All stories relating to Toronto
On Sept. 6, Toronto’s Coach House Books marked the end of summer and the beginning of the crazy fall book season with its annual Wayzgoose party. Over 300 attendees enjoyed barbecue, libations, and tours of Coach House’s historic printing operations.
Click on the thumbnails to see photos of the evening.
This morning, author Emily Pohl-Weary sent off a draft of her new manuscript, a YA novel titled Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl (to be published by Penguin Canada imprint Razorbill in 2013), just in time to talk with Quillblog about Impossible Words, a new reading series hosted by Toronto’s Academy of the Impossible.
The series, a bi-weekly, salon-style event, puts established writers on stage with emerging talents from Pohl-Weary’s youth writing group, the Toronto Street Writers. The 16-date series kicks off with George Elliott Clarke on Sept. 8, followed by Mariko Tamaki (Sept. 22), Krystyn Dunnion and Anand Mahadevan (Oct. 13), and Hiromi Goto (Oct. 27).
Why did you decide to start a reading series?
I get a lot of energy out of the Toronto Street Writers, so I thought bringing their enthusiasm and desire to learn about all aspects of the literary world and authors would make for really interesting conversations on stage. They’re not afraid to ask questions like, “How do you make a living?” “Why do you write?” “What does it mean to be a black man in a largely white literary community?”
There’s a formality to a lot of literary readings and events. When you bring youth into the mix who are curious and dying to learn, they break down those walls that make us feel removed from the discussion.
What is the Toronto Street Writers?
Toronto Street Writers is a free weekly writing group for young adults between the ages of 16 and 29. We meet every Tuesday, from the end of October to June, at the Academy of the Impossible to try our hands at writing all different kinds of genres. We bring in professional writers and artists to teach their craft to the youth and create a mentorship situation.
How did the group get started?
It started in 2008, in Parkdale, the neighbourhood where I grew up, in response to a very violent summer. I was looking around at my younger siblings and their friends, and then seeing that some of the boys in the neighbourhood couldn’t read. It’s so hard to function in this society if you don’t have the ability to communicate.
We get 20 to 25 people a week, and at least one or two of them are new.
How did you select the authors for this series?
When we applied for funding from the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts, the Academy’s operations manager, Irfan Ali – he is the driving force who made this series happen – and I brainstormed as many different writers as we could. We wanted a range of people who work in different styles and genres, and have different cultural backgrounds and interests and come from different parts of the country.
How does the series tie into Academy’s mandate?
At the Academy, we’re always looking to put the power into the audience’s hands – people who don’t traditionally have power. In this case, we’re telling the youth, “You are interviewing this established author, you have the ability to lead the conversation. You must read their work and prepare for the discussion, and you’re going up on stage with them.”
It’s an opportunity for them to shine, and I think they will. In situations where they are respected and supported, they always do wonderful things.
Canadians have the chance to meet and see some of their favourite writers, artists, and poets up close and personal at this weekend’s readings and festivals, featured on Q&Q’s events calendar.
The August Sonata on Aug. 25 offers readings galore from the likes of Ken Chisholm, Julie Curwin, Russell Colman, Sandra Dunn, and several others. The event takes place in Boularderie Island, Cape Breton. Attendees are encouraged reserve seating, and bring four books for the annual book exchange.
The annual Summer Dreams Literary Arts Festival kicks off in Vancouver on Aug. 25. The celebration fuses dance, theatre, and music with literary events, including storytelling, panel discussions on writing, and poetry readings.
Dan Parent, creator of Archie Comics’ first gay character Kevin Keller, will appear at Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop on Aug. 26. The free event includes an interview, question period, and book signing.
Some of Alberta’s finest poets and writers will gather in Calgary on Aug. 26 for Get Literary: Prose and Poetry. Local poet laureate Kris Demeanor will lead an afternoon of readings from Alberta’s literary magazines. Shannon Lee Bennett, Marcello Di Cintio, Jon R. Flieger, Barb Howard, Naomi K. Lewis, and Fred Stenson are set to attend.
Patrick Lane hosts a poetry reading that includes works spanning his half-century career. The event takes place on Aug. 24 in South Frontenac, Ontario. Admission is $40.
Who knows how much longer summer’s warmth will hang over us, so get outside and enjoy it at the Summer When it Sizzles Festival in Ottawa on Aug. 26. The free event invites the public to hear poets share their work over an afternoon of book launches, readings and open mics.
On the other side of the country, Vancouverites can head over to Comix & Stories for Vancouver ComicCon at Heritage Hall. The event puts the spotlight on alternative and small press comics, zines, and artwork; featuring Simon Roy, Brandon Graham, James Stokoe, and Marley Zarcone.
Be sure to check out Q&Q‘s events calendar for more of this weekend’s literary happenings.
Want to add an event to Q&Q‘s calendar? Send your literary event listings to Quill & Quire. Please include the event name, date, time, location, cost, and a brief description.
Random House of Canada has offered one answer with today’s launch of a multifaceted digital strategy that includes an online magazine (known as Hazlitt), an ebook imprint (Hazlitt Originals), and a website redesign.
The centrepiece of the campaign is the online magazine, the subject of some industry speculation ever since Random House of Canada hired Christopher Frey, a founder of Outpost magazine and Toronto Standard, earlier this year. While Hazlitt, which takes its name from a 19th-century literary critic and essayist, will be hosted on the Random House of Canada website, the company says it will maintain editorial independence, relying on freelance journalists to provide much of the content.
“As the idea evolved, there was an understanding at several levels of the company that for this, as a magazine, to succeed and build an audience and have credibility, it will have to have its own editorial identity,” Frey told Q&Q, following a media launch earlier this week. “Many of the people writing for it will have to be non–Random House authors or working journalists. We will need to be able to write about everything in the culture, and not just Random House books.”
Contributing writers will include Lynn Crosbie, Kaitlin Fontana, Billie Livingston, Jason McBride, Drew Nelles, and Carl Wilson, as well as filmmaker Scott Cudmore (who will provide multimedia content). Frey says he views the magazine as “competing with any other Web-based magazine out there, like Slate or Salon or The Awl, or the Web versions of other print magazines.”
Hazlitt stories can be read online for free. At launch, the magazine features limited advertising, and cross-promotions for Random House titles appear low-key.
“This is an opportunity for us directly to engage with readers, and to bring the writers we represent close to readers,” says Robert Wheaton, vice-president and director of strategic digital business development. “Learning from readers is of tremendous importance to us across the entirety of our business.”
As for the other key facet of Random House of Canada’s online push, the digital department will work with the company’s book publishing division to produce ebooks under the Hazlitt Originals imprimatur. The first title in the series, which will focus on non-fiction and essays, is journalist Patrick Graham’s The Man Who Went to War: A Reporter’s Memoir from Libya and the Arab Uprising. It will be followed by U.K. journalist Steven Poole’s “anti-foodie polemic” You Aren’t What You Eat and Ivor Tossell’s The Gift of Ford, about Toronto’s mayor.
The digital-only publishing initiative takes a page from Byliner.com and the Canadian Writers’ Group, the writers’ organization behind the ebook Finding Karla: How I Tracked Down an Elusive Serial Child Killer and Discovered a Mother of Three by journalist Paula Todd. Likewise, the Organization of Book Publishers of Ontario’s Open Book project and the Association of Canadian Publishers’ 49th Shelf are both attempts to create an online hub serving the dual role of marketing tool and source for compelling content.
But the scope of Random House’s digital ambitions are unprecedented in Canadian publishing. “Ultimately, we view this as a platform for future innovations in publishing,” Frey says.
Canadians can celebrate the fusion of fiction and poetry with history, science, and other art forms at events across the country this weekend, featured on Q&Q’s events calendar:
Experience 1912 – from vaudeville to horse-and-buggie rides – at the Sunshine City Festival from Aug. 17–19 in Orillia, Ontario. The city will commemorate the 100th anniversary of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town at Couchiching Beach Park.
Speaking of sunshine, Canada’s longest-running summer literary gathering, the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, takes place Aug. 16–19 in Sechelt, B.C. This year, the festival plays host to the world premiere of Northwords, a documentary about a literary expedition through Northern Labrador. Camilla Gibb, Ami McKay, and Douglas Gibson are set to appear.
For those who like poetry against the backdrop of nature, Marlene Creates’ Boreal Poetry Garden event on Aug. 18 may be time well spent. The artist gives a tour of her home in Portugal Cove-St. Philips, Newfoundland – complete with readings of site-specific poems, commentary by geologist Paul Dean, and a performance by Don McKay. Pre-registration is required.
The People’s Poetry Festival launches in Calgary this weekend, and there’s no shortage of poetry, spoken word, visual arts, and various other workshops on the itinerary. The free event begins Aug. 17 and runs until Aug. 19.
Artists from the Italian-Canadian community will gather in Sarnia, Ontario for a Book and Biscotti event on Aug. 19. Drop in to the Dante Club for readings, music, and discussion about Italian-Canadian internment, featuring Jim Zucchero, Delia De Santis, Venera Fazio, Norma West Linder, James Deahl, Di Cocco, and Elena Feick.
The Fish Quill Poetry Boat Tour makes several stops along the Grand River this weekend before coming to a halt on Aug. 19 at the Chiefswood Museum in Oshweken, Ontario. The closing ceremony features special guests Shelley Clark, Dawn, and Marra, who will help mark the end of a 10-day canoe tour comprised of poets Moez Surani, Kevin MacPherson Eckhoff, Leigh Kotsilidis, Linda Besner, and Darryl Whetter, and Toronto musician Jack Marks. Don’t miss out on the last chance to catch scheduled performances, outlined on the festival itinerary. Plus, check out Q&Q‘s events calendar for more of this weekend’s literary gatherings.
Want to add an event to Q&Q’s calendar? Send your literary event listings to Quill & Quire. Please include the event name, date, time, location, cost, and a brief description.
Dartmouth has joined the ranks of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver with the launch of the first Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival, thanks to local comic bookstore Strange Adventures, which will host the event on Aug. 19 at Alderney Landing in Nova Scotia.
Halifax independent weekly The Coast quotes Strange Adventures owner Calum Johnston:
It’s essentially a craft fair focused on comics. We’re not looking at programming but certainly we’d like to encourage anyone looking to get into cartooning and comics to come out … it’s an opportunity to ask questions.
The free one-day event gives locals a chance to shop, meet cartoonists and rare comic dealers, and have portfolios reviewed by artists like Steve McNiven, who has done work on Wolverine, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Avengers. Artists Mike Holmes, Faith Erin Hicks, and Nick Bradshaw are also set to appear.
Lit lovers who spent the long weekend in cottage country needn’t fear they’ve missed out. There’s plenty of bookish happenings across the country this weekend, like these ones selected from Q&Q’s events calendar:
The Fish Quill Poetry Boat Tour gets underway Aug. 9 at 8 p.m. at the Tranzac Club in Toronto. Tonight’s kick-off will be the first of 10 stops on the canoe tour, which sees a group of Canadian poets and musicians paddling from Elora to Chiefswood on Six Nations of the Grand River territory, performing in various venues along the way.
Albertans still have time to register for this weekend’s When Words Collide festival, which takes place from Aug. 10–12 in Calgary, and includes readings and talks by Anthony Bidulka, Kelley Armstrong, Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Adrienne Kerr, and Vanessa Cardui.
Authors at the Harbourfront Centre pairs with Planet IndigenUS for a reading and discussion featuring Thomas King, Drew Hayden Taylor, and Brian Wright-McLeod. The free event takes place Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.
The nominees for the Evelyn Richardson Award for Non-fiction will be gathering for a reading and discussion at the Osprey Arts Centre in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. The free event kicks off at 7 p.m. on Aug. 11, and boasts Chris Benjamin, Ray MacLeod and Harry Thurston. They will be joined by a live saw-whet owl from animal rehab facility Hope for Wildlife. (Should be a hoot!)
Fantasy enthusiasts hailing from Orillia, Ontario may want to check out Here Be Dragons, part of the photography exhibit Look. Magic! at the Leacock Museum. The Aug. 11 event starts at 8 p.m., and writers Julie Czerneda, Adrienne Kress, Anne Bishop and Mark Leslie will be in attendance.
If gritty crime stories are more your thing, check out the Wolfe Island Scene of the Crime Festival, which takes place on Aug. 11 in Wolfe Island, Ontario. The Ladies Killing Circle, D.J. McIntosh, John Moss, Y.S. Lee, and Thomas Rendell Curran are set to appear. Full-day passes are $65.
The annual Winterset in Summer Festival starts up Aug. 10 and runs until Aug. 12. Events for the Peril at the Sea–themed festival will take place at various locales across Eastport, Newfoundland. This year’s lineup includes Daniel Allen Butler, Paul Butler, Simon Winchester, Nancy Earle, Bernice Morgan, Bert Riggs, Danielle Devereaux, Jamie Fitzpatrick, and Bob Hallett, as well as 2012 Winterset Award finalists Mark Callanan, Don McKay, and Edward Riche. Tickets start at $15.
Q&Q’s events calendar has even more listings for this weekend’s readings, poetry shows, book signings, and festivals.
Want to add an event to Q&Q’s calendar? Send your literary event listings to Quill & Quire. Please include the event name, date, time, location, cost, and a brief description.
The season of high-profile literary awards and author festivals is on its way, and there’s no shortage of new releases from marquee names. In the July/August issue, Q&Q looks ahead at some of the fall’s biggest books.
In 2009, police discovered a car in the Rideau Canal just outside of Kingston, Ontario. The car contained the bodies of three sisters – Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti Shafia – and 50-year-old Rona Amir Mohammad. Authorities later arrested the girls’ father, brother, and mother, all of whom were convicted of first-degree murder for their roles in the honour killings. Paul Schliesmann’s Honour on Trial (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $19.95 pa., Oct.) examines the facts behind the case that horrified Canadians.
BUSINESS & FINANCE
He’s been a dragon in his den and gone to prison for his reality-television show, Redemption Inc. Now, Kevin O’Leary, businessman, pundit, and author of the hybrid memoir/business guide Cold Hard Truth, returns with The Cold Hard Truth about Men, Women and Money (Doubleday Canada, $29.95 cl., Dec.), a guide to avoiding common financial mistakes. • O’Leary’s left-leaning opponent on CBC’s The Lang and O’Leary Exchange, Amanda Lang, has a leadership book out this season. The Power of Why: Simple Questions that Lead to Success (HarperCollins Canada, $33.99 cl., Oct.) postulates that asking the right questions leads to increased productivity.
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
From the internal combustion engine and cold fusion to the Internet and the artificial heart, all scientific discoveries and technological advancements are the product of human ingenuity. In the 2012 CBC Massey Lectures, Neil Turok argues that science represents humanity’s best hope for progress and peace. The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos (House of Anansi Press, $19.95 pa.) appears in September. • Terence Dickinson is editor of the Canadian astronomy magazine Sky News and author of the bestseller NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe. His new book, Hubble’s Universe: Greatest Discoveries and Images (Firefly Books, $49.95 cl., Sept.), is a visually sumptuous compendium of images from the Hubble Space Telescope.
CULTURE & CRITICISM
Novelist and short-story writer Thomas King, who was also the first native person to deliver the prestigious CBC Massey Lectures, has long been a committed advocate for native rights. In The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (Doubleday Canada, $34.95 cl., Nov.), King examines the way European settlers and natives have viewed each other via pop culture, treaties, and legislation. • Poet and critic Kathleen McConnell explores the portrayal of women in pop culture through the ages in Pain, Porn and Complicity: Women Heroes from Pygmalion to Twilight (Wolsak & Wynn, $19 pa., Nov.).
In A Civil Tongue, philosophy professor and public intellectual Mark Kingwell predicted the devolution of political discourse into a schoolyard-like shouting match. His new collection, Unruly Voices: Essays on Democracy, Civility, and the Human Imagination (Biblioasis, $21.95 pa., Sept.), is about how incivility and bad behaviour prevent us from achieving the kind of society we desire.
Poet, publisher, and critic Carmine Starnino turns his incisive and cutting attention to CanLit in his new collection of essays, Lazy Bastardism (Gaspereau Press, Sept.). • James Pollock believes that Canadian poetry lacks an authentic relationship with poetry from the rest of the world. His new book, You Are Here: Essays on the Art of Poetry in Canada (The Porcupine’s Quill, $22.95 pa., Nov.), attempts to situate Canadian poetry in a global context, through examinations of the work of writers such as Anne Carson, Eric Ormsby, and Karen Solie.
A new anthology from Women’s Press brings together essays addressing specific concerns of LGBT communities and individuals across the country. Edited by Maureen FitzGerald and Scott Rayter, Queerly Canadian: An Introductory Reader in Sexuality Studies ($64.95 pa., Sept.) takes up issues of education, law, and religion, among others. • For a brief moment in the 1960s, Montreal became a hotbed of Civil Rights activism, radically challenging traditional conceptions of racial hierarchies. The 1968 Congress of Black Writers included activists and spokespeople such as Stokely Carmichael, C.L.R. James, and Harry Edwards. David Austin chronicles this important gathering in Fear of a Black Nation: Race, Sex, and Security in Sixties Montreal (Between the Lines, $24.95 pa., Nov.).
Belles Lettres (McArthur & Company, $29.95 pa., Nov.) is a collection of postcards from authors such as Baudelaire, Flaubert, Proust, and Charlotte Brontë, collated and annotated by Greg Gatenby, the founding artistic director of Toronto’s International
Festival of Authors. • In The Other Side of Midnight: Taxi Cab Stories (Creative Book Publishing, $19.95 pa., Oct.), writer and anthologist Mike Heffernan chronicles the experiences of St. John’s cab drivers and their clients.
In the years following Liz Worth’s Treat Me Like Dirt, the market for books about the Canadian punk music scene has been as frenzied as the audience at a Fucked Up concert. In Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk, (ECW, $22.95 pa., Oct.), Sam Sutherland looks at the historical context for Canadian punk progenitors such as D.O.A., the Viletones, and Teenage Head. • One early Canadian punk band – Victoria’s NoMeansNo – is the subject of the latest book in the Bibliophonic series from Invisible Publishing. NoMeansNo: Going Nowhere ($12.95 pa.), by Halifax author Mark Black, is due out in October.
Marc Strange, who died in May, was known for mystery novels such as Body Blows and Follow Me Down. He was also the co-creator (with L.S. Strange) of the seminal Canadian television series The Beachcombers. Bruno and the Beach: The Beachcombers at 40 (Harbour Publishing, $26.95 pa., Sept.), co-written with Jackson Davies, the actor who played Constable John Constable in the series, chronicles the iconic show and its equally iconic lead actor.
Since its release in 1971, Ken Russell’s notoriously blasphemous film, The Devils, has been the subject of heavy censorship in both the U.S. and the U.K. Canadian film scholar Richard Crouse examines the history of this cult classic in Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of The Devils (ECW, $19.95 pa., Oct.), which includes an interview with the film’s director, who died in 2011.
Former model and current stay-at-home mom Kelly Oxford has found her largest measure of fame as a result of her sarcastic Twitter feed (@kellyoxford), which features such Oscar Wildean witticisms as “IDEA: ‘Bless This Mess’ novelty period panties” and “Some parents in China get their kids to work in factories and I can’t get my kid to pass me some Twizzlers.” The essays in Everything’s Perfect When You’re a Liar (HarperCollins Canada, $24.99 cl., Sept.) promise more of the same. • If you prefer your humour with a larger dollop of political satire, you’ll be pleased to know that Rick Mercer has a collection of brand new rants on the way. A Nation Worth Ranting About (Doubleday Canada, $29.95 cl., Oct.) includes the author’s description of bungee jumping with Rick Hansen, and a more serious piece about Jamie Hubley, a gay teen who committed suicide after being bullied.
If you want to know whether you might be a redneck, ask Jeff Foxworthy. If you want to know whether you might be a native of Saskatchewan, check your birth certificate or consult the new book from author Carson Demmans and illustrator Jason Sylvestre. You Might Be from Saskatchewan If … (MacIntyre Purcell/Canadian Manda Group, $12.95 pa.) appears in September.
FOOD & DRINK
Rob Feenie is the latest Food Network Canada celebrity chef with a new cookbook. The host of New Classics with Chef Rob Feenie, who famously defeated Masaharu Morimoto on Iron Chef America, offers innovative approaches to classic, family-friendly fare in Rob Feenie’s Casual Classics: Everyday Recipes for Family and Friends (D&M, $29.95 pa., Sept.). The recipes have undergone stringent quality control, each one having been approved by Feenie’s children, aged 3, 6, and 7.
Camilla V. Saulsbury’s 500 Best Quinoa Recipes: Using Nature’s Superfood for Gluten-free Breakfasts, Mains, Desserts and More (Robert Rose, $27.95 pa., Oct.) provides more healthy recipes based on the reigning superstar ingredient. • Aaron Ash, founder of Gorilla Food, a Vancouver restaurant that features vegan, organic, and raw cuisine, has achieved popularity among celebrity fans including Woody Harrelson and Katie Holmes. His new book, Gorilla Food: Living and Eating Organic, Vegan, and Raw (Arsenal Pulp, $24.95 pa., Oct.), collects 150 recipes, all of which are made without a heat source.
Rocker Dave Bidini returns to his other passion – hockey – in A Wild Stab for It: This Is Game Eight from Russia (ECW, $22.95 cl., Sept.), in which the author talks to various Canadians about the influence of the 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series. The release of the book is timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the iconic series. • The man who made that series so memorable also has a book out this fall. Co-written with sports commentator Roger Lajoie, The Goal of My Life (Fenn/M&S, $32.99 cl., Sept.) traces Paul Henderson’s route through the OHL and the NHL, on his way to scoring “the goal of the century.”
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup, ex–CFL quarterback and coach Frank Cosentino has penned the appropriately titled The Grey Cup 100th Anniversary (McArthur & Company, $29.95 pa., Oct.). • Crime fiction writer Michael Januska offers his own take on 100 years of Canadian football history in Grey Cup Century (Dundurn, $14.99 pa., Sept.).
Q&Q’s fall preview covers books published between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2012. • All information (titles, prices, publication dates, etc.) was supplied by publishers and may have been tentative at Q&Q’s press time. • Titles that have been listed in previous previews do not appear here.
For the third year in a row, Linda Besner and Leigh Kotsilidis will lead a group of poets and one musician on a canoe tour down the Grand River in Southwestern Ontario. The lineup for this year’s Fish Quill Poetry Boat Tour includes Kevin McPherson Eckhoff, Moez Surani, Darryl Whetter, and singer-songwriter Jack Marks.
The 10-day, three-canoe author tour launches on Aug. 9 in Toronto, with readings scheduled in Elora, West Montrose, Bridgeport, Cambridge, Paris, Brantford, and Ohsweken, plus a campfire poetry night at Brant Conservation Area.
Besner spoke with Quillblog about the challenges and rewards of marrying poetry with paddling.
What can people expect from your tour?
The towns we’ve chosen to go through often don’t get a lot of [author] tours going through. Like West Montrose, where we’ll read next to Kissing Bridge, the only remaining covered bridge in Ontario.
Because we’re coming by canoe there’s a kind of informal air to the proceedings. Once you get up there in your canoeing clothes and you’re sunburnt and mosquito-bitten, you’ve been paddling through people’s back yards, we’ve already got something to talk about with [the audience].
The people who come out for it aren’t always necessarily the kind of people who come to poetry readings. But because somebody is making the effort to come to them, and doing it in a way that has a connection to the place, people come out.
People come and talk to us after. Last year, this woman came up with her daughter and husband. She told us she had had a boyfriend who wrote her this poem. “I still have it memorized. Do you want to hear it?” she said. And of course I did want to hear this poem. She recited it by heart. Her daughter was like, “Mom, you never told me this story.” Her mom said, “Well, it never came up.”
What’s different this time around?
Last year, most people knew at least one other person on the trip well.
This year there are a couple of people I haven’t met at all – Darryl Whetter is coming up from Nova Scotia, and I haven’t met Kevin McPherson Eckhoff, or Jack Marks.
How did the trip go last year? Can you describe what it was like for you?
The organizing had been so stressful that I was actually surprised and pleased by how smoothly everything wound up going. Once you’re out on the water, once everybody’s together, I feel like it really brings out people’s teamwork skills. Everybody was nice to each other and took care of each other. On that river, because it’s so shallow and rocky, the person in front really has to call to the person in back to tell them what to do to find a channel through the rocks that won’t tip you.
For a lot of us, because we live in the city, it’s not often that we’re able to be out in the country for so long and spend days on the river. You spend day after day in the canoe and then when you’re going to sleep, you have this hallucinatory sense that you’re still moving from side to side and following the bends of the river. It really gets a physical grip on you.
What are some of the highlights of paddling through a community rather than embarking on a more traditional tour?
We link up with a lot of local organizations and try to incorporate local talent. We invite guest performers to join us at each location. Last year, we had Shelley Clark from the Six Nations of the Grand River community read with us, and she’ll read again this year.
One of the coolest places we’ll be going back to this year is our final stop at Chiefswood National Historic Site, which is the birth place of E. Pauline Johnson. She was sort of the first Mohawk poet in Canada to be taken seriously. Her house is still standing [as a museum] in the Six Nations’ territory. Going out there, learning about its history, getting to know the curator and the volunteers is amazing. You really do see how vibrant the culture is.
What kind of fundraising have you undertaken to cover the trip?
We do this trip on such a shoestring budget. We grocery shop and cook [at camp] as a group. We have gotten all of our camping sponsored by the Grand River Conservation Authority, which manages the campsites we’ll be staying on.
We have another really wonderful sponsor, Treks in the Wild. They’re a canoe company in Paris, Ontario, and they’re really who make this trip possible. They lend us the canoes and waterproof barrels for our merch for free, they shuttle us around, they come and get us when our campsite is too far from our reading venue for us to walk.
We’ve also been given some funding from our publishers: Véhicule Press, Coach House Books, Wolsak & Wynn, Palimpsest Press, and Brick Books.
As a youth, Toronto-born author and illustrator Leanne Shapton was a dedicated competitive swimmer, at one time ranking eighth in Canada. She competed in two Olympic trials (1988, 1992), but narrowly missed qualifying. In her new book, Swimming Studies (Blue Rider Press/Penguin Canada), Shapton meditates on her life in the pool through essays, photos, and watercolour paintings.
Shapton is an accomplished artist who began her career at the National Post before moving into art director positions at Saturday Night magazine and The New York Times. She is the author of five illustrated books.
Quillblog caught up with Shapton in New York City, where she’s resided since 2003.
How did Swimming Studies come to be?
When I’d talk about swimming, [former Saturday Night editor and Rogers Publishing president] Ken Whyte, who started his career as a sports writer, encouraged me to write things down. So I took some writing courses and tried to organize the material.
In 2007, when I had about a quarter of the book written, I sent it to my agent and then told them to throw it away. It wasn’t the right time.
Why is this the right time?
I made a two-book deal with Blue Rider Press, but after the auction catalogue (Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry), I didn’t want to do another picture-heavy book. It was really important to do something weirder and less like what I’ve done before.
For a while I had a column in The New York Times Magazine. It was a revelation to work with an editor. The book then became a huge experiment in whether I could write anything longer than a caption or small capsule.
Did you set out to write a non-traditional memoir?
I think it’s a funny book – there are a lot of different levels and layers. This is how I described it to my editor as I was working through the manuscript: I wanted it to be a book of landscapes – either interior or literal. I see these landscapes and because I don’t have a photograph of them and I don’t want to paint them, all I have is this language that I’m trying to learn as I go.
Did you keep diaries as a kid?
When I was training at 14 or 15, I mostly kept photo albums. When I was training with the University of Toronto team for my second Olympic trials in 1992, I kept them. It wasn’t until around 2006 that I started writing the other things down.
One of the most striking chapters in the book is “Size,” which includes photos of your personal collection of bathing suits. Why did you choose to include these?
That’s only half of them. I tried to get a sense of going from competitive to non-competitive to getting my first two-piece at 27 or 28. I really resisted getting one.
That chapter is called “Size” because there’s so much body stuff going on in terms of eating and shape and insecurities. There’s so much around bathing suits in particular – it’s all twisted and tangled, the idea of body size and image.
The book contains many references to time. Was that intentional?
One thing that came with training is that I know what five seconds feels like in the same way that a well plumber knows what five feet looks like from a different angle than the erst of us might. It’s a temporal understanding of things. It’s like how a minute feels when you’re late for a train.
How would you describe your relationship to water now?
I still swim, but I still don’t like swimming in open water. I will do it because I always feel like jumping into water, but I’m not entirely comfortable.
It makes me feel good to be in water – it’s like wearing a favourite sweater. It’s something that I know really, really well. I know my body so much more in water. I’m clumsier outside of it.
What about your relationship to the sport?
I’m not competitive at all. I joined a team to see if I had any spirit left, and I didn’t. It’s not a challenging thing for me anymore and I have no jock mindset for it.
Although watching the Olympics makes me cry. I love watching swimming. When I watch it on TV and they turn, I do it in my head, too.
Would you say you’ve replaced swimming with art?
For years I wanted the same focus that I had as a swimmer because I knew I was moving toward a perfection or a time goal. So now I’ll do 20 sketches or paintings. I’ll work the sport’s discipline into how I work, whether it’s an assignment or a series of paintings.
Since retiring from swimming I’ve tried to find that dumb blind zone you go into as an athlete. I’ve found it now with drawing and painting, which is so nice.