News from Near and Far

I’ve been neglecting my blog recently, because I’ve been in China. While I was there I gave the show in Beijing, where the organizer of The Bookworm Literary Festival, Peter Goff, described me afterwards in these kind words:

Doug Gibson’s show brings you into the hearts and minds of Canada’s literary giants, wonderful writers he has edited and published and drank with and danced with over the years. Throughout his career Doug had a gift for identifying great storytellers. It clearly helped that he’s one himself.”

Later I flew to Shanghai, where I gave the show in the Canadian Consulate. It was gratifying, and fun, although only a very small proportion of China’s 1.3 billion population were able to attend.

But in a whirlwind tour, I was able to speak twice to groups assembled in our Embassy by the very able Ambassador, Guy St. Jacques, and gave a series of lectures at universities and libraries in Suzhou and Hangzhou (don’t worry, if you don’t know them, they only have 12 million people in each city). One day our consular people picked me up at my hotel at 7 a.m., and got me back at 11 p.m. Standing on guard for thee, spreading the word about our fine authors.

An amazing experience.

NOW, AN EVENT FOR ALL ALICE MUNRO FANS AROUND TORONTO:

On Thursday, April 16, through Sunday, April 19, at The Isabel Bader Theatre, Charles Street, Toronto, the San Francisco group Word for Word will be producing a remarkable read-and-acted version of two Alice Munro Stories, at 8 p.m.
On Thursday through Saturday, I’ll be involved in leading post-show discussions from the stage.

If you love Alice Munro, please come along. It should be a remarkable evening.
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On Rob Ford and Alice Munro

On Saturday, November 17 the Globe and Mail asked several “prominent Canadians” to comment on Rob Ford. Here is what Doug had to say, looking at the disgraced Mayor through the prism of Alice Munro.

It’s sad that just weeks after Alice Munro brought Canada to the admiring attention of the world, Rob Ford is dragging us all down. As a storyteller he lacks Alice’s variety; everything is based on denial (“I wasn’t there,” “I didn’t do it”), and even Alice wouldn’t invent a character who is so unbelievable, in every sense.
But her titles alone explain much of the Ford story: Something I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You (about that crack question); Friend of My Youth (they’re not gangsters, they’re good guys); Open Secrets (nothing more to hide, honest); Who Do You Think You Are?(why should I stay away from your parade?); The Love of a Good Woman (keep my wife out of this, from now on).
As he runs out of people to lie to, let’s hope that he finally takes up the suggestion in another Alice Munro title — Runaway. That would be Too Much Happiness.

Gibson’s Stage Show Returns to Toronto

After around 50 performances, in places from Haida Gwaii to Halifax, Douglas Gibson’s Stories About Storytellers stage show is returning for a rare midtown Toronto performance. On Tuesday, May 7th at 7:30 p.m., Doug will be bringing his memoir to life at the Heliconian Club (35 Hazelton Ave.). For tickets, call 416-922-3618.

Update: This show is now sold out. Watch the events page for more Toronto shows.

Douglas Gibson at Toronto’s Metropolitan United Church

On Sunday 20, January, the Metropolitan United Church in Toronto (at the heart of downtown, at Church and Queen ) will be hosting Doug Gibson’s show immediately after the lunch that follows the Sunday Service given by the Reverend Malcolm Sinclair.

The church service begins at 11:00, the lunch is held around 12:30, and the show will run from roughly 12:45 until 2:00. All are welcome.

Books will be available for sale and for autographing.

After more than 40 shows around Canada from coast to coast, this will be one of Doug’s rare public appearances in Toronto.

The Al Purdy Show in Toronto

Al Purdy For months a group based in Toronto has been building on the work started by Jean Baird and Howard White in B.C. to preserve Al Purdy’s historic A-Frame house in Prince Edward County. Thanks to Jean and Howie’s inspired work over the years, the building has recently been bought. Now it’s up to us to save it and  restore it so that it can be used as a literary centre.

Hence the February 6 fundraiser at Koerner Hall. I’m part of the local committee, chaired by George Goodwin, and involving the talents of Marni Jackson, Leslie Lester, Christopher Goodwin, Alexandra Manthorpe, Patrick White, Don Oravec, Duncan Patterson, and Valerie Jacobs. The event itself is being organized by the excellent Laura McLeod.

I’ll be appearing on-stage in a modest role in what looks like being a great and memorable event, an affectionate celebration of Al Purdy, whom I knew well, and published with pride.

Now read on and buy your tickets while you can . . . and spread the word!

 

THE TRAGICALLY HIP’S GORD DOWNIE
TO APPEAR AT AL PURDY TRIBUTE

“When Al Purdy died, among the stuff in the newspapers was
his answer to this same question:
‘I write like a spider spins webs and much for the same reason,
to support my existence.’ I really liked that.”
— Gord Downie

For immediate release

TORONTO, ON  (January 9, 2013) The Al Purdy A-Frame Association announced today that Gord Downie, Canadian poet and lead singer of The Tragically Hip, will be appearing in the THE AL PURDY SHOW on February 6.

Downie considers Al Purdy an important influence as a poet and lyricist.  In addition to Gord’s performance, the show will include readings from Margaret Atwood, Ken Babstock, George Bowering, George Elliot Clarke, Michael Enright, Phil Hall, Steven Heighton, Dennis Lee, Gordon Pinsent, Robert Priest and Karen Solie, as well as musical guests, Bidiniband with The Billie Hollies, and The Skydiggers.

Proceeds from the evening will support the Al Purdy A-Frame Association’s efforts to conserve the late poet’s home and to maintain it as an educational resource and a place for writers to come together and work for years to come.  The show will take place at Koerner Hall — The TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning — 273 Bloor Street West in Toronto at 7:30 pm. Ticket prices range between $25.00 and $50.00.

“This event is a true celebration of one of the most popular and important Canadian poets of the 20th century,” said Jean Baird, President of the Association. “Al loved hanging out with people, talking about poetry and having a good time. We want the evening to capture this spirit. Plus, we have some nifty surprises planned.”

Al Purdy and his partner Eurithe began building the A-Frame cabin on the shores of Roblin Lake, in Prince Edward County, in 1957.  It was here that Purdy came into his own as a poet, and the A-Frame became a gathering place for many of the writers who would shape Canadian literature.  Over their 43 years at the A-Frame, Al and Eurithe hosted Margaret Laurence, Milton Acorn, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood and hundreds of others in the writing and arts community. The menu usually included spaghetti, and lots of Al’s wild-grape wine.

“This event will be very exciting for Purdy fans,” said Jean Baird. “For the first time, Eurithe Purdy has donated books and other items from Al’s personal collection for auction.”

These include Purdy’s signed and numbered editions from his own extensive library, rare first editions by other poets, and original artwork from Leonard Cohen.  Book-lovers, mark your calendars!

In October 2012, using donated funds, The Al Purdy A-Frame Association, a national non-profit organization, acquired the property.  As part of its mandate to promote Canadian literature and Canadian writers, the Association’s first goal is to preserve the home as an educational resource and a work retreat for future generations of writers.

Tickets can be purchased by calling 416-408-0208 or by visiting alpurdy.ca

#  #  #

For further information:
Laura McLeod
Producer
647-631-6000
lschatzker@gmail.com

Storytelling at the Royal Ontario Museum

I was contacted out of the blue by the ROM, asking if I, a storyteller, born in Scotland, could come to their “Celtic Weekend” as a “Scottish Storyteller.” I said that I knew some good Scottish stories, so, yes, could come along and tell them to a mixed audience of kids and parents.

A few days later, they were back with a further inquiry. This was a Celtic weekend, so could I tell Irish and Welsh stories, too. A little research provided good stories, so I said yes, and we were all set for two 40-minute sessions, at 12:00 and at 2:00.

I sat on a throne-like chair in front of a collection of movable stools occupied by a group of kids, who included my grandchildren Lindsay (7) and Alistair (5). When I told the Irish story, about Niall of the Nine Hostages who was “The Slave Woman’s Son,” I prefaced it with a word or two about slaves in different cultures, and unwisely referred to the Haida totem pole in the space just outside our room. I explained that a visit to the Haida Museum in Skidegate reveals that the Haida were sea-raiders who took slaves, which allowed them to have a slave-supported leisure society that could create great poetry and great art, like totem poles.

This was too much for Lindsay, who dragged Jane off to see the nearby pole, from top to bottom, then loudly returned to interrupt my tale-weaving with the words “What did I miss, Grandad?”

For future reference, the Welsh tale was about “The Lady from the Lake” and the Scottish one (where Alistair proudly told his neighbours, “I know this one. I know what happens.”) was “The Good Man Of Ballangeich,” about a king passing secretly among his people, doing mediaeval public opinion surveys in a very informal way.

Just before the second show, Jane and I were roaming around the main floor of the ROM, where an all-woman Celtic band was playing fine traditional music. When they paused to ask for a song from anyone in the audience, Jane asked them if they knew the old Irish song “The Wild Rover.” When they said yes, and invited her to start singing, she demurred, saying, “Not me, him!” and thrust me forward.

So it came about that the main floor resounded to three verses of me singing “The Wild Rover” while the audience joined loudly in the chorus “And it’s no, nay, never (CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP) No, nay never no more . . .” Etcetera.

And then as I took my bow, still blushing in disbelief, the PA system cut in to announce that “The Celtic Storytelling Session is just about to begin on the fourth floor” and I had to rush off. Believe it or not, some of the audience actually followed me upstairs, for my second storytelling session.

So clearly my resume has to be updated, to include the sacred title “Celtic Storyteller.” I think we’ll leave out the entry about Irish drinking songs.

Supporting Striking Library Workers

On Sunday, March 25, the Writers’ Union of Canada joined the ongoing demonstration by striking library workers outside the Metro Reference Library. As an honorary member of the union, I was glad to be able to lend my support to this event, which was organized by Susan Swan and headed by TWUC President Greg Hollingshead.

After Greg and Susan, a number of other authors spoke briefly but vigorously in favour of libraries and their workers.  These speakers included Ken McGoogan, (the head of the Public Lending Right committee, which ensures that authors are recompensed for the use of their books in libraries), Erika Ritter, and me.

Photo: TPLWU Local 4948

I spoke (entirely unofficially) on behalf of publishers, none of whom were present (ahem), noting that publishers knew and appreciated the role of librarians. Then I spoke as an author, and as a member of the union who was glad to participate  in the event. I explained that I was a writer who had benefited from the libraries, pointing to the adjoining Reference Library and announcing that I had researched my own book “right there.”

Then I commented on the famous proudly ignorant statement by Doug Ford that he would not recognize the (library-supporting) Margaret Atwood if she passed him “in the street.” I was able to tell the crowd that in June I was in Kirkwall, a small town in the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland. There an excited Scot stopped me in the street, saying, “My wife’s just seen Margaret Atwood!” Since Margaret and I were both staff members of the visiting Adventure Canada cruise I was able to confirm the sighting, and he went off, thrilled. Clearly, people around the world do recognize Toronto’s famous author in the street. Doug Ford – who embarrasses Dougs everywhere – should himself be embarrassed.

I did not go on to comment that Rob and Doug Ford do not strike me (and this may be an unfair assumption) as people whose worldview has been shaped by much time spent in libraries. Nor did I go on to suggest that the library workers are in the front lines of a battle that concerns us all; battle between Tea Party-inspired politicians who believe that all taxes are bad, and must always be cut, and never, ever raised. This has led to an extraordinary event in Silicon Valley (as I learned on a brief recent trip to California) where there is extreme, billion-dollar private affluence alongside public squalor, with closed libraries, crowded schools and bad roads. The situation is so bad that major players at the head of some  Silicon Valley companies are organizing to raise private funds in support of public services. One company spokesman noted that people don’t like living in communities with these public flaws, hence the new fundraising movement.

It all reminds me of the American judge (was it Oliver Wendell Holmes?) who said flatly, “I enjoy paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.” I’m sorry now that I didn’t lead the crowd in a chant: “What Do We Want? . . . Civilization! When Do We Want It? Now!”

But, clad in my bright yellow, orange and red Buchanan tartan shirt, I learned a useful tip about making outdoor speeches against the roar of passing traffic. Speak loudly, and wear a loud shirt.

— Douglas Gibson