Posts by Chris:
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)
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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For the past two years now, I’ve been organizing queer readings in Montreal. It’s been sporadic. The events have had different names, different locations, different themes. But now, after putting on close to a dozen, I thought it was time to turn it into a singular series.
The Violet Hour is Montreal’s queer reading series. It takes place every two months or so in the off hours of Stock Bar, a gay male strip club in the Village.
I got the idea to host a series of readings after my book first came out. I felt there was a lack of venues for queer writers to read at. Most of us are with small, independent publishers and we often don’t get invitations to literary festivals, nor are we included in most other mainstream series.
I’ve been involved in Montreal’s writing community for over a decade now and looking around I saw tons of queer writers who were publishing new work or working on material. I also had writer friends from out of town who were looking for opportunities to read in Montreal, but there were none.
Conversely, I also had book-loving friends looking for new reads. These friends knew little of the queer writers in their own city working to tell our stories.
The solution seemed obvious.
I’m happy that there seems to be a growing interest in the event. I’ve counted between 40-60 people at each Violet Hour, which is significant for a literary event.
The next event is planned for Tuesday, February 14, and it’s a fundraiser for Head and Hands. But even though it’s Valentine’s Day, don’t expect warm and fuzzy stories. I’ve asked my readers to bring stories of love, lust and loss – a whole gamut of literary emotions.
If you want to find out about future events, follow The Violet Hour on Facebook.
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This past November, Never Apart helped me bring literary legend Felice Picano to Montreal for a frank on-stage discussion about his work.
I was thrilled they trusted me with this, and I hope it’s the beginning of many more such events. There are so many great writers I’d like to bring to town, and it’s great to have a community partner ready to lend a hand to make that happen.
I first discovered Picano in the pages of The Violet Quill Reader, an anthology featuring work from the storied group of seven gay male writers that met in New York in the early 1980s. Even though the group got together met a handful of times, some of their members went on to write the most important books of the post-Stonewall era.
I’ve now met all three of the surviving members: Felice Picano, Andrew Holleran and Edmund White. Picano is by far the most prolific of the group. Not only did he publish more than 30 books, he was also the co-owner of two of North America’s first gay presses: Seahorse and Gay Presses of New York (you can read all about this time in the fascinating Art and Sex in Greenwich Village).
Felice Picano was generous enough to agree to come to Montreal to speak with me about his legacy in front of an audience. Never Apart filmed the interview and uploaded it online. You can watch it below.
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