Knot Body Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch Read Quebec Holiday Book Fair

Anglo authors, gender, sexual & racial diversity at forefront of Montreal lit event

A wealth of work by emerging and established authors is being showcased at this year’s Read Quebec Holiday Book Fair.

The Read Quebec Holiday Book Fair is back this week with a schedule of events highlighting both emerging and established anglo and Indigenous Quebec talent ahead of the gift-giving season. 

A partnership between the Association of English-language Publishers of Quebec (AELAQ) and the Quebec Writers Federation, the yearly book fair is returning with three smaller, intimate in-person events to showcase writers, with a live stream available online as well.

“There was a lot of debate back and forth as to what the best format would be,” said AELAQ executive director Rebecca West. “We landed on this hybrid format, rather than the one big book fair with dozens of participants and hundreds of people coming in and out.”

Tonight, three local writers will read a portion of their latest releases and participate in a discussion hosted by Montreal Review of Books editor Malcolm Fraser at the Atwater Library and Computer Centre.

Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch will read from their latest book of poetry, The Good Arabs, which delves into the complexities of their identity and dual nationality.

“It talks about queer and trans Arab identity. The poems take place both in Montreal and Lebanon, so really bringing in images of both those places,” says El Bechelany-Lynch. 

“Some of the throughlines are the Lebanese garbage crisis, and capitalism, and similarities and differences between Montreal and parts of Lebanon. It talks about memory, and being a child in Lebanon and then growing up as an adult in Montreal.”

The other writers featured tonight are Helen Chau Bradley with their latest collection of stories, Personal Attention Roleplay, and Tara McGowan-Ross with her memoir Nothing Will Be Different.

“I think it is really important to not just think about writers who are elsewhere, particularly thinking about the popularity of American writers, but actually looking at who you can support in your city,” said El Bechelany-Lynch about the night’s focus on local emerging writers.

They noted that with the pandemic, opportunities for writers to showcase their work have been in shorter supply.

“It’s really nice to have something that feels so local and special, that is trying to make sure that writers’ books are getting read, particularly for people publishing as emerging writers which is the case for Helen, Tara and I.”

Wednesday night will feature a Zoom conversation between novelist, playwright and poet Marie-Claire Blais and Katia Grubisic. Gubrisic translated Blais’s book Des chants pour Angel into English, and the English and French discussion will be about the book as well as the translation process.

Permanent Astonishment by Cree playwright, novelist and pianist Tomson Highway
Permanent Astonishment by Cree playwright, novelist and pianist Tomson Highway

Then on Thursday, distinguished Cree playwright, novelist and pianist Tomson Highway will discuss his new memoir Permanent Astonishment with novelist, playwright and actor Ann-Marie Macdonald, at Shatford Hall in Centre St-Jax. Highway’s memoir chronicles the first 15 years of his life, beginning with his birth in a literal snowbank to a family observing a traditional nomadic lifestyle in northwestern Manitoba. 

Highway says he wrote the book because he is proud to have had an outstanding childhood. He spoke of how he feels lucky to have grown up on the land, with no electricity, never seeing a TV until well into his teens. He was the 11th of 12 children, and says they lived “like princes.”

“I come from extraordinary parents. I want the world to know that parenting of this level, of this calibre, exists,” he says. “They were married for 60 years, and it was 60 years of love. Deep, profound love.”

The area where he grew up is filled with lakes and pristine beaches, a place where the caribou and other animals lived undisturbed by human modernity.

“I want people, especially Canadians, to know about the North. I come from an extraordinary part of the North of Canada, a part of Canada that 99% of Canadians have never seen and never will because it’s completely inaccessible.”

Highway says he is eager for the conversation with MacDonald on Thursday. He has met her before and knows it will be an interesting discussion. 

One of the most prominent over-arching messages of his book, Tomson says, is the importance of Two-Spirit people.

“It says ultimately that there is a special place for Two-Spirits in society. That we are a necessary part of the circle of life, that we are here for a purpose, and a very good purpose at that,” he ends by saying.

West says she is proud that the book fair reflects gender, sexual and racial diversity, as there was a time when BIPOC, LGBTQ+ writers were not given the spotlight they deserved in mainstream literary events.

“There was an era when LGBTQ writers were given more visibility in events, specifically for that community. And I think it’s nice to see now that the (Read) Holiday Book Fair isn’t an LGBTQ or Indigenous event per se, but it is really great that we can showcase that diversity in our programming.”

The Holiday Book Fair comes ahead of the Salon du livre held at the Palais des congrès on November 25 to 28, where the books showcased during the book fair will be available for purchase along with many, many others. ■

For more on the Read Quebec Holiday Book Fair, please click here.

For more on the Montreal arts scene, please visit the Arts & Life section.