The EW Reading Series: You Will Not Be Asked Back

This Month’s Installment of the Emerging Writers Reading Series // Domenica Martinello

Emerging Writers Reading Series
Secluded September at EW

Four Toronto-based authors kicked off September’s edition of the Emerging Writer’s Reading Series with references to sentimental bears and professional wrestling. The reading, which takes place on the second Tuesday of every month at Duffy’s Tavern, was a nice primer for Toronto’s busy literary launch season, featuring a diverse selection of up-and-coming writers who give off the sense that they’re on the cusp of being more than a blip on the radar. The September 9th edition featured short fiction by Julia Chan and Josh Edgar, and poetry by Jason Freure and Claire Caldwell.

The EW Reading Series, founded in January 2012, is dedicated to showcasing talent by Canadian authors who have not yet published a major book. To keep things more dynamic, EW does not book repeat readers, leaving room for new voices. Founder, organizer, and curator Jess Taylor, herself a young emerging writer, is a warm but efficient presence at EW events. Reading Taylor’s recent essay in the Summer Issue of The Puritan sheds some light on her motivations and goals for the reading series: “[T]here are a few people who, as soon as they realize you don’t have a book published or look at your face and label you as ‘young,’ disengage and go talk to someone more established.” This is an experience that will seem familiar to writers trying to establish themselves within the community early on in their careers. Taylor goes on to insist that even when one is not ‘new’ to the scene anymore, literary events and launches can still feel like a place of disconnect.

A self-decreed “fun place to hang out with other artistic minds,” the EW Reading Series shirks what it sees as typically high-pressure, highfalutin conventions in literary event management. The series is adeptly organized by someone who is obviously used to attending literary events of many styles and stripes. On-stage readers are encouraged to keep small talk (and awkward run-on anecdotes) to a minimum, and there is an appreciated halftime break for smoking, boozing, and mingling. This, in part, keeps noise, disruption, and fidgeting to a minimum, yet it was immediately evident that soft-spoken Julia Chan’s short story, which can be read in the latest issue of The Rusty Toque, required lowering the music in the bar upstairs. Continue reading

Prize Books for the Third Annual Thomas Morton Prize Revealed!

Fiction and Poetry Winners Receive 57 Prize Books Each // The Puritan Editors

Prize Books
Enter by Sept. 30 for your chance to win.

Now in its third year of operation, The Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Literary Excellence (phew) has more to give than ever before.

In addition to receiving $1000, publication, and the seal of approval from our prestigious judges, Margaret Atwood and Zsuzsi Gartner, winners in the categories of fiction and poetry also receive a whole whack of prize books—57 each, in fact!

Each set of books is drawn from 18 awesome publishers, who have each kindly donated 26 titles to the award. In a sense, the Thomas Morton Memorial Prize is a true writer’s award—winning means receiving a substantial boost to your personal library. Valued now at over $800, it’s more than most working writers can afford to spend on books in an entire year.

More importantly, these prize books also act as a fantastic encapsulation (and time capsul) of CanLit in 2014, as aside from a few notable exceptions, almost all books are released by (mostly small!) Canadian-owned presses and written by Canadian authors. As chance had it, our last two winners were both American, and both were thrilled to receive such a robust introduction to the world of CanLit poetry and fiction.

So without further ado, here is the full list of prize books available to both of our winners:

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The White Hand That Feeds

What a Conference Can Reveal about Multiculturalism, Privilege, and the Business of the Arts // André Forget

Canada's Sesquicentennial Conference
A Sesquicentennial Conference Uncovered

About a year ago, I was asked to help moderate a community conference in Halifax that had been organized to brainstorm ideas for Canada’s upcoming sesquicentennial in 2017.  I was a grad student, and they were paying a hundred bucks for a morning’s work and providing a free lunch; naturally, I agreed. Held at what can only be described as an unconscionably early hour on a Tuesday morning, the conference was meant to bring together people from Nova Scotia’s various communities and interest groups to discuss how the province might celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary.

The organizers were obviously hoping to recapture some of the optimistic nationalism that had preceded the celebration of the centennial in 1967, and I wondered how many of the people present were as sensitive as I was to the rather ironic parallels between the two moments. The centennial celebrations took place just as Trudeau-era liberalism was coming into full swing, and the nation was forging a bold new identity no longer narrowly rooted in British colonialism. After all, 1967 was also the year of the first Caribana, the year of the Royal Commission on bilingualism and biculturalism, the year of “vive le Québec libre.” Almost fifty years on, Stephen Harper (perhaps the most ambitious Canadian leader since Trudeau) is no less boldly and intentionally attempting to re-shape Canadian identity along a different axis—one that emphasizes the Monarchy, the military, and the very colonial past Trudeau’s liberals were so vigorously trying to get away from. I was curious to see how overtly political the conference would be in framing Canadianness for the twenty-first century. Continue reading

Morissette: Broke and Precariously Housed

New Tab by Guillaume Morissette // Jason Freure

New Tab by Guillaume Morissette

At first, I hated Guillaume Morissette’s writing. I didn’t like the way he flaunted sadness. I didn’t trust the way he put ironic distance between himself and his own anxiety with self-deprecating charts. His online presence soured my view of his poems and short stories. Despite all this, I decided to read New Tab (Véhicule Press) anyway, and found it both hilarious and sincere. His comedic side comes out in lines like, “Internet porn didn’t judge me” and, “name a time of the day and I have eaten cereal at it.”  Self-reflection scatters the book between the protagonist’s sexual failures, social anxieties, and workplace depression in the form of status updates. New Tab is a narrative of self-transformation within the everyday life of a twenty-something (pushing thirty-something) Quebecker.

But why should I suddenly change my mind about Guillaume Morissette? It’s true that his poetry reads too much like Facebook vignettes, but I’m ready to accept that this is an issue of personal taste. His novel, on the other hand, is lucid and sympathetic, and manages to integrate actual social media habits as well as plot points based on actual Montreal trends into a text which functions believably as a site for character interactions and development.

Thomas, Morissette’s protagonist, moves from Quebec City to Montreal where he works as a video game designer and attends Concordia part-time. His job is primarily to develop smartphone games. He lives in Mile End with a group of young anglophones who put on film screenings in their backyard and raise money selling beer without a license. Continue reading

“A Lotta Prada”

Rap Puts the “High” in Highbrow Culture // Tracy Kyncl

Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail

How do you “share a brainwave” or find yourself upon the “same wavelength” with someone else? Well, to start, you could be so syncopated in your thoughts and behaviours that you begin to echo each other’s  preconceptions of reality. Or, more likely, you’ve been so bombarded with the same image that you can’t help but adopt it into your worldview. E Martin Nolan recently wrote a post about Drake’s function as a “walking advertisement” for Toronto. I was startled to find that both his responses  to current trends in mainstream rap and hip hop and my own zoned in on an overwhelmingly dominant motif: branding.

If I was to describe the “point of view” of music right now,  the common thread shared by the artists’ approach to their craft, it’s that popular musicians predominantly focus on representations of status. For mega stars such as Jay-Z and Kanye West, money is no object. It has transgressed its traditional function as an aspirational motive—rolls of bills as a symbol of ascending from the streets—into a ubiquitous wellspring. Compare, for example, Jay-Z’s early chart-toppers and the origin stories he traces through narratives of crime and prejudice—with, of course, a necessary dose of the party life and the staking out of rap game territory. Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, however, is the output of a grandmaster. A person so untouchable in the celebrity sphere that his “billion” is more than a dollar figure; it’s an indicator that wealth—alongside talent, luck, and business savvy—is what has redefined the power that celebrities hold over people’s attention. Continue reading

Prose in Clothes

Interwoven Trends in “Fashion,” Women in Clothes, and Narrative // Gavin Tomson

Who says fashion and literature don’t mix?

Writers don’t typically hold fashion in high esteem. Shakespeare dubbed fashion a “deformed thief.” The dandyish Oscar Wilde said, perhaps hypocritically, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” Some writers even dress poorly on purpose. Rivka Galchen, one of my favourites, once wore to a videotaped interview at Strand Bookstore an oversized navy blue T-shirt with a happy face on it. The idea is this: the less a writer appears to care about her appearance, the more she appears to care about writing—or something like that.

This doesn’t mean that writers write fashion off completely, however. Clothes play a crucial role in literature. To take a general example, it’s conventional for a novelist to introduce a character by remarking on his or her outfit. To take a specific example, in Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, the narrator’s decision to buy the same dress as her best friend, Margaux, provokes a fight between them. Then again, in Alice Munro’s “Red Dress,” the narrator’s distaste of the dress that her mother makes her reveals, poignantly, the growing distance between them. Clothes mean, clothes signify, clothes show but do not tell. Some writers may think fashion ‘beneath’ them, sure. But they’d be duds to ignore clothes in their writing.

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The Myth of Multiculturalism

Tolerance and Civic Pride in Toronto // E Martin Nolan

Toronto’s Myth of Multiculturalism

In The Puritan’s recent “Littered T.O.” supplement, Amy Lavender Harris claims that “multiculturalism is Toronto’s strongest cultural myth.” She is right. Still, it’s difficult to picture just how such a myth would be constructed. That multiculturalism is Toronto’s defining characteristic is beyond doubt. The New York Times echoed this reality in a popular piece praising “Toronto’s Ethnic Buffet.”

The question becomes: how can multiculturalism be a cultural myth? Put another way, can a buffet—a container/separator of dishes—be the symbol of a uniting myth? A myth binds people together, but multiculturalism demands that people are allowed to be separate, contained within certain divisions (as a buffet separates and maintains its individual dishes). It also demands that others respect that separateness, meaning that multiculturalism’s main guarantees are that difference will exist, and be tolerated. This is a good thing in my opinion, and Toronto deserves to be proud of its tolerant record. As Harris very rightly points out, it is no small feat to put the world together in a city without people often “coming to blows.” But tolerance alone makes for a weak myth. It’s defensive, defined by racial or ethnic violence—even if it’s a violence that doesn’t happen. Continue reading

The Menace of Leisure

Talking Brunch and Book Launches with Shawn Micallef // Domenica Martinello

A Spiffy Shawn Micallef

Unfortunately for the city of Toronto, there are not many opportunities to drink a beer with your cereal and have it deemed socially acceptable. But thanks to a few subtle but significant tweaks, the August 6th launch of The Trouble with Brunchthe new title by Coach House Books author Shawn Micallef, stood out from the traditional literary launch fare. This is to be expected from an author who deconstructs the faux leisureliness of our leisure time. With no rigidly enforced schedule (“Join us anytime after 6,” the chirpy pink poster read), no formal reading, and the promise of “music, dancing, & drinks ’til late,” Micallef shifted the focus closer to what a book launch should be: a celebration. In this case, a celebration with eight varieties of sugary cereal and milk options to fit every lifestyle.

Micallef’s book interprets brunch as a critically-unexamined leisure activity which itself allows for a deeper engagement with (mis)conceptions of class and the increasingly porous boundaries between work and play. Micallef goes on to define a new socioeconomic grouping, building off theories first put forth by Richard Florida, called the ‘creative class’—the brunching class, if you will.  This middle class subset, able to sustain day-to-day luxuries but hard pressed to afford a house, proves that class can no longer be defined by income alone. Members of the creative class typically earn less, economically speaking, than those of the traditional middle class, yet they place value upon certain decadent lifestyle activities, unaware of the socio-economic consequences of such activities. After all, waiting in long line-ups, sitting around crowded tables the size of Kindergarten desks, and eating overpriced (and often bizarre) foodie concoctions seems, as Micallef points out, far from leisurely. This paradox demands that we investigate what else might be at work amidst the sparkling flutes of mimosas.

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In Conversation with Dave Hurlow

On Collaboration, Editorial Relations, and Wimbledon Tennis // Caryn Cathcart

Dave Hurlow in Profile …

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m reading about an infamous literati from Halifax who also happens to be a lizard—a time travelling lizard who once, in a gamble of love and loss, got mixed into the Dreyfus Affair. So, to rephrase: it’s Sunday afternoon and I am intrigued.

The Lizard Man hails from Toronto-based Dave Hurlow’s first collection of short stories, Hate Letters from Buddhists. Hurlow also plays bass in The Darcys. Their second album, Warring, was released by Arts & Crafts in 2013 and was nominated for a Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year. Hate Letters from Buddhists is published by Steel Bananas Art Collective and will be available for purchase this September. I, however, was able to snag my copy during the Steel Bananas Publications Launch earlier this month. At the event, following a rally of deep-throated cat-calls, I witnessed Hurlow’s first-ever public reading. What occurred was a hilarious but self-conscious debut from an exciting new Canadian talent. Last week I was able to catch up with Hurlow and pose a few questions about his various projects.

Caryn Cathcart: As a long-standing musician but first-time author, what was your experience stepping outside the collaborative effort of a band?

Dave Hurlow: Playing in The Darcys, I’m responsible for the bass: keeping the low-end sounding good and working with our drummer to keep the jams running. I’m less involved with the creative process in terms of putting together the raw ingredients. When we hit the studio, I get a chance to shine, but I think of my contribution more in terms of craftsmanship than art. The live shows are really the most gratifying part of playing in the band because I get to send bass signal through massive sound systems and rattle the room plus everyone in it. Continue reading

The King of Midtown

Oliver Jewellery Is at the Heart of a Bigger, Bolder, Tackier Toronto // Jason Freure

Russell Oliver
The Cashman Cometh

Who is the most iconic Torontonian that you can think of? I’ve heard many answers: Mel Lastman, Margaret Atwood, Drake, Rob Ford, and Jane Jacobs among them. But there was one name I never heard, though his face appears on CP24 more often than the mayor’s, if not the newscasters’. The man is Russell Oliver, owner of Oliver Jewellery, otherwise known as The Cashman.

In his advertisements, Oliver dresses up like a Mountie to promote his loan services, he blings it up, waving around stacks of cash as scantily clad back-up dancers shake their jelly, and once, he even bought the royal jewels from Princess Diana. The Cashman joins Ed Mirvish and Bad Boy Mel Lastman in a triad of Toronto kitsch. If Honest Ed is the face of a fast-fading downtown eccentricity, and Lastman represents the North York booster, Russell Oliver lands somewhere in between, in Midtown.

Growing up in Southern Ontario, Oliver Jewellery ads made Eglinton Avenue the first Toronto street name I ever knew. Toronto, in my young imagination, was a collage of the bank towers you see during sports broadcasts, the endless high rises from the 401, and above all, Eglinton. It was Main Street. It was on television. It was, as far as I could tell, the most exciting street in the universe.

I wasn’t completely wrong. Continue reading