Thursday, November 5, 2009

This year’s Ottawa Writers Festival felt different from my last reading there, ten years ago. Where the readings once took place at the National Arts Centre, this time they were held in the basement of St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts and Humanities, a former church. While some writers missed the warm stage and raked seating of the previous digs, I was happy to read at a venue contiguous with the local scene, making it more an Ottawa affair than a Canadian one. Indeed, if Canada loomed large at the Ottawa festival, it did so in the form of the ReLit Awards, a tribute to independent Canadian publishing.

Toronto's International Festival of the Authors remains the most generous in terms of lavish hotel rooms and endless booze and food, though like Ottawa, it has spread its wings to include readings outside the Harbourfront monolith, such as the one I took part in at Don Mills, an odd assemblage that had myself, Kate Pullinger and Anne Michaels, whose Fugitive Pieces I once likened to eating a flower, sharing a stage at the McNally-Robinson Bookstore. I had forgotten about this, until Anne alluded to it when we were introduced in the van.

This year's IFOA thematic was Scotland, and featured rustics like Ron Butlin, who is every bit the Scot I remember from my childhood, growing up in what was then a very British Vancouver, and Alan Bissett, a Glaswegian in the urban mode. The difference between this older Scotland and the everywhere urban world of today was no more pronounced than at last Friday’s reading at the Harbourfront Studio stage, where Torontonian Lisa Foad’s pedal-to-the-metal brilliance was followed by Scot Jen Hadfield's quivering slow-motion word births. Lisa's book, The Night is a Mouth (Exile Editions), was this year’s winner of the ReLit Award for short fiction, and the one I kept reading on the long flight home.

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