Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Curating and Writing, an Interview with Devyani Saltzman

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Devyani

April 14, 2011 -

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about Luminato's Literature and Illuminations Programs.

Devyani Saltzman:

Every June we bring over 25 Canadian and International authors to Toronto to discuss their craft and share new works. What sets Luminato apart from other festivals is that we program thematically across genres. This year, for example, our signature theatre piece is One Thousand and One Nights, adapted by Lebanese novelist Hanan al-Shaykh and directed by British director Tim Supple. On the literature front, we have a whole focus on new fiction emerging from the Arab world, including authors from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya and Morocco. I love that, because it gives our audience a chance to experience a theme or an idea across artistic disciplines. I also love that it gives authors a chance to discuss their work through a wider lens, in addition to just reading and showcasing new work. It makes for a rich discussion.

OBT:

The Canadian Opera Company is putting on a production of One Thousand and One Nights for Luminato 2011, which suggests we can expect rich and abundant storytelling at the festival in general. How did you incorporate the theme of One Thousand and One Nights into your literary programming?

DS:

I incorporated the theme of storytelling and One Thousand and One Nights into the literary program in two ways. Firstly, through a strong focus on new writing from the Arab world, as mentioned above. This year I’m really excited to partner with the wonderful Hay Festival, based out of the UK. Hay was started in the Welsh-English border town of Hay-on-Wye by Peter Florence and is now one of the leading literary and ideas festivals in the world, with chapters in Nairobi, Kerala, Colombia and Beirut. Luminato is the first Canadian cultural institution to partner with Hay. Together we’re bringing Beirut39 to Luminato, showcasing five writers under the age of 39 from the region, including Joumana Haddad, editor of the culture pages of Beirut’s An Nahar newspaper and administrator of the Arabic Booker. Beirut39 will be hosted by Jian Ghomeshi at the Glenn Gould Studio on June 12.

The second way I played on One Thousand and One Nights is a celebration of the female voice in fiction through multiple events across the city. Scheherazade, also known as Shahrazad in the original Persian, is the consummate woman storyteller. In honour of her we have a number of stellar authors joining us for Luminato 2011, including Joyce Carol Oates, Ann Patchett, Jeanette Winterson, Miriam Toews, Maxine Hong Kingston, Elizabeth Hay and Leila Aboulela.

OBT:

What are the highlights of past Luminatos for you — literary and otherwise — and what are you most looking forward to at this year's festival?

DS:

On the literary front, last year I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with Ben Okri. Ben read at the Al Green theatre and I listened from the wings (where I usually live during the festival). During the signing, many of the audience members said that was like going to a sermon at the temple of Ben. He is so eloquent and thoughtful, in addition to being a beautiful writer. It was a magical experience listening to him talk about everything from his relationship to both Nigeria and England, to writing The Famished Road. This year I just can’t wait to meet people I’ve been in touch with since September. It’s pleasure to see something that began as an idea emerge as reality. I am very excited to meet the Beirut39 authors as well as Lebanese author Hanan al-Shaykh. Hanan, in addition to being the prolific author of Beirut Blues, Only in London and Women of Sand and Myrrh, is the first woman to adapt One Thousand and One Nights. Hanan will speak about her body of work and adaptation to Susan Cole at the Bell Lightbox on June 13.

OBT:

You've written a memoir, Shooting Water, and you're currently working on a novel, Army of Peace. What effect does curating Luminato's Literature and Illuminations Programs have on your own writing?

DS:

It’s actually been a wonderful gift. I love moving between writing and curating. Luminato gets me out of the house and interact with the community. Writing takes me back into the quiet creative. It’s also been helpful to know what’s out there, and I enjoy the constant exposure to the craft in between working on my own book projects.

OBT:

What's an average workday like for you during the festival?

DS:

Right now we’re switching over from programming to production. From September to March it’s all ideas, brainstorming, inviting. Now, while our marketing team is going full steam ahead with the roll out, I’m doing site visits with our producers to sketch out the actual events and make sure everything is in place. We’re an art institution without walls, and I love that. It also means we’re dealing with many, many venues across the city. An average workday might begin with communicating with the houses and authors, and end with a site visit to Glenn Gould Studio.

OBT:

For fun, please answer a classic Open Book question: if you had to choose three books as a "Welcome to Canada" gift, what would those books be?

DS:

In the Skin of a Lion, Lives of Girls and Women and anything by Larry Hill.

OBT:

Thanks for your time!

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