Age of Minority: a collection of plays in review

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ageofminority (1)What do you get when you combine a closeted militant, YouTube star rihannaboi95, and a sprint across the Death Strip? Three solo plays written by the acclaimed Canadian multidisciplinary artist Jordan Tannahill.

Tannahill (27) is quite the hot commodity in Canadian theatre. In 2014, he won the Governor General’s Award in Drama for his collection of plays titled Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays.

First published in October 2013, Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays depicts the stories of young individuals who are pushed to the margins of society due to their sexuality or political identities. Each of the plays is based on a true story.

The plays, written with young audiences in mind, are defined as Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA). This is evident in the both the style and context of the play, demonstrating the real struggles that youth face in their coming of age journeys.

However, it is not just youth who are picking up this collection of plays and responding to live performances, but people of all ages. No matter the age, the stories of these characters resonate with readers and theatre-goers. There is a rawness to them that leaves the character exposed in his or her vulnerability, all the while maintaining a sense of integrity despite persecution and moments of overwhelming fear.

The first play featured in the collection is Get Yourself Home Skyler James. It is a story about a young American girl, who enlists to the army right out of high school – with her girlfriend. This play is set before the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy. James’ secret is discovered, forcing her to make difficult decisions with no right answers.

Second in the line-up is rihannaboi95. This play is particularly interesting in the manner of which it is performed. As stated at the beginning of the script, “rihannaboi95 is meant to be performed as a YouTube confessional video (a direct-address monologue to a webcam)”. It was first live-streamed over the Internet from April 23 to 28, 2013 to audiences across the globe. The confessional provides the audience with a unique opportunity to listen, as a young boy named Sunny speaks about his passion for dance and the repercussions he faces from his family and community because of his YouTube videos.

Finally, Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes brings the collection to a close with a gut-wrenching story of eighteen-year-old Fechter’s last 59 minutes. His final minutes are spent in what was known as the Berlin Wall’s Death Strip. This is where the play begins, with Fechter bleeding from gunshot wounds inflicted by border guards; his minutes literally tick away.

Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays is unlike any other TYA piece, refreshing in its honesty. Tannahill outdoes himself in these pieces, and brings not only the characters to life but the issues each of them face. This collection of plays definitely falls into the category of “must-read” and is recommended for ages 15+.

Tannahill will be at Bishop’s this week on Thursday, Feb. 11 as the next guest in the Morris House Reading Series (MHRS). Be sure to stop by Bishop’s University’s Bookstore at 4:30 p.m. to hear Tannahill discuss his work. The reading is free to attend and a short reception will follow. Tannahill’s books will be available for purchase, so make sure to grab a copy and get it signed!

This article was written by Kristy Bockus and originally appeared in the issue of The Campus published on February 10th, 2016.

 

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Morris House Reading Series opens with critically acclaimed author Heather O’Neill

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This school year marks the twelfth year of the Morris House Reading Series (MHRS), a program that brings both established and up-and-coming Canadian authors to the students and community surrounding Bishop’s University. The MHRS coordinator, Dr. Linda Morra, accompanied by Tomlinson Internship recipient, Kristy Bockus, work together to bring pertinent authors to Bishop’s University to share their knowledge and experience with an audience of open minds and eager ears.

On Sept. 17, members of the Bishop’s and wider communities assembled in the Centennial lobby to welcome author Heather O’Neill. Approximately one hundred students, faculty, and community members were in attendance at the event. These numbers make Heather O’Neill the most attended MHRS event since the series began.

As a Montréal author, O’Neill drew a fan base of Québec natives, along with those who have studied her work.

At the event, the author read “Dolls”, one of the published short stories from her collective work Daydreams of Angels. Students followed along with O’Neill using their own copies of the book, as some were enrolled in The Canadian Novel course where Daydreams of Angels is part of the curriculum.  O’Neill spoke softly and concisely, and while she performed, the audience was nearly silent; the only noise heard was the shuffle of feet and the occasional laugh.

After the reading, a question and answer period was held followed by a reception complete with refreshments. O’Neill’s personality shone through, as she answered the eager questions of audience members.  She shared intimate anecdotes about her life and adventures, all of which were taken in by the students, faculty, and community members who gathered to meet the author.

During the reception, O’Neill was gracious enough to autograph purchased copies of her novels. Many attendees were excited about the opportunity to chat quickly with the author while attaining a souvenir and a memorable experience.

Heather O’Neill’s novels (along with a few signed copies) are available in the campus bookstore for purchase.

This article was written by Hayley Winch and originally appeared in the issue of The Campus published on September 30th, 2015.

Short & Sweet, but Definitely Not Meek

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On Sept. 8, 2015, the longlist nominees for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for fiction were announced. One of the 12 nominated Canadian authors is Montreal native, Heather O’Neill. The nomination came as a bit of a surprise since O’Neill was shortlisted for the prize in 2014 for her second novel, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night. The 2015 nomination is for her recent publication of a collection of short stories titled Daydreams of Angels. This marks the first time in the prize’s history that an author has been nominated for two consecutive years.

The stories in Daydreams of Angels play on common tales that children are exposed to during childhood. O’Neill challenges the original ideas by bringing to life characters of all sorts of backgrounds and social classes.

O’Neill breaks down the conventional framework of masculinity and femininity. The little girls in Daydreams of Angels deviate from the societal expectations of the unspoken, non-sexual, disempowered woman. These are the little girls of the 21st century, reinventing themselves.

The title, Daydreams of Angels, brings to light the angelic attributes of the characters within these short stories. Most are told from a child’s point of view, but with maturity that is usually reserved for adults. Yet this sense of aged understanding is somehow still paired with innocence that seems, in and of itself, like a long lost fairytale. The characters within these stories demonstrate the sort of grace that lives with children, not yet set to fulfill the fancies and whims of the distorted construct of social norms.

O’Neill paints pictures with her words, frequently using unusual similes and metaphors that challenge the reader to view even the smallest details in an entirely new way. This is probably O’Neill’s strongest talent. In most situations, an abundant use of similes and metaphors would bog down the text and make for a slow read. However, O’Neill masters the skill with ease, leaving the reader yearning for the next comparison.

One story that particularly deserves special mention is called Where Babies Come From. The myth of the stork is cast aside as the ridiculous tale it is, “Shall I tell you where babies used to come from? Well, they weren’t delivered by storks. That’s the silliest idea anyone ever had” (p. 82). O’Neill uses the lie told to children about their own creation and brings it into the 50s era. She highlights the strangeness of the time when the expectations of motherhood were shifting with the very idea of it being a different thing for each person. There are the women eager to dig up a baby whose bottom peaks above the sand early in the morning after being washed ashore, while others dilly-dally along the beach and are left to find the babies in the evening before they are pulled back out to the sea forever.

Through the fantastical, O’Neill continually exposes and breaks down expectations, commenting on a generation that dares to think beyond mere regurgitation of information and instead thinks for itself regarding manners of freedom and faith. It really isn’t much of a surprise at all that O’Neill should find herself as one of the Giller Prize nominees once again.

The subject of her nomination will surely be a hot topic for discussion when O’Neill arrives at Bishop’s University on Sept. 17, 2015. O’Neill will be hosting a reading and discussion of her works in conjunction with the English department’s Morris House Reading Series (MHRS). For the past twelve years, MHRS has brought Canadian authors to Bishop’s to share their work, answer questions, and speak personally with students, faculty, and community members. The reading will take place in the Centennial lobby at 4:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

To stay updated on upcoming guests follow MHRS on social media via Facebook (Morris House Reading Series) and Twitter (@BU_MHRS).

 

This article was written by Kristy Bockus and originally appeared in the issue of The Campus published on September 16th, 2015.

Jason Camlot on Finding Inspiration, Concordia University, and the Balance between Creativity and Academia.

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Jason Camlot - Publicity Photo

Interview by Alison Petrovich

Did you always like poetry or was there a moment or poem that your passion for poetry stems from?

I think my interest in poetry developed over time. I always liked singing lyrics which I learned to do at a very young age as most of us do. I came from a pretty musical family and we did a lot of singing. I started writing songs around the age of nine when I was learning how to play the guitar. I was learning how to play songs that were popular in the 60s and 70s because I have two older sisters, so I played a lot of folk songs which I learned afterwards were informed by a lot of modern and contemporary poets. So if I was learning Bob Dylan songs, he was reading T.S. Eliot. I suppose my first exposure would have been through poetic song writers. Actually thinking about poetry on the page, as separate from oral delivery, as separate from music or singing, probably happened when I started studying poetry in high school. I published my first poems in the early grades of high school, which was when I remember poetry first becoming something that I would seek out on my own. We were reading a lot of Canadian poetry at the time as it had become integrated into the regular high school curriculum, so we were reading poets such as Earle Birney. The guidance counsellor at my high school was related to the Canadian poet A.M. Klein, so I got interested in Klein and started reading some Montreal poets and some of the other big Canadian poetry names of the period. I then became more interested in studying poetry seriously and began reading veraciously, not just Canadian poetry, but poetry from all over the world, including a lot of poetry in translation.

Living in Montreal and teaching at Concordia University, does the city environment or your career as a professor influence your writing?

That’s a great question. When I completed grad school in English I was in California and at the time I was secretly also doing poetry workshops. I always continued writing creatively, but my academic graduate supervisors told me I needed to make the choice between being an academic or a creative writer. So I said okay, but I continued secretly doing the poetry workshops with some of the creative writing professors at the school, but without telling my academic professors. Then I had some different opportunities when I came back to Canada to work, and the choices were between some institutions that were much more academic research-oriented in Ontario and Concordia was one of my other options. There are many reasons why I felt Concordia would be a good fit for me. One is that I was born in Montreal so I had family and friends here, which was a big attraction. Another reason was that I knew Concordia has a very strong creative writing program. It could be a place where I could explore pursuing both my research, my literary, historical, and critical interests, along side my creative interests. From the very beginning I imagined Concordia as a place that would be welcoming of and supportive of research and creation simultaneously, and I found that to be the case from the first year that I came here. I have colleagues who attend readings all the time. I really feel like this is a unique program in the country. Most of the other creative writing programs are MFA programs, which are a bit separate from the academic side of things. This is a program that allows me to exercise my creative and critical intelligence simultaneously. It’s been a great place to be a critic and a poet. It’s probably one of the best places in Canada to do that.

Is there a place you go or something you do when you are searching for inspiration for your writing?

I think the answer to this question has changed over the years. I used to imagine something that could facilitate my writing much more in terms of space than I do now. I think it’s partly because I have far less choice over where I am at any given moment so I don’t really have the choice to go to a particular café or hotel room or city. I used to have a lot more freedom to move around. I think now, I create environments in which I can be creative based on surrounding myself with things, whether they are texts or objects, that I think will be interesting to insight some sort of creative constraints on me. More recently I’ve been much more interested in collaborative creative processes, which probably has changed my relationship with the text. I sometimes use a text from another work, whether it is creative or not, as a kind of collaboration in my own creative process.

How do you know when you’ve written a good or bad poem? Is there a feeling you get or do you test it in some way?

There’s definitely a feeling I get when I feel like it’s really jamming. It doesn’t mean when I read it the next day that I’m going to have that feeling again. Immersing one’s self in the writing process is probably the greatest gratification of writing and in a way, that’s the most important thing for me. I am interested in the finished product and being able to share something so that it would have an affect on the reader. Re-reading and re-writing is another way. I do a lot of poetry readings out loud as well, and I find that’s an excellent way to continue the editing process of my work. I usually read it out loud to my self anyway, and reading it to an audience is another way to help me see it in a way that might make me want to make some changes or not.

Those are all of my questions, did you have anything else you would like to add?

I have enjoyed reading in the Eastern Townships and at Bishop’s University in the past. I was first invited to read there at the initiation of my former colleague Robert Allen who had close ties with people at Bishop’s in the English department and at Champlain College where he used to teach. One of my poetry collections, The Debaucher, is partially about Rob and spending time in the Townships and at Bishop’s.

Claire Holden Rothman Discusses Translation, Terrorism, and How Characters Are Born.

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Rothman Photo

Interview by Alison Petrovich

Can you pinpoint the moment when your novel, My October, began not in writing, but as an idea?

I have been thinking about the events of the autumn of 1970 for quite a few years now. And I have been fascinated by the way what we now call the “October Crisis” is talked about and not talked about here in Quebec. To this day, a lot of unease arises when the kidnappings of British diplomat James Cross and Quebec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte are mentioned. For good reason. Cross was held at gunpoint in an apartment in Montreal’s north end for almost two months. Laporte was killed by strangulation after a week of captivity. The violence of these acts, and the violence with which Ottawa and the Quebec government responded to them, shocked Quebecers to the core.
Forty-five years have passed since those events took place. Much has changed in Quebec and outside of it. Terrorism is now a word we hear almost daily on the news. But we had a brush with our own home-grown political terrorism all those years ago. And it marked and shaped us.
This book was sparked in October of 2001, about a month after Al Qaeda bombed the twin towers in New York City and every network in North America was bombarding us with US President George W. Bush’s “War on Terror.” I was listening to the nightly news on Radio Canada, and a journalist read aloud an excerpt from a letter Jacques Lanctôt had written to the Montreal papers. “Au nom de toutes les victimes innocentes, je crie vengeance,” Lanctôt wrote. I was cooking supper when this came over the airwaves. I stopped stirring the pot.
Jacques Lanctôt, for those who don’t recognize the name, is the man who kidnapped James Cross in 1970.
Wow. What a strange thing to say.
It got me thinking. Three years later, I watched, by chance, a wonderful documentary film by Carl Leblanc called L’Hôtage, containing interviews with both James Cross and Jacques Lanctôt. These two men were not young anymore. They spoke of the events of October 1970 with the hindsight of over three decades. The documentary was poignant and fascinating on more levels than I can list here. And I realized I wanted to open up this subject in fiction, to examine it, air it out. There were so many stories in there that needed to be told, and in Quebec, I felt, we were now capable as a society of talking about them. To live happily and well together, people do not have to agree on things, especially things like politics, which tend to cut close to the bone. But they do have to talk. Talking and exchanging are a must. And fortunately, Quebec has a long, proud tradition of discourse.
So these were two of the moments which sparked the novel, My October, into being—a sentence heard by chance on the radio, and words heard in a cinema. Words can have an influence.
Who gets to tell the story of a person, a family, a nation? Who decides what is true, what is false? Who is the arbiter, in the end, of this thing that we call history? These were some of the questions I set out to answer.

As a novelist, do you believe art serves a moral purpose or is it solely entertainment?

I don’t believe that the purpose of literature is to convey a simple moral message. I do, however, believe that novels have an ethical component. Literature is about human beings and how they act and react under pressure. When life turns difficult, we reveal what we’re made of. Sometimes we show compassion; other times all we can manage is to shrink back and think of ourselves. Our reactions are often complex and contradictory – generosity and self-interest and resentment and even self-hatred can mingle and mix in a single gesture. Literature is not about right or wrong in the conventional sense, but about human thought and speech and actions playing out in particular instances. In this sense it is ethical. It’s also highly entertaining.

When you create a character, such as Hannah, Luc, or Hugo from My October, is there a starting point or first trait that you build from?

Characters are often composites of people I have met. I might take some aspect of someone’s personality that intrigues me and match that with the body of another person I know. Usually the starting point for a character I create exists in the world, in “real life” — which is really life seen through my eyes and therefore an imaginative construction, at best. But there is this grounding in so-called reality. Once born, the character takes on a life of his or her own and reveals who he or she is to me. Often the revelations take me by surprise.
Luc, for instance, is based on a real-life person whom I met only a few times. I do not know him well, but he intrigued me. He is a successful working artist, which I wanted for that character. And he has a physique that is impressive, which also inspired me for Luc Lévesque. Is Luc this real-life man? Not at all. I barely know the guy. But certain details of this individual’s looks and dress and speech patterns and mannerisms opened up possibilities for me that allowed the birth of a fictional being.

When translating, do you ever get stuck on an idea, moment, or phrase that does not seem translatable? If so, how do you overcome these challenges?

The job of translating is different from writing fiction. In translation there is always a text in front of the translator, already written by someone else. To me, translation is more like doing puzzles than creating something. If I am stumped by a French phrase I go first to dictionaries, of which there are many. If it’s a Québécois text, and the problem is a Québécois idiom that I don’t recognize, there are dictionaries that specialize in this. So I look things up. If that doesn’t do the trick, I consult with people. Phone up friends who might know. And I mull things over, trying out the best way to express things. Sometimes it’s hard straddling two languages. If I have been reading nothing but French for a while, the syntax of that language begins to creep into my English, or even French expressions begin to infiltrate, and momentarily I lose access to my own English idiom! It’s like seeing the world through different glasses. I have to pause and remember to pick up my English glasses again. Eventually the most appropriate English words come into focus and settle into the right order on the page.

Interview with Madeleine Thien

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Madeleine-Thien PhotoInterview by Alison Petrovich

When reading Dogs at the Perimeter, I found it really terrifying that a political leader such as Pol Pot could have so much power. How did you go about researching such a topic and what obstacles did you encounter? ‬

I’m not sure that Pol Pot’s power is the greatest disturbance. No genocide in history has been committed, single-handedly, by one person or leader. In every case, groups, classes, races or segments of society are targeted as impure elements; they are targeted as enemies of the people. How this happens, how society creates the conditions for genocide, how quickly we allow ourselves to buy into the dehumanization of our fellow human beings, is a question that should trouble all of us.

Specific to Cambodia: the country attempted to remain neutral during the Vietnam War but in 1970, the Prime Minister was removed in a coup backed by the CIA. Within 5 years, the United States had dropped 2.7 million tonnes of bombs on Cambodia, a bombing that was illegal and therefore done secretly — it is illegal to bomb a neutral country.

The consequent civil war was devastating. The Khmer Rouge, led by a group of leaders, including Pol Pot, came to power in 1975, instigating violent upheaval to create what they termed a pure and self-reliant Communist utopia. Within four years, 1.7 million Cambodians lost their lives. Cambodia’s UN-backed tribunal has convicted Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan of crimes against humanity — but not Pol Pot, who passed away in 1998, nor Ieng Sary, who died in 2013.

The Canadian government, along with the United States and a number of Western governments, continued to support Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate representatives of the Cambodian people at the United Nations until 1993. We did this with full knowledge of the Cambodian genocide. Therefore, to answer your question, there is much in this story that is disturbing. Pol Pot, the individual, is just one piece.

Writing Dogs at the Perimeter took many years and a great deal of hard thinking. There were many obstacles, and for a long time I truly didn’t believe I would publish the novel. I decided to publish the book because I feel it has a place. The novel is only one small piece added to a much greater, still unfolding Cambodian story.

Lately women’s issues have been discussed in news and social media following Emma Watson’s UN speech and the recent catcalling video filmed in New York. In your opinion, what is the most important issue for women that we should be focusing on right now?

For me, the most pressing concern in Canada is the rights of First Nations peoples and the way injustice, historical and everyday, remains invisible. We have a very narrow sense of our country, its people, and the geography of Canada. Our problems are structural and they are deep. Equality and respect, and the discussions we need to have with one another, should involve all of us. But certain voices and certain frames of experience — male and female — are privileged, and get replicated over and over and over again.

Who has the privilege to direct the conversation, to access media centres, to edit, cut, distort, deny and erase the complex experiences of six billion people, male and female? This question troubles me a great deal.

When you first come up with a new idea for a story, is it immediately obvious if it should take the form of a short story or a novel? What aspects influences your decision of what form it will take?‬

Nothing is immediately clear, but the question of short story or novel has never been a pressing or difficult one for me. I’m usually thinking through an idea and a world, and trying to see more and more. For me, a novel feels very different from a story, just as there’s a great difference, in intention, between a cup of water and a river.

‪What are some of your favorite recent works in Canadian literature? Is there anything that you would like to see more of or less of in Canadian literature?‬

I read widely, I want to be taken up by the writer, I want to immerse in the world and the thinking they have created. I think there’s a immeasurable distance between a writer who, through precise observation and artistic flexibility, creates a world in all its contradictions, paradoxes and states of being, and a writer who cynically falsifies a world. There’s a great deal of the latter, of course, but I find their works fairly easy to avoid. There’s a great deal of the former, fortunately.

The books I’ve loved most recently are Canadian and not Canadian, Zia Haider Rahman’s In the Light of What We Know, Rawi Hage’s Carnival, Doris Lessing’s Prisons We Choose to Live Inside, John Asfour’s Blindfold, Dung Kai-cheung’s Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, Gjertrud Schnackenberg’s Heavenly Questions, Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire, Dionne Brand’s Love, Enough, Matt Rader’s What I Want to Say Goes Like This, Aaron Copland’s What to Listen for in Music. Today I’m reading Johanna Skibsrud’s Quartet for the End of Time.

Douglas Gibson: A Storyteller’s Storyteller

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Douglas Gibson, former editor and publisher of McClelland and Stewart, visited Bishop’s University in November 2013 as a part of the Morris House Reading Series. He recently published Stories About Storytellers (ECW 2011), in which he shares his experiences in publishing. Since writing this book, he travels across Canada with his one-man show to tell stories about the great Canadian writers he has published.

Gibson’s storytelling began with a celebration of Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize. As Munro’s editor, Gibson shared many personal stories, revealing Alice to be a feisty woman with a “mischievous sense of humour.” He claimed that Alice Munro was his “ticket to heaven”: “I kept Alice Munro writing short stories,” he said proudly. Although everyone else was telling her to get serious and write a novel, Gibson insisted that, “If you keep writing them, I’ll keep publishing them.” Since then, they have printed eleven collections of short stories together.

He also presented Alice as wonderfully stubborn. When she came to him to ask if her book could be printed on recycled paper, he flatly refused. He explained it was too expensive. Only collections of poetry and gift books were printed with recycled paper; not yet a bestseller. Alice was adamant and eventually won. This shocked the publishing world, and Douglas Gibson, to his shame, was thereafter awarded for being an environmentally friendly publisher.

Gibson continued with giving a brief outline of the other twenty writers he mentions in his book, and spoke of each one of them with pride and honour. “There’s no law in the world that says that artistic talent is restricted to wonderful characters”, yet he claimed to have worked with the best in both regards.

He spoke of Barry Broadfoot, who gave the ordinary man a voice. Robertson Davies had dreamed of being the ‘great American playwright’, but rediscovered himself to be a fine novelist. He told how Pierre Trudeau almost killed him, crossing into traffic that nearly crushed them both. He also described Val Ross as being “the bravest woman I have ever known.”

Douglas Gibson has been one of the most influential publishers Canada has ever seen. Alistair MacLeod said that “No one has done more for Canadian Literature than this man, Douglas Gibson.” It was a delight to have Gibson visit Bishops’ University, who introduced himself as “An Old North Hatley Guy” and shared personal moments of history being made through the lives of Canadian writers.