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International Festival of Authors - Parry Sound - The Women

Harbourfront International Festival of Authors – hits the road to Parry Sound.

Mark Sunday 1 November on your calendar - it is a date to remember. The Harbourfront International Festival of Authors is coming to town.

Four internationally recognized authors will read from their work on the stage of the Charles W. Stockey Centre. There are two men - John Brady and Alan Bissett, and two women – Miriam Toews and Diana Fitzgerald Bryden. This week I will cover the women, next week the men.

The most well known to most of us is Miriam Toews – her novel A Complicated Kindness won almost every award going a few years ago and was a best selling novel for many, many months.

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The late Derek Weiler wrote about Miriam Toews in the Quill and Quire, “That sardonic quality stands out in CanLit, but Toews’ funny books engage some very unfunny subjects: young women struggling as single parents, grandmothers with secret drinking problems, people young and old knocked flat by depression, wasting away. In Toews most recent novel, The Flying Troutmans, Min’s mental illness is a constant cloud over the road misadventures. Toews’ own father, Mel, battled bipolar disorder most of his life, killing himself in 1998 at the age of 62; two years later, she published the genre-bending Swing Low, written as Mel’s “autobiography.”

Toews is well aware that her novels work “that funny/sad thing,” but for her, it’s more instinctive than intentional. “I didn’t think, ‘Is this funny?’” she says. “It just seemed to be the way it came out.” She’ll probably never write a wholly serious book – or a wholly lighthearted one, for that matter. “Life is funny and life is sad. Life is comic and life is tragic. It’s a breeze and it’s hell. It’s all of those things at once. I can’t imagine any other way of writing about it.”

Like most of Toews’ work, the new novel, The Flying Troutmans, encompasses both the low-key comedy of everyday life and bleak, numbing despair. And like most of Toews’ work, it shows a preoccupation with departure and return. All of her novels are set in southern Manitoba, and they’re full of young women who are ambivalent about their surroundings. Some yearn to escape, some do escape, some escape and then come back.

We are delighted that Miriam Toews is to be part of this years IFOA Ontario event in Parry Sound.

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The other woman on the slate is Diana Bryden Fitzgerald. Diana is well known as a poet. Learning Russian was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award. Poems from Clinic Day have appeared in Open Field: 30 Canadian Poets. In the Malahat Review Tanis McDonald describes Clinic Day as "singularly arresting," "a rare contemporary book of poetry that maintains a narrative while each individual lyric is polished enough to be a tile in the gritty and glorious mosaic of the imagined city." Diana is working on a third manuscript of poems, Self Help.

Her first novel, No Place Strange, is about connections made and lost, as it follows four people affected by the actions of a beautiful Palestinian terrorist named Rafa Ahmed. Lydia is a young Jewish Canadian woman running from the truth about her father’s involvement with Rafa, who may be implicated in his murder. Lydia escapes to Greece, where she meets Farid, a young Lebanese man who has left his home for Athens. Farid’s mother Mariam, once Rafa’s professor, is struggling to maintain a normal life in Beirut in the midst of civil war, while his cousin Mouna is a political activist dangerously obsessed with Rafa. Lydia and Farid fall in love, but any possibility for real happiness is jeopardized by Arab–Israeli hostilities, the capriciousness of fate, and a past that neither of them can quite escape.

In a recent interview, Bryden acknowledged that in creating Rafa and her sympathetic portrait of the Lebanese people, she drew on her own experiences with the life of a real terrorist. When Bryden was 9 and living in London, the Jordanian Embassy around the corner was occupied by men protesting the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan and asking for the release of political prisoners, including a hijacker, the “real” Rafa, Leila Khaled, often called the “poster girl of Palestinian militancy.” Khaled had been imprisoned for trying to hijack an El Al jet. After only a month, she was released as part of a prisoner exchange. Khaled is now a member of the Palestinian National Council.

Expect these two women to excite, entertain and educate you – an event not to be missed.


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