Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois

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Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois

In 2012, the Quebec Cabinet, headed by Premiere Jean Charest, announced a provincial university tuition hike of nearly 75% to be rolled out over six years. The resulting outcry and protests from Quebec students became national news, not only for the strength of the reaction but for the students' organised and focused protest strategies; by April 2012, over half of the student population was involved in protests, strikes and walkouts. Nicknamed the Maple Spring, the protests were some of the largest of their kind, and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois was one of the student leaders at the centre of the storm, as lead spokesperson for CLASSE, the main student organisation attempting to negotiate with the Quebec government.

Gabriel wrote Tenir tête (Lux Éditeur) about his experiences, the confrontations between the students and journalists, police officers and government representatives. Tenir tête won the Governor General's Literary Award for non-fiction. Translated by Lazer Lederhendler, it is now available in English as In Defiance (Between the Lines Books)

Today we speak to Gabriel about In Defiance, and he tells us about how the book came together, his favourite political essay and what is next for one of Quebec's brightest young political activists.

OB:

Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois:

In Defiance was written during the year following the 2012 student strike in Quebec. When the movement ended, I felt the moral duty to contribute to the making of the official history of that very important movement for Quebec. Furthermore, the very negative coverage of the mobilisation by the mainstream media gave me the impression that is was very important to write my own version of the story. With In Defiance, my objective is to share my perspective on the biggest social mobilisation in decades in Canada. Originally written in French for a Quebec audience, the English translation is an occasion for me to share my analysis with English Canada.

OB:

Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?

GND:

Since the very beginning, the objective of In Defiance was to reflect on the signification of that movement for the contemporary history of Quebec. I wanted to understand the historical meaning of that moment. The writing process was, in that sense, a long process of meditation about our collective situation. But I have to admit that I was surprised how much that process provoked a very personal reflection on the ways that movement changed my own life.

OB:

Did the book change significantly from when you first starting working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?

GND:

I took one year to write the book. All of the 2013 year, in fact. The project stayed pretty much the same, except for the fact that some events in the political conjuncture (the election of the Parti Québécois, for example) forced me to readjust some of my thoughts. I had to do the same adjustments when I started working on the English version. That is the particularity of a political essay that pretends to be close to the conjuncture. It forces you to re-evaluate constantly some of you arguments and line of thoughts. But honestly, I think the majority of my diagnosis and statements have been confirmed by time.

OB:

What do you need in order to write — in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?

GND:

A quiet place, that's all... without Internet! I have to admit there is nothing original in my writing process. I need long hours, a quiet environment and no electronic distractions.

OB:

What do you do if you're feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?

GND:

I only wrote two books, so I don't think I have the authority to answer that type of question! The only thing I know, and this advice is probably only good for writing essays, is that when I stop writing completely, it is even more difficult to start again. I have the habit of writing a lot, even if I'm not particularly inspired, and then come back to what I wrote (the day after) and re-organize it completely. Sometimes, I write whole chapters and then erase them completely! I humbly think that the more you work, the more you can achieve a good level of writing.

OB:

What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.

GND:

For me, a good essay is a book that succeeds in merging together theoretical contributions (political or historical analysis, philosophical questions, etc) and narrative or personal elements. A good essay should not be only a personal testimony, nor strictly a theoretical reflection. For me, one of the best in that category is the very famous historical essay The Open Veins of Latin America, by Uruguayan intellectual Eduardo Galeano. This book is a masterpiece in terms of telling a story while sharing a sociological and historical thesis on the past and future of a continent. A good essay should be able to blend poetry and rational thinking together. This book does it better than any other one.

OB:

What are you working on now?

GND:

My master's degree! Seriously, I try to concentrate on finishing my masters, while writing weekly columns in Quebec medias. I have a project of a next book, but I'll keep the theme to myself for the moment. Let's just say that I'll try to make a concrete contribution to the political debate in Quebec!


Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois was the lead spokesperson for CLASSE, one of the more vocal student bodies that participated in the 2012 student strikes that swept Quebec. He is currently working on a Masters in Sociology and is a regular panelist on Radio-Canada.

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