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Long-time Toronto Star books columnist and arts journalist Greg Quill died on Sunday. He was 66.
Quill was a well-known musician in his native Australia. He got his start in journalism writing about music, and was hired by the Toronto Star in 1984 as entertainment reporter, later becoming its books columnist.
Since the news of Quill’s death was released on Sunday night, members of the Canadian cultural community have been expressing their condolences on social media. Here are some remembrances from the publishing community:
One of Canada’s finest – and arguably most underappreciated – poets has died. Jay Macpherson, a professor at the University of Toronto who won the Governor General’s Literary Award for her 1957 collection, The Boatman, died suddenly last Wednesday. A short obituary in the Toronto Star makes reference to a “long-undetected illness,” but a post by James Reaney on the London Free Press blog indicates that Macpherson had recently been diagnosed with cancer.
Macpherson was one of the poets included in the recent U.K. anthology Modern Canadian Poets: An Anthology of Poems in English, edited by Evan Jones and Todd Swift. From their introduction:
Jean Jay Macpherson was born in London, England, in 1931 and emigrated to Newfoundland with her family in 1940. She was educated at Carleton University, McGill University, and the University of Toronto, and taught at Victoria College, University of Toronto from 1957 to 1996. She began publishing her poems in 1949, at the age of eighteen, and her first pamphlet, Nineteen Poems, was published by Robert Graves’s Seizin Press in 1952.
Macpherson was friends with Northrop Frye, a colleague at Victoria College and a major influence on her poetry (The Boatman was dedicated to Northrop and Helen Frye), which found inspiration in Frye’s mythopoetic approach to literature. Her last full-length work of poetry, Poems Twice Told: The Boatman & Welcoming Disaster, appeared in 1981.
From “Ordinary People in the Last Days”:
My mother was taken up to heaven in a pink cloud.
She was talking to a friend on the telephone
When we saw her depart through the ceiling
Still murmuring about bridge.
My father prophesied.
He looked out from behind his newspaper
And said, “Johnny-Boy will win the Derby.”
The odds against were fifteen to one, and he won.
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As Toronto’s city council enters final debates on the 2012 budget, here’s a look at what could be ahead for the Toronto Public Library.
TPL has been asked to meet a 10 per cent reduction target (cutting about $7 million from its annual budget) despite having the busiest year on record in 2011, with more than 19 million visitors borrowing over 33 million items.
A few motions on the table at city council argue for reversing budget reductions. One motion asks TPL to meet its 10 per cent target without cutting back on hours, instead saving money by buying fewer movies and magazines. Chief librarian Jane Pyper estimates that cutting 19,444 hours at 59 branches could save TPL $5.4 million, but this would likely affect all branches.
Another motion proposes that the $7 million in library cuts be scaled back to $4 million, using new revenue from property tax assessment growth to make up the remainder.
Toronto’s literary community has unleashed protests against proposed cuts, too. More than 100 well-known literary figures signed an open letter to Mayor Rob Ford and city council, and the Toronto Public Library Workers Union placed an ad in the Toronto Star this week.
Meanwhile, TPL continues to search for ways to bring in more money. The National Post reported on one new membership program designed to attract the bookish under-40 set to exclusive library events for a roughly $300 annual fee.
Just this morning, the TPL Foundation announced a $1.5 million donation from Toronto philanthropists Marilyn and Charles Baillie to support the Toronto Reference Library’s revitalization, an ongoing program with a $34 million price tag. The Baillies’ donation will go towards the Special Collections Centre, a new reading room set to open in 2013 that will display items related to Canadiana, performance, and documentary art.
Library cuts are on the agenda for debate this afternoon. Check out the liveblog at Torontoist for the latest updates, and keep following Quillblog for more information.
Just as the Toronto Public Library increases its late fees, the Windsor Public Library in Ontario has eliminated fines for overdue books altogether. This makes WPL Canada’s first large city library to eliminate late fees, although several American libraries have tried the approach.
Windsor Public Library board chair Al Maghnieh told the Toronto Star the change is intended to remove barriers and encourage people to use the library. The library also has also a financial incentive, the Star reports:
Maghnieh said the Windsor system brings in about $50,000 annually in fines, but spends more to administer them and track down delinquent borrowers. He added that time spent trying to find overdue items could be better used developing new library programs and services.
Windsor’s new system isn’t entirely consequence-free for borrowers who keep items past their due dates. Accounts with overdue items will be frozen until materials are returned, and users will have to pay the full cost of items still unreturned a month past their due dates.
This morning, Sue Houghting, owner of The Book Mark in the city’s Kingsway neighbourhood, announced she will close shop after 46 years in business. In a press release, Houghting cites an “unaffordable rent increase and high property taxes” as factors that have made the bookshop, believed to be Toronto’s oldest surviving indie, unsustainable. Houghting is aiming to shut down by Jan. 21, “but if stock dwindles before that we will close earlier,” she says.
News of The Book Mark’s demise follows reports that Glad Day Bookshop, the city’s iconic LGBT bookseller, is seeking new ownership. Last week, owner John Scythes told the Toronto Star he’s hoping to find a buyer within his customer base before opening the sale up to the general public.
Glad Day, the world’s oldest existing gay and lesbian bookshop, has struggled financially throughout most of its 42 years. A 2010 social media campaign by store staff brought its money problems to public attention. At the time, co-manager Sholem Krishtalka chalked them up to a steady decline in book sales, combined with significant legal fees left over from a decades-long censorship battle with the Ontario Film Review Board.
Following a city mandate to cut $17 million from its operating budget, the Toronto Public Library is looking at ways to bring in more revenue.
On Monday, the library’s board will meet to consider a budget committee report outlining money-making ideas, many of which have already drawn fire for risking to commercialize the library.
The report recommends looking into partnerships with retailers to sell books via the TPL website. It also suggests the library consider selling e-books, possibly through U.S. distributor OverDrive.
Another suggestion is to increase fines for overdue books to approximately double the current rates, which could be paired with “a different fine schedule for low-income users.” Other ideas range from used book sales to charging for parking. From the Toronto Star:
[The report] also recommends creating a new fine for people who put holds on books and don’t pick them up … [and] expanding advertising channels and opportunities including an advertising bookmark and getting sponsorship of WiFi services.
The “Great Chinese Canadian Literary Feud” is now underway, according to a Toronto Star story by Bill Schiller. The author at the centre of the supposed controversy is Toronto’s Zhang Ling, whose previous novel, Aftershock, became a surprise bestseller in China when a film version was released there last summer.
For her latest novel, Gold Mountain Blues, Zhang is accused of stealing from a diverse group of Chinese-Canadian authors, including Denise Chong, Wayson Choy, Sky Lee, and Paul Yee. An English translation of the novel was due to appear with Penguin Canada by early 2012, but according to the Star, it has been put “in limbo until [Penguin] is satisfied that the author hasn’t been poaching from the works of Canada’s Chinese Canadian literary elite.”
It’s a damning accusation, but the case against Zhang is anything but cut and dried. The accusations of plagiarism appear to stem from an online smear campaign led by an anonymous blogger known as Changjiang. When the Star tracked down and questioned the man supposedly behind the posts, one Robert Luo, he “grew alarmed and then hung up.” Another of Zhang’s attackers, Cheng Xingbang, also refused an interview.
Meanwhile, Penguin has not said it is delaying publication of Gold Mountain Blues, only that it is waiting for the English translation to be complete before making an internal decision about how to handle the accusations. And two of the supposed victims of plagiarism contacted by the Star – Sky Lee and Denise Chong – were equally in the dark, as neither reads Chinese. As the Star reports, Chong, who is also published by Penguin, is hesitant to weigh in on the controversy:
Changjiang’s website accuses Zhang of borrowing the key character of Chong’s [1994 memoir, The Concubine’s Children] – her grandmother May-ying, the hard-drinking, smoking, gambling “concubine” of the title — then fashioning it into a character in Gold Mountain Blues.
Chong says that without a translation she can’t really comment.
But she did send an email to alert her agent once the controversy hit the Chinese blogosphere.
Reached in Montreal, reclusive Canadian writer Sky Lee, author of the groundbreaking novel Disappearing Moon Café (1990), an instant classic, admits she was “shocked and dismayed” when she first heard from a friend in British Columbia that someone might be poaching her work.
But then she realized that she couldn’t really evaluate the allegations first-hand. She doesn’t read Chinese either.
So she farmed it out to her trusted friend, Jennifer Jay, a historian at the University of Alberta who is fluent in Chinese, who spent a day reading an online version of Gold Mountain Blues.
Jay was careful in a telephone interview, saying she was not an expert, noting she had had limited reading time and, while intimately familiar with Disappearing Moon Café, she had not read it for a while. But she said Gold Mountain Blues did make her feel “alarm.”
“I’m not ready to say this author is a plagiarist,” she says. “At this point I’m saying it’s ‘problematic.’ ”
At the same time, says Jay, she has “a lot of sympathy” for Zhang.
“It must be a nightmare for the author to be going through this if she’s innocent,” she says.
This Sunday, the Toronto Star will begin carrying content from The New York Times’ Sunday book review section.
The section will be a 12-page tabloid that Star spokesperson Bob Hepburn describes as an “abridged version” of the weekly New York Times Book Review, which typically runs between 28 and 32 pages. It will contain a selection of book reviews, essays, and bestseller lists as chosen by Times staff, as well as advertising sold from out of Toronto. The supplementary section will not impact the Star‘s existing books coverage, Hepburn says.
As part of the content-sharing agreement, the Sunday Star will also begin carrying a new 16-page broadsheet news and commentary section culled from the Times. For the next six weeks, home-delivery subscribers will receive the supplemental sections for free, after which they can request delivery of the sections for an additional $1 per week. As of Nov. 28, the price of newsstand editions of the Sunday Star will increase from $1 to $2.
The Star has launched a major multimedia marketing campaign to promote the new sections. “This is one of the largest marketing campaigns the Star has launched in many years,” consumer marketing executive Sandy MacLeod said in a press release. “We believe that through the combination of newspaper, television, radio, point-of-sale, telemarketing, and e-mail marketing efforts we will reach almost every adult reader in the Greater Toronto Area.”
Star books editor Dan Smith could not be reached for comment.
In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King advises aspiring writers to avoid writing in coffee shops. Canadian novelist Corey Redekop, by contrast, admits that “the majority of [his] writing occurs in coffee shops.” There is undoubtedly a certain clichéd mystique surrounding writers who find inspiration along with a strong cup of Joe at their local java joint; now there’s even a prize for books written in coffee shops.
Yesterday, the Toronto Star published an article about the first annual Coffee Shop Author contest, which recently announced its inaugural winners. The contest winner is Mississauga resident Ranjini George Philip. Second and third place went to Theresa Wouters of Grande Prairie, Alberta, and Ron Stewart of Komoka, Ontario, respectively.
The brainchild of Calgary resident Susan Toy and Oolichan Books owner Randal Macnair, the contest asked writers to register with the Coffee Shop Author website, secure the endorsement of a local coffee establishment, “then pledge to write the bulk of a novel, short story collection, poetry collection or a work of creative non-fiction at the coffee shop between November 2009 and April 2010.” Entrants paid a fee of $30 and the first-place winner receives a spot at the Fernie Writers Conference in Fernie, British Columbia.
From the Star:
Forty-two Canadians entered the online contest, promising to write most of their submissions — poetry, novels, teen fiction — in coffee shops. A few bent the rules and created in local libraries, and in one case, in rural Saskatchewan, an ice cream parlour.
Writing is a lonely pursuit and has always driven writers out of their houses to find companionship — or distraction or inspiration — in public places.
“I’ve been a coffee shop writer for a long time,” says Philip, 46, who taught at Zayed University in Dubai before coming to Canada with her husband and two children three years ago.
“There’s a lot of solitude and I find I work better when there is a buzz of noise around me.”
According to the Star, the contest’s popularity has convinced Toy to expand next year’s contest beyond Canada. It would appear that there are a significant number of writers out there willing to ignore Stephen King’s advice.