Another wonderful season of literary festivals is on the way and what better way to celebrate than with a series about festivals.
Open Book speaks with Deni Béchard, the author of Cures for Hunger. He attended the Ottawa Writers Festival last April and shares with us his thoughts on festivals.
Tell us about the first literary festival you attended.
I can’t recall the first literary festival. In my teens and twenties, I attended readings or panels at various festivals, but they all blur together now. The first festival where I presented was Blue Metropolis in Montréal, and I think the topic of my panel was how we became writers. Rawi Hage was also on the panel, both of us launching our first books, and I felt that all the writers presenting had a good, intimate discussion. But when it was time for audience questions, the first two surprised all of us: “Are simultaneous submissions fine?” and “Why do publishers put out so many bad books but keep rejecting me?”
What was your favourite moment at the Ottawa Writers Festival?
I enjoyed the panel, since there was good chemistry between myself, Kim Thuy and Brian Fawcett, but I found that the reading was particularly fun. The audience at the Ottawa Writers Festival was extremely responsive. It was the first time I read from Cures for Hunger, and it may have been the first time in my career that I so fully enjoyed giving a reading.
Why do you think literary festivals are important?
Given the diminished role of books in our society, I think that it is extremely valuable for readers and writers to connect and be reminded of the presence of a passionate literary community. Both writing and reading are solitary activities, and it is inspiring for everyone involved to share their enthusiasm.
When it’s time to take the stage, what do you like most about being in the spotlight?
I am only now learning to read to audiences the way that I read out loud to myself, to savor the words and to show just how much pleasure I get from language. I particularly like sharing this with an audience.
Will you be attending any other festivals this year?
I will be reading at the Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago.
Deni Y. Béchard was born in British Columbia to French Canadian and American parents and grew up in both Canada and the United States. He has also traveled in over forty countries. He recently published Cures for Hunger, a memoir about growing up with his father who was a bank robber. His first novel, Vandal Love, was published in French and Arabic, and won the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, both for the best first book in Canada and for the best overall first book in the British Commonwealth. It was also nominated for Le Prix du Grand Public Salon du Livre Montréal / La Presse, 2008, as well as the French version of Canada Reads (Le Combat des Livres, 2009). He has been a fellow at MacDowell, Jentel, Ledig House, the Anderson Center, Vermont Studio Center, and the Edward Albee Foundation. He has done freelance reporting from Northern Iraq as well as from Afghanistan, and his articles, blogs, stories and translations have appeared in a number of magazines and newspapers, among them the National Post, Maisonneuve, Le Devoir, the Harvard Reviewand the Harvard Divinity Bulletin. He is currently working on Empty Hands, Open Arms, a book about conservation in the Congo rainforest.
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