Monday, April 14, 2014

CBC and Blue Met

This year, as every year, CBC plays a major part in our Festival. Some of Canada's best-loved broadcasters and literary/cultural journalists come and record their shows live at the Festival. Here are some CBC events to consider adding to your list of Blue Met activities:

Mark Lavorato and Serafim & Claire
Paul Kennedy and Historical Montreal: this year in Montreal, three local writers have all published books set in a Montreal of the past. Mark Lavorato (Serafim & Claire), Elaine Kalman Naves (Portrait of a Scandal), and Susan Doherty (Hannaford) will be on-stage to talk to Paul Kennedy about the history of our city and what it's like to research and write a book set in the past. Lavarato's book is a novel and explores a Montreal of the 1920s through the dual lenses of class and love. Naves' book considers a shocking 19th century trial which had the city mesmerized. And Doherty's novel considers a young boy who finds refuge in his music. This event is on Saturday, May 2 at 1:00pm at Hotel 10. It will be recorded and then used as part of Kennedy's immensely popular Ideas series. $10. Get your tickets here.

Paul Kennedy is back again with one of Africa's writing stars, Ondjaki. Granta
Angola's Ondjaki, one of Africa's Top Five Writers
called Ondjaki one of Africa's Top Five writers and his books have been widely translated into many languages. Ondjaki is here to promote his new novel, Granma Nineteen and the Soviet's Secret which is a comic romp set in Luanda, Angola's capital city (translated by Stephen Henighan and published by Biblioasis, one of Canada's funkiest and most innovative publishing houses). Kennedy speaks to Ondjaki at Hotel 10 on Saturday, May 3 at 8:00 pm. Get your tickets here.

Jeanette Kelly talks to three women writer who all have books that explore how women survive trauma. From Ann Charney's war refugee and migrant in Life Class to Elise Moser's young protagonist who's witnessed a horrific murder in Lily & Taylor to US writer Koethi Zan whose book, The Never List, was a publishing sensation and best-seller in Europe. Kelly talks to the three writers in an event called Women Writing Trauma, Writing Survival at Hotel 10 on Saturday, May 3 at 5:00 pm. Tickets are here.

American Koethi Zan

Of course, our two big CBC events at the Grande Bibliotheque continue to sell very well: Eleanor Wachtel and Luis Alberto Urrea (winner of the 2014 Metropolis Azul prize) on Saturday, May 3 at 6pm. Tickets here. And Michael Enright at the Grand Bibliotheque with 2014 Literary Prize winner Richard Ford (4pm). Tickets available here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Blue Met 2014: Not to miss events!

Here are a few not to be missed events as part of Blue Met 2014: sales are moving briskly along one week after our official press conference.Yes, some events are already sold out! But before we announce those, here are a few events that are selling well and will certainly sell out in the next week or so.

Luis Alberto Urrea: the winner of our 2014 Metropolis Azul prize will appear on-stage at the Grand Bibliotheque, 475 De Maisonneuve East on Saturday, May 2 at 6:00 pm. CBC's Writers & Company's Eleanor Wachtel, discussing Urrea's award-winning novel, Queen of America, and his non-fiction which explores the fraught & highly complex relationship between Mexico and the United States.

Urrea's book, Queen of America, is fascinating. Set in Mexico and US of the late 19th century, Urrea tells the tale of a young woman with one foot in the mystical world ("the most dangerous woman in Mexico," she is reputed to be) who sets out on a dangerous journey (avoiding would-be captors and murderers) to define who she is.

A highly lyrical writer, Urrea is an original voice though one can certainly hear vestiges of classic Latin writers in his approach, straddling as he does the world of the rational with the world of the mystical. This event will definitely sell out so don't hesitate! Tickets are $15 (and there are still a few days left to take advantage of the reduced rate promotion!)

Get your tickets to see Luis Alberto Urrea and Eleanor Wachtel here.

Carolina De Robertis will talk to Shelley Pomerance on Friday, May 2 at 7:00 pm at Hotel 10, 10 Sherbrooke Street West. De Robertis is a writer who has written two amazing novels blending history and women's lives in very moving ways. A big fan of her first book, The Invisible Mountain, I am personally very excited that she will be here meeting our Festivaliers. Each year we're thrilled to bring some big stars to our public, but in some ways I get even more excited about writers who I want our audience to love, writers they may not yet know.

The Invisible Mountain tells the story of three generations of women, again straddling the mystical, and in the process, tells the history of the tiny and beautiful country of Uruguay. It's through Uruguay, in fact, that I discovered De Robertis: a visit there a number of years ago put that land on my radar and I have been very interested in it ever since.

Her latest book, Perla, gives us a glimpse into a young woman's possible breakdown and/or interaction with a ghost from Argentina's Dirty War. I can't give away too much, but the book shows us what happens when a country (when a family, when a person) goes over "to the dark side" and how those scars linger for years and years to come. Tickets are $10 (another few days take advantage of the reduced rate promotion!)

Get your tickets to see Carolina de Robertis and Shelley Pomerance here.

Both of the above events are part of our series on Latin America at the 2014 Festival. Check out the entire programme for more details (Latin America programming is on page 23 of the attached PDF).

Finally, History and Family Lore are on the docket when Urrea, local writing sensation, David Homel, and African novelist and poet Ondjaki get together to consider the stories we're told growing up. Urrea's Queen of America is loosely based on his own family's histories and the life story of his great-aunt, Teresita (read about her real life story here). Homel chronicles Chicago bootleggers of the 1920s in his new novel, The Fledglings (stories which were based on his grandmother's tales growing up). And Ondjaki's novel, too, Grandma Nineteen and the Soviet's Secret, is based on stories from and about his grandmother in Angola's capital, Luanda. This event is on Saturday, May 3 at 3:30pm at Las Americas, 2075 St-Laurent (just one block away from our venue hotel, Hotel 10). Tickets are $10 and the promotional rate (which offers a discount from this price) expires early next week!

Hosted by Anne Lagace Dowson, you can get your tickets to see Urrea, Homel and Ondjaki here.

Finally, I have to announce that the Slate Culture Gabfest event is sold out! But you still have a chance to be part of the Slate experience as there are still a handful of tickets left for the Slate We Love Montreal Happy Hour at Bily Kun, 354 du Mont-Royal Est on Saturday, May 3 at 5:00 pm. They're going to go fast, though! Tickets are $20 and include a free drink.

Get your tickets to Slate's We Love Montreal Happy Hour here.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Web Series: High Maintenance

This web series, High Maintenance, has been getting a bit of buzz around the Internet and I've been really enjoying it. I've tried and tried to get into some web series but none has really done much for me. This one has really been the first one I have liked a lot.

The Outs started out well but the acting was iffy at best and the script was just plain bad in long sections.
Ben Sinclair as the dealer

Little Horribles had really funny moments but a little bit goes a very very long way.

But High Maintenance is different: it doesn't follow any set running gag and it's creative in its structure. The basic premise centers around a marijuana dealer in Brooklyn. Each episode features a totally different cast of characters and the only thing each episode really has in common is that at some point, the weed dealer will show up. Sometimes he plays a major role in the episode, sometimes he's just on screen for a few minutes. And there is a lot of overlap: certain characters show up again in later episodes and there are some running motifs that continue to show up (magic, secrets, petty crime). Many episodes are funny, some are haunting, often moving. Some characters are sweet, some damaged, some really horrible people. And Brooklyn is both lauded and laughed at throughout (as Slate noted aptly: it has aspects of Portlandia to it but also Lena Dunham's Girls. Personally, I find the web series better than both.)

Dan Steves in High Maintenance
And a bonus: a few episodes ago featured Dan Stevens aka the late Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey. And what a great episode it was! The thing I love about the writing generally of this show is they have this ability to make you think the episode is going on one direction when suddenly you realize you've been had and things have taken a dramatic turn in an unexpected way.

Another series that looks promising is Ghost Girls though I've only seen one episode so far.

I find that at this time of year, I have little patience for movies or TV series. So 6-10 minute episodes of web series work really well.

If you haven't seen it yet, check it out. There are like 14 episodes available now and they are all under 12 minutes (most under 10). And better still: you don't have to watch them in any order. Just pick and choose by name (each episode is titled with a person's name).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Slate Magazine in Montreal!!

Slate Magazine's super popular Slate Culture Gabfest is one of our Festival highlights this year.

Stephen, Dana and Julia will all be here to discuss some of the most interesting cultural events of the past week and with some connection to Montreal and Canada.

Hear the hosts talk about the upcoming show and rave about Montreal (Julia hangs out with far more interesting people than I do) on their latest podcast episode.

Whether you're a podcast aficionado and have many queued up on your iPhone or whether you're new to podcasts, check the episode above out (also available on iTunes): they talk about the film Noah and some recent television news.

Slate will be doing two events at the Festival:

On Saturday, May 3, the hosts of the podcast welcome you to Bily Kun in the Plateau for a 5 a 7 in one of the coolest bars in Montreal. For a mere $20 (drink included), you can have a private chat with the hosts, meet other Slate fans, and be a part of this rare opportunity at the podcast's first international event. You can buy tickets here.

On Sunday, May 4 at 2pm at Hotel 10, they record the podcast live at the Festival. This one's gonna sell out so move fast! Tickets are $15 and can be purchased here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Richard Ford wins Blue Met's 2014 Grand Prize

We are very happy to announce that American writer Richard Ford has been awarded the 2014 Blue Metropolis International Literary Grand Prize. The prize, awarded since 2000, is given each year to a writer of international caliber. Past winners include Paul Auster, Marie-Clair Blais, A.S. Byatt, Margaret Atwood, Carlos Fuentes and others.

Ford is most recently known for his 2011 novel, Canada, which is set on the high plains of Saskatchewan
and tells the story of a young man whose life is overturned when his parents are arrested for bank robbery. It's a moving novel that shows how resilience is built into our characters, the will to survive and roll with the punches when life takes an unexpected turn.

Ford's earlier works include Independence Day, The Ultimate Good Luck (one of my personal favorites) and short story collections Rock Springs.

Richard Ford will be a part of three major events at the Festival:

On Friday, May 2, he will be interviewed on-stage at Chapters/Indigo at Montreal Trust by Fiona Downey. This event starts at 6pm and is free!

On Saturday, May 3, he will be on-stage with CBC's Michael Enright at the Bibliotheque Nationale on Maisonneuve downtown (at Berri-UQAM station). This event starts at 4pm and will include the awarding of the prize and an interview to be broadcast on CBC. Last year this event sold out before the Festival even started so get your tickets early to guarantee a spot. Tickets can be purchased at La Vitrine.

IMPAC/Dublin winner Kevin Barry
Finally, on Sunday, May 4 at 11:00am, Ford will appear with Irish writer Kevin Barry and Montreal writer Josip Novakovich at an event hosted by Slate Magazine's Stephen Metcalf: Structuring Landscape. With writers like Ford, Barry and Novakovich who all set their books in specific places that figure large in their work, the conversation should be interesting: from the plains of the prairies to pre-break up Yugoslavia to Ireland of the future. Tickets are available at La Vitrine.This event will be held at Hotel 10 in downtown Montreal.

Finally, Ford will be one of our featured readers at a very special event, A Tribute to Alice Munro. Ford, along with several others, will read an excerpt of a story by Munro as we celebrate this Canadian icon of the short-story. This is our official closing event on Sunday, May 4 at 4pm. This event will be held at Hotel 10 in downtown Montreal. Tickets will go fast for this one and can be purchased at La Vitrine.

Most Festival events (many are free) range from $7 to $15; or you can get an all-Festival pass for $65! These passes go very fast though (last year they sold out two weeks before the Festival!) so move quickly.

For the entire Festival program, go to the Blue Metropolis website and click on Festival!

A Tribute to Alice Munro, Sunday May 4 at 4pm

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Blue Met 2014 Literary Prize: Canada’s Literary Prizes

As far as literary prizes go, one of Montreal's biggest international prizes is the Blue MEtropolis International Literary Prize. Every year since 2000, we've awarded the prize to some of the most beloved writers in the world. They include such luminaries as Norman Mailer (2001), Mavis Gallant (2002), Carlos Fuentes (2005), Joyce Carol Oates (2012) and Colm Toibin (2013).

So who's gonna win for 2014? This year we had a long list of nearly 100 writers from all over the world. After deliberations, discussions, arguments (some heated), we were left with this respectable short-list:

Haruki Murakami: perennial Nobel prize nominee. One of Japan's biggest names (writer or otherwise). His books have been made into movies. He writes about running. He loves Cutty Sark and Miles Davis. He has his finger on the pulse of what's happening in contemporary Japan, a point of view we often don't have access to in Canada so readily.

Richard Ford: he should win just for naming a novel Canada. The
audacity of it, especially since it's about bank robbers. But in addition to books set on the high plains of Saskatchewan, he writes about New Jersey hooligans, traveling in Mexico and mid-life crises. Plus he's a real gentleman as about 25 people who've met him have told me. A real southerner who hasn't written about the south in a long time (someone recently told me he used to teach Richard Ford short-stories at "Old Miss," trying to instill a sense of pride in young southerners about one of their own.

Barbara Kingsolver: environmentalist, historian, complex creator of stories that straddle the personal and the political. Kingsolver is an under appreciated talent. Sure, she's made money off her books. Sure, Oprah digs her. But that almost undercuts the seriousness with which she she spends months and even years researching, writing, dedicating her life to her craft. She's written to me twice (on paper, mailed with stamps), kind and heart-felt letters that thanked me for inviting her to the Festival. I have four hand-written letters in my office from authors and two are from her. And when she's not crafting amazing novels like The Lacuna (personally I adore this novel), she's mentoring younger writers and putting her money where her mouth (or pen) is by supporting important environmental causes.

Eduardo Galeano: OK I have to admit that I have had a soft spot in my
heart for Galeano since I was a young man backpacking through Latin America. Long before the late Hugo Chavez handed over a copy of The Open Veins of Latin America to Barack Obama on a state visit (turning Galeano into that kind of leftist writer though he certainly is a certain kind of leftist writer). He's the kind of writer whose book you keep in your backpack for months at a time, dipping in and out of it, alternately moved, tickled, shocked, appalled, and knocked over. 

One of these amazing writers is going to be awarded our 2014 Blue Metropolis International Literary Prize and he or she will be announced at our official press conference next week: April 2, 2014 at 11:15 a.m. at Hotel 10 in downtown Montreal.

In addition to the prestige and hearty handshakes, the winner will receive a check for $10,000 and first-class travel to the Festival, in addition to a rocking glass-engraved trophy!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura

Once in a while I read a book which knocks my socks off. Lately, it's been A True Novel by Minae Mizumura. The novel is a "re-telling" of Wuthering Heights but set in Japan in the 1950s just after the war. It's absolutely fantastic.

First off, it's highly readable. The characters are complex and intriguing, particularly the main character (the "Heathcliff" of the novel), Taro Azuma. But more than this, what Mizumura does with the novel form is fascinating: the book has a very long (150 pages +) preface where she tells the "real" story of how she came to write the novel and which people she met in her life helped her see a way in to approaching this story. She writes about inspiration and creativity, about growing up in New York with echoes from the original novel (as though life itself were a kind of novel but only in the retelling of life itself). But the preface is, in many ways, as important as the novel itself. It sets up so many expectations and helps us navigate certain plot points in the retelling part. I kept returning to the original Wuthering Heights while reading it, wondering how Emily Bronte's novel would have opened up if she had added this long "true" part before the novel.

The book has layers of tellings: the author tells us about her telling before she even tells it. Then some young man she meets in her real life becomes the basis of the main character who starts telling the story of the novel (Is he real? Is he fictional? Is he both?) but the bulk of the novel, as in Bronte's version, is told from the point of view of a housekeeper who witnesses the doomed love affair as an insider.

What I love about books that are retellings is when they open up the original and change it in a certain way for me, when I view that earlier work differently because of the retelling. The novel, like the original, looks at class but in very different ways that Bronte's novel. Mizumura is also interested in gender, in the war, in how the different generations approached love and violence. She explores the vastly different Japanese economy, what Japan was like when it was still a poor country.

At any rate, the book is nearly 1,000 pages long (but packaged beautifully in two separate volumes so they are easy to lug around) but I zipped through it in two weeks (a long time for me) and was enthralled in the novel from beginning to end. I highly recommend this book.