25th Trillium Award

The Festival Series: Five Questions with Brian Fawcett

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Brian Fawcett

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 Brian Fawcett, the author of Human Happiness. He attended the Ottawa Writers Festival last April and shares with us his thoughts on festivals.

Open Book:

Tell us about the first literary festival you attended.

Brian Fawcett:

It was in Prince George, B.C. 1980, with Robert Creeley and Robin Blaser headlining, every working poet in B.C. in the orchestra, and a lot of local people participating. The festival was as wild and wooly as it was educative and I was well over .08 for most of it (as was nearly everyone else). The low point was when Robert Creeley fell off his chair during a reading, and nearly tumbled into the audience. That was also the high point, in a way: I realized that my heroes all had to put their leotards on one leg at a time, and that I could, if I worked, write and think as well as they did. I?ve since done the Vancouver Festival and a number of others. The Ottawa festival, in particular, was great fun.


What was your favourite moment at the Ottawa Writers Festival?


There were several. One was meeting Kim Thuy, with whom I was on a panel, and discovering that she is exactly the same person as the writer who wrote Ru: intelligent, merry, and as culturally comfortable as she is complicated. The other was the moment, in the hospitality suite late at night, when I realized that the completely unassuming man I?d been talking to for about an hour was Neil Wilson, who runs the festival. A few minutes later I witnessed Neil talking to his son Sean, in an utterly collegial way on a philosophical point that would have most fathers and sons scrapping like pitbulls. This is a thoughtfully programmed festival run well, and by good people.


Why do you think literary festivals are important?


Some festivals are, others aren?t. The keys are the degree to which they encourage conversation between writers, and the degree to which they bring the audiences into the conversations. Most readings?i.e. performances that involve a writer standing up in front on an audience reciting or reading their work for 45 minutes to an hour, are culturally superfluous and coma-inducing. At best, you, as a listener, might discover one or two nuances you might not have caught by reading the text?if you can stay awake, which I rarely can. So what makes a festival work is the intelligence of the programming, and the inclusiveness it builds into that programming.


When it?s time to take the stage, what do you like most about being in the spotlight?


Not very much, since I suffer from stage-fright. If there?s a good moment it generally occurs when something interesting enough is said that I forget that I?m on stage in front of a bunch of people I don?t know, and am able to stop ?presenting? and start talking and listening as I would if it were a dinner party with a group of people I like. That happened in Ottawa because of the format and the participants, but mostly it doesn?t. I?m the kind of writer who characteristically revises every sentence dozens of times, and when I read on stage I tend to hear every revision I?ve made?along with whatever further revisions ought to have been done. So I find it hard to be spontaneous, or to get outside the text and to the audience. I can?t wait to get to the question-and-answer session at the end, where I can talk to people.


Will you be attending any other festivals this year?


Only if I?m invited and the venue and subject is interesting?meaning that I?m
prepared to talk, but increasingly reluctant to merely read. My current book Human Happiness, is very difficult for me to read from without bawling my head off, since it?s about the lives?and the deaths?of my parents. I was very fond of them, and every page of the book brings them back to me.

Brian Fawcett is the author of more than twenty books, including Cambodia: A Book for People Who Find Television Too Slow, The Secret Journals of Alexander Mackenzie and Virtual Clearcut: Or, The Way Things Are In My Home Town. He is a past editor of Books in Canada, a former columnist for the Globe and Mail, has written articles and reviews for most of Canada's major newspapers and magazines, and is a founding editor of the internationally-followed Internet news service, dooneyscafe.com. Fawcett was born and raised in Prince George, B.C. and now lives in Toronto.

Visit the Open Book Archives for more Festival Series interviews.

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