Daily Archives: April 25, 2010

Moncton and Genius

Moncton night

Oscar Wilde, one of Frye’s favorite critics, observes in The Critic as Artist, one of Frye’s favorite critical works, “Yes, the public is wonderfully tolerant.  It forgives everything except genius.”

Great quip.  Except of course that it can be proven wrong, as demonstrated yet again this year by Moncton’s Frye Festival.  Every genius should be so fortunate to be so warmly and generously embraced by the hometown crowd, year in and year out.  The most artistic of critics, Frye would no doubt have loved the fact that the festival held in his honor is a celebration of the arts first and foremost.  The good people of Moncton have not only done it again but done it right.

Features in the Moncton Times & Transcript by local high school students here, here and here.

Dawn Arnold: Frye Festival Diary

FRYE ACADEMY with Frye Academy Award

The Frye Academy with the Frye Academy Award

Sunday, April 25, 2010

We made it! The authors are all on their way home and the past week is feeling somewhat surreal.

This morning we had what I think may have been the nicest Brunch and Books ever. This is always an extremely powerful event since The Greater Moncton Literacy Advisory Board’s Adult New Writers Contest award-winners and their tutors are in attendance. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation is a long-time sponsor of this event and Courtney Pringle-Carver, the ALC’s Senior Public Affairs Counsel (and a Frye Festival Board Member) did a fabulous job of presenting the awards and the authors.

The adult new writers are always inspiring and courageous. I was surprised by how young some of the award-winners were today. Typically, the awards have been won by much older people. It seemed very positive to me that they were younger than usual, perhaps this is an indication that the illiteracy taboo might be changing somewhat.

Beth Powning an award-winning New Brunswick author, who had been involved in a fascinating book project called Breaking the Word Barrier: Stories of Adults Learning to Read spoke extremely eloquently about this idea of “taboo” when it comes to illiteracy in our society. She talked of meeting the newly literate Linda and how difficult it was initially to speak about this. Beth wrote a beautiful tribute to Linda called The Word for Love.

Watching the hard-working Tidewater Book Shop staff pack up the Festival bookshop really brought home to me the fact that the Festival was almost over. I don’t know what their numbers are yet, but despite all the books they were packing up, they seemed quite pleased with their sales.

Then, it was to the quickly disassembling headquarters to ensure that our press release was correct. Members of the media started calling, lining up interviews for after the closing ceremony. Local CBC journalist Michael R. LeBlanc had unearthed old audio of Northrop Frye speaking about Moncton’s “amicable apartheid” and wanted to speak about the role the Festival plays in bringing our two distinct cultures together. Luckily, I had a few stories of authors who had commented on this, including Noah Richler’s obsession with the simultaneous translation devices and how no one seemed to need them in Moncton. I also received an excellent anecdote from Roxanne Richard and Danielle LeBlanc concerning comments that both Annabel Lyon and Steven Galloway had made about the fact that this Festival is the only book event they had ever done where they were able to meet French authors too. They both loved the bilingual nature of the Festival.

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Ella Fitzgerald

Today is the great Ella Fitzgerald‘s birthday (1917 – 1996).

One sample won’t do it.  Above is her 1956 version of “Blue Moon,” and it proves a point: when Ella sings the most familiar of standards, you hear it like it’s the first time.  That voice.  Always that voice.

After the jump, some rare footage and live performances.  And, yes, of course, a couple of duets with Louis Armstrong.

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Frye Fest Day 7: Last Day

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I hope you can link up to this wonderful photograph of author Beth Powning with the class of students she met on Thursday. It’s at www.powning.com/beth

Sunday’s the last day.  It’s winding down fast now, beginning with a ‘Brunch and Books’ event with 2 authors, Beth Powning and Maryse Rouy.  The focus is on literacy and on the winners of the Adult New Writers Contest.  It’s always a moving moment when these adults, who have worked hard to improve their reading and writing skills, come foward to stand on a stage named in honour of the great writer and thinker Northrop Frye.  It’s probably happening just about now, as I write.  I lost an earlier version of this blog entry, or I might have got myself together in time to sit in on the event.

At 1pm, in about an hour, we meet at the Moncton airport to close down the festival.  Jesse Robichaud, the festival Poet flyé, will read the poem he’s created over the last several days.  We’ll hand out the first “Frye Academy Award” – the Frye Academy being a select group of English and French high school students who’ve read 6 books, half English and half French, and chosen one that they like best – a sort of Canada Reads format, but spread out over several months.  Finally we’ll have a draw to see who wins a free trip “anywhere West Jet flies.”

Yesterday was jam-packed, ending with an event called Frye Jam where we ask authors to work with musicians to create a unique blend of words and music.  The music is provided by a group called Les Païens, who have hosted this event the last several years.  We had a good audience of over a hundred.  Anglophones Fred Stenson, Annabel Lyon, and Steven Galloway read beautifully and seemed to enjoy the experience.  Steven’s reading from Cellist of Sarajevo, with Kenan having a vision of the city reconstituted and then suddenly hearing the music stop, brought tears to the eyes.  The francophone authors, France Cayouette, Biz, Ron Leger, and Guy Marchamps, were equally effective, though in a very different way, as they were poets and performers.  It was half past twelve when we emerged from the venue, to a spectacle we (my wife and I) had never seen – the streets of Moncton flooded with hundreds and hundreds of young people bar hopping.  Very scantily dressed, some of them, for the cold.  Mini-skirts, apparently, are back in fashion.

The dialogue at 6pm (yesterday), with Fred Stenson and Christian Bök, was wide-ranging, relaxed, and somewhat wild, thanks to Christian’s anything but straight laced approach to life.  Sparks flew at the end when audience member Steven Galloway took Christian to task for disparaging remarks about Yann Martel’s new novel.  Have you even read the book, Steven asked.  Christian said no, he hasn’t, but that doesn’t change his criticism: why such a huge publisher’s advance when the result, nine years in the making, is a small book, not immediately recognizable as great and worthy.  All that money could have gone to help young, talented, struggling writers.  It was good to see Christian and Steven at the bar after the public dialogue, in private conversation, healing their rift, one hopes.

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Dawn Arnold: Frye Festival Diary

Jacob Berkowitz at KidsFest

Jacob Berkowitz at KidsFest

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday of the Festival is always a full day for me, but this year was as full as it could be! I began the day updating social media, and then received a message at 7:00 am that the person we had employed to coordinate KidsFest/FestiJeunesse was sick. I grabbed my daughter and our box of “swap” books and headed for the Moncton Public Library. The tables were set-up and the décor looked terrific, but we definitely needed one brain to oversee the activities, because it is quite the morning! The children (aged 2-12) and their families have been coming to KidsFest for years now (about 1,500 people participate in 2.5 hours) and expectations are high for a quality family event.

This year the children all received a free book (Let’s Go! The Story of Getting from There to Here) and a passport when they entered, so we decided to take the theme of transportation throughout the event.  They proceed to get stickers at all the stations around the library and the atrium. They start by swapping a book at our book swap (bring a book, take a book), proceed to the library’s table which this year focused on map making, played a bit of transportation bingo, learned some fascinating early transportation facts from interpreters from the Moncton Museum, watched four performances from students at the Capitol Theatre School of Performing Arts (four tragedies!), made their own boat at the craft table, participated in our read-a-thon, wrote their own poetry and of course, met authors during their readings and participated in writing workshops. It is a fun-filled morning. My absolute favourite part is the kids who have met the authors in their schools over the course of the week and have convinced their parents to bring them to KidsFest so that they can see the authors again. We were so privileged this year (as always!) to have fascinating children’s authors who do such a great job of making words fun for kids. Jacob Berkowitz, Cary Fagan, Christiane Duchesne and Nicole Daigle all stole the show!

As I was running back and forth between headquarters and the library I luckily bumped into Linden MacInyre, so I was able to thank him for coming and wish him well on his return and his next book.

At noon, I changed pace completely and ran over to Moncton City Hall for Noah Richler’s fascinating Antonine Maillet-Northrop Frye lecture entitled: What We Talk About When We Talk About War. I was able to video this lecture, so we will be posting on our site soon. Of course, we will publish the lecture as we always do in a bilingual format, with Goose Lane Editions.

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What’s Wrong with the New York Times?

The_New_York_Times

It’s no secret that the “traditional news media” are in decline — viewership and readership are down sharply, and, as a generational issue, Armageddon lies dead ahead: the fact is that a large and growing number of people under the age of 30 don’t consult traditional media outlets at all.

The New York Times is the self-declared “paper of record,” and it is, as the right loves to point out, the supposed standard bearer of a supposed “liberal elite”.  And yet the Times is increasingly difficult to engage as a top-down authority in a world where news reporting is no longer merely a matter of professionals trained to provide the public with a healthy high-fibre diet of vetted stories and opinion.  There are real reasons for this, most of them editorial.  The “balance” that journalism is supposed to provide on stories of the day has devolved into ideological warfare in which, if X says one thing, then what Y says in response — no matter how crazy or irresponsible or demonstrably, factually wrong — is fair comment and deserving of equal consideration.  Fact-checking is secondary.  The passive reporting of what gets said is primary.  And the New York Times has only added to the problem in recent years when it should in fact have been combating it on all fronts.

The complicity of the Times in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq is an excellent place to start, and characterizing it requires just one name, Judith Miller, who took insider-access journalism to a disastrous history altering low. In one infamous instance, Dick Cheney’s office provided Miller with unreliable intelligence pertaining to Saddam Hussein’s supposed effort to produce nuclear weapons.  Miller duly published it in the Times on 7 September 2002, and Cheney then cited it the next day on Meet the Press as independent confirmation.  In this way a dubious leak from an anonymous self-serving source became news in the paper of record, which effectively legitimatized it.  It’s no wonder that progressive bloggers disdainfully refer to Washington insiders (whether politicians or journalists) as Villagers.  Miller, of course, was also subsequently implicated in the crazy Rube Goldberg machinations by which Cheney’s office outed CIA agent Valerie Plame as political payback to her husband, Joseph Wilson, for his effort to debunk these same shoddy allegations circulating out of Cheney’s office. 

The Times has never found its footing since the awfulness of the Miller affair and apparently still can’t make amends.  Eight years ago it was willing to publish bogus stories on non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but today can’t in its news pages bring itself to call the abuse the Bush administration inflicted upon detainees “torture“. It prefers instead placebos like “harsh” or “enhanced interrogation,” despite the fact that practices like waterboarding (”simulated drowning” in NYTspeak) are recognized in international law as torture and are therefore prosecutable as war crimes.  Not to call them war crimes is to give war criminals credible cover for their actions: “Some say waterboarding is torture, some say it isn’t.  It’s all debatable.”  But that is not the case.  Waterboarding is torture.  It is a war crime.  Those who are responsible for it should be prosecuted and punished.

If only it ended there.  But last year the Times hired a conservative columnist to replace Republican party operative Bill Kristol, the 29 year old Ross Douthat, who, judging by his mediocrity and meteoric rise, is a familiar example of the Peter Principle for the privileged and well-connected.  Week after week Douthat publishes columns that are a journalistic embarrassment for their intellectual shallowness and occasional incomprehensibility.  All are arguably notable for their ideology driven dishonesty.  What Douthat produces seems designed well in advance to mislead though omission, commission and casuistry.

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