all clear whether he will be able to transfer to another high school in the province.

[...]
The five-page, handwritten essay, entitled “School’s Out,” is narrated by an unnamed Grade 10 student who stresses that she likes all of her teachers with the notable exception of Mr. Adams, who teaches science and has an “intoxicating odor.” The controversial part of the story happens near the end when the student manages to trap the teacher in the basement of her house, picks up a bat and gives him “some final words.” It ends ominously with: “Sorry, Mr. Adams, but schools [sic] out!”

Brendan said in an interview that he never imagined the essay would provoke such a reaction. He said there is nothing gory in it and the characters are fictitious. He has also written a letter of apology to both the school and the Peel Board of Education.

As if this weren’t strange enough, here’s the kicker:

The essay is sprinkled with comments from the creative writing teacher, including “show, don’t tell,” and “cliché.” But by the time the teacher got to the end of the essay, alarm bells appear to have gone off. She scrawled “inappropriate subject matter!” but she also tells him to work on his sentence structure and dialogue. There is no grade on the essay.

[Emphasis added.]

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

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Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

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