Monthly Archives: April 2010

Frye Fest Day 7: Last Day


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

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?


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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Frye Fest Day 6!


The last full day of the festival, and it feels like we’re winding down.  We need to wind down, because the exhaustion factor is taking hold.  I had a great moment last night talking with Christian Bök, after his smashing performance of about 10 pieces of sound poetry.  This is poetry that is all sound, noises, bits of words stripped of all meaning.  Sometimes soft, musical sounds, sometimes harsh and violent.  Everything held together with the rhythm and the music.  It’s a tradition that goes back thousands of years, in Christian’s mind.  I could have talked longer with Christian, but it was midnight, and my wife was waiting below, past the point of no return.  Ronald Leger, a poet of Acadia, had presented something similar a bit earlier, though not so extreme.  The event is called Night Howl, and this year it lived up to its billing.

Yesterday was very busy with writing workshops, school visits, dialogues, readings, and a roundtable, which was called “Writing Lives and Afterlives,” with Nino Ricci, Daniel Poliquin, Maryse Rouy, and Noah Richler.  The noontime roundtable was lively, with a somewhat shifting focus – from the demands of historical fiction, to the ethics of using real people as models for fictional characters, to the way narrative techniques are brought to the table when writing biography and memoir.  The shifting focus probably did, as Dawn has suggested in her blog, leave our class of high school students feeling adrift.  We’ll work on that for next year.

The highlight of the afternoon was a conversation / interview with Maurice Basque, an Acadian researcher and scholar at the University of Moncton, talking with Linden MacIntyre about The Bishop’s Man. Because Maurice knows the book so well, backwards and forwards, and because he knows the Acadian situation equivalent to the Cape Breton of MacIntyre’s book, the conversation was informative, serious, and deep, and also filled with so many funny moments that they had the audience in stitches.  Linden told about asking his 93-year-old mother what she thought of his book.  Was she upset with it because it undermined the faith that is so important in her life?  She replied: “My faith has never depended on what any man does or doesn’t do.”

At 5pm Marie Cadieux, Acadian writer and filmmaker, hosted a reading that we called “Beer and Books.”  There was plenty of beer available, though just as many chose wine or plain water.  The readers were Fred Stenson, Gracia Couturier, Biz (rapper and author from Quebec), and Steven Galloway, filling in for absent Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer.  What was nice was the way Marie engaged each author in a brief conversation after his or her reading.

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Quotes of the Day


“Persona or mask: nothing under it except another persona, but still important to know that we are playing roles.” Holograph note Frye scribbled at the end of a typescript of some notes for a talk.  1991 accession, box 36, file 1.

“As Hamlet proves in its soliloquies, we dramatize ourselves to ourselves even when alone.”  From Frye’s CRTC report.

Dawn Arnold: Frye Festival Diary

Maurice Basque and Linden MacIntyre

Maurice Basque and Linden MacIntyre

Friday, April 23, 2010

Well, I survived my 11th Soirée Frye and despite the public humiliation, I am relatively unscathed. My co-host Mario Thériault was up to his regular tricks of pointing out just what an uptight, snobby upper Canadian I am! It was just so nice to have all the students there, basking in the glory of winning the Frye Writing Contest, and for them to rub shoulders with all the invited authors. One student from Fredericton High School (Stéfanie Violette) who won second place in the short story category planned to stick around town, taking in some workshops and readings today. We try to match members of the community with the authors, finding just the right fit, and I know that some terrific friendships were formed last night between authors and their escorts.

This morning began in the best way possible: driving Linden MacIntyre to CBC’s Information Morning. What a wonderful man. He is very impressed with the Frye Festival and believes that we need to do a much better job of selling the rest of the country on our unique spin on a literary festival, so of course I’ve been thinking about that all day! Getting some substantial and meaningful national coverage will be a major goal for us for 2011. After driving Linden and then Nino Ricci (I got them some Tim Horton’s coffee on the way since the coffee machine with the Coffee Mate (yes, this still exists!) was just too terrible!) I ferried them back to the hotel for school visits and picked-up Noah Richler. What professionals. Each one of them was in the lobby at the precise time with a smile on his face. Local children’s author Jennifer McGrath-Kent joined me to discuss KidsFest, finishing up the day of “Frye-Day” programming for Information Morning.

When I was leaving CBC (for the last time!) I ran into Dominic Langlois, one of the featured authors from “Prelude: Emerging New Brunswick Authors” and he took the time to tell me how much he had enjoyed the experience and how thrilled he had been to participate.

I then returned home to download some video footage, and in the process destroyed my son’s video camera, so after a few hours of messing around with that, I bit the bullet and bought a new camera – I just couldn’t bear to lose the footage from the last couple of days and I really wanted to capture the events today, since I do believe that “showing” people what the Festival is all about will be much more effective than “telling”. (Our Youtube channel on our site should be filled with footage very soon.)

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Frye Fest Day 5!


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.

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Dawn Arnold: Frye Festival Diary


Thursday, April 22, 2010

My day began with minor crises…losing an author (but then finding him!), illnesses in an author’s family, resulting in her cancelation, and a sick volunteer/KidsFest coordinator, but all was solved by noon.

The authors are arriving and it is so much fun to meet them (and match them with their much younger author photos!). The Festival Bookshop is open for business and there are piles of books just waiting to be purchased.

The noon-time round table was insanely eclectic, but worked incredibly well – where else would you get a doctor/novelist (Martin Winkler), a philosopher/novelist (Annabel Lyon), a Quebecois radical rapper/novelist (Biz) and an investigative journalist/novelist (Linden MacIntyre) all together talking about Stories and What They Do? The crowd was very happy (even though we ran out of simultaneous translation devices, for the first time ever!) and seemed so delighted to have had the opportunity to feed their imaginations in this way.

The book club with Steven Galloway was absolutely terrific! What a great guy! Steven is completely down to earth, modest and quite funny. The two “interviewers” (Suzanne Pelham-Belliveau and Laura Nicholson) did a great job of setting up the discussion and then Noah Richler, an audience member, stirred the pot! What great fun. I could have listened to Steven all day. He made us all think about civilization and what it means; the small things that we do every day to maintain our part of the “civilized” bargain.

I’m preparing right now for Soirée Frye, our annual evening extravaganza. I’ve been selling it this year as the ideal event to which to bring the “reluctant” Frye fan. We will see. We sent out tons of invitations and the event is “pay what you can”, so I’m hopeful that people will pack into our beautiful Capitol Theatre. There are four authors on the schedule, including Nino Ricci and Christian Bök (who arrived on the red-eye at noon today, looking exhausted!). Also, in our ongoing Frye Festival tradition of bringing an Anglophone and a Francophone musician together for the first time ever, we have Juno-winning Julie Doiron and Guillaume Arsenault on stage. As well, we will award $3,500 in prize money to high school students who have won our annual Frye Writing Contest.  We also donate $1,000 to two winning schools for the purchase of new books. I’ll be on stage with my co-host Mario Thériault, which probably means public humiliation for me, but hey, all in the name of literature! The reception to follow will be fun since all the authors will be there (they are all accompanied by members of our community) and there is talk of a big party afterwards…but I’m taking authors to interviews at CBC’s Information Morning at 6:40 tomorrow morning, so I don’t know how late I’ll be out!

William Shakespeare


Today is traditionally regarded as Shakespeare‘s birthday (1564 -1616).

Frye didn’t live to see the discovery of the Sanders portrait, above, but did mischievously observe of the Droeshout engraving (by way of dismissing the significance of biography as any sort of key to interpretation) that it is the portrait of a man “who is clearly an idiot.”

Frye has so much to say about Shakespeare that just about any number of quotes would do here.  I was lucky enough to be among the last generation of students to take Frye’s undergraduate Shakespeare course, and I remember very well the thrill it gave me to hear him say things like this:

In every play Shakespeare wrote, the hero or central character is the theatre itself.  His characters are so vivid that we often think of them as detachable from the play, like real people.  So such questions as, “is Falstaff really a coward?” have been discussed since the eighteenth century.  But if we ask what Falstaff is, the answer is that he isn’t: he’s a character in a play, has no existence outside that play, and what is real about him is his function in the play.  He has a variety of such functions — vice, braggart parasite, jester — and one of the things he has to do is certainly to behave at times like a stage coward.  But Falstaff, like the actor who plays him, is only what he appears to be; and what he really really is, even if he could exist, wouldn’t exist. (On Shakespeare, 4)

A clip from Peter Brook‘s great film adaptation of King Lear after the jump.

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