It’s Frye-Day and CBC Radio’s local morning show is completely devoted to the Frye Fest, with information and interviews with authors. I’m listening now to Linden MacIntyre being interviewed. He’s talking about his own early life and relation with the Catholic Church, and about his life as a writer. He’s picking up on the theme of yesterday’s roundtable, “Stories, and What They Do,” talking about what fiction can do that no other form of writing can do. He’s talking about his own religious upbringing, and his understanding of the Bible, as stories and metaphors, perhaps without Frye’s great faith in the power of myth and metaphor.
Next up on CBC will be Nino Ricci. Nino, Linden, and Annabel Lyon will be featured this evening at an all-English event, with Noah Richler as host. We call it “An Evening of Canadian Lit.” Most events are bilingual, French authors and English authors alternating. Tonight’s event is all English, making a special appeal to English speakers who find all they can do with French authors usually is look and not listen. Block it out. Tonight we make it easy for them.
At noon today I’m looking forward to the roundtable “Writing Lives and Afterlives” with Noah Richler, Daniel Poliquin, Nino Richler, and Maryse Rouy. The discussion will be about the relation between historical figures (famous or not) and the narratives (fictional or biographical) that writers create. Jean Fugère will be moderator. Fugère, from Quebec, has been coming to the Frye Fest for many years now, serving as moderator, MC, and interviewer. He’s always well prepared, well read, and has a great ability to ask the right question. I missed his interview yesterday with Noah Richler, occupied as I was with the very pleasant task of keeping Annabel Lyon company at dinner, along with my wife and a friend.
Nino is talking now, mostly about his Trudeau biography. The narrative arc is from conservative, reactionary early Trudeau to “independent” and “outspoken” later Trudeau. Public persona was arrogant; privately, friends thought him too shy even to get into politics. It’s a brief interview with Nino, now over. No discussion of “Origin of Species” or anything except the Trudeau bio. Somewhat disappointing in its narrow scope, but good publicity for today’s roundtable and tonight’s event.
Yesterday’s roundtable, “Stories, and What They Do,” was well attended, with about 100 people. Everyone, as far as I could tell, thought it was one of the best. Martin Winckler (in French) talked about the stories he hears as a medical doctor, in comparison with the stories he writes as a novelist. Annabel Lyon talked about the novel as a way of exploring ethical issues. Or perhaps, more accurately, she was saying that every novel, every work of art, has an ethical dimension. I was reminded of Noah Richler’s thoughts on the novel as a “proselytizing” instrument for a certain view of humanity. I was also reminded of Frye’s Second Essay on ‘Ethical Criticism’ and this quote that Nella Cotrupi highlights in her book The Poetics of Process: “We tried to show in the second essay that the moment we go from the individual work of art to the sense of the total form of the art, the art becomes no longer an object of aesthetic contemplation but an ethical instrument, participating in the work of civilization.”
The two other panellists, the Quebec rap artist and author BIZ, and journalist-novelist Linden MacIntyre, both talked about “the matrix” (Linden’s word) of corrupted institutions, and the power of stories to confront and oppose such corruption, in all its forms – fraud, deception, simple, unrelenting abuse of power. BIZ, by request, gave us about a 10 minute rap on the topic.
Yesterday’s activities also included Soirée Frye, with a crowd of 200 or 300, a great mix of readings, music, and awards for young people, and Night Howl, which featured inspired readings / performances by poet Robert Moore from Saint John and Guy Marchamps from Quebec, and a 20 minute set by Juno nominated, local hero Julie Doiron. It was midnight when I got home, glad for it all.
Noah Richler is talking about his life in Britain. He always felt he was Canadian, and resisted the British elitist, snobbish attitude toward the former colony, which he said came out again at the opening of the Vancouver Olympics, when all the British papers were calling it the worst Olympics ever. His memories of his mother and father are very warm. His mother was Mordecai’s first and best reader, and told Noah if he wanted to be a writer, he had to learn to cut, cut, and worry about what’s left on the table, not what’s on floor. What’s on the floor, if it’s any good, will re-appear later. Noah wrote a steamy love letter when he was 15, which he allowed his father to critique. One F word is much more effective than 4 or 5, was a lesson well learned.
It’s 8:25 and Dawn Arnold is giving a little ‘summing up’ of the festival so far. She’s described as Impresario – a good description. Frye-Day for CBC Radio is over. But Frye-Day at the festival, on the ground, is just beginning, and I go forth.