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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Best of 2005

As 2005 is quickly coming to an end, I wanted to share some of Ottawa's more memorable literary moments. Perhaps you, too, were at these same events and saw me but had no idea who I was. I was the one with the camera. This is my 'directors cut' so to speak from the original column that appeared in the Citizen today.

It was near 30 below the night Douglas Coupland drew a decent-sized crowd of mainly 20 somethings. Scruffy lot I must say. The spirit (and clothing) of Che Guevera is alive and well in Ottawa it seemed. My impression of Douglas Coupland? He looked, well, haggard. And talked similarly. After waiting over an hour in line for him to sign, rather, 'stamp' my book I did the readerly thing and asked him an impromptu question. I asked who was his favourite Canadian author of the 20th century. He cautiously replied that he didn't much like Canadian literature at all. What was I expecting? It was a dumb question. He went on lamenting, in a whiny way, the typical Canadian (immigrant) stories or growing up in a small town and so on. He did admit to liking Gord Downie's Coke Machine Glow and that he thinks Alice Munro is the best writer Canada has. However, in mid-response, I gather he liked my Kanuk winter coat, as he fondled the distinctive owl patch on my lapel. I felt uneasy. He then signed my book, gave it the obligatory stamp 'with warmest personal regards douglas coupland' (the irony benumbs me).

I bought my first Digital SLR camera and photographed Anne Giardini when she came to Ottawa to launch her first novel, The Sad Truth About Happiness. Though I didn't sell the photograph for publication, it gave me a neat idea to start to photograph authors who were reading in Ottawa.

I read David Gilmour's new novel, A Perfect Night To Go To China, and was impressed with its story (and surprised in a good way) that it went on to win a Governor General's Literary Award.

Another story that doesn't really have an Ottawa connection but I blogged about it was Hunter S. Thompson's suicide. Oddly, his last column he wrote was about his newly invented game of "shotgun golf". How odd.

Frances Itani, talking from Hurst, Ontario, was on CBC Radio one afternoon with Brent Bambury expressing her happiness about being on the shortlist for the 2005 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. She also had doubly-happy news in that the film rights have been sold so that a movie may be made from her first novel, Deafening.

John Metcalf was awarded the Order of Canada. John Metcalf can frequently be spotted at the Elgin Street Diner taking a break from all the editing work he has yet to do.

Ray Robertson, the man with the sharpest sideburns in Canadian literature, came to the Manx Pub as part of the Plan 99 Reading Series for the Canadian premiere of Gently Down the Stream.

This month was a defining moment for me: Barry Callaghan, who was in town for the spring edition of the Ottawa International Writers Festival, was in my kitchen. Here's how I imaginatively recall that special day in April:

I could take a cue from the late Hunter S. Thompson and do some gonzo journalism in this blog piece and insert more of myself into the story. Like tell you about how Barry and I, in a bourbon-flavoured cigar haze, pinched the waitress's butt, got chased out of the off-track betting lounge while debating the merits of which nag to bet on at the Aqueduct Races, or whether Tokyo's Fuchu track had the best odds that evening, and how I eventually out-maneuvered the local cops as we sped through their failed speed trap on Albion Road with Barry cursing out the window. Alas, the truth always eludes us when we seek it. I will concede to Dr. Gonzo when he once said, "I have a theory that the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours."Barry spent the last sober hours of his Ottawa visit at the National Gallery of Canada with Claire, where I dropped them off, checking out The Sixties in Canada exhibit. Needless to say, I was amazed to be in his presence. A highlight, for sure, for any fan of Callaghan, junior or senior.

Despite being overwhelmed at the photo opportunities of tulips, I managed to get out to a few readings. The talented Anthony Bansfield a.k.a. the nth digri was a headline reader at one of the events hosted by the Tree Reading Series. This man is amazingly talented and as equally passionate about showcasing writers in Ottawa. He left an indelible impression on me two years ago when I first heard him perform his signature poem, Sugarcane. I picked up his 2003 CD, Tales of the North Coast and play it loud and frequently in my drives to work.

For those fans smart (or lucky) enough to be at the Library and Archives for the John Ralston Saul book launch were also treated to be in the presence of British actor Alan Rickman. The fact that he made headline news in that morning's Citizen tickled my curiosity to see if he would make a showing at Ralston Saul's reading. He did. With my camera at the ready I got some great photographs. To this day I still get emails thanking me for posting photos of Rickman, however, not so for my photos of John Ralston Saul for some reason.

What an awesome month. Ottawa author John Geddes launched his first novel and had one of the most delicious promo items: a huge basket of cookies from isobel & company. They had baked the cookies with the image of the book's cover incorporated on the white icing. Informative and delicious.

With the sunburn of Westboro's annual WestFEST barely fading, Jose Saramago, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, came into town with a bevy of VIPs in attendance: Don McKellar, Niv Fichman, former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson. I sold my first photos to Quill and Quire Magazine from this event and another of Ottawa's Thomas Rendell Curran's book launch.

I was saddened to hear of the passing of photographer Sam Tata in July. His photographs of Canadian authors have been an influence, and his work reinforces my thought that there is artistic value to record reading events photographically.

Once again, Harry Potter mania swept through the city this summer. Though I did not buy the book, I did go to my local bookstore at midnight to catch the wizardly spectacle. Yes, I still have to remind myself that despite the marketing madness, that the promotion of reading is a good thing.

The Rolling Stones may have rocked Ottawa but sadly, one of my favourite bookstores in the downtown core closed. John Hatfield, the proprietor of Place Bell Books retired.
Awaiting the fall literary season, the War of the Poets exhibit by Steven Artelle at the Nepean Museum, held my book lust in check for another month.

For the second time this year, another Nobel Prize winner, Elie Wiesel came to Ottawa for Jewish Federation of Ottawa's 2006 Campaign Kickoff. Dr. Wiesel won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1986. What and honour it was to be in the same room as I attended my first official press conference.

The Dusty Owl Reading Series coordinators, Catherine MacDonald-Zytveld and Steven Zytveld work diligently behind the scenes to bring to light the most talented poets and writers Ottawa has to offer. Listening to the various members of the Capital Poetry Collective is always a entertaining treat, along with Anthony Bansfield's reading series, The Golden Star Lounge, Ottawa's original urban poetry series. Highly recommended.

Despite my physical preparation, the fall literary season overwhelmed me with an onslaught of events. There are too many moments to write at length here, so I will list some names that stood out: Mystery writer Anthony Bidulka's door prizes were cool, author Paul Glennon's new book was innovative,'s John Newlove Award winner Melissa Upfold is perhaps a budding Margaret Atwood / Jane Urquhart, and the poetically reclusive jwcurry continually surprises.

Three words: Ottawa Storytelling Festival. Finally, I can just sit, close my eyes, and be entertained with stories. I am a kid again. But not for long: The Tree Reading Series and the Sasquatch Reading Series both turned 25 years old this year. There was a also first of sorts as the Talented Tongues night of erotic reading proved to be a huge draw where the venue reached and surpassed the maximum seating (fire) capacity. Poet Archibald Lampman turned 144 years old and was duly celebrated in a Beechwood Cemetery reading, Dead Poets Live!

The Poems of War, Poets for Peace reading event with Marie Clements, Goran Simic, Amatoritsero Ede, Steven Heighton, and Serge Patrice Thibodeau and Joseph Boyden serve to remind us that in certain countries it is a crime to be a writer with independent ideas. They were part of a PEN reading at the Canadian War Museum.

On a lighter note, Alistair MacLeod made an appearance in Ottawa as part of the 70th birthday of the Canadian Film Institute where acclaimed Canadian filmmaker William D. MacGillivray screened his latest feature documentary, READING ALISTAIR MACLEOD.

Merry Christmas and remember, books make great gifts any time of the year.


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