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This was the last day of this great conference.  It started with a session of readings.  I decided to go to see John Calabro and Helen Maria Viramontes.  I spent a lot of time through the conference chatting to John and I didn’t want to miss his reading. 

John Calabro is of Italian origins and Helen Maria Viramontes is of Mexican-American origins.  Both their reading reflected these and were thus a bit exotic.  Helen’s reading was tender, John’s was somewhat disturbing (you’ll understand better why if you read my review).  Both were enjoyable.  John read from The Cousin and I rushed to buy the book at the coffee break. 

Helen Maria Viramontes and John Calabro

Next, I went to see a great panel entitled “The Body in Life and Death” and heard three really interesting papers.  Sylvia Patter delivered a paper on olfactory imagery in Janet Turner Hospital’s stories.  I had never heard of this writer.  She was born in Australia and Patter’s paper focuses on how the imagery in her short stories evokes certain smells from that country.  I could nearly smell the flowers she was talking about.  Paddy O’Reilly presented a paper on the grotesque (and physical disability) in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.  I had not read anything by O’Connor (still have not; shame on me!) but her paper was quite fascinating.  Finally, Sharon Wilson talked about death in Atwood’s “Isis in Darkness” and “The Bog Man”.  She described those stories as “parodies of mythological quests”.  As you can imagine, I was delighted to listen to this paper.

I then had lunch with Sharon and we discussed Atwood a bit more.  Sharon is one of the most renowned Atwoodian (and one for  admiration) and I was glad to have this opportunity. 

I decided to skip the afternoon session and go to rest a little before the banquet.  The banquet was fun and it was nice to see everybody chill out.  There was a reading by Clark Blaise, which was preceded by a moving introduction from his wife, Bharati Mukherjee.

Those four days were great and very productive from my point of view.  I had a fantastic time and met wonderful people.  It was a bit sad parting (for me anyway), but I hope I’ll see some of these people again.  I don’t like endings, I always get a bit emotional; but new adventures were awaiting me.

This third day of the conference was a big day for me, for many reasons.  The day started with the panel in which I presented.  An early panel at the same time as a World Cup football match meant that not many attended.  As a result, my stress level went down as there was a very friendly atmosphere.  My presentation on Atwood’s “The Bog Man” and “Horatio’s Version” went well and I found the other presentations interesting, particularly Michelle Ryan-Sautour’s.  She delivered a paper on Angela Carter, an author I’ve wanted to read for quite a while.  The similarities between Carter and Atwood are striking and this is something I would like to look into.  Unfortunately, the session ran overtime and we were not able to receive questions.

I think I was a bit exhausted after that and did not pay much attention to the next session.  This was followed by a luncheon and reading.  When I walked into the dining room, my attention was caught by a small woman with blue eyes and curly hair.  This woman was Margaret Atwood, of course.  My heart started racing; I knew I would get to talk to her later on and I was a bit impressed.  There is something about meeting the author you admire the most and on whose works you spend most hours of the day working.  I was sitting at the table next to hers, chatting with scholars and discussing my earlier presentation.  Sharon Wilson was kind enough to call me over to the table and introduce me to Ms Atwood.  Well, I was not prepared and my English went all wrong!  We exchanged a few words and I went back to my table to listen to Bharati Mukherjee read one of her stories.

There was only one session programmed for the afternoon: “A Talk with Margaret Atwood”.  Clark Blaise was leading the talk.  They have known each other since their days teaching at university in Montreal and the tone was quite friendly.  I must admit that I did not learn much during that talk as I had already read interviews or essays mentioning many of the things Atwood said.  However, it was lovely to actually hear her telling her anecdotes.  She is a funny and witty person!  Much of the talk revolved around novels rather than short stories, but we were able to ask then a few questions…

Following this public talk was my interview with Atwood.  She was assailed by the public to sign books, so I waited a few minutes before going to her and bringing her to sit down in a quiet corner.  I had been granted ten minutes (although we ended up chatting for twenty).  It is a short time when you have so many questions to ask; particularly when the person you are interviewing is so chatty!  This was my first time interviewing someone, and I did not really know how to go about it.  I wanted to ask all my questions but was very conscious of the time.  As Atwood said at the talk earlier, it is easy to talk about novels than short stories or even the shorter fictions; I had thus to often gently bring back the topic onto the short stories.  Sometimes, I would have liked to delve further on her answers, but I also knew I had other questions I really wanted to ask; it was difficult to manage.  However, it was really pleasant to talk with her once my nervousness passed and I had a good laugh.  Before she left to take her taxi, I asked her to sign my copy of Bottle.  It is a limited edition (1000 copies) of a few stories, which were later published in the collection The Tent.  It is a pretty little book and, now, it has become a repository of the memories of my chat with Margaret Atwood.

Our next stop was the main Toronto Public Library.  We had a bit of time to grab some food and chill out before the readings for the evening started.  On the programme were readings by Margaret Atwood, Li Ang, Alistair MacLeod and Robert Olen Butler.  Here are a few moments of the evening.  I was hoping Salon would put the recordings online but they have not yet, so these are my own recordings (except for the reading of “Our Cat Enters Heaven”) and they are not very good (sorry!).

Maurice Lee introducing the event:

Ted Sheckels introducing Margaret Atwood:

Margaret Atwood introducing her reading:

Margaret Atwood reading “Our Cat Enters Heaven” from The Tent:

Margaret Atwood reading from “The Headless Horseman” from Moral Disorder (I love her giggles!):

Li Ang introducing her reading:

Alistair MacLeod introducing his reading:

The readings were then followed by a very entertaining series of questions and answers.  I had a good laugh listening to Alistair MacLeod and Margaret Atwood deploying their wit (and sarcasm).

 

Signing and smiling

To end the evening, the four authors had to go through a signing session.  I wanted Alistair MacLeod to sign the collection I had bought, but could not be bothered queuing and thought I would have another occasion during the conference.  I stood there, chatting with my friends and took a couple of pictures of Margaret Atwood being all smiles for her fans.  I was thinking that I would like to have a picture with her, but I am quite shy and have always thought it to be a bit cheesy.  Yet, I knew I would regret it.  I like photos and the memories they bring back, and, for me, this day had indeed been a big day.  My friends then made me stand behind her and took a picture; that was even more ridiculous than asking her! 

Shying away

Finally, I went for cheesy and asked her for a picture (thanks John and Ian for making me do it!).  One of my lecturers from my university days in France was around and absolutely wanted to take a picture, so I had to stand there quite a while as she was looking for her camera.  I thus ended up chatting with Margaret Atwood and this is the shot I prefer, natural and spontaneous!

Chatting

After all the excitement of the first day of the conference, the second day seemed a bit quieter for me.

I started the day with a panel on flash fiction and was able to pick up of few pieces of information of that sub-genre.  Philip Coleman’s paper on Örkény Istvan’s One Minute Stories was particularly interesting and made me want to look closer at this author I had never heard of (which I have not done yet, shame!).

This was followed by a panel on “Place, Politics, and Postcolonialism”.  M. Y. Alam discussed the conditions of productions of his first story.  His argument was based on a statement that all writings depend on the condition of production and it was interesting to follow the process he underwent.  I hope what he said will come back to me when I will read his stories (you might expect a review of one of them at some stage as he is one of the authors collected in the book published by Route I was given).

The afternoon started with a plenary session on Alice Munro’s “Passion” and the participants included some of the leading names in short story theory: Charles E. May, Michael Trussler, Per Winther, Michael Toolan and Susan Lohafer.  Each of them presented their reading of this recent story by Munro.  Unfortunately, I had not read the story and did not fully appreciate the discussion.  I was a bit disappointed, but had only myself to blame for that.

The following panel I attended was again organised by the Margaret Atwood Society.  Alice Ridout presented a most interesting paper on Atwood’s latest collection, Moral Disorder.  There has not been much work published on this collection and it was great to be able to hear someone discussing it.  She focused on the relationship between time and space in the collection, noting that time is mapped onto places and that the collection represents a “cartography of Nell’s life”.  The ideas she foregrounded were most interesting and I hope she will some day publish an article on it.  Ted Sheckels presented a paper discussing how stories can be misread.  He focused on “The Man from Mars” and the representation of the ethnic other and explained how students might see the story as “condoning othering and racial rejection”.  It gave me much to think about: how we read and interpret texts, but also how Atwood’s writings tend to show in order to critique, rather than imposing views on the reader, thus running the risk to be misinterpreted.  Finally, Mairin Barney also gave a talk on “The Man from Mars”, in order to illustrate how Atwood’s stories are useful demagogic tools for First-Year English students.

In the evening, there was a reading by Sandra Cisneros.  However, I was unable to go as I had a paper to finalise.  I had decided to get a good night sleep, but, as always, it took me much longer than I had planned and I did not get back from the internet café to my hostel until late.  Moreover, when i got back a little surprise awaited me (you can read about it here), which delayed my sleeping time even further.  I was thus stressed and exhausted when I finally hit my bed on the eve of the big day…

One of the reasons for my trip to Canada was the 11th International Conference on the Short Story in English.  This is a biennial conference organised by the Society for the Study of the Short Story.  As I am doing my PhD thesis on Margaret Atwood’s short stories and fictions, this was a dream occasion for me.  I was even more excited at the idea of presenting there.  For the occasion, the Margaret Atwood Society had also organised two panels dedicated to Atwood, which meant that I would be able to meet and hear the scholars whose work I read and use in my research.

The conference programme was intense and it was sometimes difficult to choose which panel to go to see.  On top of that, events were organised in the evening , which enable the participants to meet in an unformal way.

On the first day, I went to see a couple of panels and heard papers about Raymond Carver, Stephen Millhauser and Stephen Dixon.  I had never heard of Dixon before, but Susan Rochette’s paper, which focused on 14 Stories (a collection of thirteen stories), really made me want to read the collection.  I also went to see the panel on Atwood and loved it, particularly the papers by Shuli Barzilai (she is so funny) and Reingard Nischik (I admire her work so much).

I went to introduce myself to a few Atwoodians, which was not easy as I am a bit shy.  I had actually met Sharon Wilson (any of you with an interest in criticism on Atwood will probably recognise the name) the day before in the library.  As I arrived to my desk, the woman sitting behind me called me over to apologise for having borrowed a folder from my trolley.  I told her it was not a problem and asked her about her research on Atwood.  When she told me who she was, my jaws dropped!  It was a bit strange to meet this person I read the work of.  I knew I would, but I was still impressed.

I also went to a reading by Christine Sneed, who read a story she had recently written, and Mark Anthony Jarman.  Both readings were enjoyable, unfortunately, the accoustic in the room was terrible, which ruined my pleasure.

I also met with some of the delegation of British publishers (smoking can be a very social habit): Ian Daley (who offered me a collection I will soon be reviewing from) and Isabel Galan from Route Publishing, Jim Hinks from Comma Press, who gave me so many suggestions I do not know when I will get time to read all those authors, and Joanne Brandon from Cadaverine Magazine, which is specialised in under 25 authors.  There was a big group of them from companies specialising mostly in short stories and they had come to discuss publishing aspects, etc.  I had great fun with them as they did not take themselves too seriously.  I encourage you to follow the links and check what they do, who might find something interesting!

In the evening, we were invited to a reception at Ben McNally bookshop, a perfect venue for people who love literature.  It was difficult to resist spending all my money in the books of authors I was talking to (and yes, they would tempt you).  I enjoyed the cheese and wine while chatting to academics and writers; the two worlds are apart, yet, they connect in their love for literature and it is interesting to hear both perspectives.  I had a nice conversation with John Calabro, author of short stories and two novellas, from Quattro Books, a publishing company dedicated to the novella.  We were the last two leaving the place and as we were walking in the section, John kindly gave me a mini guided visit of the area.

It was an enjoyable first day.  It was amazing to meet so many interesting people.  I had fun and heard fascinating papers, but was exhausted by the end of it and did not have the courage to revise my own paper!

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