& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Authors, poets, readings

Fall is here and Toronto’s book enthusiasts have returned to doing what they love – reading from their new work, sharing their ideas, and generally gossiping about each other. 

I attended a number of readings and book launches in September, and couldn't attend a few book launches that I wanted to.

Here’s a roundup:

An unusual one was The Underdog Poets Academy at the Central (Markham Street) organized by the young Sarah Beaudin

Yoko Morgenstern invited me to this event. She always introduces me to great events and people every time she visits Toronto.

Michael Scott (Wateredown)’s reading and Daisuke Takeya painting created a confluence of colours, words and images that was riveting.

Dave Proctor, another young writer, read from Blank State. He read with energy, passion and a sense of drama not often seen in writers. 

The theme of the books is the future Toronto – a city of condos – where artists fight, “and a group of filmmakers are fighting to document the city’s slow decline.” 

Farzana Doctor’s Brocton Writers Series always features brilliant writers. For the September edition, she had Patricia Westerhof, Leslie Shimotakahara, James Talbot-FitzGerald, and Benjamin Hackman.

The evening belonged to Hackman who read from his The Benjy Poems. You may listen to the poems here: Benjy Poems.

Reading with Katlin

The indefatigable Mary Ellen Koroscil organized Reading with Katlin – “evening of poetry, prose, fun and laughter and refreshments” at Q Space – an absolutely lovely place, ideal for such an event.

The lineup of poets and writers included Albert Moritz, the Griffen Poetry Prize winning poet, Jasmine D’Costa, Leo Paradela, Luciano Icaobelli, Jim Bartley, and John Calabro.

The evening belonged to Katlin Kaldmaa, the poet from Estonia, who read her poems in both Estonian and in English. 

And it was a full house. Many writer friends were in the audience.

Image: http://www.theartoftoadkissing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Poetry-Reading.jpg

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Markham Arts Council's second annual
International Festival of Authors
Tuesday October 23, 2012.

The City of Markham in partnership with the Markham Arts Council is pleased to present the second annual International Festival ofAuthors (IFOA Markham) Touring Event on Tuesday October 23, 2012, inside the beautiful Flato Markham Theatre.

Last year Markham’s first ever IFOA event presented four world renowned authors to a sold out audience for an evening of wine, world cuisine and literary readings along with an audience Q&A with TVO personality, Thom Ernst.

On Tuesday October 23, 2012, Mayor Frank Scarpitti will be hosting the “Mayor’s Hour: World and Wine Cuisine” reception, welcoming this year’s headlining author and past recipient of the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize–Dr. Vincent Lam, along with international world renowned authors: Marjorie Celona,  Ayesha Chatterjee and Chan Koonchung.

This year the Mayor’s Hour held in the lobby of FlatoMarkham Theatre will include authors meet-and-greet, an exciting visual arts exhibit and performances by award winning YorkSlam performers. The reception will be followed by Author Readings and Q & A.
Tickets for “The Mayor’s Hour: World and Wine Cuisine” are $65.00 (reception begins at 6pm)

Tickets for Author Readings and Q & A only are $18.00 (readings begin at 7:15pm)

Marjorie Celona
Marjorie Celona (Canada) was born and raised in Victoria, B.C. and lives in Cincinnati. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow and recipient of the Ailene Barger Barnes Prize. Her stories have appeared in The Best American Nonrequired Reading, Harvard Review, Glimmer Train and Crazyhorse. Celona’s debut novel, Y, tells the unforgettable story of a newborn baby dropped on a YMCA doorstep, and that of her mother, who is just a girl herself.

Ayesha Chatterjee
Born and raised in Kolkata, Ayesha Chatterjee (India) has lived in England, the USA and Germany, and currently resides in Toronto. Her work gained notice when one of her poems was shortlisted in the Guardian Unlimited Poetry Workshop in October 2004. Her poetry has appeared innthposition, Autumn Sky Poetry and BluSlate. In 2010, she read at the Poetry with Prakriti Festival in Chennai, India. Her first poetry collection,The Clarity of Distance, is a meditation on the complexity of existence and the search for moments of truth within it.

Chan Koonchung

Chan Koonchung (Canada/Hong Kong) is a novelist, journalist and screenwriter. Born in Shanghai and raised and educated in Hong Kong, he studied at the University of Hong Kong and Boston University. He has published more than a dozen Chinese-language books and in 1976 founded the magazine City, of which he was the chief editor and then publisher for 23 years. He has been a producer on more than 13 films. Banned in China, Koonchung’s politically charged novel The Fat Years tells the story of the search for an entire month erased from official Chinese history.

Vincent Lam

Physician and author Vincent Lam (Canada) is from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam, and was born in Canada. He is a lecturer with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto and has worked in international air evacuation and expedition medicine on Arctic and Antarctic ships. Lam’s first book, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and has recently been adapted for television and broadcast on HBO Canada. Lam’s  The Headmaster’s Wadger tells the story of Percival, a gambling, womanizing, corrupt headmaster at a prestigious English school in Saigon.

To purchase tickets, call the Markham Arts Council at 905-947-9054 or Flato Markham Theatre at 905-305-SHOW (7469)

Generally About Books is IFOA-Markham's community partner

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Writers & labels

Finding the right voice to write
Are labels important or even relevant for writers?

LGBT, visible minority, Muslim, Asian, Tamil are labels that one often hears to define a writer and her writing; quite often randomly, and unnecessarily. This is stereotyping is often reflexive and on occasions offensive because a writer’s origins and roots are almost always irrelevant to her writing, except in specific genres such as memoirs.

Kanaka Basu reviewing Farzana Doctor’s novels (The Hindu) makes a pertinent observation. “The cover of the second novel grandly announces that Six Metres of Pavement is the recipient of the Lambda Literary Award 2012: Lesbian Fiction, a fact that leaves the reader duly impressed and slightly baffled. Baffled because the novel begins with and moves primarily around the phenomenon of immigrant angst and for the larger part, the lesbian factor is incidental and casually relegated to the sidelines.

Basu goes on to praise Farzana's writing: “This is seriously good writing here, such good writing that it hurts. The prose is punctuated with the most delicious silences, the characters display the most eccentric twirls and loops and the tone of the novel, is never, never quite predictable. Such a breath of fresh air!”

Then, is being a lesbian relevant to writing? Mariko Tamaki, the young Toronto writer, was asked whether it was limiting or liberating to be identified as a lesbian. She said it varied. In her case, she said, she was also identified as an Asian. Mariko read from her novel (You) Set Me on Fire at the Academy of Impossible.

This is an interesting debate and at its root is the issue of voice. A few years ago, at Sheridan College, when I said I had written a short story about an immigrant Muslim family, many in the class felt that I wouldn’t get the voice right because I’m not a Muslim.

Recently, I read Pradeep Solanki’s piece in Descant on the same subject. Solanki says, “The ethics around appropriation of voice is still unresolved, and people feel passionately on both sides of the issue, particularly when the voice involves a minority community...Personally, I don’t believe there can ever be a definitive resolution to this debate. So much of it depends upon the sensitivity of the writer, his research and her skills.”

Sunday, September 09, 2012

MG Vassanji's Assassin's Song in Hindi

Harish Narang and Charu Sharma’s Hindi translation of MG Vassanji’s Assassin’s Song was launched at the Brampton library Sunday afternoon by the Hindi Writers Guild.

Vassanji read three passages from the novel in English, Meena Chopra, poet and painter, read from the Hindi translation of the passages, and Dr. Shailaja Saxena and Suman K. Ghai critiqued the novel.

The book was formally launched in India in July 2012.

It was a rare public reading by the two-time Giller winner Vassanji. He read three passages from the novel – Sufi Nur Fazal’s first encounter with the princess, young Karsan’s meeting with his father who is the head of the Pirbaag shrine, and the letter Karsan writes to his father informing him that he rejects his spiritual inheritance.

Meena Chopra read the Hindi passages and included some parts that Vassanji hadn’t read, thus giving a better perspective and a fuller portrait of the novel.

The tour de force of the afternoon was Dr. Saxena’s commentary of the novel. In an erudite and studied presentation on the novel, Dr. Saxena delineated the strengths of the novel – especially the seamless weaving of the three eras – the 13th century, the 1960s and 1970s and the 2002-03 period – that form the part of the novel.

Another telling comment, which revealed the depth of her understanding of the techniques of storytelling, was her description of the characters in the book – the Saheb, the mother, Karsan, Karsan’s younger brother Mansoor who becomes a militant Muslim in post-2002 Gujarat, and Pirbaag – the Sufi shrine. 

Only a truly discerning reader would describe a location as a character. And Pirbaag is, indeed, no less than a character in the novel.

Suman K. Ghai’s commentary highlighted Vassanji’s effortless characterisation, and the dexterous translation; he also emphasized that Vassanji has been able to capture some of the comedic aspects of an immigrant’s life in the 1970s.

The event had become possible thanks to Meena Chopra’s continuous efforts.