Saturday, April 23, 2011

Eastern Europe Today

Eastern Europe is one region that has always fascinated me. I backpacked through Poland and the Baltics, the Czech Republic and Hungary back when I was in my late 20s and the people I met and the experiences I had make up some of the most memorable of my life. It was a fascinating time to be there since the countries were still at a crossroads between shaking off the restrictions that only a few years earlier had defined so much of life there; yet the market hadn't quite saturated into every corner. Whenever I have returned to this region in the years since, I naturally compare it to how I perceived it when I first went through, and I gauge the changes by colors people wear, the TV they watch, the ads they are bombarded with. More and more, Eastern Europe starts to look like anywhere else in the world: with, perhaps, slightly better architecture and slightly lower air quality.

Since 1989 and the subsequent changes that swept across the continent, Eastern Europe has radically changed and become both a vital and integrated partner in the modern world, yet still retaining some aspects of its old bureacratic and stultified system. Blue Met looks closely at Eastern Europe in our Saturday afternoon panel, April 30th, at 3pm, Eastern European Stories: Private and Public Lives.

Featuring writers with works either set in or focused on some region of Eastern Europe, the discussion will centre around what makes Eastern Europe a challenging and creatively inspiring place to write in and about.

Anna Porter will discuss her award-winning book Ghosts of Europe (winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize) and her exploration of the forces which continue to shape these countries.

Krakow, Poland
Daniel Allen Cox will talk about his choice to set his novel, Krakow Melt (finalist for a Lambda Literary Award), in the rough and tumble suburbs of this Polish city and what it meant to take on the persona of a bisexual and fire-obsessed character in this context. What does it mean for a Canadian to write from a Polish perspective or, indeed, does it make any difference at all?

Crotian native, Josip Novakovich will talk about his most recent work, Three Deaths, a novella with three intriguing stories that explore the effects of three specific deaths on the people left behind. Novakovich, a recent Montreal transplant, continues to challenge and explore his homeland and his latest work continues raising fascinating questions about what it means to be a citizen of the world from Eastern Europe today.

Belgrade, Serbia
The panel will be hosted by David Homel, a writer and journalist who has written on and reported from Eastern Europe widely in the past. His 2003 novel The Speaking Cure, set in 1990s Serbia, again written from the perspective of a local (in this case, a Serbian psychiatrist), considers how speaking is both freeing and limiting when one is attempting to heal from trauma.

This event is held on Saturday, April 30th, at 3pm at the Holiday Inn Select - Centreville, 99 Viger West in Montreal. Get your tickets here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New Blue Met MEGA Book Giveaway!

To celebrate Blue Met's 13th Festival, we are giving away 13 Festival books to one lucky participant: anyone who buys a Blue Met ticket between Wednesday April 20th at 6pm and Tuesday April 26th at 6pm to any of the following four events will be entered into a "literary loot raffle" and will take home 13 Festival books*. The raffle will be held Thursday, April 28th at 5.45pm, (just before event #24 outside salle Jasmin where the event will be held), at the Holiday Inn Select - Centre-ville, 99 Viger West.

Maximize your chances! If you buy one ticket to any of the designated events during the contest period, you get one chance to win. Buy four tickets, get four chances!

The featured events are:

Wednesday, April 27th 8pm - Event #13: Reading Canada: Fiction in English from Coast to Coast
With Genni Gun, Catherine McKenzie (featured book below) and Joel Yanofsky

Thursday, April 28th, 6pm - Event #24: Little Gems: The Art of the Short Story
With Alice Zorn (featured book below), H. Nigel Thomas (featured book below), Judy Fong Bates (featured book below) & Alex Epstein, hosted by Elaine Kalman Naves.

Thursday, April 28th, 8pm - Event #30: Canadian Visions of America Presented by Maisonneuve Magazine
Merilyn Simonds & Wayne Grady (featured book below), hosted by Julie Jacobson

Saturday, April 30th, 1pm - Event #57: War Games: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid
Linda Polman (featured book below), hosted by Dennis Trudeau

*You could win ALL of the following books from Festival participants:

Arrythmia by Alice Zorn
Breakfast the the Exit Cafe by Wayne Grady and Merilyn Simonds

Three Deaths by Josip Novakovich
The Ghosts of Europe by Anna Porter

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

Spin by Catherine McKenzie

You Comma Idiot by Doug Harris
Saris on Scooters by Sheila McLeod Arnopoulos

War Games by Linda Polman

The Year of Finding Memory by Judy Fong Bates

Lives Whole and Otherwise by H. Nigel Thomas

Sex in Russia by Kenneth Radu

Restitution by Kathy Kacer

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Problem with Humanitarian Aid

Haiti. Afghanistan. Sierra Leone. Congo. Countries with entire humanitarian aid industries that move in (or moved in many years ago), set up shop, and start doing work. Good work. But when does this good work become counterproductive and alleviate local leaders from their elected (or, indeed, self-appointed) responsibilities? When does this aid make people dependent? When do these aid agencies become tools of repressive, corrupt, or inept regimes? These are questions that writer Linda Polman asks in her book War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times.

Linda Polman
Fresh from an appearance in New York as part of PEN World Voices, Linda Polman will be onstage at Blue Met, talking with Dennis Trudeau about this unholy alliance between NGOs and oppressive governments or militaries. Polman writes:
If aid has become a strategic aspect of warfare, can the claim to neutrality made by humanitarian aid   organizations still be justified? Reduced to a single horrific episode in our own history, this dilemma becomes easier to comprehend. 

Imagine. It's 1943. You're an international aid worker. The telephone rings. It's the Nazis. You'll be granted permission to deliver aid to the concentration camps, but the camp management will decide how much of it goes to its own staff and how much to the prisoners. 

What do you do?

If you conform to the practices of the humanitarian aid industry, you'll deliver the supplies.

Dennis Trudeau
The example is meant to be provocative and even histrionic, but Polman's overriding point is quite clear: the "grey" areas into which aid industry leaders often move are veering ever closer to open collusion.

Originally from Holland, Linda Polman has lived in war-torn regions of the world for much of her career.Her 2004 book We Did Nothing takes a critical view of UN failures and weaknesses in war torn regions and was called, "A small classic of man's inhumanity to man" by the Sunday Telegraph.

Polman will be interviewed on stage by former CBC host Dennis Trudeau on Saturday, April 30th at 1pm at the Holiday Inn Select - Centreville. Get your tickets here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Poetry Events at Blue Met

We have several poetry events at this year`s Festival and we love nothing more than to pack them with both poetry connoisseurs and those who perhaps who are just curious to see what local poets are doing...

I posted about it before, but Poets at Night happens on Friday, April 29th night at 6pm. Anyone who was at Poetry Pandemonium last night at Sparrow (packed house, impressive!) will be happy to hear that Gabe Foreman is reading again at our Blue Met event. In addition, we have Quebec poet Aurian Haller, Swiss/Italian poet Oliver Scharpf, Latvian Edvins Raups, and American Andrea Moore. Tickets still available for this one. Get them here.

On Wednesday evening, we have an interesting line up of two Arab-Canadian poets, John Asfour and Ehab Lotayef. Asfour, originally from Lebanon, writes charming little gems that challenge all our assumptions about how we experience (and how we should experience) poetry. Blinded as a youth by a stray missile in his native Lebanon, Asfour explores senses in his new work, Blindfold, and gets at the very heart of what it means to write and read poetry.

Silver Threads

He recalls
the absence of sound, the impossible silence
the disappearance of light.

He is only aware of
the movement of his
mother's hand inside
her purse, looking

for her handkerchief.
He recalls her
warning not to play
with unknown objects
the type that explode on impact. Later,

he lies in the dark remembering
how she pointed out
the silver threads of morning light
just the day before
and he sparkles
with guilt.

Ehab Lotayef
Lotayef's most recent work To Love a Palestinian Woman explores the delicate humanity that makes up our individual experience: that of a migrant, that of a poet, that of a traveler or activist. With echoes of Neruda, Aldous Huxley and Ginsberg, this collection shows a breadth of intellectual curiosity moderated by a deep emotional longing for justice.

Today I shall write the happiest lines:
the sun is up early, calling me
birds sing on every tree
imprisoned in your love
I'm free.


Today I shall write the wisest lines:
I'll explain why there is injustice on earth
why there is disease
why some are poor while others have too much
why I am in love with you.

Moderated by UQAM's Rachad Antonius, this event on Wednesday, April 27th at 5pm will present some accessible and lovely work by two important Canadian poets. Get tickets here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Imagine Montreal: Modern History of a City Through Literature

On Friday, April 29th, in conjunction with Roverarts and ELAN, we are presenting an exciting modern history of the city of Montreal as told in 25 excerpts of local short stories and novels. Tracing the referendum years to the Ice Storm to more modern realities, Imagine Montreal is a stage production featuring actors reading works that anyone who is familiar with Montreal will appreciate and adore. With music by Sweet Mother Logic, this event features works by:

Rawi Hage, Gail Scott, Marianne Ackerman, Elise Moser, Ann Charney, Linda Leith, Peter Dubé, J. R. Carpenter, and many others. This is sure to be an event that stays with you a long time.

Friday, April 29th, 2011 at 8pm, Holiday Inn Select - Centreville, 99 avenue Viger Ouest, Montreal. In salle Dahlia. Get your tickets now. 


Monday, April 11, 2011

Celebration of Indian Writing...

One event that we are really looking forward to having at our Festival is called Voices From India and the Diaspora, part of the 2011 Blue Metropolis Celebration of Indian Writing.

Picture it: CBC Writers and Company host Eleanor Wachtel on stage with Amitav Ghosh, Bharati Mukherjee, and K. Satchidanandan, talking about what Indian literature today MEANS and where it's going. What does it mean to be an "Indian writer" today, particularly since two of the three writers named above live (at least part of the year) in the US?

Amitav Ghosh
Amitav Ghosh is one of North America's most well-respected modern novelists. His 2008 book Sea of Poppies is a powerful story set just before the onset of the Opium Wars in India and contains a motley cast of characters: from a poor uneducated rural housewife on the run and her simple peasant lover, to a French orphan, to an English upstart and sailor.   The first book of a planned trilogy (the second installment, River of Smoke, is due to be released by Penguin-Canada in the summer), Ghosh's writing is full of beauty, skill, and a pure and simple love of language. Indeed, Ghosh's play with words makes it clear that he is, even more than most writers, a wordsmith with a stunning amount of knowledge about the history of various languages. Yet in the end, despite his skill, Sea of Poppies is simply a good story, something many writers' works could benefit from. Short-listed for the Booker Prize, it is one of the most memorable novels I read in preparation for this Festival and I am already planning to read it again...

Bharati Mukherjee
Bharati Mukherjee has lived in North America for much of her career, in Montreal and Toronto and now in Berkeley, California. She has written several novels, three collections of short stories, and a number of journalistic pieces and books. Her latest work, Miss New India (set for release in May), traces the life of a modern young woman in India's new technologically oriented society. In a starred review, Booklist said of Miss New India, "Each character fascinates, and every detail glints with irony and intent, as Mukherjee brilliantly choreographs her compelling protagonist's struggles against betrayal, violence, and corruption in a dazzling plot."

K. Satchidanandan is one of India's most well-respected and prolific poets and editors. His new work, While I Write, is a stunning collection of pieces which demonstrate his accute and sharp view of human nature.

With CBC's Eleanor Wachtel, one of North America's most well-respected arts journalists (and literary interviewers), the conversation is sure to be a fascinating and enlightening one. Don't miss it--tickets for this one are selling fast.

Eleanor Wachtel

Friday, April 8, 2011

Mordecai Richler and Montreal: three key events to watch out for

Charles Foran, winner of the Charles Taylor prize for his biography, Mordecai, will be part of three important events this year at and during Blue Met:

Charles Foran
First, he will be part of the Open Your Library-Canada Edition, hosted by CBC's Sue Smith (and also including Alexander MacLeod, Kathleen Winter, and Kate Pullinger). It's a discussion about our Canadian writers and their libraries: their favorite books, their most treasured books, their oldest books. What is Charles Foran's favorite Richler book? What books did Kathleen Winter read as research for her novel Annabel? What is Alex MacLeod's favorite book about hockey? Any book lovers out there? This is your event! Friday, April 29th, 2011 at 8pm.

On Saturday, April 30th at 12noon, Charlie will be onstage with Brian Busby, author of another important biography of a Montreal writer, John Glassco (John Glassco: A Gentleman of Pleasure, Poet, Memoirist, Translator, Pornographer) in Varied Trajectories: Richler & Glassco. This promises to be an interesting discussion about the lives and legacies of these two very important Montreal writers and the very different public receptions they had to their works as well as the reputations they could never seem to overcome. This event is hosted by CBC's Jeanette Kelly.

Tickets to both of the above events can be purchased online.

Another really interesting event that we have planned (in partnership with the Mordecai Richler Writer in Residence Program at McGill University) will be held on Sunday, May 1st at 11am, lasting about 2 hours:  Mordecai's Montreal: From Parc Avenue to the Main. This is an outdoor walking tour with geographical and anecodtal information about one of Canada's most beloved writers, hosted by none other than Mr. Charles Foran himself. And what an opportunity: touring Mile End and the Plateau in search of remnants of Richler's life with the author of the most comprehensive and thorough biography of Mordecai Richler. Charlie is obviously a Richler expert but his entertaining style and wit will keep you engaged and fascinated every step of the way.

Learn about Montreal and Richler while enjoying the gorgeous Montreal spring (Though if it's raining, bring an umbrella!). 

This event is not listed in our programme this year, but you can pay for it on our site here (via Pay Pal). This one will sell out fast (very limited space) and participants will meet in Mile End Sunday morning just before 11 at Wilensky's, 34 Fairmount. $15/person: a steal! This one is NOT to be missed...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Scotiabank Giller Prize Event: first time in Montreal: Save the date! April 30, 2011 6pm

The answer to yesterday's quiz is the subject of today's post (congratulations to our winner). The two books have two things in common as our winner indicated: they are both Scotiabank Giller Prize winning books AND their writers are both to be featured on stage at the Chapelle-Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours in Old Montreal on April 30, 2011 at 6pm for a very exciting night of conversation with two Canadian literary stars.

2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize-Winner, Johanna Skibsrud
The onstage interview will be an intimate conversation with Johanna Skibsrud, author of The Sentimentalists, a fascinating novel which explores the relationship between a daughter and her handyman, Vietnam vet father, a book The Guardian praised as "concealing harrowing depths of feeling and its exploration of the mystery that is one's father." In one of the biggest literary upsets in years, Skibsrud took home the Scotiabank Giller Prize in late 2010 surprising everyone, not least the author herself.

2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize-Winner, Linden MacIntyre
In addition to Johanna, author and investigative journalist, Linden MacIntyre will on stage to discuss his 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning book, The Bishop's Man, about a banished priest waiting out his days in rural Cape Breton, caught up in the bureaucracy of the church. MacIntyre is an award-winning reporter and has been with CBC's The Fifth Estate for many years and has reported from all over the globe.

Held at the Chapelle-Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours (also known as "the sailor's church), the event promises to be one of the spring literary highlights in the city: a gorgeous venue, beautiful music, and sparkling literary conversation.

Hosted by CBC's Carol Off, the event and the evening will be one you're not soon to forget! Get your tickets now; they are selling fast!

Make an evening of it: an early dinner, a stroll through the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal, attend the event and then walk back to the venue hotel and see Noah Richler interview Indian-American writer Amitav Ghosh at 8pm at the Holiday Inn - Select Centreville.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Free Book Giveaway Contest!

Question: What does a novel about a banished Cape Breton priest have in common with a novel about the flooding of an Ontario town and a middle-aged man's reflections on his service during the Vietnam War? How are these two important books connected?

You will find the answer on page 42 of the 2011 Festival Programme (PDF version).

The first email sent with the correct answer will win a copy of Johanna Skibsrud's 2010 novel The Sentimentalists.  Send answers to

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Wanna try your hand at writing a Children's Book?

Think about enrolling in Anne Fine's children's literature workshop at Blue Met 2011.

Anne Fine
Fine, author of Madame Doubtfire (upon which the film "Mrs. Doubtfire" was based) will be in Montreal to talk about children's writing generally and conduct this workshop as part of Blue Met's popular Master Classes series.

In this Master Class Anne Fine will discuss how writers for children can pitch their work to the best effect, and what account must be taken of the concerns of the various gatekeepers (publishers, parents, teachers, librarians) who stand between children's authors and their potential readers. Writing practices will be done and critiqued and you will learn what it takes to polish and finalize a piece of writing for children to make it appealing to publishers specializing in this market.

If you've written a book for kids, if you're thinking about it, or even if you're just interested in writing for kids generally, this is the workshop for you.

The class is a two part series, starting on Saturday, April 30th from 10am until 12.30. You will then have the chance to have lunch with Anne Fine after the workshop in a downtown restaurant where you can ask about her career, her own writing habits, and what it took for her to become an internationally bestselling kids author. The workshop then continues with part II on Sunday, May 1st from 10am until 12.30.

Tickets for the two-day, 5 hour workshop are $60 and you can get information in order to register for the course at Blue Met's website.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Words Without Borders Special Quebec Literature Edition

One project we've been working very hard at this season is the special edition of Words Without Borders focused on Quebec Literature in translation.

Some of Quebec's most well-known and also newly established writers are here: Nicholas Dickner, graphic novelist Pascal Girard, poet Helene Dorion, Nadine Bismuth, Christine Germain, Dominique Fortier, among many others.

From the issue's introduction:

"Set in city skyscrapers and rustic retreats, featuring characters ranging from adulterous hockey stars to faithful Canadian Heart Association donors, these stories demonstrate the diverse vitality of Quebecois writing."

The issue is to be launched at a special event as part of PEN World Voices in New York on April 27th, 2011 at Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue, and will include Nicolas Dickner, Dominique Fortier and Nadine Bismuth. This will be followed by a private launch party as part of Blue Met's 2011 Festival.

We are very happy to have worked closely with Words Without Borders and the Quebec Delegation of New York to bring Quebec writing in translation to a wider international audience.