All stories relating to YA
The finalists for the 2013 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards were revealed today. Celebrating “artistic excellence in writing and illustration in English-language Canadian children’s literature,” the annual awards for best picture book and for best young adult or middle-grade title are each worth $6,000.
This year’s jurors — always a group of young readers — are from North Kipling Junior Middle School in Etobicoke, Ontario. The prizes will be given out May 23 at the school.
Children’s Picture Book Award
- A Few Bites, Cybèle Young (Groundwood Books)
- A Hen for Izzy Pippik, Aubrey Davis; Marie Lafrance, illus. (Kids Can Press)
- Larf, Ashley Spires (Kids Can)
- Virginia Wolf, Kyo Maclear; Isabelle Arsenault, illus. (Kids Can)
- Wishes, Jean Little; Geneviève Côté, illus. (Scholastic Canada)
Young Adult/Middle Reader Award
- A Tinfoil Sky, Cyndi Sand-Eveland (Tundra Books)
- Hunted, Cheryl Rainfield (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)
- Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Doubleday Canada)
- The Grave Robber’s Apprentice, Allan Stratton (HarperCollins Canada)
- The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, Susin Nielsen (Tundra)
Click on the thumbnails to find out which children’s books mattered most in 2012.
In the October issue of Q&Q, Natalie Samson writes about how a handful of YA authors are creating positive role models for gay youth.
When Mariko Tamaki set out to write (You) Set Me on Fire (Razorbill Canada), her first novel for young adult readers, she didn’t realize it’d be the “queerest book” she’s written to date.
Unlike her previous YA books, the critically acclaimed graphic novel Skim (illustrated by cousin Jillian Tamaki) and comic Emiko Superstar (illustrated by Steve Rolston), Tamaki says her latest publication brings sexual identity to the fore. “[Allison Lee] knows that she likes girls, but it doesn’t seem to be a permanent thing yet,” Tamaki says of her 17-year-old protagonist.
The novel follows Allison as she slouches through freshman year in an all-girls university residence, and grapples with an intense and unhealthy relationship with her new best friend, Shar, all while mending her first broken heart and a fair bit of charred, scabby skin (she was accidentally set on fire twice the previous summer). Though Allison fumbles with her feelings about identity – at one point she likens being a lesbian to a “physical betrayal, like Tourette’s syndrome” – her queerness is established before the novel opens, making it one of several qualities she re-evaluates over the course of the year.
Tamaki’s novel is one of a growing number of queer-positive coming-of-age stories that reflect the changing realities faced by young LGBT Canadians. “The story about someone discovering their sexuality has to have changed,” Tamaki says. “Twenty years ago there was the experience of having to go to the library to look up what the word ‘lesbian’ means. Nowadays, you turn on the television and there’s at least one lesbian in a five-hour block of TV.”
Indeed, journalist Michael Harris, whose first novel, Homo, was published in September through Lorimer’s SideStreets YA series, recalls heading to his local library as a 17-year-old in the late 1990s to look up “homosexual” in the card catalogue. “There were two books in my suburban library: one was a clinical analysis of illness, and one of them was Stan Persky’s book Buddy’s,” he says. “These were my indoctrination into the community.”
Considering the isolation Harris felt as a teen, it’s no surprise that one of his aims in writing Homo was to craft a character who inhabits multiple communities. Will Johnson struggles with his place at school and within his circle of friends and family after his sexual orientation is leaked on Facebook. In addition to the more mundane dramas of adolescence – an uninspiring home life, a strained relationship with his best friend – Will also confronts the violence of homophobic bullying and the news that his 23-year-old boyfriend, Riley, is HIV positive (a fact he learns after they’ve had sex).
In Will’s older, urban boyfriend, Harris offers queer youth an example of post-AIDS gay life, as well as a warning against taking that history too lightly. “If you look at HIV rates among young gay men, they’re actually climbing,” Harris says. “I think it’s because young gay men are either not worried about AIDS because they think it’s a one-pill-a-day kind of lifestyle, or they actually think of AIDS as some kind of historic relic.… I wanted Will to have to confront that wrecked part of his history that he didn’t think counted.”
Confronting the difficult realities of intersecting identities is also at the heart of Paul Yee’s 2011 novel, Money Boy (Groundwood Books), in which the teenage protagonist, Ray Liu, is thrown out of his Toronto home when his father, a former Chinese soldier, discovers his son has been visiting gay porn sites. In the aftermath, Ray experiences homelessness, engages in sex work, and discovers relief and support in online gaming and the city’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood. Ray eventually reconciles with his family and returns home.
While Yee is aware that the narrative arc may seem familiar, the book’s Chinese-Canadian context helps keep the story fresh. “There’s been this tradition in older gay lit that the gay characters would often die off or they’d be pathologized,” Yee says. “I wanted an upbeat ending, but not something that was entirely unbelievable.”
Like Tamaki and Harris, Yee felt compelled to challenge the coming-out archetype because it didn’t reflect his experience as a young, gay immigrant. The absence of relatable role models and the fear of backlash from schools and libraries led Yee to hide his queer identity, even as he published story after story celebrating his cultural heritage (including the Governor General’s Literary Award–winning Ghost Train).
“It felt [like] I had a lot of internalized homophobia if I kept avoiding my gay life,” says Yee, who started writing gay fiction for adult audiences in the 1990s, in collections such as Queer View Mirror and Quickies (both from Arsenal Pulp Press). Money Boy is the author’s first YA novel addressing life after coming out. “The inspiration for writing Money Boy was really for me to get some balance in writing about the two worlds that I belong to: a gay world and a Chinese world,” he says.
Ivan E. Coyote is another prolific author who recently tried her hand at queer-positive YA. One in Every Crowd, published by Arsenal Pulp last spring, was a long time coming, says Coyote, who has spent the past decade touring schools as a storyteller and motivational speaker. Her talks often centre on stories about her cousin Christopher, an awkward, unique kid who was often treated cruelly. After regaling high schoolers with her funny, touching stories of a cherished cousin, she tells them the sad truth: Christopher killed himself at the age of 22.
“I thought a lot about my cousin Christopher when I put this book together,” Coyote says. “I still feel like part of the work I do in high schools is my means of atonement for not being able to protect him more in his own school experience, for not seeing how serious the bullying was.”
Coyote’s extended family appears in much of this collection of fictionalized memoirs. “There are so many stories out there about gay, lesbian, transsexual, transgendered people being homeless and being kicked out by their families,” she says. “I wanted to present an alternate reality: a family that may have struggled with aspects of who I was when I first came out … [but] in which I’m just as beloved and adored as any other family member.” By casting herself as not just a valued member of her family, but a successful artist, mentor, friend, partner, and lover, Coyote hopes to fill a gap of inspiring and realistic models of queerness, especially for young women.
After years of stubbornly refusing to tone down her writing, Coyote says she finally heeded requests from teachers and librarians to publish a resource appropriate for teens because she saw first-hand just how badly many queer youth needed the positive reinforcement. These changes weren’t for the benefit of her younger readers, she quickly clarifies, but for those adults who would object to the book’s content, or to “a writer like me being in a public library.” Coyote adds: “They’re going to be looking for reasons … so I sort of took the easy things away from them. They can tackle the more complicated reasons why they might not want … their own kids seeing some reflection of themselves in popular culture.”
There’s no denying YA’s growing importance in Canadian publishing, leading to more options for young readers. But as Harris notes, a study conducted by author Malinda Lo found that only 1.6 per cent of YA books to be published in the U.S. in 2012 will include LGBT main characters (those numbers weren’t available for Canada). So while books by Tamaki, Harris, Yee, and Coyote are signs of positive change, their rarity makes them, as Harris suggests, political statements.
Tamaki, who says her inspiration for (You) Set Me on Fire came out of her belief in activism, agrees. “You can’t expect change to happen,” she says. You have to write it into being.
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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.
Canadian literary organization CODE has announced a new award for works of YA fiction by native authors in Canada.
Established in collaboration with philanthropist William Burt and the Literary Prizes Foundation, the Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature is modelled after the Burt Award for African Literature, a YA prize that has been in existence since 2008.
The inaugural annual award will be presented to three English-language YA books, with a prize of $12,000 for the winning author (and translator, where applicable). Two runners-up will receive $8,000 and $5,000, respectively, and publishers of the winning titles will be awarded a guaranteed purchase of 2,500 copies to ensure communities have access to the books.
The Canada Council for the Arts will administer the Burt Award jury process. Submissions are now open and will be accepted until May 1, 2013.
Michael Ondaatje has been named a fiction finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for his novel The Cat’s Table.
The annual award, established in 2006 and based in the U.S., honours authors who have used the written word to promote peace in fiction and non-fiction. The winner in each category receives a $10,000 cash prize.
The Cat’s Table (Knopf Canada) tells the tale of one man’s unforgettable sea voyage from Sri Lanka to London.
The winners will be announced Nov. 11 at a ceremony at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio. The other finalists are:
- Nanjing Requiem, Ha Jin (Pantheon Books)
- Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury)
- Shards, Ismet Prcic (Grove Atlantic)
- The Grief of Others, Leah Hager Cohen (Riverhead)
- The Sojourn, Andrew Krivak (Bellevue Literary Press)
- A Train in Winter, Caroline Moorehead (HarperCollins)
- Day of Honey, Annia Ciezadlo (Free Press)
- Mighty Be Our Powers, Leymah Gbowee (The Perseus Books Group)
- To End All Wars, Adam Hochschild (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
- What Is It Like to Go to War, Karl Marlantes (Grove/Atlantic)
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.
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.