Most Recent Posts recent posts.en-usBharati Mukherjee, writer, by Linda Leith<p> <br /> In a series of acclaimed novels and short stories published over more than 40 years, Bharati Mukherjee, who died in Manhattan on Jan. 28, wrote about the radical changes experienced by immigrants from India.</p> <p> Her long-time friend Margaret Atwood called Ms. Mukherjee a pioneer in North America in her exploration of this kind of culture shock.</p> <p> Ms. Mukherjee was 22 when she enrolled at the Iowa Writers&rsquo; Workshop in 1962. She already had a BA from the University of Calcutta and an MA from the University of Baroda, in Gujarat, India. She was beautiful, elegant and accomplished. The other students thought she was the daughter of a maharajah who had an army ready to attack any man who so much as looked at her.</p> <p> &ldquo;A maharajah&rsquo;s daughter!&rdquo; she laughed, when a fellow student, the Canadian-American writer Clark Blaise, told her this later on. &ldquo;But that would be a lower caste!&rdquo; She was a Brahmin from a traditional family. &ldquo;Great privilege had been conferred upon me,&rdquo; she wrote in 1981. &ldquo;My struggle was to work hard enough to deserve it. And I did.&rdquo;</p> <p> Her father, Sudhir Lal Mukherjee, was the wealthy owner of a pharmaceutical company who took the family abroad when she was eight. Her mother, Bina (n&eacute;e Banerjee) was a homemaker. Bharati attended private schools in London and Basel, Switzerland, and then the elite Loreto House on the family&rsquo;s return to Calcutta, which she described as &ldquo;that most Victorian and British of post-independence Indian cities.&rdquo; She was driven to school by a chauffeur and accompanied by a bodyguard &ndash; the city being &ldquo;blistered with revolutionary fervour&rdquo; &ndash; and she had never been to a party with boys before she arrived in Iowa.</p> <p> Mr. Blaise was what Ms. Atwood described as &ldquo;a down home boy.&rdquo; Born in North Dakota of Canadian parents, he had led a peripatetic life, mostly in Georgia and Florida.</p> <p> As a Brahmin, Ms. Mukherjee was meant to marry within that caste, but a year after their first meeting, she and Mr. Blaise had a whirlwind two-week romance. &ldquo;By the time you read this,&rdquo; she cabled her father, &ldquo;I will be Mrs. Clark Blaise.&rdquo; They were married in September, 1963, in a five-minute ceremony in an office upstairs from the coffee shop where he worked as a busboy.</p> <p> Ms. Mukherjee was born in Calcutta on July 27, 1940, and spoke only Bengali until she was three years old. She lived with her extended family, so there were 40 to 50 people living in the house at any one time.</p> <p> &ldquo;Every room felt crowded,&rdquo; she told an interviewer for the Commonwealth studies journal Span. &ldquo;In order to make privacy for myself, make a little emotional, physical space for myself, I had to read. I had to drop inside books as a way of escaping crowds. As a result, I became a very bookish child, I read and read and read all day.</p> <p> &ldquo;I used to read European novels, these massive books by Russian authors like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, in Bengali translation as a very small child &ndash; under a bed, behind chairs, and so on, find a little dark corner for myself where I could read. The country being described in the books, the people being described in the books, sometimes seemed more real to me than the real people around me.&rdquo;</p> <p> She wanted to become a writer, and there was no family opposition to her studying toward her MFA, which she got in 1963; her father considered what he called &ldquo;scribbling&rdquo; an acceptable accomplishment, &ldquo;like origami,&rdquo; as she put it. She then stayed on at the University of Iowa for a PhD in English literature. &ldquo;An MA in English is considered refined,&rdquo; she wrote with characteristic irony, &ldquo;but a doctorate is far too serious a business, indicative more of brains than of beauty, and likely to lead to a quarrelsome nature.&rdquo;</p> <p> By the time she and her husband moved to Montreal in 1966, their first son had been born. Ms. Atwood recalls babysitting him and his brother when she was Mr. Blaise&rsquo;s colleague in the creative-writing program at Sir George Williams, now Concordia University. Ms. Mukherjee had been hired by McGill as a lecturer and became a full professor and director of the graduate program in English. The writer Michael Ondaatje, an old friend, described them as &ldquo;this remarkable pair of writers &ndash; full of talent, full of verve, fully aware of the great world around us. Even now, it is very difficult to speak of them separately.&rdquo;</p> <p> Ms. Mukherjee&rsquo;s first novel, <em>The Tiger&rsquo;s Daughter,</em> was published in 1971, and her second, <em>Wife</em>, in 1975. &ldquo;My many years in Montreal,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;had a profound, joyous, permanent effect on me.&rdquo; In 1977, however, they left Montreal for Toronto, where she was insulted as a &ldquo;Paki,&rdquo; taken for a shoplifter and harassed by house detectives in a hotel &ldquo;in front of an elevator-load of leering, elbow-nudging women.&rdquo; She was shocked, outraged and &ldquo;shaken to the core&rdquo; when three high-school boys on a subway station platform asked her, &ldquo;Why don&rsquo;t you go back to Africa?&rdquo;</p> <p> By the end of the decade, Mr. Blaise wanted to stay in Canada; Ms. Mukherjee did not. &ldquo;The move from Toronto was the only test of our marriage,&rdquo; he said. Ms. Atwood&rsquo;s view was that &ldquo;they should have stayed in Montreal.&rdquo;</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/Saturday%20Night%20Article%20-%20March%201981.png" style="width: 300px; height: 388px;" /></p> <p> They moved back to the United States in 1980, when Skidmore College, in upstate New York, offered Mr. Blaise a one-year contract. Ms. Mukherjee was unemployed for the first time in her adult life &ndash; &ldquo;the price I was obliged to pay for immigration to the United States,&rdquo; she wrote in an explosive <em>Saturday Night </em>magazine article, which bore the headline &ldquo;An Invisible Woman.&rdquo; The family&rsquo;s total income was less than one-third what it had been. &ldquo;Dark times are coming,&rdquo; she predicted. &ldquo;Next year, I can take the job Clark is filling now. Will Clark then stay here or return? He doesn&rsquo;t know.&rdquo;</p> <p> &ldquo;I remain a Canadian citizen,&rdquo; she wrote. &ldquo;This is the testament of a woman who came, like most immigrants, confident of her ability to do good work, in answer to a stated need.&rdquo;</p> <p> Exploring some of the themes also present in her fiction, she had interviewed dozens of Canadians, mostly of Indian or Pakistani origin, all part of what she called &ldquo;the Canadian and Toronto underbelly.&rdquo; Opening up &ldquo;the sewers of resentment&rdquo; that &ldquo;polite, British-style forbearance had kept a lid on,&rdquo; her article was uncompromising in its account of the &ldquo;new up-front violence&rdquo; against South Asian immigrants, &ldquo;the physical assaults, the spitting, the name-calling, the bricks through the windows, the pushing and shoving on subways &ndash; it would be, by this time, a very isolated Indian who has not experienced one or more of those reactions.&rdquo;</p> <p> She described a 1975 Green Paper as a government move &ldquo;to throw some bones (meaning immigrants) to the howling wolves.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p> &ldquo;I cannot describe the agony and the betrayal one feels, hearing oneself spoken of by one&rsquo;s own country as being somehow exotic to its nature &ndash; a burden, a cause for serious concern.&rdquo; Most Indians would date the violence of the late 1970s &ldquo;from the implied consent given to racism by the Green Paper.&rdquo; Academic as it was in tone, she wrote, &ldquo;in feeling it was Nuremberg, and it unleashed its own mild but continuing Kristallnacht.&rdquo;</p> <p> Her article provoked &ldquo;indignation,&rdquo; Mr. Blaise said. &ldquo;Canada did not see itself as racist. There was absolutely no understanding that Canada had a racial problem. That was seen as an American problem.&rdquo;</p> <p> Writer and journalist Robert Fulford, then editor of <em>Saturday Night</em>, is proud of having commissioned and published the article: &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a fiercely outspoken attack on the smug and narrow-minded side of Canadian attitudes, written out of wounded pride and naked anger. And it reads well after several decades.&rdquo;</p> <p> A series of short-term academic positions followed, with Ms. Mukherjee and Mr. Blaise often living apart. Their marriage, which a Montreal friend, writer Ann Charney, considered &ldquo;a great literary partnership,&rdquo; survived. They co-wrote two works of literary non-fiction: <em>Days and Nights in Calcutta</em>, a memoir, and <em>The Sorror and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy</em>, about the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182, which killed 329 people.</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/File0004.jpg" style="width: 298px; height: 400px;" /></p> <p> It was with her fiction, though, that Ms. Mukherjee made her name in the United States. Her 1988 collection, <em>The Middleman and Other Stories</em>, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction &ndash; the first time the coveted prize had ever gone to a naturalized American.</p> <p> Her next novel, <em>Jasmine </em>(1989) features an illegal immigrant from the Punjab who marries an American. The year it was published, Ms. Mukherjee was hired at the University of California, Berkeley, where she taught until her retirement in 2013.</p> <p> Her protagonist, Jasmine, was close to Ms. Mukherjee herself, as was Tara Latta in <em>The Tree Bride</em> (2004), another character &ldquo;who had confronted the kind of racism Bharati encountered,&rdquo; Mr. Blaise said. &ldquo;She was steadfast in not accommodating any authority figure, not even her father.&rdquo;</p> <p> Her last novel was <em>Miss New India</em> (2011), in which Anjali leaves her traditional family in Bihar and moves to Bangalore. &ldquo;A woman determinedly pursuing personal happiness,&rdquo; Ms. Mukherjee told this writer in 2011, &ldquo;is a revolutionary &ndash; and threatening &ndash; concept for her traditional parents.&rdquo;</p> <p> Ms. Mukherjee died of complications of rheumatoid arthritis and takotsubo cardiomyopathy. She was 76. She leaves Mr. Blaise and their son Bernard and two granddaughters; she was predeceased by another son, Bart, in 2015.</p> <p> &copy; Linda Leith, 2017.</p> <p> <br /> And one Comment, published online in <em>The Globe and Mail</em> on Feb 11, 2017:</p> <p> I met Bharati Mukherjee when she was the Director of the Shastri Institute in New Delhi, and I was a graduate student from UBC, and then U of T, in the mid-70s. I&#39;m not of South Asian descent, but can attest to the violent racism of Toronto in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as it shocked me to see South Asian academics shouted abuse in the streets, especially after spending a year and a half studying in India. The next generation of South Asian and Caribbean women writers, notably. Himani Bannerji and Dionne Brand fought back strongly, and Toronto gave a little at least. So sad to hear about their job paths in the US; Bharati Mukherjee was a lovely and very talented women who touched most people she met. -- <em>globalcanuck</em></p> Wed, 15 Feb 2017 14:43:16 -0500Glory to the Filmmaker Amir Naderi, by Abou Farman<p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/VEGAS_KeyImage.jpg" style="width: 300px; height: 377px;" /></p> <p> I am proud to announce that my friend and long-time collaborator Amir Naderi received the prestigious Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker award this week at the Venice Film Festival.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> On this occasion, we are happy to present his film&nbsp;<strong>Vegas: Based on a True Story</strong>&nbsp;as a digital rental on&nbsp;<a href=";qid=1473281491&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=vegas+based+on+a+true+story">Amazon</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="">Vimeo</a>. This is a rare opportunity. Amir&#39;s films are much sought after but mostly not available. This will begin to change and&nbsp;<strong>Vegas&nbsp;</strong>is the first effort in that direction.</p> <p> Vegas was the first film I produced, alongside the indomitable Ram Devineni, and it went straight to Venice in competition in 2008 - where it won a SIGNIS award -&nbsp;and was also nominated for competition at Tribeca in 2009.<br /> <br /> For those who&#39;ve been following, Amir was also an invaluable contributor to <a href="">Icaros: A Vision</a>.</p> <p> <strong><em>Vegas: Based on a True Story</em></strong> is a remarkable film with some crazy backstories - but all that for later. Most importantly, it was a prescient parable, predicting the psychosis underlying the real estate crash that hit the US that year. Plus, it&#39;s great film-making, classic Amir. I really encourage you to watch it. No, I beg you to watch it. It is important that such films get clicks on line, otherwise we&#39;ll keep getting inundated with those other ones that have already drowned us.</p> <p> Watch <strong><em>Vegas: Based on a True Story</em></strong>&nbsp;now:&nbsp;<a href=";qid=1473281491&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=vegas+based+on+a+true+story">Amazon</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="">Vimeo</a>.</p> <p> &copy; 2016, Abou Farman</p> <div style="clear:both;"> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/Abou%20Farman%20photo%20Connie%20Contreras%281%29.jpg" style="width: 220px; height: 197px;" /><br /> <span style="font-size:10px;">[Photo: Connie Contreras]</span></div> <div style="clear:both;"> &nbsp;</div> <div style="clear:both;"> <p> Abou Farman&nbsp;is a Canadian artist and anthropologist teaching at the New School for Social Research in NY.&nbsp;He has published widely in the academic sphere as well as the popular press, with essays nominated for a National Magazine Award in Canada, selected for the Best Canadian Essays and twice awarded the Arc Critics Desk Award. His first book,&nbsp;<a href=""><strong><em>Clerks of the Passage</em></strong></a>, was published by Linda Leith Publishing in 2012; a French translation by Marianne Champagne entitled&nbsp;<a href=""><strong><em>Les lieux de passage</em></strong></a>&nbsp;will be published Linda Leith &Eacute;ditions in October 2016.</p> <p> As part of the artist duo caraballo-farman,&nbsp;formed with his late partner Leonor Caraballo,&nbsp;Abou has exhibited work internationally in galleries, museums and other venues, including at the Tate Modern, UK; PS1/MOMA, NY, and the Havana Biennial.&nbsp;He is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including a Canada Council for the Arts Grant, a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship.&nbsp;Amongst other film work and credits, he was producer on Iranian filmmaker Amir Naderi&rsquo;s&nbsp;<strong><em>Vegas: Based on a True Story</em></strong>, which was in competition at the Venice and Tribeca Film Festivals in 2008, and is producer and co-writer of a 2016 narrative feature film, <strong><em>Icaros: A Vision</em></strong>, co-directed by Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi.&nbsp;</p> </div> <p> &nbsp;</p> Fri, 09 Sep 2016 12:12:06 -0400Steeped in Translation<p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/9781988130033_FC(1).jpg" style="width: 200px; height: 319px;" /></p> <p> Steven W. Beattie links LLP&#39;s interest in literature in translation with my own history at Montreal&#39;s Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival. In his &quot;Editor&#39;s Choice&quot; column in the September <em>Q&amp;Q</em>, Beattie reviews Xue Yiwei&#39;s short story collection,&nbsp;<a href="">Shenzheners</a>, which is Xue&#39;s first book in English.</p> <p> The opening story of the collection, &quot;The Country Girl,&quot; is set on a train between Toronto and Montreal, where a Chinese passenger meets a woman who makes her living as a translator. She is a great admirer of Paul Auster&#39;s fiction and is reading his <em>New York Trilogy</em>, so she is astonished to discover that her fellow passenger is reading the very same book in a Chinese translation. Can it really be the same book, she marvels, looking at the indecipherable Chinese text? &quot;The subject of translation,&quot; Beattie writes,&quot; is introduced in the opening story -- the only one not set in China -- and will persist, either literally or metaphorically, across the eight pieces that follow&quot; (p. 30).</p> <p> <a href="">Shenzheners</a>&nbsp;is not only a book steeped in translation, but is itself a work of literary translation. It originated&nbsp;as a collection of stories entitled <em>Taxi Driver</em> that was published in China, in Chinese, and this September it will be published in English in Montreal in a translation by the talented Canadian literary translator Darryl Sterk.</p> <p> Darryl teaches translation in the Graduate Program of Translation and Interpretation at National Taiwan University, and his specialty is the translation of Chinese fiction into English. His published work includes Wu Ming-Yi&rsquo;s&nbsp;<em>The Man With the Compound Eyes</em>&nbsp;(Harvill Secker; Vintage Pantheon)&nbsp;and Horace Ho&rsquo;s&nbsp;<em>The Tree Fort Over Carnation Lane</em>&nbsp;(Balestier) -- and now&nbsp;<a href="" style="text-decoration: none;">Shenzheners</a>. He&nbsp;lives in Taipei with his wife and daughter.</p> <p> I was introduced to Darryl during a recent Blue Metropolis festival by another literary translator, Montreal broadcaster Yan Liang, who has herself published translations of Esi Edugyan&#39;s <em>Half-Blood Blues </em>and Kim Thuy&#39;s <em>Ru</em> in Chinese. Whether in Taipei or in Montreal, the world we live in -- Darryl and Yan and I -- like that of&nbsp;<a href="">Shenzheners</a>, is steeped in translation.&nbsp;</p> <p> &quot;These stories,&quot; Beattie writes, &quot;which take up subjects of love and loss and belonging, are steeped in an eastern sensibility and peppered with western cultural references -- beside Beckett and Auster, Xue references Shakespeare, Bach, Proust, and Kundera.&quot;</p> <p> Beattie sees more of Beckett than of Joyce in the collection, but Joyce is there, too. Xue dedicates&nbsp;<a href="">Shenzheners</a>&nbsp;&quot;To the Irishman who inspires me,&quot; and Xue is the one who makes the comparison to <em>Dubliners </em>that prompted me to look to old covers of the collection set in the Irish capital to inspire the design of this one set in the youngest city in China.</p> <p> <a href="">Shenzheners</a>&nbsp;is not only steeped in an eastern sensibility but is also very much a Chinese collection. His stories about the people of Shenzhen are what have made Xue Yiwei&#39;s name in China, to such an extent that the Chinese print and electronic media have been devoting remarkable attention to the appearance of these stories in English. And it&#39;s because they&#39;re Chinese, after all, that they require translation.</p> <p> The great emigr&eacute; Chinese writer Ha Jin has this to say about Xue Yiwei: &quot;Xue Yiwei is a maverick in contemporary Chinese literature.&nbsp;He stays alone and aloof, far away from restive crowds back in his homeland.&nbsp;For him, to write is to make a pilgrimage to his masters: Joyce, Borges, Calvino, Proust.&nbsp;He writes with deep devotion and intense concentration. His fiction often meditates on life, history, violence, exile.&nbsp;This selection of stories can open a window into the fiction world he has constructed.&nbsp;As an admirer of his, I salute his courage, his stamina, and his love of solitude.&quot; &nbsp;</p> <p> Yan Liang -- a great introducer and a great friend -- is the person who introduced me to Xue Yiwei here in Montreal and who also, years earlier, introduced me to the work of Ha Jin.</p> <p> He came to Montreal at my invitation the same year that three Chinese women from Shanghai were participating in a number of Blue Metropolis festival events, but Ha Jin is politically suspect in China, and these three women chose -- or were advised -- to keep their distance from him, to such an extent that one of them declined to appear onstage with him for a scheduled event. Sometimes translators are most needed when they&#39;re not needed at all.</p> <p> &copy; 2016, Linda Leith</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/LindaLeithcolour-1007184.jpg" style="width: 180px; height: 200px;" /><br /> <span style="font-size:10px;">[Photo: Judith Lermer Crawley]</span></p> <p> Montreal writer and literary translator Linda Leith created LLP in June 2011, six months after stepping down as President and Artistic Director of Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> Fri, 19 Aug 2016 14:23:50 -0400Xue Yiwei's Shenzheners, by Linda Leith<p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/xueyiwei_Qinying%2072.jpg" style="width: 160px; height: 223px;" /><br /> Author Xue Yiwei</p> <p> What appeals most to me about&nbsp;<em><a href="">Shenzheners</a></em><em>&nbsp;&nbsp;</em>is its compassionate view of its people and the access it provides its readers into their hearts and minds. These are people identified simply&mdash;they&rsquo;re referred to not by name but as the country girl, for example, the physics teacher, the big sister and the little sister. This distances us from them just a little--just enough for us to be able see them whole&mdash;while allowing us to feel for them in their trials, their loves, and their sorrows, as we feel for the individuals we know best in our own daily lives.</p> <p> This mix of distance and proximity is what makes&nbsp;<em><a href="">Shenzheners</a></em>&nbsp; a great book, a view from afar&mdash;especially for those of us who live far from Shenzhen&mdash;that&rsquo;s at the same time intimate and compelling. Darryl Sterk&rsquo;s English translation is both colloquial and familiar, but also reserved, too, off to one side, where it can provide a wide view of individual lives through gesture, expression, detail, and exactly the right word.</p> <p> The look of the book is the first sign that this is a work that&rsquo;s both foreign&mdash;foreign to us all, no matter what our nationality&mdash;and inviting. How not to love the warm and appealing illustrations by Chinese artist Cai Gao, both on the front cover and inside, at the start of each story. The green and red colour combination in the cover design is not only beautiful but also intriguing, even surprising.</p> <p> The biggest surprise is the lettering. &quot;Shenzheners&quot; is a long word, which means we would have to use small lettering to fit the whole word across the front cover. Knowing how Yiwei is inspired by James Joyce, I sought inspiration in the covers of various editions of his remarkable collection of stories, <em>Dubliners. </em>One or two of these break the word up into three different lines--DUB, LIN, and ERS--so that&rsquo;s what our designer Debbie Geltner did with SHEN ZHEN ERS, making the word and the people of Shenzhen unfamiliar even to those who are most familiar with them, allowing us all to see them anew.</p> <p> <br style="color: rgb(139, 132, 125); font-family: Questrial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px;" /> <img alt="" src="" style="padding-right: 0px; padding-left: 0px; margin-right: 10px; margin-bottom: 0px; color: rgb(139, 132, 125); font-family: Questrial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px;" width="120" /><span style="color: rgb(139, 132, 125); font-family: Questrial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px;">&nbsp;</span><img alt="" src="" style="padding-right: 0px; padding-left: 0px; margin-right: 10px; margin-bottom: 0px; color: rgb(139, 132, 125); font-family: Questrial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px;" width="120" /><span style="color: rgb(139, 132, 125); font-family: Questrial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px;">&nbsp;&nbsp;</span><img alt="" src="" style="padding-right: 0px; padding-left: 0px; margin-right: 10px; margin-bottom: 0px; color: rgb(139, 132, 125); font-family: Questrial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px;" width="120" /></p> <p> And this is why we&rsquo;re reading&nbsp;<em><a href="">Shenzheners</a></em>, here in Montreal. To learn something about what we think we already know. To discover what we knew all along about people we never gave too much thought to, until now. To see how the small gesture and exactly the right word can help us understand the world we share with the big sister, the little sister, and the peddler. To see anew. And just for the pleasure of it.<br /> &nbsp;</p> <p> &copy; 2016, Linda Leith</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/Linda%2C%20Issa%202015%20Oct%207%20(1).jpg" style="width: 160px; height: 141px;" /><br /> LLP Publisher Linda Leith<br /> <span style="font-size: 10px;">[Photo: David Boullata]</span></p> <p> &nbsp;</p> Fri, 19 Aug 2016 11:14:49 -0400Going Your Own Way, by Linda Leith<p> What follows is an excerpt from the keynote talk presented yesterday at the QUESCREN conference&nbsp;<a href="">Connect and Disconnect: Anglophones, the English Language, and Montreal&#39;s Creative Economy</a>.</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/IMG_5206.jpg" style="width: 200px; height: 267px;" /><br /> <br /> My essay&nbsp;<em><a href="">Writing in the Time of Nationalism</a>&nbsp;</em>(Signature Editions, 2010) follows&nbsp;the postwar history of&nbsp;the English-language literary culture of Quebec in the postwar decades. Focusing on the fiction of the period, the book traces&nbsp;the writers of the golden age of the 1940s and 50s, including Hugh MacLennan and Mavis Gallant &mdash;&nbsp;whose advice to young writers was to &quot;go your own way.&quot; It then follows the decline in the English-language literary milieu after the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, the movement to create an infrastructure to support writing and publishing in English, and the renaissance of the period since 2000.</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/C-WITTON.jpg" style="width: 180px; height: 275px;" /></p> <p> Infrastructure does not a culture make, let alone a literary revival, but a revival is unlikely to happen without the infrastructure. We need the organizations&mdash;the publishers&#39; association AELAQ, the Quebec Writers&#39; Federation (QWF), Blue Metropolis Foundation, and the English-language Arts Network (ELAN). We need publications like <em>Matrix</em> and <em>Maisonneuve </em>and <em>Montreal Review of Books</em>, we need publishers like V&eacute;hicule and DC Books as well as newer houses like Baraka Books and Linda Leith Publishing. We need the support of the Canada Council, Heritage, SODEC and the City of Montreal. The Canada Council and Heritage have recently increased their support of Official-language artists and arts organizations in encouraging ways. It would have been good to have that support twenty-five or thirty years ago, but no one&#39;s complaining about having it now.</p> <p> We need more and greater links with the francophone literary milieu, too. The translators have always been key to that vital connection, and today Linda Leith &Eacute;ditions and Pow! Pow! are two publishers producing books in both English and French.</p> <p> When we talk of both continuity and change, one of the most promising recent developments is the accomplishment of the Atwater Library, which began life as a Mechanics&rsquo; Institute in 1828&mdash;the first such institution established in North America&mdash;and is today the only one to survive. Now known as the Atwater Library and Computer Centre, it is a beautiful heritage building on Atwater Avenue that has undergone its own revival under the leadership of Lynn Verge and is now the hub of the English-language writing community. It houses the offices of AELAQ and QWF, the Atwater Poetry Project and many different events, workshops, and courses. Its ambitious new programs include the Atwater Wrtiters&rsquo; Exhibit (AWE), and in November 2015 the library hosted the AELAQ&rsquo;s first Pop-up Book Fair. These are steps towards what we hope will in due course become the Atwater Writers&rsquo; Museum.</p> <p> Of course there are issues. There is always more to be done. Some of these are issues that affect writers across the country:</p> <p> 1. Writers working in languages other than French, English and aboriginal languages get short shrift. This is something I have seen first hand with Canadian writers working in Chinese. Such writers are not eligible for translation grants from SODEC. They are&nbsp;eligible for translation grants from the Canada Council, but are considered a lower priority than writers working in French, English, or Aboriginal languages.&nbsp;</p> <p> 2. Writers of the 1940s and 1950s had difficulty making a living, and that was true in 1980 and is true today, despite the best efforts of the arts councils. The reasons for this difficulty have changed, however, and one of the issues in this digital age is the challenge of persuading readers to buy books.</p> <p> 3. Books, magazines and newspapers are shrinking for lack of advertising revenues, with the effect that there is less and less space for book reviews.</p> <p> 4. It is a tremendous challenge to make good books known.Fundraising is even more difficult in writing and publishing than it is in the other arts.</p> <p> 5. There is perennial uncertainty associated with funding from public sources, which makes planning difficult or impossible. Will there be funding for the Atwater Writers&rsquo; Museum, for example? Will there even be funding for a second &quot;pop-up&quot; book fair? We don&rsquo;t know. &nbsp;</p> <p> Some of these issues are common to Canadian writers across the country--and in many cases internationally. It is both difficult and necessary for books to get the attention of Toronto media. There is still a sense that Toronto will pay attention only once you&rsquo;ve already made it, ideally in New York or London. That&rsquo;s still an uphill climb for most Canadian writers.</p> <p> There are some issues that are unique to Montreal&rsquo;s Anglophone writers, who are still marginal to the French-language writing and publishing milieu. Perhaps that&rsquo;s inevitable, given the need that the francophone milieu feels to be protected from the power of the English language.</p> <p> Montreal&rsquo;s history is unique, as is its linguistic character, its particular tensions, the stimulation that the young, penniless Irving Layton found as essential as the air he was breathing, a feeling shared by writers and artists here ever since.</p> <p> But that&rsquo;s not all. &ldquo;One of the things that has always struck me about living in this city,&rdquo; the writer Adam Leith Gollner said in his opening remarks as host of the QWF awards in November 2015, &ldquo;is the way it can be hard to feel a real sense of belonging here.&quot;</p> <p style="margin-left:1.0in;"> Many French don&rsquo;t feel like they belong to this country; many English don&rsquo;t consider themselves to be a part of this French society; and countless minority groups feel marginalized here as well. Perhaps one quality that connects all of us is that sense of not belonging. It seems to me that there is something quintessentially Montreal about not really fitting in.</p> <p> Given my theme of continuity as well as change, I hope you will forgive me for quoting my own son. The <a href="">text of his introduction </a>to the 2015 gala can be found on the QWF website.</p> <p> We are fortunate today to have a lively literary community of people who congregate with one another&mdash;and with writers who work in French and other languages&mdash;at book launches, at the QWF awards gala, at Blue Metropolis, in the Atwater Library, and at all kinds of other venues that are seldom frequented by the old &eacute;lites. But the isolation that marked us in the 1980s and beyond is not gone. &ldquo;To be bound together by our outsiderness,&rdquo; Adam went on to say to the crowd at the QWF gala, &ldquo;to belong by sharing a sense of not belonging&mdash;it&rsquo;s an interesting way of thinking about identity in Montreal. And it&rsquo;s doubly interesting for this community of writers, which is, after all, made up of people pursuing their craft in isolation.&rdquo;</p> <p> We are more a part of Quebec than ever before, more a part of Canada than at any time since the mid-1960s, at least, and more a part of the world. But we remain marginal. That is both our great weakness and our great strength. Being marginal is tough. It&rsquo;s hard to go your own way. It was especially hard in the 80s and 90s, discouragingly so. It&rsquo;s still hard today, even with all the support we now have. There may be bursts of glory&mdash;and there are bursts of glory&mdash;but that doesn&rsquo;t make it easy.</p> <p> What is clear now, as it was not often clear to writers working here in English in the 80s and 90s, is that there are also advantages to going your own way. Mavis Gallant was right all along. Going your own way is what makes originality possible, and it is the great originality of the writing that is its appeal and the secret of its success.</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/LINDAVAG.jpg" style="width: 160px; height: 193px;" /></p> <p> Linda Leith is a Montreal novelist and essayist who created Blue Metropolis Foundation in 1997 and Linda Leith Publishing in 2011.</p> Sat, 14 May 2016 08:25:25 -0400