October 02, 2011

Thank you!

THIN AIR 2011 was a huge success, and plans are already underway for our festival in 2012.

Keep following our blog, and be sure to check the website often, as we will keep updating throughout the year!

September 28, 2011

Printed Words Alive

    Being at the Winnipeg International Writers Festival last week was a life changing experience.

    It felt like home; walking amongst peers, mentors and idols. It was inspirational on so many levels. It  was an internal domino effect of events starting with  being asked to blog while knowing nothing about THIN AIR. The magnitude of the audience was daunting but I was ready for the adventure. The events themselves inspired me so organically. I wrote posts about the message each author was trying to get across.

    Through that task, doors opened in my mind. Doors to new career possibilities and hobbies and personal goals, an excitement that feels like it a beginning. A new beginning to an old passion, to write and document and share my perspective and experiences through creative mediums. 

    I ask myself in times of self doubt, what’s so special about my experiences and thoughts? Why would anyone want to read about them? What do I have to say that hasn’t been said before? Isn’t being a writer kind of self-important?
    I turned the tables and tried to think of a time when I’ve read something and thought, wow, that person’s self-important, and I couldn’t really. When I’m reading a carefully crafted piece, fact or fiction I’m always only thinking of how thankful I am that this person wrote and shared it with the me, directly or as public domain.

    I’ve learned though this festival and the exposure to different methods of writing that it’s not so much what you have to say but how you say it. What could be an old idea to you, could be brand new to someone else, and often is. For no one thinks exactly as you do or describes things in identical ways. Your boring old idea could be shared in a new way ,with new language and new insight to someone who shares your perception. Better yet, it could be completely fresh idea to someone that serendipitously came across their path.

    The most profound part of the THIN AIR experience for me was observing the crowd. There were people from all ages and walks of life. They were participating in the Q & A with the authors, browsing the books on the McNally table and chatting with their neighbours.

    As a stay at home mom, somewhat disconnected to the public, I was so refreshed to see that there is still a passion in the world for printed word. Most of my reading, admittedly, is from my blackberry, laptop or ipod touch. It’s mostly blogs or shared links to articles to random things or book reviews on parenting strategies. Naturally, when my heart starts to write it’s flows into self-published blogs because a) it’s fast and easy and b) thoughts of publishing a printed and bound book seem like a pipe dream.

    I was inspired by interviews with authors like Jennifer Still, who shared stories of their beginnings. While Kim Anderson told her audience that her book was a scholarly piece that was 10 years in the making and that at times she didn’t know why she was doing this and if it even mattered. It was all so motivating; it felt so familiar.

    Upon attending these events and seeing the enthusiastic audience it showed me why it does matter. As humans we all seek knowledge. Knowledge not only in nature and space discovery but also about personal discovery, the individual experience that is either comforting in familiarity or intriguing in it’s difference from your life.

    Not everyone has this ability to convey their thoughts in comprehensive way, words flow more easily for some than others, and if you have this gift it’s your duty to use it.

    It can be overwhelming to walk into a book store or library and see the masses of books that there just isn’t enough time to read in a lifetime. How could anything I write make any difference in this ocean of pages and words? I am then reminded of one of my favourite quotes by Mother Theresa “We cannot do great things in our lives, only small things with great love.”

    You don’t have to be a best seller, or even get published at all. Small acts, for the love writing, add up and snowball and before you know it you’ve impressed your mother or are being interviewed by fans while sharing your work on stage. All your worries, doubts and re-writes make sense, the pieces come full circle. You’ve done your part to preserve your moment in time in written word and someone’s life somewhere in space and time will be changed by your words.

    As I and the hundreds of people who participated in THIN AIR, in whatever level of significance, have changed forever.

-Leah Edmonds, Guest Blogger

September 25, 2011

A Pint of Bitter Murder

Question #1: So… you write murder mysteries?
Answer #1: No, I blog about various things.

Question #2: …but you like murder mysteries right?
Answer #2: I’m not sure, I’ve never read one.

He got up and chose another seat some row away from me. I giggled thinking to myself… what in the world am I doing here. Sitting in the back row of Park Theatre on with my notebook and pen in hand, staring down at my “BLOGGER” name-tag hanging from my shirt.

The lights were dim as I sat amongst 60 or more people, eagerly awaiting the show to begin. I'm painfully aware that I am the least knowledgeable person on murder mysteries in the room.
As I wait, I think back to years ago, when I was an English major at The University of Manitoba, and was attending my first Thin Air Festival. I clearly remember attending with my Creative Writing classmates, who were also skeptical about giving up a Friday night to go to a “book reading”.
Now here I am years later, and hooked on the festival and all it has to offer – including “A Pint of Bitter Murder”. A staple in the programming, but one show that I’d never encountered before.

A struggle with the microphone ensues, as is often does when a show is about to begin. The audience is silent and still waiting for the first of the two readers to start. I’ve worked myself up a bit about the ‘murder’ aspect, prior to attending. I’m waiting for someone to cue the eerie music, like the theme to Rod Sterling’s Night Gallery, but the theatre remains silent. 

Alison Preston: The Girl in the Wall
Alison Preston is called up first. She flips to the beginning of her new book entitled, The Girl in the Wall. It seems silly, but to my surprise, the story has begun like … a story.
“George had heard of adults who wished they were dead, but not from children who hadn’t reached their sixth birthday.”
I sit listening,  intrigued by the character Morvin, a young girl who was “born dead”, as the first line of the story states. Morvin is described as a bit off as she grows up, always staring at people awkwardly throughout her childhood without smiling or talking. Her older brother George becomes the main character in the story and Morvin’s eccentricities are described to the reader through his reactions to her.

As Alison reads, the audience doesn’t sit back in their seats, but rather, they lean forward with puzzled looks on their faces. They are curious about the characters. And just as fast as the story has begun, Alison’s time is finished. The audience remains leaned forward in their chairs as if they weren’t ready for the story to stop. There is a quick pause, then applause takes over the venue.
“Well damn it now I need to know what happens,” whispers one lady to another in the row in front of me. 

David Annadale: The Valedictorians 
Next up is David Annadale presenting his book The Valedictorians.
David chooses to read a piece from halfway through his book. He sets the scene at a trendy nightclub in the Hamptons. His style is so easy to follow and to picture as you listen.

Now here is the part I was waiting for. He describes a murder that his main character Blaylock commits. Here is what I'd been telling myself all week to brace myself for- the gruesome and scary murder. But to my surprise (and relief)... I’m laughing. This is a murder mystery with a witty and unexpected humorous tone to it. 

As David reads the audience is right there along with him, following his character as she his held up by gangsters and forced out of her Corolla. But instead of shaking, crying and pleading for mercy, she gets out of her midsized sedan and asks where they want her to go. She points to the house from where the gangsters had emerged and marches past them and towards it egging them on. 

David’s definition of characters is phenomenal and original. The unexpected nature of their actions left the audience laughing and intrigued by the main characters dismissal of common female stereotypes. And just as David describes her leaping from the darkness of the house and stabbing another gangster in the ear – he is finished reading.

Both David and Alison are called back up for a writer Q & A period. The audience poses questions about writer timelines, character discoveries and developments and the impulse to resolve difficulty in plot lines.  I look down at my watch and realize that over an hour has flown by.

A Well Spent Saturday Afternoon
Murder mysteries are not what I expected – they are much more. No longer do I think of those choose your own ending mini-book mysteries I used to hate. “If he walks through the door, go back to page 18. If he sits down on the chair, continue to page 87.” 

Finally I have two books to sit down with, to break into a new genre. That’s the most difficult I think, especially if you have an interest but are not sure where to jump in.
My best advice for Murder Mystery, or for any genre, is to attend Thin Air again in 2012 and challenge yourself to a new genre. Break down barriers and broaden your reading horizons, because there are always gems like Alison and David at your fingertips waiting to be found.

- Miss Stacia Franz

Troupe du Jour

afterwords: 9/24/2011

Explore it. Create it. 
Nervous. Elated.
Stage fright. At night.
Push through. Just right.
Wordsmiths. Word-gifts.
Confess the Songstress.
Strings glow. Brass shines.
Notes flow. Jazz fine.
Fine time. Fine mood.
THIN AIR. Concludes.

THIN AIR's final After Words' celebration ended the 2011 Winnipeg International Writers Festival with verse, song, and a healthy dose of cool. Chairs were ripped from their row upon row designation to form collective groups near the stage to where more than a dozen readers would perform verse, prose, and song.

For ninety minutes, the second-floor space at Aqua Books was dedicated to open mic poetry and jazz. THIN AIR Director, Charlene Diehl, kicked off the first verse with her creation, Banana, dedicated to THIN AIR publicist, Amanda Hope. Miss Hope followed with, Roma, a poetic tale written from her travels in Europe. Both pieces vivid, fun, and echoing the ebb and flow of bass extraordinaire, Steve Kirby, and young guitar master, Kristopher Ulrich, who navigated his strings with talent that defied his years. Before long, jazz trumpet master, Derrick Gardner, was pulled from the audience to create a trio. The three musicians accompanied each open mic performer with uncanny precision. Hard to believe as they had never heard these verses before.

A hush swept the room as a young woman took the stage and sang about her salvation, praising God for the strength he had given her to leave behind a past life in the sex trade and drug addiction. Head gently tilted back, eyes closed, her voice soared above the struggle and to the redemption she had found.

Katherena Vermette, and Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, members of the Aboriginal Writers' Collective, read poems from, xxx ndn: love and lust in ndn country, a book of aboriginal erotica poetry. Their talent and verse burst off the page as each spoke to memories of sexual indifference and the poor choices made in the voyage to realize passion and love.

Chandra Mayor took the stage to read, "window poetry," verses that come to her during the course of her workday while at Aqua Books – Mayor tapes them to the storefront window for passers-by to read. Steven Ross Smith, Director of Literary Arts at The Banff Centre, recited, No Poems, a comical look at the lack of poetry in the newspaper. Professional poets in their own right, but each person who stepped under the lights and up to the mic did poetry proud.

There were murmurs and calls for the poetry to continue, but the night was ending and a new day was about to begin. Shortly before midnight, the crowd of 40 or so rose to exchange good-byes and help straighten up the room. THIN AIR 2011 had come to an end, but the spirit of the week will live in each audience member's heart and mind until September 2012.

We'll see you then.

Posted by Greg Berg, Guest Blogger

Manitoba Reads

Last night I had the immense privilege to be in the audience for the last Mainstage event at THIN AIR, The Winnipeg International Writers Festival. This event was based on Canada Reads, and was called Manitoba Reads.

At this event, four panelists debated on behalf of their chosen book. They had read all four finalists and chose the book that spoke to them best.

Alison Gillmor, a local entertainment writer, selected Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas.

Vincent Ho, the Composer-in-Residence at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra chose The Life of Helen Betty Osborne by David Alexander Robertson.

Paul Jordan, the Chief Operating Officer at The Forks chose Bandit by Wayne Tefs.

Niigonwedom James Sinclair, who is a Writer and Professor at the University of Manitoba chose Where Nests the Water Hen by Gabrielle Roy. Roy was the only author who was not still living, so when it came time to play a recording from each author, someone else introduced her book.

The debate was very light, charming and completely engaging. All four panelists were excellent speakers, and each was passionate about the book they were defending. Keran Sanders, who was the host of the show, joked about the debate erupting into violence and tears, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It was clear that they all respected the four works they’d read, and that they respected each other.

There were three rounds to the debate. Following each round, all four panelists would vote on a book to remove from the running. The first round saw Reading by Lightning removed from contention. The male panelists had difficulty connecting with it, so, despite Gillmor’s passionate defense of the book, it was the first to go.

Round Two

The next round saw a debate about which book was most Manitoban. The panelists passionately discussed their books and what makes them Manitoban. The Life of Helen Betty Osborne and Where Nests the Water Hen were books that looked at Manitoba issues and what it means to be a Manitoba resident, so those authors had quite an easy time. Jordan, who was backing Bandit, had quite a difficult time. Bandit is about the “flying bandit”, Ken Leishman so it’s hardly a novel that encapsulates Manitoba. Jordan had fun with his answer, though, and he had the audience in hysterics. It appears he knew that he was next on the chopping block, as Bandit was next to go.

The Final Round

The final round was a battle for first place between The Life of Helen Betty Osborne and Where Nests the Water Hen. All four panelists chimed in and gave their opinions on both books. When it came time to vote, everyone but Ho choose to remove The Life of Helen Betty Osborne. This means that Where Nests the Water Hen has won the first Manitoba Reads prize.

One of the joys of listening to fellow readers speak about literature is that I got to discover four new books. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of them yet, but I definitely will be. In my mind, all four books are winners, because they’ve received the honour of being nominated and the attention that has followed. After the debate, many audience members, including myself went up to purchase copies of the books.

Manitoba is full of gifted writers with beautiful stories to tell about our province. Discovering four new books about my home province was truly a privilege.

-Jennifer Hanson

September 24, 2011

Looking Back: Friday Night at the Mainstage

 The theme this evening is “Looking Out, Looking In”, and THIN AIR festival-goers are keen to find out what this means. Seats are all full except for the centre row at the front. Six writers will read tonight, presenting their works as “an awareness of the frames” through which we view our lives. The texts will explore movements in perspective: changes in location, attitude, and culture.

Clark Blaise is the first reader. His newest publication is The Meagre Tarmac, a collection of short stories about Indian immigrants. “A Connie Dacuna Book,” the first story in the anthology, centers around a Portuguese family after the Indian army retakes areas formerly Portuguese colonies. The main character is a book editor for a very flashy author, described as wearing “haute-dyke battle gear…she looked and sounded like a piece of hard candy wrapped in cellophane.” It only gets stranger – and funnier – from there, and is at the same time completely believable.

Next to read is Waubgeshig Rice, a member of the Bear Clan from Ontario. His short story collection, Midnight Sweatlodge, parallels his own long journey to understand being an Anishinaabe. Through the book, and Rice’s emotional reading, we glimpse the young Aboriginal experience – “why our spirits are broken”, Rice says. The one overarching message in these stories is a hopeful one, though: it talks about the connection of the Anishinaabe to the land. “The seeds were in the ground, it just needed to rain.”

Guy Vanderhaeghe comes third, reading a self-described “bawdy” excerpt from A Good Man, his latest novel. Three characters form the principal group in this novel, the hard-hitting Mr. Chase, his layabout companion Joe McMullen, and the naïve young Northwest Policeman Peregrin Hathaway. Our excerpt has McMullen telling tall tales to Chase. Hasn’t McMullen already related the story of Lurleen and Fancy Charles? “No, but you will. I see it comin’ at me like a runaway carriage,” says Chase. Well, McMullen is ready. “I hope I die if this ain’t the unvarnished truth,” he proclaims, and then launches into a story about Fancy Charles’ imaginary woman.

The second half of the evening begins with Rosemary Nixon. Her matter-of-fact voice contrasts with the heartbreak in the words of her characters Brodie and Maggie, new parents to a possibly terminally ill child. The scene in which Maggie begs to bathe her newborn daughter – “Kalila finds herself in water. Her expression is surprise” – is so subtly described that it remains in the mind, especially when we learn that Kalila means “beloved.”

David Homel changes the tone with his reading from Midway. Two dinosaurs, a T-rex and a Stegosaurus, are used by the father of their owner in a bit of role-playing. “I was hoping for more sympathy from you,” says the Stegosaurus to his friend. Both dinosaurs, the audience learns, have been drinking, but not social drinking because the rest of their society is extinct. When Ben, the only human in the room, breaks down crying, the dinos come to his rescue. “We’re toys, right? We speak for people,” they insist, telling Ben that he should use them in play with Laura, his wife, with whom he has hit a rough patch. Ben is unsure about role-playing, but the dinos are convinced. “Role playing?” scoff the dinosaurs. “That’s just plain playing.”

Miriam Toews is the last to read. Her young character Irma Voth, from the book of the same name, has been left by her Mexican husband after her family shuns her for marrying him. “We’re sorted like buttons and we’re expected to stay where we’re put,” says Voth in explanation of this extreme reaction. This man, Jorge, with whom she’d dreamed of running a lighthouse even though she hadn’t ever seen the ocean, has left her high and dry. “There’s no lighthouse on my horizon,” Voth says softly at the end of the reading – but it’s Miriam Toews, so we know the story doesn’t end there.

Prizes are drawn, and the packed house clears out to Aqua Books, where Steve Kirby and guitar prodigy Chris Ulrich lay down some smooth jazz as a backdrop to the sound and fury of Steven Ross Smith’s performance poetry. At the finale, Kirby and Ulrich are playing with all their might as Smith tosses signed copies of previous poetry collections into the crowd. It’s a rowdy, fantastic evening – and I can only imagine that the Manitoba Reads/Birthday Bash on Saturday will be even more exciting.

A Good Man From My Hometown

Guy Vanderhaeghe moved away from our hometown the year before I was born. Unfortunately for me, I did not discover Guy's writing until my early 30's. Over four decades later, I met him in person last night.

The first novel that I read of Guy's was, The Last Crossing. This work is a trademark of what he does so well: weaving the history of the Canadian west into compelling and engaging fiction. It had been a long time since a book had energized my imagination, and Guy's writing reminded me of the fantastic story-telling that I had been missing for so long.

I soon picked up, The Englishman's Boy, and I was delighted several years later when the Creative Writing class I was enrolled in would study the novel as part of Red River College's Creative Communications program. The Englishman's Boy was equally as enjoyable as my first introduction to Guy's work, but I wanted more works from this eminent author.

That time has arrived.

Guy visited Winnipeg as part of THIN AIR, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. If the reading he gave from A Good Man last night is any indication, Guy's new novel is another brilliant example of character development and excellent visual storytelling.

I bought A Good Man during last night's THIN AIR festivities and walked across the stage to ask Guy to sign my copy. I shook his hand and introduced myself.

"We share the distinction of coming from the same hometown," I said.
"Oh, really? What's your last name?" Guy answered.
"Berg," I replied, "B-E-R-G." I sometimes do this as my surname comes out sounding like, "bird."
"Hmm, I don't know that one," Guy replied, "But I left town in 1968. It's changed since then."

I was nervous as hell to talk to this man whose writing I admired so much. I was tongue-tied a couple of times, but we talked for a minute or so before I realized the line of people behind me patiently waiting to talk to Guy as well. I was caught off-guard when he asked how I would like my copy of his book dedicated. I hadn't thought that far ahead. He wrote, "To Greg. Best wishes, Guy Vanderhaeghe."

I told Guy that his writing had re-sparked my interest in reading many years ago – an interest I thought I had lost. Guy, in polite form, thanked me for the compliment. I said that I was very excited to read his latest work, and I shook his hand again and returned to my seat. I opened his book and began to read. A Good Man immediately sucked me in and I read several passages until the intermission ended.

As I write this, Guy is on a plane to Toronto in support of, A Good Man. Guy, it was an honour to meet you. Best of luck on your tour and I'm positive your latest novel is headed for great success.

Posted by Greg Berg, Guest Blogger

Saturday at THIN AIR…

Today is the last day of THIN AIR 2011 – where has the time gone?!

If you’re a writer who wants to know how to improve your work, make sure you take our Writing Craft seminar from 10:00 a.m. – noon at Millennium Library. Writer and poet Steven Ross Smith will guide us through the various ways writers can enrich their work, from taking seminars, to participating in workshops and visiting retreats and conferences.

If you want to get a little scared in the afternoon, visit Park Theatre for A Pint of Bitter Murder with Alison Preston and David Annandale (3:00 – 4:30 p.m.).

Our final Mainstage presentation at Manitoba Theatre for Young People will feature the first-ever Manitoba Reads debate. Four ardent readers will defend the title they have chosen, and at the end, one book will emerge as the winner.

To make things even more exciting, two of the authors featured at THIN AIR 2011 – Wayne Tefs and David Alexander Robertson – have made the final four!

Celebrate our wildly wordy week – and our fifteenth year of great words – at the After Words Jazz Club at Aqua Books. Master jazzers, Steve Kirby & Kristopher Ulrich, join forces with this community’s poets to create an absolutely unique Birthday Party. Bring a poem!

For all the details, visit thinairwinnipeg.ca. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @WPGTHINAIR, because we’ll be live-tweeting from most events!

September 23, 2011

The Music in Language

When the presenter, (last night at the MTYC main stage event,  Listening Across Languages) spoke about the music of language I recalled singing along to Gaelic folk music as a child despite the ability to speak or understand the language. The flow of sounds were what mattered most and those sounds were elegant and  peaceful.

Poetry, spoken word
Song with no external instruments,
Save the box containing our voices.
Language is an ethnic instrument,
native to specific lands and regions.
Travel brings new sounds to beat in our eardrums.

Poetry uses the most alluring words of the language it’s written in.
Highlighting the finest that the author’s brogue has to offer.
Piecing the elegance of words beyond palaver,
 into a work of art holding the essence of the wordsmith.

Christine De Luca, came to us from the Shetland Islands. This collection of small islands are found so far North of Scotland they look to exist on their own somewhere in the North Sea on your way to Norway.

De Luca’s language, despite her married Italian last name, is that of Shetland and it felt hauntingly familiar to me. My mother and her parents were immigrants to Canada over 60 years ago. Content in some of De Luca’s poetry spoke of this journey as a hard one that often left the traveller back on home soil.

Shetlandic, to me, seemed part dialect of the English language and part heavy accent of the Scottish tongue, that which my mother and grandparents have trained my ear to understand. It was a beautiful night to hear her poems in both English and Shetlandic, for her accent made it so homey and comfortable for me.

Her voice was calm and smooth yet crisp, her words were carefully crafted.  Her language made me long for the culture of my ancestors part. Her words gave us a glimpse into the life of her people, a simplistic way of the coast people which De Luca described as ‘a hard life but a good one.’

Isn’t that the best recipe for an artist to muse over.

Christine De Luca  She has published five collections of poetry, most recently North End Eden (Luath Press), and in 2007, won the poetry Prix de Livre Insulatire for the bilingual Mondes parallèles. Her first novel, And then Forever (Luath Press), appears this fall; Winnipeg has a cameo appearance in the narrative. De Luca has attended festivals in Norway, Finland, France, Italy and India as well as all over Scotland. Now living in Edinburgh, she is involved in the city's poetry scene and actively promotes art and literature projects in Orkney and Shetland.
-Leah Edmonds, Guest Blogger

Friday at THIN AIR…

The last weekday of the festival will feature a line-up of writers you absolutely do not want to miss. Who knows when they’ll be back again, so now is your chance to visit events, listen to readings, and introduce yourself!

Our last Nooner (Millennium Library, 12:15 – 12:45 p.m.) will feature award-winning author Guy Vanderhaeghe, who will share his recently published novel, A Good Man.

Vanderhaeghe’s performance will be followed by the last Afternoon Book Chat (McNally Robinson, 2:30 – 3:30 p.m.) where Miriam Toews and Rosemary Nixon will explore the power that women can produce when faced with dire circumstances.

At our final Big Ideas session (Millennium Library, 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.), sports historian Richard Brignall will share some of the fascinating stories he’s gathered in Forgotten Heroes: Winnipeg’s Hockey Heritage. Even if you’re a hickey [WONDERFUL mis-type!] fan (and who isn’t in Winnipeg right now?), our lively history will surprise you.

The Friday night Mainstage showcases some real heavy-hitters: Clark Blaise, Waubgeshig Rice, Rosemary Nixon, David Homel, Miriam Toews and Guy Vanderhaeghe. Brace yourself—it’s going to be an incredible night. We’ll close off the evening with the draw for three THIN AIR raffle prizes, each valued at $300. Your last chance to get your tickets is tonight’s intermission.

After the Mainstage, swing by Aqua Books for the After Words Jazz Club (10:30 – 11:30 p.m.). Steven Ross Smith, a master poet and performer, teams up with bassist Steve Kirby and guitarist Kristopher Ulrich to create a never-to-be-repeated performance experience. Settle back with a glass of wine, and soak up the magic.

For all the details, visit thinairwinnipeg.ca. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @WPGTHINAIR, because we’ll be live-tweeting from most events!

September 22, 2011

Morning tea with Jennifer Still

As the publicist for THIN AIR, one of the perks of the job is the ability to spend time with each writer participating in the festival. When I finished Girlwood – the second book of poetry published by Winnipeg writer Jennifer Still – I immediately wanted to meet her and ask her about her beautiful writing. I emailed her, we started to correspond, and a few weeks later we were sitting inside The Frenchway Café on Corydon Avenue enjoying tea and each other’s company.

The first question I needed to have answered was when and how Still became a writer. It’s a question I ask every writer I meet, and not an easy one to answer.

“When I really think about when I started writing, I realize I’ve written all my life,” Still explained. “I’ve always had the impulse to document my experiences, my feelings, and my perceptions.”

But even though Still has written her entire life, she didn’t truly feel she was a writer until she took a risk and began sharing her material with other people.

“I gave my poems to someone else to read, and that’s a totally different experience,” she said. “So I feel that I became a writer in the serious sense when I started to risk.”

Poetry is a truly beautiful form of literary expression, one that affects every person in a unique way. It is always interesting to ask a writer how he or she began writing poetry, and I wanted to know what made Still choose this particular medium.

“It’s not a conscious choice – to be a poet – but I’ve always been drawn to the musicality of language,” Still explained. “As a young girl, I wasn’t raised in a religious family. We were meant to find what we believed in and poetry has a spiritual quality to me – that deep sense of meaning.”

Still loves reading short stories – and has written in prose throughout her career – but she finds that poetry is the medium to which she always returns.

“I find everything opens up for me when I go back to verse,” she explained. “I feel there is so much potential, and it’s so wild!”

A gorgeous shot of Jennifer Still..

Girlwood, which was published by Brick Books in 2011, is Still’s newest collection, yet she began working on it ten years ago.

“I started – in some ways – writing this book before my first books was published,” she said. “I think this is the book I was wanting to write when my first book came out, but I didn’t have the skills yet to know how to say it this way.”

Still explained that she is constantly writing, and she carries a pocket book and pen in her purse at all times.

“There are poems everywhere, and the key is finding them and getting them down on paper,” she explained. “It’s important always to be listening and taking in the world. It’s a beautiful thing to always be curious about the world, and I love that the most about writing.”

When asked what advice she would give to someone trying to become a poet, Still’s advice was simple.

“Read a lot of poetry that you love,” she said. “Everyone always says ‘read further afield.’ I think you should start reading with what you connect with and what you would like to write. Read anything that fires you up and makes you want to write.”

Last night, I watched Still perform from Girlwood on the THIN AIR 2011 Mainstage at Manitoba Theatre for Young People. She wore a beautiful gold dress, and captivated the audience with her carefully crafted words. I felt a personal attachment to the performance, because I had already read her collection and had an opportunity to discuss it with her before the presentation.

I can’t wait to read Still’s next collection – which she has already begun working on – and I hope that we have a chance to sit down for tea again soon.

Jennifer Still is the author of two books of poetry, Saltations (Thistledown, 2005), and Girlwood (Brick, 2011). After an interlude in Saskatoon, she has returned to Winnipeg, where she grew up on Girdwood Crescent.

- Amanda Hope (THIN AIR publicist!)

Wednesday's Big Ideas: Grammar Matters... or does it?

Are u one of those people who just cant stand when one of you’re ackwaintances has poor grammer or spelling? For some people, its like nail’s on a chalkboard. Haha.

I’m one of them, absolutely. Do I feel smarter than those who can’t seem to get it together when it comes to the ‘proper’ way to write? Sometimes. Do I judge them as perhaps less intelligent or at least less educated? Probably.

Linguistics professor Jila Ghomeshi’s book Grammar Matters: The Social Significance of How We Use Language has an innovative take on this grammar hierarchy we seem to be living in. At Wednesday’s Big Ideas lecture, she brought up some fascinating points about how the frameworks of grammar and language define our identities and our prejudices.

Her message: There is no such thing as good and bad grammar, but simply different ways of using the language that mirror socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, age groups, etc. Grammar snobs who like to complain about how others butcher the language are displaying prejudice masked as intellectualism. Because when it comes down to it, she says arguments about how ‘proper’ grammar promotes clarity and logic in writing and speaking don’t hold water when looking at the reality of how language is used in different groups.

As brought up by some fairly distraught audience members, (this topic strikes a surprisingly emotional chord with many) the tricky thing here is finding the line between grammatical diversity, and plain-and-simple unclear writing. Perhaps many of us are too biased to make that distinction. As someone who has done editing work, this idea is huge.

So if grammar doesn’t matter, what does? Surely we can’t just lose all standards when it comes to teaching people how to communicate. Ghomeshi agrees—she says the key to effective communication through language is not about adhering to a rigid grammar paradigm. Instead, it’s about the writer’s ability to take the reader’s perspective. Basically, it's about writing (or speaking) for your audience-- a skill any good communicator needs to have.

If the audience will respond to what is traditionally considered ‘good’ grammar and formal academic language (I was about to say 'high level language' but then backspaced... there's my bias peeking through!), then that’s the way to go. But if you’re writing for an audience that can’t relate to a very formal style, sticking to it out of principal only marginalizes them and shows an inability to truly understand the fluid nature of language.

As snobby as I can be about language, I actually do see myself engaging in the linguistic flexibility Ghomeshi's talking about. When chatting with friends on the Internet or on text message, I often find myself dropping apostrophes, abbreviating words, and abandoning capital letters. This might be something a non-digital generation would not understand, and some might say it degrades the language as a whole-- but that's not true. The quality of communication is not damaged and is in fact made more efficient, in that particular context.

I’m always up for gaining more clarity on the reasons I perceive the world a certain way, and this very cute and slim book (which I picked up after the lecture) certainly gives me a lot to think about. Am I ready to fully abandon my grip on what I perceive to be the ‘right’ way to write? Perhaps not yet, but maybe by the end of the book, I will be.

-     --  Sandy Klowak

Thursday at THIN AIR…

Today is all about languages – English, French, Spanish, Low German and Shetlandic…

At The Nooner (Millennium Library, 12:15 – 12:45 p.m.), Scottish author Christine De Luca will read from her debut novel, And then forever. She’s travelled all the way from Scotland to be a part of THIN AIR 2011. Catch her at noon, and again this evening on the Mainstage.

The Afternoon Book Chat (McNally Robinson, 2:30 – 3:30 p.m.) will feature Di Brandt and David Homel, writers who discuss life and how to get the most from it.

During our Big Ideas session (Millennium Library, 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.), Myrl Coulter will discuss the heartbreak associated with giving her first child up for adoption. Though not specifically about languages, her memoir – The House with the Broken Two – is beautifully written, thoughtfully crafted, and an eye-opener about the difficulties of adoption.

In around the edges, campus readings by Glen Downie (Red River, 11:00 – noon) and Clark Blaise (UW, 4:00 – 5:15 pm), and in the Foyer des écrivains stream, a discussion about translation with local writer-translator Charles Leblanc and Haitian-Canadian novelist Dany Laferrière.

At the end of a full day of events, our Mainstage presentation will be filled with the rich sounds of all the different languages we’ve gathered together. Christine De Luca reads poems in English and Shetlandic. Di Brandt’s poems ring out in English, French, Low German, and Spanish. Francophone powerhouse Dany Laferrière teams up with his English translator David Homel.

For all the details, visit thinairwinnipeg.ca. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @WPGTHINAIR, because we’ll be live-tweeting from most events!

Wednesday Night Poetry Bash

When I arrived at MTYP at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday night to attend the Poetry Bash, I immediately took notice of the dress code for the evening. I felt like I was in Wolseley (my old neighbourhood). People were dressed in their best hippie garments, and even a few quirky hats (which I think was the perfect attire for an evening of poetry reading).

What surprised me most about the writers was the total and complete difference between each style, performance and voice. I remember the THIN AIR festival two years ago when I heard George Elliott Clarke read from his book, George and Rue. I was taken by the pure performance artist that GEC is.

On Wednesday night I was waiting for another moment like it... and I got it, from Sandra Ridley. When she got up on stage, her body language spoke louder than anything. She was open and willing to share her art with the audience. Her style, she told the audience, was to read through a bunch of her poems and not stop for a break except to quickly tell us the title of the new poem.

If Ridley was nervous, I didn't know it. She paused for effect, she was breathy, yet totally clear. Her words were crisp and her tone went from a higher pitch to a lower breath in one sentence. Certain syllables were extra pronounced like the importance hung heavy on those last few letters of a particular word. I met Sandra after, and told her if she ever records her poetry to email me so I can download it and listen to it on a nice long fall walk.

The other poets were great too. Glen Downie, Gabe Foreman, Jacob McArthur Mooney and Jennifer Still read their poetry from the bottom of their hearts, and I listened intently to the stories of their lives. There were over 100 people in attendance, and the stage was modernly furnished with EQ3 furniture.

I had a blast and loved being surrounded by people who truly believed in their art form. I will definitely be in attendance for next year's Poetry Bash.

-Jasmine Tara

September 21, 2011

Panning for Broken Glass: Wednesday's Afternoon Book Chat on Poetry Writing

“This is an hour to be in conversation with these two writers, and find out, How on earth do you make beautiful collections of poetry?”

Gabe Foreman of Montreal, and Sandra Ridley of Ottawa, are here to help us find out.

Foreman’s anthology, entitled An Encyclopedia of Different Types of People, doesn’t disappoint in the hilarity department, beginning with the title. Foreman named the poems after various types of people, and tried to make the book more like a typical encyclopedia by including pictures. Foreman randomly selects a poem by which to introduce the audience to his opus: “Perverts,” he announces to gales of laughter, and then reads a poem that is ordinary and at the same time sharply observant.

Ridley’s book also exists on an edge. Called Post-Apothecary, it explores illness and healing, isolation and reintegration. Ridley describes how the book grew from her fascination with the body’s experience of various types of fevers. The first poem she reads is “Rest Cure,” in which a patient of a sanatorium is supposed to be relaxing, but in which the exhausting treatment leaves “nothing left hidden in her body.”

The first question for our poets is, Where did you find the collection’s structure, and how do you fit the poems into that structure?

Ridley answers first, saying that she became fascinated by isolated communities of vibrant people with a devastating disease. Traditional herbal medicines and their names – belladonna, nightshade – also fascinated her, but what, she wondered, were the side effects of taking such medicines? She did her research, falling in love with not only the medical language but the places where it was used. She toured Fort San, a sanatorium in Saskatchewan, on the sly, and a former groundskeeper gave her a private tour of another old hospital near North Battleford. “Once you have your word-hoard,” Ridley says, “one thing leads to another and it just goes and goes and goes.”

Foreman thought that the encyclopedia format would bring his poems together, and then he realized he was fond of the idea and began to include diagrams (some drawn by himself) and cross-references. “Working Stiffs – see Zombies.” “Blind Dates – see Optimists.” “Navel-gazers – see Woolgatherers.” He was once cornered by a reader who wanted to know: “What are all the different types? Which type am I? Which type are you?” Foreman is adamant that this is not the purpose of the book: he wants his book to poke fun at the idea that you can type or stereotype a person, and the poems’ titles aren’t always indicative of what you will find. Looking for “Little Bundles of Joy”? See “Ankle-Biters”, but not before a pitchfork and a run-over pet have made appearances.

“It’s not like a field guide,” Foreman says.

Both poets struggle to explain how they wrote their poems. Ridley’s terms evoke almost a magical process, distilling an essence of thought and feeling into word-pictures to make them accessible to others – for her, poetry writing seems to be like alchemy, where her knowledge of medicine and the written word guide her through unfamiliar substances of thought and experience. Foreman talks about finding sounds that he likes, and find/replacing words in his poems to create a more pleasing overall sound – for him, poetry writing is an exercise in both musical composition and found poetry (taking a piece already written and removing/substituting/adding to the piece according to a set of predetermined rules).

The act of creating is different for every artist, across all media, and when the floor is opened for questions, specific questions are asked rather than simply, “How?” Both poets answer questions about working chronologically; about the difficulties of deciding which poems go in what order for an anthology; about choosing (or creating) illustrations; about inventing new forms of poetry to communicate one’s ideas; and about when their identities as writers began and who encouraged them.

To the last question, Foreman replies that a high school Writer’s Craft course got him started on poetry; Ridley explains that an Environmental Studies course in university gave her a new perspective on writing and brought out her own creative side. Foreman is encouraged by a close group of peer editors to which he belongs; Ridley finds encouragement in a peer circle of her own.

As audience members join the poets for one-on-one chats, it seems clear that THIN AIR is yet another circle of peers, strengthening readers and writers. What will tonight bring?

Tuesday Mainstage: finding ourselves in unlikely places

It's both exhilarating and terrifying--the vast spectrum of interpretation any piece of literature (and most expressions of art) can elicit in its audience.

As I grow as a writer and reader, I’m learning to focus less on ‘what it’s supposed to mean,’ and more on experiencing the emotional reactions evoked by wonderful writing.

When it’s a theme as profound and potentially broad as that of Tuesday’s Thin Air Mainstage show (an exploration of ‘who we are’ based on where we come from and where we are headed), these experiences are not hard to find.

There was Manitoba short story writer Sheila McClarty’s heart-wrenching description of an elephant handler leading his animal to her death, and Lebanon-born writer Dimitri Nasrallah’s raw and haunting account of an amnesiac rejoicing at [what may be] his first child’s birth, while dealing with the stillborn death of her unexpected twin brother.

Then there was WD Valgardson’s tale of the trolls whose presence brings hardship to an already struggling Icelandic community and one woman’s difficult choice to escape to faraway New Iceland, Manitoba’s own Interlake region.

There were poems by Ron Charach illustrating childhood memories of a blonde, green-eyed Jewish boy searching for his identity, and excerpts from a musical by Marty Chan about a father leaving his son behind to search out prosperity for his family in an unknown land.

These stories span continents, genres, decades and a breadth of human emotion, yet they can all speak to how identity is delicately entwined with our past, present and future. Some thoughts inspired by last night’s reading, no doubt not an exhaustive list of what 'we are':

We are what we remember, whether real or imagined.

We are the things we haven’t done, our fears, regrets. We are what we’ve lost.

We are the suffering and heart-wrenching choices of our ancestors. We are the stories and superstitions our communities were built upon. We are the people and places we’ve left behind, and the expectations we have of the places we're going.

We are our parents and our children. We are the pieces of ourselves we send out into the world. We are the people we have touched and who have touched us.

We are reflections of ourselves glimpsed on unlikely surfaces.

-- Sandy Klowak

Wednesday at THIN AIR…

Our day of poetry kicks off today with a line-up of poets you don’t want to miss…

At The Nooner (Millennium Library, 12:15 – 12:45 p.m.), poet Glen Downie shares the sharp wit of his most recent poetry collection, Local News.

At the Afternoon Books Chat (McNally Robinson, 2:30 – 3:30 p.m.), Gabe Foreman and Sandra Ridley team up to discuss the humour, the wisdom and the fun that can be found in poetry.

Finally, our evening Mainstage presentation – aptly-titled Poetry Bash! – will feature poets from both Winnipeg and around the country.

Across the bridge at the CCFM, La plume et le pinceau teams up poets and visual artists – en français – in a rowdy evening of improv art-making.

Winnipeg loves its poets. If you’re part of that club yet, this is definitely the day to try new things!

For additional festival details, visit thinairwinnipeg.ca. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @WPGTHINAIR, because we’ll be live-tweeting from most events!

The Sacred Feminine

On Sunday morning my mother took my two children to church. Too young for Sunday school, as a baby and a toddler there were mostly there to look cute and play. Raised in the church myself I love that they’re going to become familiar with the concept and eventually learn the religion of our mainstream culture.

Having left the church as a teen, I’m anxious about them becoming too wrapped up in the details of the Bible instead of harnessing the essence of God and growing spiritually.

I put the anxiety to rest knowing that at home and in life I will organically teach them about the Sacred Feminine that I have since come to feel connected to as my comforting Higher Power. (Plus it’s a few kid free hours, I’m not going to protest.)

While my children were at church with their Granny, I was sitting in the forest at Assiniboine Park with Kim Anderson’s book and my ThinAir note pad I was inspired to write, as I connected to the earth, the best place where I find the Sacred Feminine.

This is my church.
Cool breeze, grey skies.
Autumn leaves bed the floor of the river bank
Shafts of sunlight through the cloud cover then filter to my seat,
Amongst the dying fauna.
Small leaves rain down and the chill is on my neck
Welcome is the mud on my jeans and shoes,
Evidence of my encounter with Her.
The vibrant browns & greens of the summer’s shadow are perfect in their scattered chaos
I breathe in beauty
The flowing wall paper of the murky river
Moves past the thin trees
An optical feast for eyes accustomed to digital screens
The quiet soaking through my ears, who deserve the rest from the endless noise and demands.
Drawing this energy in  I already feel rejuvenated.
Mother Nature brings new life to the goddess within
Empowered I am ready for the week ahead.
Squirrels and chickadees sing praises for me
For my voice is flowing through ink in a pen.
This is my church.

I love the community Kim Anderson describes in her book Life Stages and Native Women Memory, Teachings and Story Medicine. The reverence to women as part of the Sacred Feminine, living off the land, connecting to nature, using plants and story to heal and teach and protect. Everyone in this culture has a purpose. Most fascinating to me was the philosophy of each person having a specific role based on their age and gender which I am so eager to read, in hopes that I can find pieces to apply to myself and my children as we age together.

Yesterday at the Millennium Library this scholar and author tells us of scared traditions surrounding milestones in a woman’s life and I hope that such rituals return to our young women someday. She told us of the way the family would seclude their daughters for their first moon time and subsequent menstruations, and explained how it was for the good of the community. I laughed a little inside, thinking of a friend who earlier that day that had confessed she was extra mean today and that PMS was indeed to blame, but that wasn’t the reason for isolation that Kim was talking about.

The young girls were left in solitude not out of shameful, unclean or mood swinging reasons, as we would assume. It was so the women and the community could harness the power that this event manifested. The power could be used for creating quilts or beading and sometimes used to heal, but productivity and shared benefit were the intention. I smiled again, thinking of how this friend directed her power through anger and used it in a beneficial way when directed at the right target.

Kim’s book asks in the forward, Who dreams of being an old woman? I do. I look forward to age and the wisdom it brings. I dream of having women and children of all ages to impart my wisdom too, to use stories of my life and the experiences of  my mother and her mother, my aunt, cousins and daughter to draw this wisdom from.

After her reading and Q & A, I asked Kim to sign my copy of her book and she signed it with thanks for my participation in sharing stories of the Sacred Feminine. I am so proud to have been a part of this event and the new path it's inspired in my life. Thank you Kim for your role in this.

-Leah Edmonds, Guest Blogger

September 20, 2011

Tuesday at THIN AIR…

So you couldn’t make it to a THIN AIR event yesterday? No worries! There is a spectacular line-up of writers every day this week, and Tuesday is no exception!

Be sure to head over to Red River College’s Exchange District Campus to see Lynn Coady work her magic in front of students, staff and anyone else who stops by (11:00 a.m. – noon). Or, later this afternoon, visit Margaret Macpherson at the University of Manitoba’s St. John’s College where she reads from her new novel, Body Trade (5:30 – 6:30 p.m.).

The Carol Shields Auditorium at the Millennium Library welcomes Winnipeg-born poet Ron Charach at The Nooner (12:15 – 12:45).

At the Afternoon Books Chat (McNally Robinson, 2:30 – 3:30 p.m.), playwright Marty Chan and novelist Dimitri Nasrallah will team up to talk about the opportunities and frustrations a new country offers.

Later this afternoon, Big Ideas features Kim Anderson sharing her research into the cultural contributions of aboriginal women (Millennium Library, 4:30 – 5:30).

If you can hear in French, meet Simone Chaput and Lise Gaboury-Diallo, our featured guests at this year’s Soirée Francophile (Alliance Française, 19 h).

And finally, don’t miss the evening Mainstage presentation where tonight’s five writers – Charach, Chan, and Nisrallah, along with Sheila McClarty and WD Valgardson – consider the roots that shape who we are.

For all the details, visit thinairwinnipeg.ca. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @WPGTHINAIR, because we’ll be live-tweeting from most events!

September 19, 2011

Looking for Trouble? Now you've found it...

I don’t often go looking for trouble – I’m so clumsy, I wouldn’t need to look far. Simply crossing the street on my way to school ended in a broken leg not long ago. But tonight, trouble’s exactly what I’m looking for – it’s the first Mainstage talk at Thin Air, and I’m excited.

Now, let me draw your attention to the empty stool at the far end of the stage at Manitoba Theatre for Young People’s Cargill Hall. This stool represents a brave woman who is not here tonight, and is not, in fact, free to be anywhere tonight. Nasrin Sotoudeh, human rights lawyer, journalist, and Iranian citizen, has been in prison for one year of her 11-year sentence. For speaking out, for interviewing people about things her government would rather keep silent, she has been jailed. This stool is for her – and the petition, just outside the doors, is for her freedom.

The Empty Chair for Nasrin Soutoudeh - and the seating from EQ3.

There are a lot of signatures on that petition: the Hall is nearly full. Only the seats in the very back  are vacant. The evening is being filmed for a podcast, so that anyone who couldn’t attend in person can still catch some of the magic. Charlene Diehl takes the stage to welcome us and share some family wisdom about Trouble, the title and theme of the evening. Her mother’s grandmother counselled relatives with the line “Don’t borrow trouble,” which I think meant that everyone had their own troubles and there was no reason to take on other folks’ into the bargain. Diehl’s paternal grandfather was slightly more of an optimist, reminding her at age 11 that “The things you worry about the most are the least likely to happen.”

So what is trouble, anyway? What is being broken? What is being fixed? Diehl gives us these questions to guide us, and then the evening’s guests set us loose on the path to trouble.

Wayne Tefs is introduced as a writer of ‘docu-fiction’, the blending of real events with a writer’s own embellishment. Bandit, Tefs’ book about salesman Ken Leishman, is an ode to a ‘Troublesome Hero.’ Tefs knows where to have his audience, his quiet leathery voice saying “Ken’s trouble was, he was too pretty. Some of you may’ve had that problem – I never did, so I had to use my writer’s imagination.” He has just stepped out of a western, in his checked shirt, vest, jeans, and that soothing weathered voice. “Don’t shake the reins of a running horse, as the man says,” is one of the character's sayings, and I think that shaking those reins certainly sounds like trouble! But Tefs’ hero has enough trouble already: he's good-looking, charismatic and ambitious – qualities that attract jealousy, causing the other crabs to pull you back into the bucket.

Margaret Macpherson reads next. She hails from Edmonton but grew up in Yellowknife, where she heard the harrowing story of a stranded bush pilot, and the hard choices he made to survive, at a very young age. The story stayed with her and eventually inspired Body Trade, her newest book and the tale of two young women and the difficult choices they make to survive what was meant to be a vacation. Despite the grim plot, the two women have compelling personalities as we hear the story from first one, then another point of view. “Tanya’s obsessed with showering,” complains the more laid-back Rosie. Tanya has complaints of her own about her friend’s naiveté: “She’s like a friggin’ sheep in a lion den or whatever the hell.” Tanya is a bit more of a partier than her quiet friend, and the more she imbibes, the funnier her thoughts.

When Robert J. Sawyer takes the stand, he begins with a joke. The difference between a professional, full-time writer and a large pepperoni pizza? The pizza can feed a family of four. The joke gets some “aww” noises from the crowd, but it’s clear to all of us that Sawyer, with many awards under his belt, could probably best several pizzas in that department. He’s to be admired as much for the ideas in his books as for the prose in them. For example, the excerpt from his newest book, Wonder, introduces a sentient computer mind’s thoughts on faith. “It takes humans time to digest things – literally and figuratively,” observes Webmind. “I was curious what a human might have to say to his god. Prayer was a channel I could not monitor.” “Knowing was not the same as understanding.” What would a sentient computer mind use as a signature to its emails? “Having a good conversation is like having riches.” – Kenyan Proverb.

Break and conversation time!

After the end of Act 1, Sawyer seems only too happy to be confronted with a worn copy of Illegal Alien, a previous novel, for signing. “Don’t get caught!” he writes inside the jacket, cheerfully affirming that he will sign any and all of his works that I may have stowed within my bag. Two books later, I turn grinning to talk to Wayne Tefs, who explains his use of his own father’s voice to capture the voice of Leishman’s generation, getting tiny mannerisms so correctly that I could hear Leishman in my head, though I’d never met the man or read the book. And though Margaret Macpherson is seeing this edition of Body Trade for only the second time – the first time was only a week ago! – she says she’s at home with the characters, having spent four years with them! I sneak a fabulous piece of chocolate cake with mocha icing, a very fitting birthday cake for Thin Air’s 15th.

Act 2 begins with Lynn Coady – yes, the brilliant columnist. She’s reading from her book The Antagonist, and in a fitting twist the title refers to her protagonist Gordon Rankin, commonly known as ‘Rank.’ Rank wants to run from his past, only to find that a former college classmate has published a book exposing said past. Angry and wounded, Rank sends a series of emails to the friend, Adam, and the emails form Coady’s book. In them, Rank appears to be desperate for redemption, trying to set the record straight with Adam, but what he’s really searching for is god, or God. From the witty excerpt read by Coady, who nails Rank’s voice perfectly, we learn that Rank may indeed find Who he’s looking for, but probably not what he expected at all.

Elizabeth Hay introduces her mother before introducing her book. At age 91, and suffering from Alzheimer’s, she nonetheless remembers quite clearly her high school principal, and these remembrances took root to form the principal in Hay’s new novel, Alone in the Classroom. The book begins at a slow, comforting pace, with a young schoolteacher’s wry appreciation for a French textbook edited by “Ferguson and McKellar, those two great Frenchmen,” and surprise at an older colleague who “scratched her scalp with a pencil so often that there were scribbles.” But things take a chilling turn when Principal Burns, nicknamed Parley for his grasp of French, takes particular notice of a young student and keeps her back, alone, after school…Here, we’re left hanging over the cliff as Hay thanks us and returns to her place on one of the sofas.

Long after the event has been officially concluded, people are still lingering, chatting over wine, cheese, and alphabet-shaped pretzels. “Having a conversation is like having riches” is the spirit of Thin AIR, and I can’t wait for more.

n  Danielle Conolly

Women need Women

Women need women. I don’t know if it’s the shared complex experiences we encounter in a lifetime or the innate desire to talk about them but we need each other.

As a kid and a youth, I always related more with boys. They were easy going, less dramatic and you always knew where you stood with them. Girls historically have hurt me much deeper with their fair weather friendships and backstabbing gossip, it scarred so much more than rejected love ever did. Perhaps it was the competition of being a girl that made it so hard. Being poorer, worse dressed and taller than most of my peers I felt perhaps, that I couldn’t compete.

That changed when I met a woman my age, in grade ten, who was raised by a woman who was raised by a woman. I don’t mean that in a single parent way, but in a strong female role model way. She was genuine, non-catty, wise and graceful. Competitively I could not compete with her either, not in looks or smarts or athletic ability but somehow we found common ground. She wasn’t like the other girl friends I’ve had because she was a young woman.

I later on just after high school, in my ‘light bulb’ years, realized that this competition of beauty and wealth was a scam, patriarchal society keeping us women apart. A great ploy set out by religion and politics to keep us women in our places, segregating us from each other by training us to size each other up, come up with a hierarchy and treat one another accordingly as either lesser or greater than. Upon that realization I set out to fight the system, I will find equals, real women and make my own tribe. Megan Francis, recently reminded me of the importance of this in her book The Happiest Mom. She dedicated a whole chapter in her 10 step program to making other woman friends as part of becoming a balanced woman. Not just one or two woman friends but a LOT of them on varying levels of friendship, one to serve each need and for you to serve them in return.

Reading books like Anita Diamont’s Red Tent and Ami McKay’s The Birth House, while pregnant with my first child I developed a passion for natural childbirth, midwife care and the history of women as a separate tribe from the men. Women supporting women the way only women who’ve traveled the road of motherhood before are able, either directly or from empathetic distance.

Men have their own tribe of hunters, gatherers and tackling tasks of physical strength and it’s a beautiful thing when members from each tribe unite but there are things about being a woman that no one else can understand.

There is comfort in shared experience. When in crisis management training I was told that to feel normal is often the solution to any personal crisis. To know that someone else has been through or is going through what you’re experiencing helps a person feel like part of this earth when they feel most lost.

In this age of technology and women in mixed roles, these tribe-like relationships with other women outside of our immediate family is not as common. Still you find it hidden in plain sight on Facebook groups and counter culture networks of parents who seek out from their isolation and find the comfort of others in their situation or similar.

Women need women for this reason. The journey from childhood into adolescence, young adulthood, maturity and old age is an epic hormonal roller coaster for a female and the best way to survive it is to bind together with a network of women and find your tribe.

When asked to blog for Kim Anderson’s event tomorrow evening at the Millennium Library for the ThinAir Festival I was beyond motivated. Her book, Life Stages and Native Women: Memory Teachings and Story Medicine, sounded by even the smallest of description, like something I would be greatly interested in. Upon reading only the acknowledgments and the forward of the advanced reading copy, which I was honoured to have, I was already so inspired to write my perspective from a urban culture still clinging to ancient ways.

I can’t wait to meet Kim tomorrow, hear her speak and continue reading her thesis.

- Leah Edmonds, guest blogger

The Nooner with Wayne Tefs

I raced up the stairs towards the Carol Shield’s Auditorium at the Millennium Library to attend The Nooner with Wayne Tefs. His book, Bandit, fictionally chronicled the life of Ken Leishmann, also known as the Flying Bandit, who was a bank robber of sorts in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

A man in his early-30s sat at the back of the room, his arms relaxed and draped across the backs of the chairs beside him. Another sat at the front, a decorative pillow cushioned his back. There was a rather tall man with grey hair, whose face I couldn’t see, even though he asked several questions of the author. I believe he wore glasses.

There were few women amongst the crowd, maybe eight at best. There was a striking woman in head to toe black who strolled across one side of the auditorium in heels. A woman in a lime-green blazer with silver-hair told Tefs how her husband was a bus-boy at a “chicken and ribs” restaurant once frequented by Leishmann. The auditorium suddenly filled with laughter.

The Nooner is an opportunity for all Winnipeggers, and Manitobans, to sit, relax and listen. To be read to. Who doesn’t like to be read to? Remember when we were children, how we looked forward to story time in school? Think of THIN AIR’s The Nooner like a grown-up’s story time.

But these aren’t your kid’s nursery rhymes. 

--Tammy W. Karatchuk

Monday at THIN AIR…

It’s our first full-day of the festival and we hope that you’ll join us! Every weekday during festival week is jam-packed with a number of different events to choose from.

The Nooner (Millennium Library, 12:15 – 12:45 p.m.) is a quick and free literary hit that can be enjoyed over the lunch hour.

The Afternoon Books Chats (McNally Robinson, 2:30 – 3:30 p.m.) offer some stimulating company for your mid-afternoon coffee break zone. And yes… also free.

The Big Ideas series (Millennium Library, 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.) gives you something to chew on before you head home for dinner. And, you guessed it… free, free, free!

Each weekday also includes both rural and campus tours, and ends with a Mainstage presentation featuring a collection of the day’s presenters.

So who do you want to see today?
Manitoba Reads finalist Wayne Tefs presents his latest novel, Bandit, at The Nooner and teams up with Elizabeth Hay for the Afternoon Book Chat. Wayne and Elizabeth are joined by Lynn Coady, Margaret Macpherson and Robert J Sawyer on the first evening Mainstage show at MTYP.

You might also want to check in with Winnipeg writer, Dave Kattenburg. He’ll kick off the Big Ideas sessions with a discussion about Foxy Lady, the true story of how several free-spirited adventurers – including one Canadian – fell victim to the Khmer Rouge in 1978.

Dave Kattenburg - go see him!

For all the details, visit thinairwinnipeg.ca. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @WPGTHINAIR, because we’ll be live-tweeting from most events!

September 18, 2011

Opening Night under Open Sky

Thin Air turns 15 in the fall chill. Oodena Circle’s great acoustics ring with birthday applause as festival director Charlene Diehl thanks employees, founders, and volunteers. A young boy in a yellow & green football jersey clambers among the circle’s standing stones while the evening crowd fills the staircase/bleachers, settling onto blankets and folding chairs. (I sat on my Thin Air tote bag – alas for the blanket still sitting in my car!) Two young girls are enjoying ice cream cones despite the wind, as a couple in shorts strolls by. Am I the only person here at The Forks tonight who feels cold?

A board member brings greetings from the mayor, a short speech. Did he write it himself, in honour of a festival for writers? Is Mr. Katz a writer, too? Clare McKay speaks next, giving the history of Oodena. Archaeological records indicate that Oodena was a meeting place, and the ground for Inn at the Forks was a treaty site for five tribes, as far back as 6,000 years. The voices from Oodena tonight will mingle with those from the past.

The board chairwoman is up next, telling a beautiful story about the importance of being read to, or reading aloud to someone. In the story, a father promises his daughter that he will read aloud to her for 10 minutes every day, for the next 100 days. When they reach 100 days, father and daughter agree to continue for another 1000. What happened when they reached that milestone? They kept going, without setting another limit. This story calls to mind my father and I, who read every book in the Little House on the Prairie series aloud together when I was in elementary school. Apparently my voice is soothing (or boring?) because as I grew up, he requested that I read those books to him if he was sick or unable to fall asleep.

First of five authors is David Alexander Robertson, renowned for his graphic novels: a stand-alone biography of Helen Betty Osborne; and a series about residential schools and their effects, called Seven Generations. He is shivering in just a dress shirt, slacks and tie, as Diehl introduces him and remarks “Education and conversation are the best ways to combat racism and sexism.”

Powerful words, and what follows is even more powerful – a love poem read aloud by Robertson in the style of freestyle rap, embracing Winnipeg and Riding Mountain National Park. This poem resonated so heavily with me because I remember spending summers with my family at the same Thunderbird Bungalows mentioned by Robertson! I wonder if we met as kids…and then I am away, under the spell of Robertson’s voice. “You are a kite in the breeze…and I will tie you to my wrist so you’ll follow me wherever I go.”

Sue Sorensen reads second and I remember her strong voice from my second-year English seminar at UW a few years back. She’s reading an excerpt from her new novel, which “is not called ‘A Large Harmonica,’” she informs the crowd, to much laughter. A Large Harmonium is set in a place that is Winnipeg and yet not Winnipeg, and the scene she reads – about the perils of attempted sign vandalism – is witty, funny, and somehow sad. As she describes it, her book revolves around a husband and wife who are both professors at the same university, and “Little Max, their hellion child.” Sorensen isn’t sure where her book will travel, but is looking forward to interpretations. “We’ll wait until the students of the future take this on,” she says.

Rhéal Cenerini is author number three. His writing has been part of Cercle Molière’s repertoire, and his latest book offering is titled in Mitchif, a truly Canadian language that combines French and Cree. Cenerini is also in touch with his Italian heritage, and the story he weaves for us is about his grandmother, Amabilia. Called “Ode to a Stranger,” the piece reflects the isolation this woman felt as she was transplanted into a harsher climate across two continents and one ocean. It seemed for Amabilia to have been a journey in which her soul never caught up with the distance her body had travelled: alone on farmland, away from neighbours, giving birth to ten children without a doctor’s help, and never learning French nor English – this was Amabilia’s Canada. Nor did the place seem to have accepted her – Cenerini points out to his audience that her tombstone is crumbling into the hill it rests upon, and her name is misspelled on it.

“She writes for kids of all ages,” is Diehl’s introduction of author Anita Daher, and it is fitting. Daher’s voice has a sprightly energy as she enters the mind of a busking mime in her short story “Thinking Inside the Box.” Through first-person narration from our nameless protagonist, we learn that he ran away from home, misunderstood by his well-meaning mother. He befriended a mime who taught him the tricks of the trade, as well as how to ‘open a window, make yourself a sandwich, and leave the way you came.’ Though it doesn’t sound like life has been a bed of roses for our mime, his tone suggests that he has found a way to live life at his rhythm. ‘Inside is in-finite,’ he says, to explain that the mind is a huge huge place for all kinds of imaginings, but society pares that space down as we get older – if we let it.

Darkness has fallen, and George Amabile, the fifth and last but not least reader of the evening, expresses his happiness with the ambience. I blink – is it really dark? I find that not only are the Oodena stairlights shining, but almost no one else has budged from their places. It may be windy, but we are all under the same spell. Amabile’s new book, Dancing with Mirrors, is due to be published within days, so he shares his poetry with us. First is a winter poem, “Zen and the Art of Cross-Country Skiing.” Having cross-country skied as a child, I shivered at the aptness of the line ‘…wind like raw silk through the lungs.’ The rhythm of his poetry is akin to jumping from a huge bank of snow left behind by a grader – and then he shifts to a summer poem about sailing Lake Winnipeg, ‘an open-air school for one.’

I am still lost in that image of summer, still caught in the sun-warmed sails, when the final round of applause signals the end of the evening. Diehl invites the audience to come and speak with the authors, but only a few brave souls have accepted this invite as I take my leave. Come out and talk to the writers! I want to shout, having met a few of them just prior to the opening night ceremony. They love language, and they enjoy sharing ideas.

I look forward to many more days of idea-sharing at Thin Air.

--Danielle Conolly, guest blogger

September 17, 2011

Sunday at THIN AIR…

After a year of reading, planning and attending to a million tiny details, Winnipeg’s 15th writers festival will finally begin tomorrow evening at 7:00 p.m.

The Opening Night performance will take place at Oodena Celebration Circle at The Forks. Oodena has been a gathering place for centuries, and it is the perfect place for festival-goers to come together and celebrate the power of words to create connections and build community.

A talented line-up of local writers will share new work on this special opening evening. It’s your chance to hear George Amabile, Rhéal Cenerini, Anita Daher, David Alexander Robertson and Sue Sorensen, all bringing to life their sense of this place.

For all the details, visit thinairwinnipeg.ca. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @WPGTHINAIR, because we’ll be live-tweeting from most events!