Category Archives: Frye Festival

Frye Festival Wrap Up

Atwood at the Capitol Theatre, Moncton, Thursday night (photo, Times-Transcript)

I love this story which I picked up this morning through the Globe & Mail, about a man named Sohaib Athar, a resident of Abbottabad, Pakistan, who inadvertently tweeted the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound as it unfolded. What follows are the exact words of the article, with a few sentences omitted for brevity. It all leads to an amazing last sentence. We’re all one big human race, that sentence tells us.

His first tweet was innocuous: “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).”
As the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden unfolded, Mr. Athar “liveblogged” what he was hearing in real time, describing windows rattling as bombs exploded.
He questioned whose helicopters might be flying overhead. “The few people online at this time of the night are saying one of the copters was not Pakistani,” he tweeted.
Mr. Athar then said one of the aircraft appeared to have been shot down. Two more helicopters rushed in, he reported..
Throughout the battle, he related the rumours swirling through town: it was a training accident. Somebody was killed.. The aircraft might be a drone. The army was conducting door-to-door searches in the surrounding area. The sound of an airplane could be heard overhead.
Mr. Athar did not respond to media requests for comment — he explained in another tweet that a filter he set up to stop his email box from flooding could be culling out requests for interviews.
Soon, however, the rumbling of international events far beyond the confines of this quiet upscale suburb began to dawn on Mr. Athar, and he realized what he might be witnessing.
“I think the helicopter crash in Abbottabad, Pakistan and the President Obama breaking news address are connected,” he tweeted.
Eight hours and about 35 tweets later, the confirmation came: “Osama Bin Laden killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan,” Mr. Athar reported. “There goes the neighbourhood.”

The Frye Festival, at least for organizers, always has a sense of let-down when it’s over, like postpartum depression I suppose. We wish it didn’t have to end and we didn’t have to return to the real world. This year, with the election and Bin Laden’s death all happening the day after the festival, there’s even more a sense that what we’ve created is slipping fast into memory. Maybe, though, at the end of the day it will not be a down feeling, but joy as the results come in. We can always hope, prematurely or not.

As we fully expected, the festival ended with a bang, with Margaret Atwood’s lecture Saturday evening, followed by a Q & A Session that lasted 40 minutes, instead of the allotted 20.  The Capitol Theatre was filled to capacity, a little worried because she was AWOL until the last moment, returning from a trip to Sackville, where her grandmother had attended university. Her talk was entitled “Mythology and Me: The Late 1950s at Victoria College.”  She was thoroughly entertaining (local CBC reporter Bob Mersereau blogged her as the best stand-up comic he’s seen in a long time) and richly informative about her own life, her years at U of T, her interactions with Frye as well as McLuhan, and her reading of Frye’s Anatomy, Educated Imagination, and Great Code. She read a long and irreverent piece she had written under the nom de plume ‘Shakesbeat Latweed’ while at Victoria College, making fun of the ideas of both Frye and McLuhan. She analyzed the ‘poetry’ of advertising spots for Coke, Pepsi, and other products of the 40s and 50s, making the (tongue in cheek) case that in the days when everyone was lamenting the aridity of the Canadian literary scene, here, right under our noses, a great oral tradition, calling for its own horde of specialists, was unfolding via the new media, radio and television. There was much on myth, not meaning true or false, as she tried continuously to emphasize, but story, and her presentation of the Great Code in a nutshell was a tour de force. As Rhonda Whittaker, host and interviewer, said afterward, “I think everyone was surprised by how wry and witty she was.” Even when we were not surprised we laughed a lot. After the talk and after the Q & A, she sat at a table on stage and signed books, generously greeting everyone in a long line of at least 250 people. The talk, by the way, should be available as an e-book sometime in the fall.

Saturday was jam-packed with other activities, many of them focused on children, including Kidsfest in the morning, which attracted several hundred kids and parents. There were writing workshops for kids and an event called ‘Budding Writers’ where students in grade 5 to 8 read their own works. A Brunch & Books event with Fereshteh Molavi, Melvin Gallant, Shandi Mitchell, and Hélène Vachon was a quiet oasis for lovers of the written word. The final event of the festival, called Frye Jam, brought together 7 authors, French and English, as well as several musical guests, for a late night celebration of words and music. A tough crowd sometimes, for the authors, with some people doing more talking than listening, but Mark Anthony Jarman found an answer when he pulled his harmonica out of his pocket toward the end of his reading and fronted our favourite local band, Les Païens. And with skill, as his CV had forewarned us.

I’ve left Friday out of my account, but it’s getting late and the election results are beginning to come in. As a purely (or not so purely) English speaker at a bilingual festival, it was a pleasure for me to meet Prix Goncourt winner, medical doctor, and ambassador (among many other things) Jean-Christophe Rufin. Friday evening Rufin engaged in a one-hour conversation with host Jean Fugère, which kept the crowd of 150 in absolute thrall. Rufin also took part in a noontime roundtable on “Writers as Readers” along with Fereshteh Molavi, Mark Anthony Jarman, and Hélène Vachon. Friday afternoon belonged to Sylvia Tyson. A well-attended ‘Book Club’ event featured a discussion of her new novel, “Joyner’s Dream,” with Sylvia answering all our questions. Two hours later she was part of a ‘Beer and Books’ event that ended with Sylvia reading extensively from her novel and, to conclude her reading, she performed one of the songs she had written as integral to the novel. As I said to someone leaving the venue, “It was worth the wait!”


Frye Festival, Day Four

To fill the void left with Michael’s departure I’m gathering a few thoughts about yesterday’s exciting fourth day of the festival. It’s early Friday morning as I write, and the wedding is happening. On the local CBC station Sylvia Tyson is talking about her debut novel, Joyner’s Dream. Next half hour Charles Foran will talk about his great biography of Mordecai Richler and his more recent short biography of Rocket Richard. Sylvia is still in town for her main events today, whereas Charles is moving on to Montreal and that other festival.

Last night close to 800 people filled the Capital Theatre for our annual Soirée Frye. Hosted by Festival Chair and ambassador extraordinaire Dawn Arnold and newly crowned Poet Flyé Gabriel Robichaud, the event featured readings by poet Dyane Léger, novelist Shandi Mitchell, novelist and Prix Goncourt winner Gilles Leroy, and Margaret Atwood. Throughout the evening Marie-Jo Theriault and Joe Grass provided a magical musical background, and sometimes foreground. Very strong performances by all four readers! Margaret Atwood opened by saying that she was a student of Frye, and that she would talk more about that time in her life when she delivers the Antonine Maillet-Northrop Frye lecture Saturday evening. (It’s at the Capital Theatre at 8 pm, and will again no doubt be packed to the rafters.) If Frye could see what is happening in Moncton in his name, he would be, Atwood said, “bemused, delighted, or … something.” (That ‘something’ was quintessential Atwood, I think everyone felt. I did.) She read from Oryx and Crake, in four perfectly modulated voices, demonstrating a dramatic flair that surprised me and left all of us wishing for more. The reception afterwards, in the lobby, lasted an hour, with everyone feeling they had just witnessed, or taken part in, something special.

The word ‘witness’ crept in above, because earlier in the day, at a noontime roundtable, the topic was ‘The Writer as Witness.’ The three panellists were Gilles Leroy, Johanna Skibsrud (winner of the 2010 Giller Prize), and Melvin Gallant, one of Acadie’s most important writers. I found Leroy’s talk about the many ways writers can be false witnesses, as well as true witnesses, especially interesting. We have a great moderator for this roundtable, and others, in Jean Fugère, who has been coming to our festival for many years now from Montreal.. Besides hosting two or sometimes three roundtables, he invariably engages one of the festival’s leading French authors in conversation. (This year that author is Jean-Christophe Rufin.)

I musn’t forget to mention the thoroughly enjoyable ‘Book Club’ event with Shandi Mitchell at 2pm Thursday, featuring her wonderful novel “Under This Unbroken Sky.” And at 5 pm, at Navigator’s Pub (scene of Michael Happy’s successful ‘Frye for Beginners’ presentation), the Iranian writer-in-exile Fereshteh Molavi talked with Thomas Hodd, a new member of the Frye Festival team, and gave us much insight into the immigrant experience, from the point of view of a single woman trying to make her way as a writer. Not easy! To say the least.

Thursday was a great day, as we reached the halfway point of the 12th annual Northrop Frye Festival. Our intense program of authors in the schools is going very well, from what I hear, with one or two exceptions – when a classroom is perhaps not prepared to receive the author. Today, Friday, promises to give us much more to ‘feed the imagination.’ Saturday, ending with Margaret Atwood’s talk (entitled ‘Mythology and Me: The Late 1950s at Victoria College”), will bring it all to a very high, even exhilarating pitch I’m sure. My only regret is that Michael is not still here to record and observe it all.


Post Coming

The Frye Festival exceeds my ability to keep up with it. I can’t even pretend I’m covering it. I can only report on what I’ve been present to see. I have a high school class to visit in the morning, and will try to get a post up as soon as possible after that.

Frye Festival Day 1

Frye in the front yard of 24 Pine Street, ca. 1922

I was well prepared to enjoy myself here in Moncton. But I am enjoying myself much more than I expected.  It begins, first, with the extraordinary people who run the Frye Festival, many more than I can name. But the people I’ve seen up close doing their jobs so remarkably well include Festival Chair Dawn Arnold, as well as the inexhaustibly resourceful Danielle LeBlanc, Roxanne Richard, and Ed Lemond. It’s a pleasure to thank them publicly for the tireless work they do, most of it behind the scenes.

Yesterday, Ed Lemond, Co-chair of Program Development, took it upon himself to give me a tour after the morning’s official opening ceremony at City Hall (which, incidentally, was once the site of the Public Library whose contents Frye would have spent many hours exploring). First we toured Frye’s childhood neighborhood, which includes the site of Queen Victoria School, the elementary school he attended; it remains an elementary school, although the original building is of course long gone. Just across the road from the school is Victoria Park, where Frye no doubt spent much time while growing up. And just around the corner from Victoria Park is his home at 24 Pine Street.

Victoria School and Victoria Park are both situated on Park Street, from which Pine Street runs. The block Frye’s home faces is interesting. The first thing you notice is that it is only half the width of an ordinary residential block, with just a single row of large houses overlooking Victoria Park; the backs of those houses, as a result, overlook Pine Street. This means that only the back of these upscale homes face Frye’s house, as well as those of his neighbors who lived on the poorer side of Pine Street. Ed says the reason is that the people who lived on Pine Street and served those large homes in the 19th century were intended to have access to them by the back entrances.

The houses that have occupied Pine Street and the neighborhood for a century and more are still there, but many of course have been refurbished, and, in some cases, siding put over their wooden exteriors.  Even so, the sense of Frye’s childhood neighborhood is remarkably intact.  24 Pine Street is still a duplex combining numbers 24 and 26. Moreover, 24 Pine itself remains comprised of two separate dwellings, one downstairs and one upstairs, the upstairs apartment being where the Frye family lived.

We then went off to Frye’s old school, Aberdeen High, which is still standing. It does not take much of an imaginative leap to imagine it as it was then. Frye spoke of his childhood education with mixed feelings at best; the pedagogy back then was pretty stern and unrelentingly authoritarian — corporal punishment remains part of the living memory of those old enough to have endured it.  (I stood in what was once the principle’s office where, I was told, former students still shudder at the memory of being struck across the palm with a ruler.)

However, that sturdy monument of a building is now the Aberdeen Arts Centre, the home of the Acadian arts community in New Brunswick. It is still under construction, and everything is being opened up into magnificent galleries and working spaces for artists, writers and dancers. On the third floor a large performance space is just beginning to take shape.  One of the best things about antique schools is their wide, high windows. The entire place is flooded with sunlight. I have no doubt Frye would have been delighted to see what had become of his old high school. Like the Frye Festival, it is dedicated to the arts first and foremost.

Despite all of these extensive renovations, one part of the school remains unchanged since Frye’s day: three flights of stairs situated at either end of the long hallways.  Those wooden steps are gently worn by a century of foot traffic, the permanent shine on the banisters burnished by countless hands. The young Frye was really here, and this is what he saw. It’s difficult not to be moved by that.

More coming, including photographs.

Frye Festival Post Coming

It’s a long day today: CBC interview at 6 am, a panel at noon, and then visits to two high schools after that.

However, I am pulling together a post on yesterday’s events, which I will put up as soon as I can finish it.

Until then, thanks very much to the people who came out to the Navigator’s Pub last night; thanks also for your wonderful questions and the great discussion that followed.  Finally, thanks to the organizers who set the talk at the Nav’s.  The result of the experience is that from now on I will only speak at drinking establishments.

Frye Festival

Next year is Frye’s centenary, so that’s a good reason to attend next year’s Frye Festival. Because it is an arts festival, it is the best honor his hometown could provide him.

I’ll post more soon, including photographs.