I’m reading at the Wonderful Women Writers Series on February 27th, at 5:00pm with Elizabeth Ruth. The event is sponsored by the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education at OISE/University of Toronto and will be hosted by their current writer-in-residence, Dr. Nora Gold. The centre is (from their website) ”committed to promoting, supporting, and enriching feminist work at OISE and UofT; and connecting scholarship, education, and activism through constructive and critical dialogues with feminist communities locally, nationally, and globally.” So it’s a great honour to be be invited to read at this series and to be paired with the lovely Elizabeth Ruth.
I’m also thrilled to be in an event hosted by Dr. Nora Gold. I met Nora last year at my event at Spur Festival and we clicked instantly. We since met for coffee and have been in touch via email. She is an award-winning writer whose novel, Fields of Exile, will be coming out in May 2014 and I can’t wait to read it. She is also the founder and editor of JewishFiction.net, an online literary journal dedicated to Jewish fiction. I’m really looking forward to a wonderful evening with some wonderful women writers!
Here’s a link to the Facebook event with more details.
My sister just called to tell me that the house is gone. My heart hurts.
Last week my mother and her partner moved to a new temporary home, leaving behind the house she had lived in for the past thirty years, the house my father had planned and built before he passed away. Sean, Baby and I moved with them, at least for the next few days before going back to Canada.
I wrote the following post in December, when the idea that the house would soon be torn down didn’t fully sink in. Then I got busy—packing, cleaning, teaching workshops, visiting friends and family—and I never got around to publishing this. Now, one day before the house’s final moment (and two days before our flight back to Toronto), I read the post in the brand new apartment we all moved to and find that I lamented mostly about the loss of our books. Maybe it was easier than thinking about losing my childhood home.
Reading it now, it is the present tense that breaks my heart.
I’m posting it as is.
I was seven years old when my parents started building their dream home. At the time, my family —father, mother and six children—was living in a cramped three-bedroom apartment in downtown Petah Tikva, thirteen kilometres east of Tel Aviv. My father was thrilled when he found cheap land in Mahane Yehuda, where he was born and lived until he was ten. The neighbourhood was a village once, a jumble of sheds and small stone houses, founded by Yemeni immigrants in 1913. Later, the city expanded around the village, swallowing it whole.
During the year it was being built my dad took us to the house every Saturday and we walked around the skeleton of it—all concrete and brick and poking metal wires—and imagined it alive. I still remember it new, the smell of fresh paint and sawdust and earth, the sheen on the tile floors, the promise of possibilities. It was a large, split-level house linked by many staircases, with six bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, and even a shower in the garage. The shower was a grand gesture from my father to my mother, the clean freak, installed especially for when we came back from the beach on Saturdays, so that we wouldn’t drag sand all over my mother’s new floors. From our rooftop we could see palm trees poking from between the smoky city roofs, hazy hills in the distance. And in the back, the eight olive trees my father had planted—one for each member of the family. An ancient lemon tree stood at the edge of the lot, the house built conveniently next to it so my mother was able to reach outside her kitchen window on the second floor, and pluck lemons off the branches. After years of sharing small living quarters, we were intoxicated by the spaciousness. The house felt vast, endless, filled with cozy nooks and secret places, and when my cousins and I played hide and seek they would run up and down the stairs until they were out of breath and they still couldn’t find me.
My father enjoyed the house he had built for less than a year before he suffered a heart attack. He was ill for a few months, and for a while there was talk of installing a special elevator. A contractor came by and drew marks on the wall where the elevator would start. My father passed away before it was set up.
Our heights etched into the doorframe
In the thirty years since it was built, the house has slowly deteriorated. My mother struggled to maintain it while trying to raise her six children. What once seemed like a luxurious mansion is now a drafty, derelict concrete monster. The wooden shutters are crooked and missing slats, windows are wedged in their tracks, the paint is peeling and the walls are cracked, swollen with moisture. Half the outlets hang by a thread, the electric wires exposed. The front yard is strewn with weeds and wild life has been slowly migrating indoors: cockroaches and ants and mice. Pigeons coo on window sills and crows crowd the roof. In the yard, stray cats laze in sunshine and porcupines hide in bushes. Once, my mother found a snake in the kitchen. My brother killed it with an ornamental sword while standing on a chair. The house has been becoming less and less hospitable every time I visit. Last week, during one of the worst storms we had in years, Sean and I sat huddled by an electric heater dressed in coats and could still see our breath. We woke up to puddles in the living room and had to place three buckets in my childhood room, which quickly filled to the brim. The next morning, as I was snuggling my baby who was having her first cold during the storm, we woke up to water dripping into her crib.
“Maybe,” I told my mother. “It’s nature’s way of helping us let go of the house. So by the time they tear it down you’d be thinking Good Riddance.”
“Maybe,” my mom said.
The view from the roof
They’ve been talking about tearing the house down for so long that it has become a myth. For the past few years, every time I came to stay it was the last time. But this time it’s really happening. Next month, the house will be bulldozed and an apartment building will be built on its ruins, where my mom and her husband will gracefully retire. It’s the right thing to do, obviously. We all know it. Accept it. But it doesn’t make it any easier. An act so violent, so final. An erasure of our past.
I volunteered to tackle the books. There were hoards of them. This was a house of eight avid readers, collectors and compulsive gifters of books (many were inscribed from one family member to another), shoppers at used bookstores, forgetful borrowers. After we left home, my mother and her husband collected the remaining books and created a library of floor-to-ceilings bookshelves in one of my brothers’ rooms. But there is no space for so them in my mother’s new apartment. The library had to be dismantled and given away, destroyed, much like the house. I started by dividing the books into ones I thought my siblings would want to look at first and the ones I figured we can let go of. Nissim, my mother’s husband who works in the flea market in Jaffa, said he’d take them to his bookseller friend. I started packing them into boxes but it was taking forever and was heavy to transport, and so Nissim came up with a better idea. He’ll open the back of his work truck and toss the books from the second floor window straight into it. I didn’t like the idea much. Like the demolition, it felt too harsh, too disrespectful. But there was so much more work to be done and I had no help and I was tired and so I agreed.
Then, over one of our last Friday dinners at the house, my brother accused me of throwing away books he had wanted to keep. Books that meant something. How could you know which books mattered to me? He said. These were my childhood memories. I felt horribly guilty, even after my mother assured me that she’s been telling my siblings they had to deal with the books for months now. That they all knew that that she’d be getting rid of them, and that everyone is just being emotional and sensitive right now. I continued to feel guilty even after my brother forgot all about it. When I asked Nissim if I could track the books down, he said they are all gone by now. “He only keeps them for a few days and then he throws them in the garbage.” My heart broke. I wouldn’t have done it if I knew, I told Sean. I thought I was passing them on to a book aficionado, giving them new life. I can’t shake the feeling that I committed some crime against books, and even worse, like I had a part in the process of erasing and bulldozing my siblings’ memories. These pictures I took when I could have still saved the books take on a new meaning now. (Of course, many of the books featured here I did save. They were my favourites).
Don’t worry, I kept those. From left: José Saramago, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, George Orwell’s 1984, and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.
Oh, how I loved this book! Anne of Green Gables.
Unreturned library books
Alice in Wonderland (also taken from the library)
In the back of Nissim’s truck
Poetry by Rabindranath Tagore
Copies of my father’s poetry book
Exciting news! I’m going on another mini-tour on the first week of February. I will be reading from The Best Place on Earth
and speaking about my experience as an Israeli of Yemeni descent and about writing Mizrahi stories. There will also be some time for a Q & A and books for sale. Oh, and did I mention that it will take place in licensed venues? So you can have a glass of wine and a snack with it?
The event is called “Say it Again, Say Something else,” after one of the stories in the book. New Israel Fund of Canada, (a non-profit organization committed to equality of social and political rights in Israel, without regard to religion, race, gender or national identity), is putting up the events and I’m honoured to be working with them. I also love that in their email announcement of the event they quoted this from my recent post about Why I Choose to Only Read Writers of Colour in 2014, “In writing The Best Place on Earth, I was trying to rectify the experience I had as a child growing up in Israel and reading books that didn’t include characters like me. There was never a Yemeni girl in the books I read and loved and so I ended up feeling invisible…”
The first event is in Toronto on Sunday, February 2, 7:30pm at the Gladstone hotel (1214 Queen Street West.) It will feature a conversation with The Globe and Mail arts editor Gabe Gonda.
I’ll be in Montreal on Wednesday, February 5, 7:30 PM, at La Sala Rossa, 4848 boul. Saint-Laurent. Tamara Kramer, Creator and Host of the radio show Shtetl on the Shortwave & Editor of Shtetl Magazine, will be interviewing me.
And finally, I’m in Ottawa on Thursday, February 6, 7:30PM, at the Raw Sugar Cafe, 692 Somerset St W.
The events are free but you have to reserve your spot here.
In other news, there are still a couple spots left in my writing workshops in Israel—“The Lyric Essay, The Beautiful Wild Child of CNF”, on January 20 in Jerusalem, and “Wish You Were Here: Writing about Place” on January 23rd in Moshav Beit Zayit. They are running out fast! Check here for more information and registration.
2014 started with a new (true) story published in Little Fiction’s new sibling, Big Truths! I’m so pleased to be a part of this great little literary magazine. And this particular story is close to my heart… Read Running on Blueberries here.
Oh, and I’m already on book #4 on my reading pledge this year (which I speak about in this post, Why I Choose to Only Read Writers of Colour in 2014). You can check the books I’m reading and follow my progress on Goodreads!
I’m excited to be doing two writing workshops in Israel this month! As a Hebrew-speaking Israeli writer who writes in English I’m in a unique position. I still feel strongly and deeply connected to my Israeli identity, but I don’t really belong in the Israeli literary community. I’ve learned to accept it, and realized that I can be Israeli first and still be a Canadian writer, but a part of me—reminiscent of the young girl who grew up in Israel, wrote in Hebrew and dreamt of publishing a book— longs to be accepted in my country of birth.
Since The Best Place in Earth was published, I’ve been connecting with Israel’s English writing community and I’m amazed by how vibrant and dynamic and diverse it is. There’s an even an MA in Creative Writing in English in Bar-llan university, and bookstores like Tmol Shilshom in Jerusalem and Sipur Pashut in Tel Aviv regularly hold readings and other literary events in English. So I was thrilled to be invited to run these workshops (one of them put up by Bar Ilan), even if it means I don’t get to have a real vacation while I’m in Israel. (Who am I kidding? This was never going to be a real vacation. There’s always more research to be done, and this time, I’m helping my mother move too, which is a story for another post. Also, baby.) I should also mention the beautiful, inspiring locations. The first workshop (Finding the Creative in Creative Nonfiction) is at Stern House, a villa opposite the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the second one (Writing about Place) is in The Writing Pad in the beautiful Moshav Beit Zayit near Jerusalem.
If you have writer friends in Israel who write in English, please tell them about these opportunities!
The Lyric Essay, The Beautiful Wild Child of Creative Nonfiction: Possibilities of Form in Creative Nonfiction
Jerusalem Winter Seminar: Monday, January 20, 2014, 9:00-4:00pm
“Essays can do everything a poem can do, and everything a short story can do—everything but fake it.”
“Pay attention not to the matter, but to the shape I give to it.”
Shaping your story is one of the greatest challenges for the creative nonfiction writer. While applying fictional techniques may enhance your prose, imposing a traditional narrative structure on true stories may feel artificial and forced. Our lives do not follow a straightforward narrative arc and memory doesn’t provide a structured plot: it goes on tangents and takes shape in fragments. This seminar will introduce the aspiring writer to the different forms, subgenres, and possibilities in creative nonfiction, and broaden their understanding of the genre. We will explore different framing devices that depart from the traditional, linear structure such as lyric essays, braided essays, and collage essays, and read CNF pieces that experiment with voice, point of view, and tense. Through guided exercises and class discussion we will discover new ways to tell our stories and think about structure, voice and form, while retaining a sense of joy and freedom in our craft.
Alphabet Autobiographica – Eufemia Fantetti
Nine Days – Suzanne LaFetra
A Braided Heart: Shaping the Lyric Essay- Brenda Miller
Excerpts from essays by authors such as Mary Karr, David Shields, Mimi Schwartz, Sarah Turner and others may also be used in class discussion.
The seminar will take place in The Stern House, 34 Tura Street, Yemin Moshe, Jerusalem (not to be confused with the Stern House in Mamilla) from 9:00-16:00 (with a 1.5 hour break for lunch). Minimum registration is 10 participants with an absolute maximum of 18 (on a first come, first served basis). Registration is final only when your check has arrived at Bar-Ilan University.
The cost of the Winter Seminar is NIS 475, There is a 5% discount if you mail your check by Thursday January 9th, and a 10% discount only for students and graduates of the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University (only one discount can apply). The cost includes pdf files of novel excerpts, hand-outs during the seminar, coffee/tea and snacks all day, as well as use of the fridge at the Stern House in Yemin Moshe, where the seminar will take place. The fee does not include lunch – you can bring a packed lunch or patronize one of the restaurants within a five-minute walk.
All checks must be made out to Bar-Ilan University. Make sure your Israeli ID appears on the check. If you do not have an Israeli ID, write the passport number and country of whoever is signing the check. If you want to pay in US dollars or English pounds, convert the shekel amount at www.xe.com.
Together with the checks please attach a clearly printed note with the following information:
full name, address, phone numbers, email address and which seminar/s you wish to attend.
Nadia Jacobson, Coordinator (Winter Seminar 2014)
Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing
Department of English, Bldg. 404
5290002 Ramat Gan
Email Nadia Jacobson at firstname.lastname@example.org on the day you mail the check so she knows it’s on its way. Shortly after registration, you will receive pdf files of novel excerpts.
If you cancel before January 15, 2014, and we can fill your place, you forfeit a NIS 200 processing fee. If you cancel after January 15, 2014 and we cannot fill your slot, your entire registration is non-refundable.
Wish You Were Here: Writing about Place January 23, 2014, 9:00am-3:00pm, The Writing Pad, Moshav Beit Zayit, Israel
You couldn’t write a story that happened nowhere. ―Eudora Welty
Evoking a profound sense of “being there” in writing is one of the most important elements of prose. It is one way of immersing the reader in what John Gardner called “the fictional dream.” Mastery of place involves more than just using descriptive words. Vivid setting emerges as much from the character’s point of view, actions and voice as it does from imagery, sensory details, and figurative language.
Participants in this workshop will learn new techniques to approach writing about place. We will begin thinking about place as a potential character in stories and creative nonfiction. Drawing from examples by successful practitioners of the craft and through guided writing exercises, we will learn how to use setting as the basis for creating dramatic and engaging prose.
This workshop is designed for both fiction and creative nonfiction writers at all levels.
Each participant is asked to bring a writing sample of 1-3 pages, preferably one that engages with place in some way. Handouts will be distributed at the workshop.
For more information about The Writing Pad, and about the workshop go here.
When: Thursday, January 23, 9:00am-3:00pm
Where: This class will be held in a private home in Beit Zayit, between Jerusalem and Mevasseret. Directions upon registration.
Registration Fee: 390 NIS
To Register: Send an email to email@example.com that you want to attend and that your check is in the mail. The check should be made out to Judy Labensohn and sent to her at POB 15306, Moshav Beit Zayit, 9081500. You can also pay by bank transfer.
When I came across, “Why I Only Read Books by Women in 2013,” by Lilit Marcus
, I wished that I’d thought of it. The meme of listing ten books that made the most impact on us had just gone viral on Facebook and I was saddened by the number of lists dominated by white, male writers. When I wrote my own list on FB, I listed only books by women. Not because I wasn’t influenced by male writers. I was. Hugely. Chekov, and Garcia and Nabokov all blew my mind when I was growing up. But because everyone already listed them. And because I’m the kind of person who always—sometimes compulsively and annoyingly—seeks balance.
“But I don’t choose books by gender,” a Facebook friend wrote on her wall. And maybe she doesn’t, but many people do. Consciously or unconsciously. Or else why do male writers get nominated for, and win, more awards? Why do men still get reviewed more? Why do women writers still get asked questions male authors don’t, and get described in interviews in ways men writers never do? Why do we have Women’s fiction and Chick Lit but not Men’s Fiction and Dude Lit? (And please, let’s not talk about this guy any more. I can’t.)
I thought of VIDA and CWILA and their yearly counts, which often spring an offshoot discussion about the lack of writers of colour in reviews and magazines. And I remembered that the brilliant Madeleine Thien recently spoke about the underrepresentation of writers of colour in literary awards. And then, I thought I should dedicate 2014 to only reading writers of colour. And immediately dismissed it as a silly idea and went to bed.
But I kept thinking about it. When I woke up that night to feed my baby, I thought of books by writers of colour I can’t wait to read and got excited. In 2011, when I only read short story collections, I discovered many incredible writers I’d never heard of because I was always on the hunt for new collections, and I read more, simply because I made a public pledge to do so. It wasn’t a burden, but a blessing. I imagined this would be a similar experience; by imposing ‘restrictions’ on my reading list I would be reading more widely, not narrowly, the same way that writing under constraints may sometimes result in better writing. And I knew I’d have many great writers to choose from. Last year, Roxane Gay of The Rumpus had conveniently compiled a long list of writers of colour (a list in which I’m proud to be mentioned) in response to the argument that there are simply not enough writers of colour. That list would be a good place to start.
But the idea made me nervous. Unlike reading books of short stories, this choice felt political. And coming from Israel, politics tend to scare the shit out of me. I shouldn’t be choosing books by authors’ ethnicity, should I? It’s so arbitrary, so random. But then again, what’s wrong with that? People choose to read books because they’re on the Giller list, or on Canada Reads, or on the staff picks at their local bookstore. People choose books based on covers and blurbs and titles and gut feelings. So why not this?
But I was still hesitant. Ethnicity is a complicated thing, and identities can be layered and shifting and blurry. Where do I draw the line? What about writers of mixed heritage? Or writers of colour who write about white people, or choose (stubbornly!) not to write about their heritage? (I loved this article which speaks about the expectation from writers of colour to write about their heritage and their heritage only, or to write novels that—as a dear friend of mine, an Indian-Canadian writer, has put it—“have mango trees.”) And what about other minorities? LGBT writers? Writers from other cultures who aren’t ‘of colour’? And really, should we be even talking about race? It makes people so uncomfortable.
I often speak about how in writing The Best Place on Earth I was trying to rectify the experience I had as a child growing up in Israel and reading books that didn’t include characters like me. There was never a Yemeni girl in the books I read and loved and so I ended up feeling invisible, wishing I was white, wishing I was Ashkenazi. I never heard of a Yemeni writer growing up. My father, who had been a closet poet in his younger years, wrote a poem about it once in which he said, “A poet’s craft is an artist’s realm / not for you, son of Yemen.” Thirty years later, I grew up still feeling like I couldn’t possibly be writing Yemeni stories. Who’d want to publish them? Read them? In recent years, I discovered that there were actually a couple (two!) Yemeni Israeli writers out there—Dan Banaya Seri, Mordechai Tabib—who published books, stories, poetry, but I’d never heard about them, despite being an avid reader who read everything in sight, because their books weren’t taught in my school, weren’t reviewed in the papers, weren’t on the bestseller list, the recommended reading at the local bookstore. Like me, they were invisible.
In her speech at the literASIAN writers festival in Vancouver, Madeleine Thien said that the mainstream canon “decide the work that will be visible and the work that will remain invisible.” In the comment section in an article about her talk, published in The Georgia Straight, Thien clarified her position by saying this,
“My own personal feeling is that it’s not about race but about reading. That is, that our way of reading is narrowing down. Literary credit goes to those who work within a recognizable/identifiable branch of the canon, and who speak to something that has (perhaps) been already said. Sometimes, critics and jurors simply feel more comfortable when they recognize allusions, literary predecessors, historical context, etc. That’s human.
My experience has been that jurors expect writers of colour to write either folkloric or documentary type books. These books are not accorded the same kind of literary value. And if the writers are doing something different, or drawing from a different canon, the jurors don’t seem recognize it (or feel comfortable judging its value).
… Anyone can read deeply, and anyone can read narrowly.”
Then, in the days between writing this and posting it, Pasha Malla wrote about his own experience trying to balance the gender disparities in his reading choices, which led to a new discussion, one that questioned individualized solutions. Can revising our reading list and creating quotas truly make a difference? Perhaps not, but shouldn’t we at least try? Shouldn’t we start somewhere, albeit as small as our own bookshelves? And shouldn’t we—excuse my triteness— ‘be the change we want to see in the world’?
I’m choosing to spend the year reading only books by writers of colour, because I want to read more deeply. Because as a writer of colour who wants to be read I realize I should do my part, and become a reader, an audience. Because I’m interested in the world around me, and the stories these writers have to tell. Because last year saw a flurry of banned books in the US, many of them written by minority writers and deal with ethnicity. Because when I was suffering from a major writing block, trying and failing to fit my writing into what I thought the Canadian literature mainstream expected of me, my mentor Camilla Gibb suggested that I read books by writers from other cultures, and I discovered Edwidge Danticat, and Chimamanda Adichie Nguzi, and Daniyal Mueenuddin, and Junot Diaz, and Yiyun Li, and I was instantly cured. Because reading their stories made me feel like there was room for my writing in this world.
And because I think it’s going to be fun. Not so much a political statement but a personal one. I think it’s going to be a great year for reading. I can’t wait for it to start.
So there it is. My New Year’s resolution. What’s yours?
, based in the UK, asked me to write them a Christmas story
. I had four days, and I was flying across the world on the day it was due. But of course I said yes. Because apparently I work well under pressure, and because it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. I’m in great company, too
. Authors Fay Weldon
, Naomi Wood
, Kate Griffin
, Chibundu Onuzo
and Jenny Colgan
all contributed a story. And Stylist
has a good track record with publishing short fiction: for their summer issue they had exclusive short stories
by (wait for it) Lionel Shriver, Emma Donoghue, and Aimee Bender (among others)! I hope to get a copy of the print issue, but for now you can read it online here
. I absolutely adore the illustration!
Granville Island, home to the Vancouver Writers’ Fest.
I’ve been waiting for the right time to write in great length about my amazing trip to Vancouver, describe my time at The Vancouver Writers’ Fest, which was as unforgettable and dreamy as I had hoped. I wanted to write about the panels and how well they went, the parties and late nights at the hospitality suite with my new talented friends (Saleema Nawaz, Theodora Armstrong, Angie Abdou, Shaena Lambert) and my dear old friends (Nancy Jo Cullen, Naz Hozar), the inspiring events that made me want to go home and write, write, write, how Thomson Highway renamed my book The Best Place to Nurse, and how my baby was made the official festival baby (apparently there’s one every year) and even Margaret Atwood said hi when we passed her in the hotel’s hallway. And how, on the very last day, I went to take a photo of The Best Place on Earth at the festival’s bookstore and found out it SOLD OUT! Which was so much better than a picture!
Signing books at the Vancouver Writers’ Fest bookstore
I also wanted to write about Place Identity, the reading slash Vancouver launch of The Best Place on Earth slash Cwila fundraiser, where I read with the amazing Renée Saklikar and Anakana Schofield, and shared the stage with host extraordinaire Elee Kraljii Gardiner and Cwila founder Gillian Jerome. It was an intimate and warm event and truly felt like a homecoming. I even got to hang out with my dear friends Janet Hong and Gurjinder Basran.
But before I had to chance to recap my two weeks on the coast (luckily, I covered my time in the Victoria Writers’ Festival in this post!) I was back in Ontario and spending a weekend in Waterloo, at the Wild Writers Festival. And there was so much to say about that, too, more inspiring panels, hanging out with old friends and making new friends. And then, a few days later I read as a part of The Eh List author series at the Toronto Library alongside Lily Poritz Miller, and it was a fabulous, well-attended event, and if was a better blogger I would have told you all about that too.
Now, we’re on our way to Israel. We’re leaving in two weeks. I hope to do some actual writing (!) while I’m away and it is beginning to feel like I’ll never find the time to blog about any of this, so I think I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves.
At the Random House party with Nancy Jo Cullen
With Priscila Uppal, and no, we have not planned it.
With my dear Naz Hozar
Vancouver Writers’ Fest participating authors.
With the lovely book seller.
Naz is kicking Joseph Boyden’s Butt
Before Out of Place, Panel discussion and reading With Xiaolu Guo, Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Rhea Tregebov
At Out of Place at the Vancouver Writers’ Fest, with the brilliant Xiaolu Guo and Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Reading from Tikkun at Out of Place at the Vancouver Writers’ Fest
I love booksellers
D.W. Wilson, who was on my Faces in the Conflict panel in Vancouver (along with Michael Winter and Kathy Para), gave me this great idea: he asked authors who read with him to sign his reading copy. I immediately stole that idea, and now my reading copy is awesome and full of dedications by authors I was lucky enough to share the stage with this fall. I love it!
With Anne Fleming who moderated Faces in the Conflict
Granville Island early morning fog.
Early Sunday morning in Waterloo
The lovely Leesa Dean at the Wild Writers Festival in Waterloo
With Elisabeth de Mariaffi (who I never see anymore since she moved to St. John’s) at the Wild Writers Festival in Waterloo
The lovely Elee Kraljii Gardiner hosting Place Identity
With Sheila Giffen from Cwila at Place Identity
On Wednesday, after my reading at the Toronto Public Library’s Author series, The Eh List
, two different audience members told me that The Best Place on Earth
had been their book club pick. “You should have invited me,”
I told one and she seemed surprised. “You would have come?” “Of course!” I said. There’s nothing more exciting for a writer than to have a conversation about their work with intelligent readers. I also found a mention of a book club in Winnipeg
that read The Best Place on Earth
over the summer (I am trying to manifest a trip to Winnipeg for a reading or a festival, because I’ve never been there and I hear such great things. Also, this review
Well, on November 25, I finally get to visit a book club, and it’s a good one! The Humber College Writing Centre, where I used to work when I first moved to Toronto, has a well attended and well advertized book club. I should know, because I was in charge of it once (our pick then was Camilla Gibb‘s Sweetness in the Belly!) It’s even more of a treat because we’re also having an apres-launch for Eufemia Fantetti‘s A Recipe for Disaster & Other Unlikely Tales of Love (which launched in Vancouver yesterday!) I am beyond thrilled. The event is open to all, just RVSP here. Refreshments will be provided!
The Jewish Independent
interviewed me for their cover story
! Their questions were insightful and interesting and I enjoyed answering them. The online version is posted here
I’m back in Ontario (more about my amazing time in Vancouver soon!) and thrilled to be taking part at the Wild Writers Festival in Waterloo this coming weekend. I’ll be doing two panels on Saturday, November 9. How Geography Defines the Writer, at 11:10 with Tamas Dobozy, Christine Pountney, and Donna Morrissey, and Writers at Risk, at 3:10 with Oakland Ross and Karen Connelly.
© Ayelet Tsabari
At the Regent Hotel
Ahhhh, Victoria. I adore this city. Probably because it is Sean’s hometown, where he was born and raised, and where his family still lives. And the mild weather and natural beauty sure don’t hurt. After a decade of regular visits, I now have my own history in the city, so when we drive its streets I spot my own landmarks and memories, see old versions of myself everywhere. For example, the first time Sean took me to meet his family for Christmas, he and I had lunch at Café Mexico downtown. I remember I still used a non-digital SLR and that I took a photo of the decorative bright blue shutters at the entrance of the place. But mostly I remember how sad I was that day, because I felt like I would never be a writer, that the dream had slipped away from me somehow. Perhaps, I had said to Sean as we sat there eating burritos or enchiladas, the high point of my writing career was already behind me—back in my days as a successful teen journalist. “I’m a has-been at thirty-one,” I said to him, only a little overly dramatic.
This morning, as I checked out of the snazzy Regent Hotel, where we stayed for two nights courtesy of the Victoria Writers Festival, I realized that Café Mexico was kitty corner from us. I took a moment to ponder the coincidence, and then made Sean drive by so I could take a photo and be reminded of how far I’ve come since.
With Wayde Compton
I spent the weekend at the Victoria Writers Festival and it was wonderful in every possible way. The weather was gorgeous, sunny and warm, and the beautiful hotel was right on the water, offering stunning views of the city and the inner harbour and the Johnson Street Bridge. And then, of course, there was the festival. As expected from the city it was casual, informal, intimate and charming. The first night I went to see my mentor, Wayde Compton, read a brilliant excerpt from a short story collection he’s been working on. I can’t begin to explain how much it meant to me to be in the same festival with Wayde and have him in the audience the following day.
With Saleema Nawaz
On Saturday I participated in two events. Sean’s family came to the first one, Love Familiar, and Sean wore Baby for most of it (she made the cutest sounds while I was on stage). I read with Dede Crane, Shaena Lambert and Matt Rader. They were all fantastic, and interesting, and inspiring, and the audience was engaged and asked a lot of questions. Afterwards, I signed books and spoke to a few kind readers. I also took part at “Stitch the Line”, an embroidery project by the lovely Diana Weymar, who sat at the make-shift book store and stitched participating authors’ book titles on a large banner. She also invited writers, audience members and volunteers to stitch a signature, design or text that addressed the question, “What role does memory play in reading?”
at Love Familiar, with Shaena Lambert, Dede Crane and Matt Rader. And no, I’m not beep-boxing.
Then I rushed back to the hotel, changed, ate, fed Baby, and rushed back for the final event of the festival, Rapt. I’d been excited (and intimidated!) about taking part of this event for weeks now, because the lineup was ridiculous. Angie Abdou started with a bang, making everyone laugh with her reading from The Bone Cage; Sara Peters read beautiful, moving poems from her book 1996, Saleema Nawaz gave a wonderful reading from Bone and Bread, and Jay Ruzesky and Annabel Lyon rounded it up with more great readings from In Antarctica and The Sweet Girl, respectively. I was last, which made me all the more nervous. Despite being the new kid on the block, everyone was extremely nice and welcoming. It was great to see Angie again (we read in Vancouver together a couple of years ago) and to finally meet and spend time with the lovely Saleema. I get to see both of them again in the Vancouver Writers’ Festival. Lucky! I also met Will Johnson. In person.
With Will Johnson
Will came to a reading I did in The Real Vancouver Writers Series a couple of years ago and then slipped out without saying hello to me (he blames it on an inexplicable bout of shyness). This time, I noticed him from the stage; he was sitting on the balcony all evening being rowdy with a couple of local poets, and then I spotted his red-haired-fro as he was walking out. So I called his name and told him to get his ass over here, and that it was lame the first time he didn’t say hello and that there’s no way he’s doing it again. I’m glad I shamed him into hanging out with me. Everybody talks about how nice Will is, and of course he is, but I have to admit that sometimes the word nice makes me yawn a little, and Will is anything but yawn-inducing. He is awesome and fun and badass. The festival concluded with an after-party at the house of author John Gould (one of the organizers) and his lovely wife, Sandy, where we ate and drank and chatted about writing and books and other things too. I also got to hang out with the awesome and hilarious Anne Fleming, who is going to moderate one of my Vancouver Writers’ Festival events, and many other people, too many to count. I’m so grateful to John Gould, Sara Cassidy and Julie Paul for inviting me, and for working so hard to make this festival happen. I loved every minute of it.
With Angie Abdou and Saleema Nawaz
Stitch the Line banner (with The Best Place on Earth written in both English and Hebrew!)
I’m thrilled to be heading to Vancouver and Victoria for a mini-book tour in a few days. Vancouver is one of my homes (I’ve written about it here
). I lived there for eleven years and I still miss it. When I got my book deal
I promised my friends in the city that I’d fly there to launch my book after I do my Toronto Launch
. But then I ended up having a baby instead. The Best Place on Earth
is now six months old, a little old for a launch, but I still wanted to celebrate it with my BC people. So here are some of the events I will be participating in. I would be tickled if you came to say hello.
Our first stop (Sean and baby and me) is Victoria, Sean’s hometown. I will be taking part in two events in the Victoria Writers Festival, while staying at the snazzy Regent Hotel (thank you, VWF!) and hopefully getting to meet some of my Victoria Twitter friends! (Erin Francis Fisher will be there, and maybe Will Johnson too? A girl can hope.)
My first event is Love Familiar, readings and panel discussion with Dede Crane, Matt Rader, and Shaena Lambert (what great company!) It is going to take place on Saturday, October 19, at 2:45pm, at Camosun College, Lansdowne Campus. Sean’s entire family is going to be in attendance, and yes, Sean will be wearing the baby (seems appropriate for an event about family).
Then, that evening, I’m going to read as a part of their Saturday Night event, Rapt. The lineup is ridiculous. Angie Abdou, Annabel Lyon, Saleema Nawaz, Sara Peters and Jay Ruzesky. This event will be at 7:30pm, also at Camosun College, Lansdowne Campus.
I’m also looking forward to the Friday night event, Carousal. Wayde Compton, my mentor from The Writer’s Studio, will be reading with Marjorie Celona, Anne Fleming, Catherine Greenwood, MAC Farrant and Shaena Lambert.
Then we are off to Vancouver! I’m especially excited to be participating in Vancouver International Writers’ Festival. It’s been a dream of mine since the first time I attended, in 2007. I even got to read at the launch of emerge, The Writer’s Studio anthology, which launches at the festival every year. After I moved to Toronto, every fall I wished that I could afford to fly back especially for the festival. (I talk a little bit about my love for the festival on their blog).
My first event, Faces in the Conflict, is on Friday, October 25, 1:00pm – 2:30pm at the Waterfront Theatre in Granville Island. It is a panel discussion and reading with Nadeem Aslam, Michael Winter, and D.W. Wilson. Okay, yeah. I’m a little intimidated.
The second event is on Saturday, October 26, 5:00pm – 6:30pm, also in Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island. Out of Place, panel discussion and reading with Xiaolu Guo (one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists) and Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
I’m starting to get a little nervous!
Finally, I wanted to celebrate with my Writer’s Studio crowd. I did promise a launch, after all. So I arranged for a special reading, Place Identity, with two Writers’ Studio alumnae: the illustrious Anakana Schofield and the fabulous Renée Sarojini Saklikar. It’s going to take place at The Tipper Restaurant & Review Room, 2066 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC, on Friday, November 1. The lovely Elee Kraljii Gardiner will be hosting, and CWILA (Canadian Women in the Literary Arts) will be in attendance and accepting donations. Books will be available for sale. The event is free and everyone is welcome. Judging by the Facebook Event, it’s going to have a pretty good turnout. And thanks to my awesome friend Jai Kristjan who created this beautiful flyer.
The next morning, November 2, 9:00am-12:00pm, I will be teaching a workshop about place, Wish You Were Here: Writing about Place Workshop at the beautiful Trout Lake Community Centre. There are still a few spaces available. To Register go here.
I went to see Jhumpa Lahiri
on Sunday at a free event put up by The Toronto Library
. I’ve been a Lahiri fan since I read her first book, The Interpreter of Maladies
. It was one of the first books I read in English. I bought it years ago at the Chapters on Robson in Vancouver, and I loved it. I remember thinking that maybe one day I’ll get back to writing short fiction. That maybe one day I’ll publish a book. I don’t know if it had even occurred to me to write in English at that point.
It’s not every day that a girl gets to meet her literary hero. The morning before the event I was giddy with excitement. I couldn’t decide what to wear, what to say to her when she signed my books. By the time I got to the venue, breathless (traffic, baby, busy morning), almost all the seats were filled. At one point, a woman recognized me from my event at Spur Festival, and commented on how much she enjoyed my reading from The Best Place on Earth, and how well I handled the audience’s questions (referring to the memorable “Are you a Zionist” question). I thanked her and then quickly dropped the not-so-well-constructed author persona and babbled on like a star-struck groupie about how I can’t believe I was about to see Lahiri read.
When Lahiri took the stage I was surprised by how lanky and slim she was. In her pictures she’s beautiful in an almost ethereal way. In reality she was still beautiful, but also a little awkward and shy, which I found endearing. Her reading from The Lowland was mesmerizing. She mostly spoke about issues of identity and home, which is one of the many reasons I love her as a writer. She’s obsessed with the same themes I’m obsessed with. She did, however, say that she felt ready to move on, to explore new themes. She didn’t know where she was heading, but she knew she was done. I can’t wait to read what she tackles next.
I stomped over some audience members on my way over to the book signing table and managed to be fifth in a very long lineup. (In my defense, I needed to head back home and feed my baby). The line moved fast: assistants took your book, opened it to the right page, spelled your name on post-it note, and then passed it on to Lahiri to sign. When it was my turn I presented her with a stack of her books, which she signed graciously. Up close, she appeared exhausted; she had mentioned on stage that she was on a quick stopover in Toronto and had just landed from London. I only had a minute. I may have confessed to being a huge fan. I may have told her that she was a great influence on me while writing The Best Place on Earth. I may have also slipped her a copy of the book (which she possibly left in her hotel room that night for the maid to find. I can’t imagine how many people have tried that before me). She glanced at the book. She looked up and studied me for a moment. She smiled. She thanked me. The whole thing took about thirty seconds. It was magic.
I am running a writing workshop, ‘Wish You Were Here: Writing about Place‘, in Vancouver this fall. I am very excited about it. It will take place at the lovely Trout Lake Community Centre (one of my favourite spots in East Vancouver!)
Here’s more information from the flyer:
Evoking a profound sense of “being there” in writing is one of the most important elements of prose, and a way of immersing the reader in what John Gardner called “the fictional dream”. Mastery of place involves more than just using descriptive words. Vivid setting emerges as much from the character’s point of view, actions and voice as it does from imagery, sensory details, metaphor and simile.
Participants will learn new techniques to approach writing about place, and will begin thinking of place as a potential character in their work. Drawing from examples by successful practitioners of the craft, and through guided hands-on exercises, attendees will be able to use setting as the basis for creating dramatic and engaging stories.
This workshop is designed for both fiction and creative nonfiction writers of all levels.
Optional: Send one page (double spaced) of your work by October 30th for feedback. The sample should engage with place in some way. Examples from participants’ work may be discussed in class.
When: Saturday, November 2nd, 2013, 9:00am-12:00pm
Where: Trout Lake Community Centre, 3360 Victoria Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5N 4M4
Registration Fee: $70 (payable by cheque or PayPal. To pay by PayPal go here)
Registration Deadline: Please RSVP here by October 30, 2013
I was invited to take part in a unique project this year. The Amber Archives
is an annual participatory art project operated by artist John Paul Robinson
. Artists of every discipline submit works to be included in the archive, which John then reproduces on ceramic disks encased in pine resin and sealed in Amber Time Capsules. Yes, you heard right. Time capsules. He calls it the Amber Archives
, because it imitates the process by which tree resin is fossilized into amber. As written on the website
, “Once the Amber Time Capsules are sealed they are placed in a secret geological location conducive to the process of fossilization, leaving their fate to geology and time.”
I cannot begin to count the ways in which I love this idea.
So, this year I am one of the artists lucky enough to participate. I chose an excerpt from the title story in The Best Place on Earth (which I had to format to fit onto a 6″ diameter ceramic disk. That was interesting). Artists include my dear friend, the talented playwright and librettist Anna Chatterton, and other musicians, architects, and filmmakers.
The Amber Archive Exhibition will be displayed at Gallery 50, 50 Gladstone Ave, Toronto, from October 9th to October 13th, with the Participants Reception on Oct. 10th 6-9pm. Both Anna I will be there!