Posts by Chris:
Last April, I curated Violet Metropolis, an LGBTQ leg of Montreal’s Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival. It was a career highlight of mine: five events, 15 writers, working with partners like Never Apart, Air Canada, Arsenal Pulp Press, Concordia University and ACCM, the creation of a new literary prize…
One of the events we presented was a one-on-one interview and career retrospective with professor and activist Tom Waugh.
Tom was my teacher at Concordia. In the mid 90s I took HIV/AIDS: Aspects of the Pandemic, a multi-disciplinary course that was the first of its kind in Canada. I was hardly a year out of the closet, but I was hungry to become involved in my community and I wanted to learn as much as I could.
This class would change the course of my life. It started me on the road to becoming an LGBTQ activist, getting me involved in peer health education, community radio and gay pride. It is here where I met some of my great friends, where I found community and where I met one of my first boyfriends.
Tom’s teachings had an incredible impact on so many people in Montreal (and in Canada) that when he announced his retirement last year I knew I wanted to do something. I asked my friend, journalist and teacher Matt Hays, if he would speak to him on stage about his illustrious career.
You can watch that discussion, in its entirety, on the Never Apart site here.
I never feel more like a journalist than when I am on assignment for enRoute magazine. I suppose it’s as close to what I hoped a career in journalism would be: Researching a story, pitching it to an editor, booking a flight and then travelling to a part of the word to bring back the story. Those kinds of gigs are few and far between these days.
But that’s exactly what I did last November. A big fan of drag, I had noticed an emerging trend. As RuPaul’s Drag Race continued to grow in popularity and gain mainstream attention, more and more events were popping up all over the world. Drag queens started touring and conventions were held. Suddenly, drag artists were getting on planes to perform for audiences – and I wanted to see who was travelling.
After doing my research I discovered that Austin had an international drag festival (now in its forth year). It was much different than the main convention I had heard about. Dragcon was a chance for fans to see their favourite reality TV stars up close. But Austin was about elevating the art form and providing a stage for all kinds of artists to perform. Anyone could come to town and take classes. And if you were a drag queen or king known only in your hometown, you could apply to perform in Austin and show what you can do on stage to a large audience of passionate supporters.
I was in disbelief when the story was green lit, but pretty soon I found myself in Austin meeting up at the airport with a photographer we had flown in from Denver. Matt Nager wasn’t too familiar with the drag scene, but he was a skilled portrait artist and we knew the shots we would get with him would make the feature shine. Together we left the airport and headed to a photography supply store where we picked up a large cream backdrop to photograph the queens and kings against. We met a lot of wonderful people.
You can read all about my adventures in the June edition of enRoute here.
Unfortunately, there was not enough room to include all the interviews and all the photos we took, so we created a second feature for the web. You can read that here.
One day, I hope to make it back to Austin for the festival. It was such a fun time and I fell in love with these people. The producers are hard working volunteers who truly love and respect the craft, and the performers we met were all so funny, so talented, so generous. It made me wish that I did drag.
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To raise awareness of the QWF’s new Literary Prize for Young Writers (ages 16-24), we’re asking people to share online the first characters they remember creating using #writeyoung.
The first I remember creating were a ragtag bunch of space cowboys for a series I never got around to writing called Planet of Sound. As a kid, I knew I wanted to be a writer but I didn’t know what to write about. So, I borrowed heavily from movies, TV shows and music. I got the idea for Planet of Sound from an original Star Trek episode called “A Piece of the Action,” where the crew of the Enterprise stumble upon an alien planet whose culture has been heavily influenced by a book left behind by a Starfeet officer. The book, Chicago Mobs of the Twenties, became a kind of a guidebook to life and the entire planet’s population began to act like gangsters.
I liked the idea of a society being contaminated by books, TV and music, so I thought I would do the same for Planet of Sound. In my story, a convoy of 73 people from five different planets stumble upon an abandoned Earth. The only thing left behind are the relics of our culture, and they are quickly consumed by my characters. So much so, that they abandon their exploratory mission and decide to live by the tenets of these relics on the planet below.
The first character I created was a man who called himself Gun. He was a modern cowboy from the planet Dax, and he had electric blue hair, a fluorescent water pistol (they were non-violent cowboys) and spurs on the back of his Doc Martens boots. Rounding out his crew (who were called the Strangers) were Custard (his best friend), Vixen (his love interest), Karl (her dog), Bev (addicted to Pez), Spherehead (a brute whose gun shot confetti) and Tigr (the driver). The gang travelled in a van that had robotic horses in the back that they could fly. Their mission: to party!
Next, I created a gang for them to butt heads with. These were space pirates who sailed the sky in a vessel that looked like a pirate ship. At the helm was Pox (who had a rooster on her shoulder, instead of a parrot), Weasel (the lookout), Webra (who had a bedazzled eye-patch) and Earthworm (who wore a blue beard).
And that wasn’t all! There was also a royal gang (who played the roles of king, queen, knight and jester), monsters (who role played in Halloween costumes) and beachers (who surfed and played volleyball). And there were bad guys too: authoritarian figures who studied fascist handbooks and dressed like state police. They wanted to bring everyone back to their home planets and created a swarm of robotic space sharks that would attack the cowboys and pirates.
It was a lot, I know. And it’s all over the place and there are crazy plot holes (I only wrote 30 pages), but I had so much fun creating this universe that these 73 lived in. It was probably the first time I used my imagination in a concrete way. And even though I didn’t know how to tell the story, how to develop their characters or build a plot, I still loved spending time with these characters who existed only in my head. And it was here I discovered the thrill and power of creativity.
So, in celebration of their potential, QWF has created the Literary Prize for Young Writers. Are you one? Do you know someone who is? Deadline to submit is June 15. Read more about it here.
And what about you? Who’s the first character you remember creating? Share it online using #writeyoung.
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Once again, I had the pleasure of programming an LGBTQ series at Blue Metropolis, Montreal’s International Literary Festival. The event takes place from April 26-29, 2018, and includes support from partners Air Canada and Never Apart. On the menu: on-stage interviews, public readings, panel discussions, and a new national literary prize.
And joining us will be Kamal Al-Solaylee, Marie-Christine Arbour, Nicole Brossard, Denis-Martin Chabot, Amber Dawn, Matthew Hays, Catherine Hernandez, Daniel Mendelsohn, Casey Plett, Guy Verville, Thomas Waugh, Shannon Webb-Campbell and Joshua Whitehead.
These authors will appearing at events all over the festival, but details for the LGBTQ focused ones are below. You can find out the rest of the programming at www.bluemetropolis.org.
Thursday, April 26
Prix Violet Metropolis Bleu : Nicole Brossard
Presented by Air Canada
19h – 20h
Never Apart (7049 St. Urbain), $10
Join us for an on-stage interview with poet and novelist Nicole Brossard, winner of the inaugural Blue Metropolis Violet Prize. Presented by Air Canada, this award is the first LGBTQ literary prize in Canada to be awarded to an established writer for their body of work. Hosted by Denis-Martin Chabot.
Friday, April 28
The Violet Hour reading series
7 PM – 8:30 PM (doors at 6:30 PM)
Stock Bar (1171 Rue Sainte-Catherine East), 18 and over, $5
An evening of short readings by LGBTQ writers. Be warned: This event takes place in the off-hours of a strip club in Montreal’s gay village. Featuring Kamal Al-Solaylee, Amber Dawn, Daniel Mendelsohn, Casey Plett and Joshua Whitehead. Hosted by me.
Saturday, April 28
Outside the Margins: Community, Representation and Resilience
2 PM – 3:30 PM
Never Apart (7049 St. Urbain), free
Three Canadian writers speak about their latest books and about the power they find in writing about the lives of the underrepresented. With Amber Dawn (Sodom Road Exit), Catherine Hernandez (Scarborough) and Casey Plett (Little Fish). Hosted by Shannon Webb-Campbell (Who Took My Sister).
Hard to Imagine: Thomas Waugh on Teaching as Activism
4 PM – 5 PM
Never Apart (7049 St. Urbain), free
After four decades at Concordia University, professor Thomas Waugh retired last year. We take the opportunity to retrace key moments in his legendary career, as he challenged academia, wrote or co-wrote fourteen books, broke new ground around sexuality studies in Canada, and inspired several generations of artists and activists. Hosted by Matthew Hays.
Sunday, April 29
Brunch littéraire pour les familles LGBT
10 AM – 11:30 AM
Hotel 10 (10 Sherbrooke West), Salle Godin
In French and English
Hosted by actress Fanny LaCroix, this bilingual activity for Quebec’s LGBT families is organized in collaboration with the LGBT Family Coalition. On the menu: readings, food and drawing activities. To register, write to email@example.com before April 10.
Juste un peu de gris ou la sagesse avant la beauté
4 PM – 5:30 PM
Hotel 10 (10 Sherbrooke West), Salle St-Laurent, $8
A frank discussion about how aging is seen in the LGBTQ community and how the subject is treated by our invited writers. With: Marie-Christine Arbour, Nicole Brossard and Guy Verville. Host: Denis-Martin Chabot.
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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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