The 18th Edition of Montreal’s Blue Metropolis Festival

blue metThe sun is shining, the snow has melted, and Blue Metropolis just announced their 2016 program. Spring has come to Montreal!

For those not familiar, Blue Met is the annual literary festival of the Blue Metropolis Foundation, which has been bringing people together in Montreal since 1997 to promote reading, writing, and education, focusing on a diverse range of authors and creators from Canada and around the world. While they spotlight Canadian authors, with five languages represented, the scope is undoubtedly international.

Blue Met’s commitment to linguistic and cultural diversity is seen foremost in the literary prizes they bestow. The Grand Prix littéraire is often given to a major Canadian writer – names like Margaret Atwood and Dany Laferrière – but also to international writers like Amitav Ghosh and Maryse Condé. This year’s winner is Anne Carson, which is very exciting particularly given the rarity of her public appearances.

AbdourahmanWaberiDjoloEtats-UnisThe Mots Pour Changer/Words to Change Prize is presented to an author whose work particularly espouses intercultural understanding, and this year’s winner is Ivoirian Abdourahman Waberi, best known for his novel Les Etats-Unis d’Afrique. I’m perhaps most excited about seeing the winner of the Premio Metropolis Azul, Valeria Luiselli, author of the everyone’s-talking-about-it novel The Story of My Teeth.

Valeria LuiselliThis year’s First Nations Literary Prize goes to Thomas King, a Canadian author of Greek and Cherokee descent. And finally, the festival has instituted this year the Literary Diversity Prize for a First Publication, to be given to an “écrivain issu de l’immigration” (which is the French turn of phrase for “immigrant writer”) who lives in Montreal, and this year it will be the Ghayas Hacham for his novel Play Boys.

The Blue Metropolis Foundation is not just a major supporter of diversity in literature, they are also engaged in the creation of diverse communities. This is evidenced nowhere more so than in this year’s “Syria Series,” a grouping of events designed to welcome Syrians to Montreal, many of whom are here as part of Justin Trudeau’s 2015 plan aimed at resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada during the beginning of this year. There’s also the Children’s Festival, which is full of exciting events for kids and their parents, from storytimes to meet-the-authors to poetry activities. It’s fantastic to see a whole festival dedicated to giving a voice to kids, especially considering how little say they have in the adult world. One theme running through the festival is literature’s relationship to personal well-being. A series called “Books, Body & Soul” incorporates healing and reading. And as with last year’s program, there are several creativity and mental health workshops.

As a newcomer to the festival last year, my favorite thing about Blue Met was the vibe. It is hard to describe the ambiance exactly, but it’s more than just the friendly crowd. There’s something about the spring air being good for your body and all the books being good for your soul. (Plus, I get a real kick out of switching between English and French every three seconds like a true Montrealer.) The festival creates a spirit of inclusiveness and collaboration, diversity and interdisciplinarity. That’s something we often pay lip service to, but these folks are creating it.

After a quick look through the program, here are the festival events I will not be missing:

Indie Pop-Rock Authors reading from works that were influenced by their days in rock bands. As a former indie kid, this is a must on my agenda.

Tolstoï et Tchaïkovski Superposés The Chamber Orchestra Medici performs the music of Janácek with a reading of Tolstoï, and Tchaikovski’s work accompanying some of his correspondence. This cannot but be cool.

Premio Azul: Valéria Luiselli and The Story of My Teeth One of the 2015 World Literature hit parade (and deservedly so), this is a fabulous first novel. I’ve also really enjoyed reading Luiselli’s interviews, and this promises to be another interesting one.

Isabella Rossellini Bestiaire D’Amour Based ever so loosely on the 13th century classic text of animal romance, Rossellini continues her work begun in the Green Porno films, comically, sexily, adorably enacting the mating habits of animals.

Freaks, Geeks and Miscreants: The Outsider in Fiction Presented by the Quebec Writers Foundation Quebec is a place of margins. There are dividing lines everywhere. But I think that’s why the voices from the margins tend to be so powerful here. Should be an interesting discussion.

The Women of Will Tina Packer, Shakespearian actress and director, and author of the book The Women of Will, discusses the bard’s women, aaand performs some of their great scenes.

Jazz, Rap et Cabaret: Morton, Heron, Gran Agata Tuszynska and Abdourahman Waberi discuss the music and influence of Wiera Gran, Jelly Roll Morton and Gil Scott-Heron. I have no idea what this will be like but it promises to be interesting.

Les Histoires font de nous…Stories Are All We Are: Thomas King and Joseph Boyden An interview with these two luminaries on the writer’s role in social and political change, and how to address the past in writing, particularly as it pertains to First Nations communities in Canada.

Antigonick/At Home A reading of Anne Carson’s revision of Antigone, with a videographer, synthesizer musician, and a cast of 10 (presumably a Greek Chorus). Carson will kick the performance off with a very brief lecture.

Best Place on Earth: Ayelet Tsabari in Conversation with Joseph Rosen Tsabari’s latest collection of stories tell of the deeply complex lives of the Mizrahi Jews of Israel. It has been compared to early Jumpa Lahiri.

Translation Slam: Georges Simenon The concept is a Blue Met classic, and this year, translators will be given a text by Georges Simenon to be translated in real time, in the presence of the author’s son Pierre Simenon no less. I cannot believe I have never seen a translation slam because it sounds like something out of a wonderful dream I might have.

Closing Cocktails This year, Blue Met is honoring three Quebec women writers: Anne Hébert, Nelly Arcan and Hélène Monette. As a relative newcomer to Quebec, I’m welcoming the opportunity to learn more about these prominent writers. And education with a cocktail in hand is so much more fun. I will probably need one after such a week!

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