The March Issue 2022 Imagination Festival at the Morrin Centre
To Quebec City, and to live events!
In March, Font is delighted to shine the light on the upcoming Imagination Festival at the Morrin Centre, back onsite for the first time since 2019. Twenty-five Canadian writers in nineteen events from April 5 – 10, with a further twenty off-site. It’s a triumphant return to form for the biggest annual literary event for the English-speaking community in Quebec City, and also a welcome addition in the gradual return of in-person events being seen across the province this Spring. Understandably, there is still some uncertainty out there around live events but here’s to hoping that audiences will return, and will enjoy the unique opportunities for community and serendipitous encounters that multi-day festivals can provide.
We wanted to use this issue to make contact with some new literary enthusiasts in Quebec City and the surrounds. Thanks to Morrin Centre Director Barry McCullough and Université Laval professor Elspeth Tulloch, we recruited five students from the university’s English programs to interview featured authors Billy-Ray Belcourt, Jael Richardson, Philippe Girard, Katherena Vermette and Bertrand Bickersteth. It has been a pleasure to work with these emerging literary talents, and their profiles of the respective authors are insightful and keenly observed.
Font will also be — inadvertently — represented at the Festival! I’ll be chairing the Literary Notes event on Saturday, April 9 at 16h30 with Cicely Belle Blain, Bertrand Bickersteth, Sarah Venart and members of the Orchestre symphonique de Québec, and LLP and Font founder Linda Leith will be talking about her book The Girl from Dream City: A Literary Life on Sunday, April 10 at 16h30.
Perhaps we’ll see you there?
Imagination Writers’ Festival Fires Up for Its Thirteenth Year
In the storied halls of the Morrin Cultural Centre in the heart of Old Quebec, lovers of English-language books will be gathering for the 13th Annual Imagination Writers’ Festival from 5 – 10 April. After the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, which sent the event online, this is the festival’s first in-person iteration in three years. Excitement is running high. Inveterate reader Claudine Gélinas-Faucher enthuses, “It’ll be a great pleasure to reconnect with other people, in a living space, and to rejoice that literature, which kept many of us sane these last two years, is alive and thriving.” Long-time festival attendee and volunteer Lorna Gailis concurs, “Nothing compares to being there.”
Featuring all told twenty-seven Canadian writers of all stripes, with twenty-five in nineteen separate on-site events, including one with first-rate musicians, it promises something for everyone in a unique historical venue. And that’s not counting the authors participating in the twenty off-site events in schools and CEGEPs. At such a scale, the festival has become the tiny English-speaking community’s biggest annual event, one designed to reach out to the many.
The Morrin Centre’s Executive Director, Barry McCullough, explains, “We aim for a diversity of writers, genres, and subject matter.” In so doing, the festival’s organizers foster a sense of inclusiveness. They also appeal to community members’ perennial curiosity, banking on their openness to explore the new and the thought-provoking, while catering to their thirst to find a good read. Common threads in this year’s line-up revolve around identity, marginalization, and resilience, promising stimulating Q & A’s.
Festival-goers will have a plethora of new releases to explore with their author-guides: from literary fiction to genre fiction (humour, mysteries, sci fi), from poetry, memoirs, and cultural criticism to the graphic novel, young adult literature, and picture books. A reader’s delight. The variety of events coupled with the brimming book-sales table form an enticing snapshot of the vitality, inventiveness, and relevance of writing from across the country.
Observes Gélinas-Faucher, who teaches English at CEGEP Champlain-St. Lawrence, “What impresses me every year is that the festival manages to offer a great balance between writers we know and love, and writers we are excited to discover.”
The formula seems to be working. From modest beginnings, festival attendance has grown to over 2,300 strong, becoming one of the premier events on the small to medium-sized festival circuit. Not only do festival-goers love it, but so do the invited authors. Says Joan Thomas, past Governor-General’s Award winner for English fiction and festival alumnus, “It’s a choice festival for writers.” Quebec City author and Université Laval creative writing professor Neil Bissoondath adds, “It’s a great opportunity to reconnect with writing colleagues from across the country.”
The festival’s blossoming should come as no surprise. The idea for it emerged naturally from the almost two-hundred-year-old mandate of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, which manages the splendid historic building (former jail, early college, and nineteenth-century library) in which the festival takes place. Impassioned talks on Canadian literature hosted by the Society can be traced back to the nineteenth century. However, while it has a long history of highlighting literary creation in Canada, “not that long ago, the Society was on the brink of extinction. It’s a profound statement about the resilience and commitment of the English-speaking community that the Society has survived and thrived to be able to host such an event,” testifies Peter Black, long-time member of the Society’s Council, retired current-affairs producer at CBC Radio in Quebec City, and regular festival host.
The festival’s success is doubtless linked to the community’s rich network of cultural devotees, both anglophone and anglophile. These include passionate readers, aspiring and established writers, literary translators, and students and teachers of English, translation, and creative writing. A dynamic organizing committee, drawn from the writing, bookselling, teaching, and radio-production facets of the English-speaking community helps keep the finger of the festival on the community’s pulse.
Guy Dubois, long-time member of the committee and co-owner of the Librairie La Maison Anglaise, the festival’s official bookseller affirms, “It’s in our DNA as an independent bookstore to work to keep culture alive. We’re committed to supporting local authors and promoting Quebec and Canadian authors and publishers.” Familiar with up-coming releases and planned book tours, the bookstore is a key partner in suggesting writers, managing festival book orders and sales. It returns thirty percent of profits to the festival for reinvestment.
The backbone of the festival is the Morrin Centre’s small but devoted staff, which, over a twelve-month preparation cycle, works tirelessly to pull it all together, bolstered by dedicated volunteers. For many fans, like local writer Ron Kenyon, the resulting experience is a “cultural holiday, an awakening, a discovery.” Affirms English teacher, Terri Connolly, “Attending as many of the author events as possible in the festival’s intense few days seems to energize and renew my love for literature every year.” It’s guaranteed to fire your imagination!
For program information, see: https://www.morrin.org/en/2022-imagination-writers-festival/
The Present Isn’t All There Is: In Conversation with Billy-Ray Belcourt
BILLY-RAY BELCOURT is a writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He is an Assistant Professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia. A 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar, he earned his PhD in English at the University of Alberta. He was also a 2016 Rhodes Scholar and holds an M.St. in Women’s Studies from the University of Oxford and Wadham College. In the First Nations Youth category, Belcourt was awarded a 2019 Indspire Award, which is the highest honor the Indigenous community bestows on its own leaders. He is the author of three books: This Wound is a World,(Frontenac House, 2017), NDN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field (House of Anansi Press Inc, 2019) and A History of My Brief Body (Penguin Random House, 2021).
Billy-Ray was in conversation with Luc Murray Mercier.
Billy-Ray Belcourt’s latest book, A History of My Brief Body, is dedicated to “those for whom utopia is a rallying call.” The essays that make up the book draw from Belcourt’s own experience as a queer Indigenous man and from the work of writers and scholars ranging from Ocean Vuong to Judith Butler. From this chorus of voices marshalled by Belcourt emerges a ringing repudiation of a world that inflicts social, political, and bodily violence on the marginalized. The utopian strand that runs throughout Belcourt’s body of work demands that we attend to the glimpses of a not-yet-realized future that already reveal themselves to us in expressions of decolonial, feminist, and queer ways of being.
A History of My Brief Body belongs to the emergent tradition of autotheory—a term used to describe works in which life writing and theory coalesce and mutually sustain each other. “One of the central theses of the project,” Belcourt tells me, “is that the present isn’t all there is. To prove that, I had to make use both of my own life, my own lived experience, and the theoretical models that question the tyranny of the empirical and that value supposition and suspicion and speculation.” The idea that the inclusion of theory makes for a less personal book doesn’t sit right with him. “I think that’s a long-standing misunderstanding of theory. I think theory is incredibly emotional and incredibly personal.”
At various points throughout A History of My Brief Body, Belcourt introduces a quotation with nothing more than the author’s name. There is something profoundly intimate about Belcourt’s way of conjuring another’s words. The quoted passage is woven, as it were, directly into the textual fibre of his own book. “I was thinking,” he says, “of my voice as a collective one, one that is shaped by those I have read as much as it is by my own lived experience. It seems silly to me to suggest, or to allow the suggestion, that what Muñoz, what Butler, what Terese Mailhot—what anyone I cite in the book—is doing is not already in me, so to speak. It’s less about elaborating an individualistic notion of autobiography and more so a social one.”
The breadth of reference and the depth of analysis conveyed in Belcourt’s essays attest to his background in academia. “I wanted to be an academic until I realized that I wanted to be a poet,” he tells me. Belcourt puts to use both poetry and theory in service of a common purpose. “The metaphor that I’ve dreamt up is that theory and poetry are streets in the same city and that at some point they intersect. I think that I’m at one of those intersections. In both theory and poetry there’s an abstract quality, but more specifically there’s a dimension of what Saidiya Hartman calls speculative fabulation: the ways that we envision the future and attempt to live it—to live in the present as if we are already in the future.”
For Belcourt, the aesthetic and the political are indissociable. His commitment to beauty is a commitment to resisting and dismantling that which would stand in the way of it. Belcourt’s poetic practice is therefore part and parcel of a larger revolutionary struggle. “To desire beauty,” he explains, “necessarily means we’re making an ethical judgment on the present, because the present, in a colonial state like Canada is, in many ways, in opposition to beauty—beauty not as one’s physical traits but rather as a mode of living in which shared flourishing is possible.”
Belcourt brings to light the ways in which decolonial struggle can express itself in our intimate lives. Across the essays in A History of My Brief Body spans an extended meditation on care and love. The world-making potentiality of love resides in its ability to have us consent to being changed by others, to being unmade by them. “It occurred to me,” says Belcourt, “that in order to think about sovereignty, we also had to think about non-sovereignty and the ways that we are necessarily beholden to others. One can be undone in a way that does not mean one has been destroyed; one can be undone in order to be made differently.”
Billy-Ray Belcourt will be appearing at Imagination Festival with Eternity Martis for ‘Memoirs’ on Saturday April 9, 2022, 12:30 – 14:00. Tickets now on sale.
A World Designed for the Failure of None: in conversation with Jael Richardson
JAEL RICHARDSON is the author of The Stone Thrower (House of Anansi Press, 2016), a book columnist on CBC’s q and the founder and Executive Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) in Brampton, Ontario. Her debut novel, Gutter Child (Harper Collins, 2021) was shortlisted for the Amazon First Novel Award and is a finalist for the Forest of Reading White Pine Award. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph and lives in Brampton, Ontario.
Jael was interviewed for Font by Roxanne Bédard-Saucier.
What happens when you grow up in a world that’s designed for your failure?
Jael Richardson explores this question in her debut novel Gutter Child. This deeply moving dystopian story explores topics of colonization, history, and racism. The protagonist Elimina, a Black teenager, has to grow up in a world where she constantly feels she does not belong. Indeed, in a world where Black skin is synonymous with inferiority and hardships, one might ask, how can one truly feel at home?
Richardson studied theatre at university and minored in English but had never considered herself an author. Later, she completed a master’s degree in critical writing specifically to write about her father. Chuck Ealey is the first Black quarterback to win the Grey Cup; the release of a documentary on him prompted Richardson to write her father’s life from the family’s perspective. She felt that she had no choice but to base her first book, The Stone Thrower, on his story.
Around the time of writing, Richardson realized “all the things that aren’t in history books aren’t being told and aren’t being talked about.” Deeming this to be harmful to the people excluded from the mainstream history and to our development as a country, she set out to write another version of her father’s life. Richardson also explored the topic of what is written in and what is left out of history in Gutter Child, in which a newspaper article distorts facts to justify cruelty and violence towards oppressed people.
As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has discussed her TED Talk, there is a danger in believing in one single story. A single story is often the one written by the people in power without representation of those on the margin. What is written in historical records is not always faithful to reality. Richardson explores these diversities in Gutter Child, with five characters navigating a world steeped in injustices that reminds us of our own. If readers had to take away one message about the book, Richardson would like them to understand that in life, as in the book, we have a complex system and “… no single answer is going to work for everybody.” We all have our single story fitting into a world full of them.
Richardson is the founder of Ontario’s Festival of Literary Diversity. She felt that marginalized voices were barely heard in other literary festivals across Canada and, even when these authors were invited, they were asked often only to talk only about identity, race, and politics. Richardson’s festival, which began in 2014, invites writers to talk also about writing and the creative process. Creating a space where diversity is embraced, the festival also energizes Richardson to continue writing.
While her first book was driven by need, her second was driven by want. In Gutter Child, the dystopia genre allowed Richardson to explore racism in a more generalized way. She told me that the distancing effect of fiction allowed her to play around with these concepts while remaining open to all marginalized communities, including Indigenous peoples and Black communities, around the globe.
It also allows readers to put their own perspective and background in the story, to fill in the blanks. While in non-fiction, Richardson felt that she would need to explore colonization and racism for each country and community, the broad and unifying aspect of fiction offers another way to explore these topics. Gutter Child is not just a story written by Richardson but a story written by all of our voices.
Navigating this world of diversity is a life-long battle. Because everyone is different, as Richardson wrote in Gutter Child, “when it comes to beauty, don’t go looking for your reflection in someone else’s mirror.”
Jael Richardson will be appearing at Imagination Festival on Friday April 8, 19:00 – 20:00. Tickets now on sale.
Philippe Girard: The Art of Letting Go
PHILIPPE GIRARD was born in Québec City, Canada, in 1971. He published his first comic in a children’s magazine when he was eight years old and has since published more than twenty books. His comics have received the Joe Shuster, the Bedelys Quebec, and the Bedeis Causa Awards. In 2021, his comic book biography Leonard Cohen: On A Wire was published by Drawn & Quarterly. He lives in Quebec, Canada.
Philippe was in conversation with Mary Thaler. This interview was conducted in French, and then translated.
An author needs to be able to loosen their grip on their work.
This wasn’t something writer and comic book artist Philippe Girard started off knowing. As a small child, it seemed more like the stories and images had a grip on him than the other way around. His parents knew to scour his room for writing implements before bedtime. One morning, his mother woke to a faint scratching sound. Going into his room, she discovered they’d left a crayon there by accident. Philippe was drawing human figures on the walls, closet, and furniture.
“When I say that images inhabited me, that’s what I mean,” Girard says. “What’s changed is that I can [now] grapple with the image inside me. I’m able to discard the idea of the moment and seek what the story needs—to put the right image in the right panel.”
This ability was tested when Girard created his comic-form biography Leonard Cohen: On A Wire. The singer’s words, “I’ve lived thousand lives,” proved ominous, as Girard tackled a daunting pile of research.
Girard traces his own fascination with Cohen to childhood trips to Montreal. “There used to be an idea that there’s one centre of the world, New York for example, but that isn’t true. I love Montreal because, while it isn’t a wealthy city, it accomplishes fantastic things, like the Olympics. It’s a centre of the world because it wills itself so.”
One day, walking along the sidewalk, his cousin said, “We just passed Leonard Cohen.”
“What was he disguised as?” asked Philippe, who imagined celebrities wearing false moustaches and trenchcoats.
“Well—as himself,” his cousin replied.
It would be decades before Girard had a chance to see Cohen again, when he performed in Quebec City. Cohen looked out at the crowd and said, “If I’d known you loved me this much, I would have come here before.”
To Girard, these words resonated with hidden meaning; eventually, they led him to create his book, an act of love for the singer who was unable to feel sufficiently loved in his own lifetime. But a darker force overshadowed the story.
“All his life, Cohen cracked jokes about death,” Girard says. “But what happens when the moment comes and the jokes are over?”
The book starts at the end of Cohen’s life, when he fell, alone in his house, unable to get up. “To me, Cohen was the superstar of ordinary life, so in a moment like that, it’s his humanity that comes out. I see him lying alone on the floor, knowing he had one minute left to live. He remembers his life, the good and the bad.”
This framing allowed Girard to cut through the details and find his story. He sketched a Star of David with Cohen’s death at the centre; each point represented one decade, one song, one relationship.
“One of the most important things about Cohen was his resilience, the way he constantly reinvented himself. Writer, poet, singer, star. People would say he was finished, but he got up, brushed the dust off, and kept going.”
Girard is familiar with the battle of identities. “When I’m writing the script for a book, I feel nothing could be more important than the words—and then when I put my drawing hat on, I think no, drawing is everything.”
The artist may even resent his past writer-self.
“The only ego there’s space for is the book’s. The story is out there, and if I’m lucky, I become the conduit through which it writes itself. But during the drawing process, which is very lengthy, I become aware of points where I wasn’t listening, where the story wants to force me onto another path.”
Some scripts get abandoned after months of work. “It’s a hard thing to learn, but there are stories you have to tell so you can move on to other things. When I was little, I imagined a writer with an idea racing home to write for three days without eating or sleeping. He collapses. When he wakes, he sees his wife reading his book, and she’s weeping because it’s so beautiful. Of course, real writing isn’t romantic. There’s lots of silence, hard work, doubt. And you reach the end, only for people to say, huh, I don’t get it!”
Recently, Girard has been devouring international authors. “I want to be transported out of my own place and culture, but I’m always staggered by these universal human emotions. The saying goes, if you want to tell a universal story, tell me what goes on in your kitchen.”
It’s incredible to contemplate that translations of his own books may be evoking similar cross-cultural experiences. “Your book is like a child who’s moved out of the house. They’ve escaped your control.”
It’s something Girard can embrace, the power in letting go.
Philippe Girard will be appearing in an off-Festival event at the Morrin Centre later in 2022.
In the soft cold winter of a country 4000 km away from my own…finding inspiration with Katherena Vermette
KATHERENA VERMETTE (she/her/hers) is a Red River Métis (Michif) writer from Treaty 1 territory, the heart of the Métis Nation. She has worked in poetry, novels, children’s literature, and film. Vermette received the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry for her first book, North End Love Songs (The Muses’ Company, 2013). The Break (House of Anansi, 2016) won several awards including the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, and was a bestseller in Canada. Her National Film Board documentary, this river won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Short. She holds a Master of Fine Arts from the University of British Columbia. Her second novel, The Strangers (Hamish Hamilton, 2021) won the Atwood Gibson Writers Trust Fiction Prize and was named Chapters Indigo’s Book of the Year 2021. It was also longlisted for the Giller Prize.
Katherena was in conversation with Abel Martinez.
AM: For aspiring writers and content creators, taking the first step seems like a terrifying leap of faith into the uncertain. I have felt discouraged time and time again from pursuing a writing career primarily due to the struggles that permeate such a profession. Coming from the arid hot city of Juárez, my words seemed to grow minuscule in comparison to the towering maquiladoras.
When I first arrived in Canada on a snowy Christmas Eve, I didn’t know that I would have the chance to discover an author that resonated so close to my writing journey. Surrounded by the soft cold snow that had eluded me all my life, I had the chance to read the works of Katherena Vermette and speak to her over a Zoom call. During our conversation, I felt the aspiring writer within me rise up again.
AM: Is it never too soon to write? Or would you say that there’s a time to write a specific story?
KV: You know, my book of poetry that took me ten years to really finish included stories from when I was a kid. So, in my early thirties, I was writing about twenty years in the past. My perspective of my childhood as an adult was very different from what it would’ve been even ten years ago. So, it’s just a different story. I don’t think stories go away. When they are meant to be, they stay with you. I think that whenever you get the time to sit down and write, that’s the right time. Whether it’s ten years later, whether it’s fifty years later, whether it’s two minutes later, it’s just a different story.
AM: The first story that I ever wanted to write came out of a heartbreak from when I was a teen. Perhaps it would’ve been a more emotional and less complete story back in the day. I feel that I can tell a deeper story now I can see the bigger picture.
KV: A lot of us have really hard stories that we want to write and share. And those are really hard on ourselves. They are hard on our own bodies, our own spirits, and we have to take care of ourselves. Whatever that means. Whether it means getting it out really fast or waiting on it. We have to make sure that we are okay.
AM: Already I was feeling a newfound confidence budding in my heart, as I understood that publishing is not a matter of writing a bestseller at the earliest age. Haven’t all of us been deterred from doing something based on the feeling that we are too old to do so?
AM: During your presentation “My Writing Life” you mentioned that it took you ten years to find a publisher. In retrospect, when did you find out you wanted to publish? What was your experience as a writer?
KV: I knew I wanted to publish from when I was a very little person, but I was very very shy. I was a very very quiet kid. For me, as much as I loved writing, I couldn’t put myself out there. I didn’t read publicly until I was twenty-six. It took me that long to get up the courage. But when I finally did get started, I went back to school to study creative writing and literature. I started submitting poetry to magazines and building up my résumé. My first book of poetry was published when I was thirty-five, so it took nine years of a lot of hard work and a lot of rejection. It was very much an uphill battle not only because of who I was, but also what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about marginalized persons, I wanted to talk about the inner-city experience. Not everybody considered that poetic at the time. Journeys are very long to get to publish.
AM: As Katherena’s words reached me through our Zoom call, it felt encouraging to know that even if publishing is a great endeavour, genuine hard work and patience can pave the way towards accomplishing our childhood dreams.
KV: There’s a saying in publishing that every writer has at least one book in them. The other part of it is that most of us only have a book and should just stop at one book, but whatever. Until you write it, and until you get it out, it stays with you.
AM: In the soft cold winter of a country four thousand km away from my own, I had found a warm invitation to keep writing on. For those aspiring writers and content creators, I hope Katherena’s words resonate with you as much as they did with me.
Katherena Vermette will be appearing at Imagination Festival on Thursday, April 7, 2022, 19:00 – 20:00. Tickets now on sale.
Bertrand Bickersteth: On History, Activism, and Writing
BERTRAND BICKERSTETH is a poet, playwright, essayist and educator who was born in Sierra Leone and raised in Alberta. His collection of poetry, The Response of Weeds (NeWest Press, 2020), was a finalist for multiple awards and won the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, the Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry, and the High Plains Book Award for first book. His writing has appeared in many places including Geist, The Malahat Review, The Walrus, The Sprawl, and the CBC project Black on the Prairies. His 2015 TEDx talk is called The Weight of Words. He lives in Calgary, teaches at Olds College, and writes about Black identity on the Prairies.
Bertrand was in conversation with Carrie Lynn Evans.
Bickersteth is an avid activist for teaching Black history in Canada.
He explains, “Including Black history is important at all levels of Canadian education. For one, it’s valuable to learn about the history we rarely encounter, about Black cowboys like John Ware, the homesteaders who came up at the beginning of the twentieth century, and Black fur traders. We also need to have regional examples, so that students learn about the historical Black people from their area. Secondly, it’s vital we teach about the form of History, with a capital H. While learning the information is important, we must teach how History operates, how it can exclude, how it actively shapes our present. If we understand that History is a process of selection, rather than a collection of facts from the past, then we’ll understand that History shaped what we learn about history. The present legitimizes the story, even as the story legitimizes the present, so everyone needs to hear Black history.
He continues, “People like me recognize instinctively that they are not included in the ‘authoritative’ or ‘legitimate’ version of History. Yet, we contributed to the production of what we think of as the nation today, and it’s important Canadians see that. People often say they need to see themselves represented in their world, but I want to emphasize what we’re not seeing. When I was young, I came to understand myself as an absence because ‘I’ was nowhere to be seen, there was no representation … That absence of identity had repercussions for all kinds of things in my life.”
Bickersteth returned to Alberta after being abroad in the US and the UK. He says this gave him a new perspective on Alberta and was key to his development as a writer.
“The discourses that surrounded Blackness never included intellectual work, writing, or anything like that, so it took me many years before I could even consider writing as an option for me. For me to do so, I had to leave Alberta. I then lived in some progressive places where people saw things very differently. This allowed me to recognize that all those feelings I had growing up—when I was being told I was the perpetrator even though I was the victim, for example—it was not me at all, all that was my environment, and that was a hugely valuable realization for me. It legitimized the confusion I felt growing up about how I was treated. When I returned to Alberta, however, I realized that having my progressive, ‘liberal self’ acknowledged as a legitimate identity had been a privilege, and one I could no longer retreat into. I could no longer distance myself aesthetically; I had to engage. That’s when I started writing poetry, essays, and visiting classes to insert Black history. I realized, I have to be active with this; I can’t be distant or separate.
“For me, writing and activism are inseparable, especially for the African diaspora. Many of the movements throughout the history of Black literature are a form of protest. Think of the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, or ‘Négritude’: these artists and poets were always also activists. These things go together because of that history that always excluded us. Because Black intellect has never been welcome in the arena of literature, thought, and history, simply writing and being recognized as a writer is itself a political statement. It is activism because I am inserting myself in that canon. I think that’s why, so often throughout the African diaspora, writing, literature, and the arts are connected to activism. Writing, for us, is activism.”
When asked about the reception of his book, Bickersteth lights up, describing the thrilling sensation he got from knowing that the ideas he had, when he was young and alone, have gone out into the world and made an impact. “It is the most anyone could ever hope or wish for who is a writer,” he says, “I only hope that it happens to other people as well, who would maybe read my collection and say, ‘yeah, I would like to do that’—I can only hope that something similar would happen to them.”
Bertrand Bickersteth will be appearing at Imagination Festival on Saturday, April 10, 16h30 – 18h, in the ‘Literary Notes’ event with Cicely Belle Blain, Sarah Venart and the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec (OSQ). Tickets now on sale.