It’s All One Job: Bloomsday and the Literary Community Part II
Linda Leith
20 June 2023

Bloomsday 2023 at the Atwater Library, Montreal

One thread in this piece has to do with writers working in English in Montreal, which is a subject I taught at John Abbott College in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue in the 1970s and 80s.

That developed into a research project I conducted in the mid-1980s on Quebec fiction written in English in the post-war period.

The interviews I recorded with most of the fiction writers who were then active led me away from the academic world and into what was then a depressed literary milieu and to participation—with Simon Dardick and Nancy Marelli at Véhicule Press, later with Lynn Verge here at the Atwater Library, and Lori Schubert at QWF and hundreds of others—in the creation of the infrastructure that supports us all. The first group of us met right here in this library in the 1980s, and elsewhere, well over a dozen of us, most of us still active today. We created QSPELL and the first book awards.

We later, in the 1990s, created a writers’ organization, as well, and joined that up with QSPELL to form the Quebec Writers’ Federation, which shares its office on this same floor of the Atwater Library with the publishers’ association, which is known as AELAQ. And we created Blue Metropolis Foundation in 1997 and launched the first festival in 1999.

None of those organizations existed when any of us were starting out; that’s one reason when so many of the writers I met in the early days were almost downcast. What the people I got to know in the 80s and 90s and ever since were really working on, all that time, was the creation of a community.

Some of the writers I got to know in those years were members of national organizations—such as The Writers’ Union of Canada and the League of Canadian Poets—that had limited understanding of the very specific circumstances of life in Quebec in those years.

Most of the writers I met and interviewed were working in isolation from one another and scarcely aware of the existence of dozens of other writers who were working here in English. And most were even less aware of francophone writers and of writers working in other languages.

It took years for that to change, but it did change, with this step and then another and yet another.

I myself have done a good number of the literary jobs—teaching, magazine publishing, translating, writing, launching the Blue Metropolis festival, and, since 2011, book publishing, which appealed to me because it was one of the literary jobs I hadn’t previously done.

Whether we are writers or readers, born here, born elsewhere, and whatever role we play, whatever our background, our languages, our birthplace, and our literary interests, we all benefit enormously from the infrastructure we now have.

A few months ago, when Felicia Mihali and Judith Weisz Woodsworth and I were discussing the cover of A Ramshackle Home, Felicia liked the idea of using an image of a Korondi bowl.

This kind of traditional pottery is fragile and especially beautiful when hand-painted in blue and white.

I should know. I happen to have bought a dozen Korondi bowls from Transylvanian peasant women recently arrived on the streets of Budapest all those years ago. I gave a few of these bowls away as presents when I returned to Montreal in 1992, and—I love them to this day—I kept six for myself.

As I was unable to find a good hi-resolution image of such a bowl online—and I know no one else in this part of the word who owns one—I myself took a photograph of one of my Korondi bowls for the cover of A Ramshackle Home. Cover image photography is one of the other literary jobs I had never done—and now I’ve done that, too.

But really, it’s all one job, being part of a literary community.

“It’s all one job”—that’s what the late, great Toni Morrison said when she was asked how she had managed to teach literature, write about books, work as an editor at Random House, and write extraordinary novels. I’m no Toni Morrison, but I know Toni Morrison was right. It is all one job.

Some of us write, and some of us—a titan like James Joyce, say—likely spend more of our time writing than others.

Some of us write about our families, about Dublin, or Montreal, or a Transylvanian village, about another writer, about demigods, oceans, politics, romance, a better world.

Some write novels, some essays, poems, plays, scripts, songs.

Some translate, or edit, or research, or illustrate or publish books and magazines. Some perform for others. And some play more than one of these parts, severally or simultaneously.

Some organize gatherings, like Bloomsday or Blue Metropolis, some participate in book clubs.

Some run wonderful libraries, and some publicize books and magazines and events and podcasts.

Some teach, some study. Some of us take photos, and some of us film or tape others of us. Some produce radio and tv shows to interview others of us.

We buy and borrow, and nowadays we switch on and sign in.

We attend, in other words. We show up. We admire and criticize, we listen and watch and gather, one way or another, and talk and read and laugh and frown and think and talk some more.

We all read. We all come from our own little corners, such different corners, and we’re all part of this community. I can count how many of us are in this auditorium today.

I can’t count how many are next door—in the QWF office, say, or online, far away—but I do know there are countless other members doing this literary job or another, across this city, this country, this world.

Happy Bloomsday.


[Photo: Judith Lermer Crawley]



Montreal writer and publisher Linda Leith launched LLP in 2011 and Font magazine in 2021, and she is the founder of the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival. Her most recent books are Marrying Hungary, Writing in the Time of Nationalism (2010) and The Girl from Dream City (2021).

[Photo: John Mahoney]


More Articles