Bishop-Gwyn: Franca wanted to be remembered

Just a few days until the finalists for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction meet at the Harbourfront Centre for a round table discussion. Today, Carol Bishop-Gwyn tells us the story behind the story of Celia Franca.

Carol Bishop-Gwyn, author of The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca:

(c) Gordon Fulton

(c) Gordon Fulton

We’ve reached an epoch in our history where we need to claim our cultural pioneers before it’s too late. Charles Taylor Prize winner Charles Foran did this with his biography of writer Mordecai Richler. As a dance historian, it only made sense to capture Celia Franca, founding artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada.

Celia Franca as a topic dropped into my lap—I felt it was meant to be. Journalist Frank Rasky was in the midst of writing her biography in the early 1990s but died before completing the project. His hundreds of hours of taped interviews, deposited in the dance archives Dance Collection Danse along with his often combative interviews with Franca herself proved invaluable to me. The fact that she donated a vast amount of material including some very revealing items in notebooks, diaries and letters to Canada’s national repository of history, Library and Archives Canada, also lead me to believe that she wanted to be remembered, albeit as she, herself, would have wished to be presented.

There were times during the writing of the book when I wondered if Celia was out there stirring things up. Sitting with friends one day, a bird I’d never seen before landed close by in a bush. I was told it was a cowbird, which lays its eggs in other bird’s nests.  Recently someone had compared Celia Franca to a cowbird. Was that bird watching me?

All five finalists for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction will participate in a panel discussion at Authors at Harbourfront Centre on Wednesday, February 27.

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Let’s talk, Toronto

By Edward KeenanKeenan, Edward

The city of Toronto has been through a fascinating couple of years: having apparently turned its back on David Miller-style urbanism for the disgruntled populism of Rob Ford, we proceeded to see Ford’s proposals generate huge levels of outrage that turned city council against him. Facing an election campaign kicking off in about a year, we’re at a bit of a crossroads as a city.

Can we heal the divisions—between drivers and cyclists, downtown and suburbs, taxpayer and citizen—that have become such a regular part of our discourse? Is there any hope of addressing issues such as transit expansion, housing affordability and smart development that will make every neighbourhood in the city better? What do we even hope to be as a city? It seems like a conversation we need to have—and one too important to leave to politicians. So we’re asking smart people from across Toronto to start asking such questions, and to start proposing solutions, large and small, to challenges we face in redefining our growing global metropolis in the early years of the 21st century.

Join Edward Keenan, author of Some Great Idea, and Ivor Tossell, author of The Gift of Ford, for Toronto Talks: The Future of Our City on February 20.

The Super Bowl of book clubs

© Maayan Ziv

By Ayesha Chatterjee

Words and waterfalls. Already I’m mixing them up. Why code is poetry and poetry, code. I had my first IFOA reading in Markham on Tuesday evening and as we drove up from Toronto, Marjorie Celona and Bert Archer and I talked about a jigsaw puzzle of things that in my mind are now blended in with the memory of the colours of the trees along the Don Valley Parkway, vivid even in the grey of the autumn afternoon.

I felt like a star that night, like J-Lo, with my own personal assistant, a charming young high school student named Ivy who had thought of everything, even an extra pen for me to sign with.  I don’t think I will ever get used to reading in public, always surprised and humbled by the audience’s kindness, the small conversations afterwards, the exchanges of commonalities.

And then Niagara yesterday: the white force of water drenching us all with its indifferent power. The photographs I took of the Horseshoe Falls from the Maid of the Mist look strangely alien, as though I’d taken them on a distant planet with everyone dressed in blue spacesuits. In almost all of them, a seagull circles, smoothly curved, the opposite of the thing with feathers that Dickinson wrote of.

We were introduced by the Mayor of Markham on Tuesday night, who said that the IFOA  was the Super Bowl of book clubs. I rather like that. I’ve never thought of myself as a football player before.

Click here for more about Chatterjee’s IFOA events.

Winter reading rituals

By Anakana Schofield

I’m not long returned from the Brooklyn Book Festival where the weather was beautifully warm and I had to pace about wearing shorts. Last weekend I travelled to the Victoria Writers Festival and Wordstock, the Portland writers festival, and tonight have just arrived home from the launch of the Vancouver Writers Fest.

I remember all four recent festivals by the weather and conversations. In New York I had to turn on the air conditioner. In Portland I had to turn on the heater and yesterday night I could not sleep because it was so windy here in Vancouver.

I love the fall season in Vancouver and pay close attention to the wind and rain. It signals for me the start of my winter reading rituals. The weather closing in, the sky turning grey means it’s time to turn in to the page.

All year I turn to the page, but in winter I embrace the page amid additional attention to physical comfort.

To establish any ritual it’s necessary to repeat it. It’s not a ritual if you only ever do it once. My reading rituals are particularly employed and important when it’s raining. As it’s regularly raining in Vancouver, I am committed.

Comfort is vital. I adopted two couches from a generous couch shedder because I deemed we needed a couch-per-reading-person (in this case two). I have invested in four hot water bottles because I deemed we needed two per person. I bought my son the softest blanket in the world which I subsequently commandeered and he has yet to raise a loud protest since he has disappeared into the vortex of video gaming. Quilts are very important in our apartment, they are dragged up and down stairs and sometimes found under the kitchen table and are thus umbilically connected to winter reading rituals. Pillows and cushions are critical.

Liquids. Liquid comfort matters during a winter reading ritual. In this case: teapot, teacups, milk jug, glass of hot port have proved trojan company. For smaller participants I admit to providing endless bags of chips and token chopped apples.

Finally I have found fuzzy or warm socks a most important part of my winter reading ritual. If my feet are cold or itchy it’s very distracting to my reading.

Once comfort is established and the weather has been noted, this liberates my brain and reading begins.

A stack of books is always within arms reach of the couch because I practice inter-reading. I might wish to digest a paragraph by reading a different work after it, or I might just dig in for the long haul with the same text.

Walks are taken only to refill hot water bottles or the teapot. Generally the plan is not to get up. Naps are sometimes taken at the book, but this isn’t encouraged. The teapot is the weapon against slumber. The curtains are always open, darkness is welcome but the curtains stay open because the weather doing its thing outside is a pleasing visual carnival.

Titles vary, but I would not necessarily reread Madame Bovary in winter. She is usually reserved for the wooden chair on Grandma’s deck.

Schofield will share her debut novel, Malarky, at IFOA. For more about Schofield and her events, click here.

You have to keep moving

© Tobias Lundqvist

By Mons Kallentoft

I am currently editing two books, my next crime novel and an autobiographical book on gastronomy called Food Junkie.

My crime stories are translated to 26 languages.

But the gastronomy book is a much harder sell for my agent, which is a pity, since it is in my opinion the best and most important book I have ever written.

But that’s how the book business works. Better to focus on something we know will work than charter into unknown territory.

But as a writer that is pretty much the most dangerous thing you can do.

Artistically you have to keep moving, challenging yourself, inventing your art over and over again, otherwise you will be finished, sooner than later.

I am writing this in Stockholm, and if everything goes as planned I will be in Toronto this time next week.

Looking forward very much to meeting a lot of nice, interesting people, enjoying the city, and check out some restaurants.

One advice: two books in a year is one too many. At least for me.

Stressful.

Especially if you focus on quality as I try to do.

Click here for more about Kallentoft, author of Autumn Killing, at IFOA.

Shoreline

By Kristel Thornell

© Joi Ong

In the first Clarice Beckett landscape I saw, two trams were passing one another in a milky, bluish haze. The simple scene was somehow recognizably of the early twentieth century, and yet timeless. I had never heard of this Australian, who lived from 1887 to 1935, working for most of the interwar years with breathtaking stamina—despite much criticism for not conforming to the artistic fashions of the day—before she was largely forgotten for decades. Beckett’s paintings are often resolutely spare. They show straightforward stretches of city and suburban road, seaside views, country fields. What is involving and even transcendent about them? Her wondrous restraint and instinct for the moody merging of tones generate atmospheres that are resonant without being quite fathomable. A haunting airiness. The viewer’s imagination is teased beyond those crepuscular streets, or those plain telegraph poles against a rainy sky and sea, the landscapes seeming to only barely belong to the physical world.

Beckett’s quietly heady paintings strike me as images of reverie, exalted introspection, contained yearning. I fancied they also represented the shoreline mingling history and fantasy where the writing of Night Street occurred. I knew I couldn’t have written a novel that kept strict faith with biographical fact. It felt necessary to try to hold the stark facts of her life in a gaze as soft-focused as the one that produced some of the most dreamlike, open-ended meditations on landscape in Australian art.

For more about Thornell and her appearance at IFOA, click here.

Five Questions with… Ayesha Chatterjee

Poet Ayesha Chatterjee will appear at IFOA on Sunday, October 28. You can also catch her at IFOA Markham on October 23.

© Maayan Ziv

IFOA: You were born in India and have lived in Germany, the USA and now Canada. How does place function in your poetry?

Chatterjee: My poetry tends to be visual, so I use place as a prop a lot. The colours and fabric tend to vary, depending on where the poem is set. I’m also a different person in different countries and I think that comes through in my poetry as well.

IFOA: Did you write as a child, and if so what did you write?

Chatterjee: I’ve been “writing” since I was about 6 years old. I’d dictate to my mother; silly little stories about Bobby the Battery and my little kitten and things like that. I started writing poetry when I was about nine. I found poetry easier than prose, it came to me more naturally (which is why I always wanted to be a novelist). I was very shy about having other people read my poems, though. My parents would ask me to show my latest “work” to their friends and I’d leave the room while they were reading it, because I couldn’t bear to hear them talking about it.

IFOA: Tell us about one poet whose work has influenced your own.

Chatterjee: Emily Dickinson. Which is odd, because I had never even heard of her until I was at university in America. There isn’t a single extraneous word in Dickinson’s poetry. It’s like haiku. She can write a universe in a sentence.

IFOA: What are your favourite and least favourite words – today, at least?

Chatterjee: Obfuscate and viral in that order.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: If I had only known that…

Chatterjee: I’d have a ginger cat who was a thief, perhaps I wouldn’t have named him MaCavity. Would that have changed him?

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Chatterjee: Cornucopia.

For more about Chatterjee, visit ayeshachatterjee.com or readings. org.