Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

HOSPITALITY SUITE

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I have fond memories of the International Festival of Authors’ hospitality suite. In the days when I was acquainted with it, the suite was at the top of a tower in the Harbour Castle Hilton, now named the Westin Harbour Castle. Once you knew how to get there, it was a wonderful place to freeload, at only minimum risk of being bounced as a gatecrasher.

The unlimited free drinks were a powerful attraction, though not the only one. To the suite would wend the weary authors who had given public readings earlier in the evening. A few of them looked as if they’d been in the suite all day; in fact, the IFOA staff opened it up late as a precautionary measure. I could chat to these famous writers, well away from the crowd of the unwashed who had enthusiastically applauded their readings at the Harbourfront Centre, a short walk away on Queen’s Quay West.

Here was the genial Yevgeny Yevtushenko, accompanied by a grave-looking, young, spectacularly beautiful ash-blonde woman in a soft grey business suit. I repeated to him a joke: Alexander Solzhenitsyn, deported from the Soviet Union, had surrounded his exile’s residence in Vermont with barbed wire to make it seem more like home. Sadly shaking his head, Yevtushenko didn’t think the joke was funny. For some forgotten reason, I informed the British novelist Malcolm Bradbury about kinky bondage techniques I’d heard about, though I hadn’t tried them. Bradbury was friendly. Plainly, you could be a fine writer without being a jerk, as Raymond Carver also proved. No doubt Carver had been difficult to be around during his hard-drinking days, but in person he was gentle and gentlemanly, politely introducing me to his wife as “the poet Tess Gallagher.”

Then there was Susan Sontag. As a college student, I’d read her essay collection Against Interpretation, and had been dumbfounded by her intellectual depth, breadth, and sheer braininess. Fearless, tactless, Eurocentric, she was just about the most serious cultural thinker to be found on American, or on any, soil. When she laid down the law, it stayed law. That evening, she’d read at Harbourfront from her fiction. The fiction had been unlistenable, so was probably unreadable. All the same, she was Susan Sontag.

When I spoke to her, she got right to the point. She wondered why Canada had so little to say for itself in literature, compared to many — and much smaller — countries. I feebly attempted to defend the literary honour of my home and native land, but she brushed away my feeble objections like a stray crumb that had dropped on her pantsuit.

Properly humbled, I turned away. A bottle on the drinks table was looking lonely.

5 comments

Fraser, the lovely author wasn't a fantasy.... I distinctly remember meeting her in the ladies' room. We were both powdering our noses... and I dragged her from the bathroom to a darkened corner of the hospitality suite to meet you.... (but, perhaps, she was another Iranian writer now living in the U.S....) I'm going to look on online to see if I can find the schedules of past Festivals... you've "put a bee in my bonnet"....

Karen, you really must curb your tendency to fantasize. I don't recall any charming of Azar Nafisi, though I certainly wish that had been the case.

Deepti, your excessive devotion to my works was becoming embarrassing so I'm very glad you've switched your allegiance.

Delightful blog, which brings back to me some fun memories. With you and Goran. I remember most vividly how you charmed the softly spoken author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi. I couldn't resist bringing her over to a corner to speak with you. I told her that she had to meet the Canadian poet whose best poem is called On Foreign Women. I think you didn't disappoint.

Clearly the effect was so strong that I failed in spelling "AFTER" correctly in my previous comment.... LOL

Ater reading this I have become a die-hard FAN of Susan Sontag ;)....!!!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Fraser Sutherland

At last count, Fraser Sutherland has published fifteen books: one of them short fiction, four nonfiction and ten poetry, His most recent poetry collection is The Philosophy of As If. A freelance editor, he may be the only Canadian poet who is also a lexicographer. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, he lives in Toronto.

Go to Fraser Sutherland’s Author Page