25th Trillium Award

Ping Pong for Literacy

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Contrary to popular belief, writers are not lazy.

Rather, they appear to slack off while actually working incredibly hard—a clever illusion that garners them both the envy of the public and the disapproval of relatives.

(Unfortunately, the illusion is not quite exciting enough to be marketable to circuses. Always coming up a little short in the employable skills department, the writers are.)

I believe it is in the spirit of maintaining this illusion that writers Elyse Friedman, David Seymour, Howard Akler, and Jeff Latosik took on the challenge of playing ping pong for literacy.

Their team, known officially as Balls, Baby, Balls, will compete against 31 others on May 8th at the first annual Pongapalooza—a fundraiser for the charity First Book, which provides new books to children in need.

I spoke to the team in two rounds. The first part of our conversation, a co-operative warm-up, is reproduced below. I asked predictable questions, and the writers answered as mundanely as they could (which turned out to be not very).

HG: Tell us a little about yourselves. What are your recent or forthcoming books?

EF: I?m an author and a screenwriter. I?ve only written one book of poems, [Editor's note: I began by giving everyone a little guilt trip about National Poetry Month] but I?m working on a new one called There?s a Gun in My Head. Also working on a new novel: The Answer to Everything. My most recent book is Long Story Short, a Novella & Stories (House of Anansi).

DS: I write poetry, I am an editor at Goose Lane Editions, and I work in the film industry to support these habits. My second book is due out spring, 2013, from Coach House. It's called For Display Purposes Only.

HA: I'm an occasional novelist, infrequent journalist and part-time eviction prevention worker. My novel, The City Man, was published by Coach House in 2005.

JL: I'm a writer of poetry and sometimes music and fiction and a writing teacher at Humber College. My book Tiny, Frantic, Stronger was published in 2010 by Insomniac Press.

HG Why are you playing ping pong?

EF: I?d like to say that I?m playing ping pong because I want to raise money for a good cause, but I?m actually playing because I?m supposed to be finishing my novel. Plus, it?s fun.

DS: I'm playing ping pong because an appalling haematoma has prevented me from playing hockey for children's literacy. And also because it's a fun way to avoid editing.

HA: I'm playing ping pong because there's no javelin for children's literacy.

JL: I want the power and privilege that comes with playing recreational ping pong for a good cause. I want the parties; I want the money; I want the scandal.

HG: What is the story behind your team name?

EF: It comes from the movie The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman). Here?s the exchange:

Roger Wade / Billy Joe Smith: You know, if I could just get you to understand that when a writer can't write, it's just like being impotent.

Eileen Wade: I understand what that's like, too.

Roger Wade/Billy Joe Smith: Oh, you do, do you? BALLS, BABY, BALLS!

Please stay tuned for the competitive round of this interview, in which I ask unfriendly questions, assign number scores to the answers, and declare a winner. (My version of a poetry slam.)

And please consider going to see these fine people play. Spectator tickets go for only $25, which ought to leave you with enough money to buy some books. I don?t know a child whose existence wouldn?t be enlivened by access to Tiny, Frantic, Stronger, For Display Purposes Only, There?s a Gun in My Head, or The City Man.

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