Posts by Chris:
This week, Blue Met announced the creation (and first winner) of the Blue Metropolis Violet Prize. You can read the announcement here.
I’ve been working hard on this for the past six months. Last year, when Blue Met asked if I wanted to create an LGBTQ prize to add to their roster of awards, I said yes. Canada only has one real LGBTQ literary prize (that I know of), and that is the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize for emerging writers. I thought, if we were to do it, we should create something to recognize the contributions of established writers (who are often overlooked for their books), and in both official languages.
I enlisted the help of my good friend Robbie Schwartzwald, a professor at Université de Montréal. Between the two of us, we came up with the criteria. We knew that we wanted to award it to a writer for their body of work, and not just one title. And we thought it important to have two separate juries, and give the prize to a French-language writer one year and an English-language writer the next.
In order for it to carry weight, the prize would need to have a significant purse. So we brought our proposal to Air Canada to see if they would support the initiative. Air Canada has a long-standing tradition of supporting the gay and lesbian community (they were one of the first corporate sponsors we had for Divers/Cité back in the 90s). I was thrilled when they accepted our proposal.
For this first year, we decided to award a French-language writer and put together a jury composed of three well-respected professionals: Domenico A. Beneventi (professor of comparative literature at Université de Sherbrooke), Marie-Ève Blais (librarian at L’Euguélionne, Montreal’s feminist bookstore) and Line Chamberland (professor in UQAM’s sexology department). Together they selected poet, novelist and essayist Nicole Brossard as this year’s winner. A legend in Quebec, Nicole has made a lasting impact on feminist and lesbian culture with her more than 40 books. I couldn’t be happier with their selection.
Nicole will receive a $5,000 prize, provided by Air Canada, at a special prize ceremony co-presented by Never Apart on April 26. And that’s just the beginning. Blue Met gave me the green light to produce another LGBTQ series for this year’s festival (April 24-29, 2018). I’m calling it Violet Metropolis, and we’ll have five events, in English and French. The events will be announced on March 19 at the festival press conference. Watch this space in the coming weeks for more info.
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I had no idea that the human rights organization had a book club, but was honoured to be asked. After much consideration, I decided on Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai.
Funny Boy was one of the first books I read after coming out. It had been recommended by a staff member at L’Androgyne bookstore on St. Laurent, the store now long gone. I would come to spend so much time there over the years, discovering many of my favourite authors and their books (as well as new friends). It’s tragic we no longer have such a space anymore. I suppose that’s why I started the Violet Hour. To create a spot in the city where book lovers can come every few months and share their love of reading, discover new books and writers, and meet new friends (and maybe even new dates).
I had to reread Funny Boy to put the discussion guide together, and found that I could burn through the book in no time (a good sign). It had held up over the years. Once again, I could see myself in Arjie. And it reminded me about the power of reading. How your life can be so different from another person’s, but, at the core, we are still very much the same.
You can read my essay and book club questions on Funny Boy here.
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Montreal’s Gay Pride begins this week. It’s also Canada Pride, which means there are more events than usual and the city expects more tourists.
I was asked to help program a series of English literary events for next week. Fierté Montréal gave me a small budget and with it I was able to secure travel and accommodation for a guest of honour. I choose journalist and non-fiction writer Kamal Al-Solaylee.
It’s not often we get writers like Kamal in town. Montreal has a very small English market for books, and publishers rarely send authors on book tours anymore. During the last few years, I reached out to Kamal several times to ask him if he thought he might be coming through Montreal. If he ever did, I told him, I’d be happy to build an event around his trip.
Thankfully now – with Fierté Montréal’s help – he will be my guest on Monday at Never Apart to talk about his two books. There is so much to talk about. Kamal’s first book, Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes recounts the story of his youth, growing up as a gay man in the Middle East. His latest, Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone) is a fascinating look at what it is like to have darker skin in 10 different countries.
In addition to this event, I have programmed two others. The Violet Hour features readings and performances by LGBTQ writers and artists. And Authors in Undies is exactly what it sounds like – an evening of readings by writers in their underwear (it’s all for a good cause: the funds we raise will go to AIDS Community Care Montreal).
Monday, August 14: Literary Pride: Kamal Al-Solaylee
7 PM (doors at 6:30 PM)
Venue: Never Apart (7049 St. Urbain)
Wednesday, August 16: The Violet Hour
6 PM (doors at 5:30 PM)
Venue: Stock Bar (1171 Rue Sainte-Catherine East), 18 and over
Friday, August 18: Authors in Undies
6 PM (doors at 5:30 PM)
Venue: Stock Bar (1171 Rue Sainte-Catherine East), 18 and over
Admission: $5 suggested donation (all proceeds go to AIDS Community Care Montreal)
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Last fall I approached Blue Metropolis to see if they were interested in having me produce a special edition of the Violet Hour during their next literary festival.
Ever since I started the reading series, I’ve been seeking out such partnerships. I figured by holding one during the 2017 festival, I could amplify my reach while also taking advantage of any queer writers coming through Montreal. The arrangement would benefit Blue Met too – they’d get a cheeky off-site event that would attract a different crowd than they’re used to.
Well, not only did they want me to host a Violet Hour, they also asked if I’d be interested in programming a small LGBTQ series as well. Of course, I said yes.
I’ve always wanted a queer literary festival in Montreal. Several years ago, I went down to New Orleans with my friend Peter to attend Saints and Sinners. There I got to meet some wonderful new friends, as well as some of my literary heroes (Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, Scott Heim), and came back with a renewed sense of purpose. And then, two years ago, when Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop started up Naked Heart, I was ecstatic – but also jealous. What would it take for us to get one?
Now, with the help of Blue Metropolis (and the support of Never Apart), maybe that’s possible. With their assistance, I’ve been able to program four events for this year, bringing in people from across Canada as well as from the US and Scotland. There will be a one-on-one interview with a Canadian legend, an evening of readings and two panels on the role that the past plays in LGBTQ literature (one event in English and one in French).
In all, 15 queer writers will be involved in these events, and I look forward to provocative discussions about queer lit and culture. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.
Image by Alf Storm, courtesy of Creative Commons (www.flickr.com/photos/alf_bilder)
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It just slipped in at number 20, and I don’t know what that means in terms of copies sold, but I’m thrilled. Not bad for a book that was released almost three years ago.
This, of course, is all due to the hard work of the people at Glad Day. Most queer writers wouldn’t be selling enough copies to make any list if it weren’t for them. They provide a prominent place on their shelves for our books, and they talk them up to their customers. You don’t have to know what you’re looking for when you walk in. Like all great booksellers, they’ll recommend something they think you might like.
This makes me nostalgic for L’Androgyne, Montreal’s LGBT bookstore that closed in 2002. I learned so much about books and life here. It’s where I first got involved in my community, where I made life-long friends. I also learned what I liked to read. France, David and Johanne were always happy to share their recommendations, and it was through them that I discovered some of my favourite books: How Long Has This Been Going On, Rat Bohemia, Fingersmith, My Blue Heaven, Mysterious Skin.
At last month’s Violet Hour I took a page from the past and invited everyone to wear name tags with the name of one of their favourite books on them. I also asked each reader to recommend a book before they read. The hope was to get people talking and sharing (and maybe even flirting) afterwards. To me there is nothing sexier than talking about your favourite books with another guy.
I now realize that I started the Violet Hour to create a space similar to the one lost when L’Androgyne closed. Today, there is a dearth of places in Montreal where queers can come to connect. I never run into anyone anymore, except online. Here’s hoping that – for at least an hour every two months – we can create space for meaningful social interaction.
I hope those in Toronto realize how lucky they are to have Glad Day. The oldest surviving LGBT bookstore in North America is going through a renaissance right now. It recently moved from its old address on Yonge to a storefront on Church. I visited it last fall during the Naked Heart Festival. The place now has a bar and a kitchen and it hosts readings, dance parties and screenings. It’s another gathering point (along with the 519 and Buddies in Bad Times) that makes Toronto a true leader in queer cultural programming.
If you haven’t checked out the new Glad Day, do so.
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