A chaos of yellow leaves shook outside my window on Sunday morning. Last day of the Festival, last day in Banff—boo. I got dressed, complete with infinity scarf and buggy sunglasses, to make my way to the Kinnear building with my notebook for ‘Blokes & Brawls.’ The event featured Todd Babiak, Craig Davidson (Giller Prize finalist 2013), Anthony De Sa, Anthony Marra and D.W. Wilson. Robyn Read, host-extraordinaire and Managing Editor of the Banff Centre Press, introduced the event by saying, “I am going to referee amateur boxing amongst five exceptionally talented authors whose books have reflected they know a thing or two about researching a fight… First rule of fight club is—turn off your cell phones.”
The authors read vivid scenes from their books, and the moderated conversation that followed drew the audience into what it means to be (or to be seen as) a “masculine” or “macho” writer. Craig Davidson said that he recognizes this is “a box that he built” and that he’ll always have a masculine outlook, but hopes that with this book (Cataract City) and in future books, that he will expand his narrative to more closely parallel the way he sees the world. With each book, he said, “you’re trying to do something new.” Later, he told us one of the best parts of writing the book was going back to childhood, when you have a “nimbleness of belief” that everything will be okay. As adults we become more calcified (disbelievers, losing hope) and re-immersing himself into a younger perspective was enjoyable.
As “macho” as his book might be, Anthony De Sa chose to make a young woman’s experience of pregnancy quite prominent in the coming of age of the boys in his novel. He spoke of growing up in a Portuguese community surrounded by incredibly strong women. Raised (in a large part) by his grandmother, he regaled the audience with a tale of being in the role of translator—at the tender age of eleven—for his grandmother during a gynecological exam. For De Sa, the best part of writing is losing track of the time; when somehow it’s 3 a.m. and the process has felt effortless—this, he describes, is the most wonderful feeling.
D.W. Wilson didn’t set out to write rural masculinity, it just happened. “My characters almost exclusively wear plaid shirts…but I didn’t set out to write what it means to wear plaid shirts.” While he is quoted as having referred to his writing as “sad man fiction,” he articulately explained that he does not consider himself a rough and tumble, overtly male or “macho” writer. As to process, he said, “I like revising. I don’t like the part that comes before revising.” Amen, Dave—I hear you.
In an earlier post I mentioned that Todd Babiak’s novel was inspired, at the outset, by a nightmare. “The biggest fear I have is something happening to one of my daughters,” he said. When he had the nightmare about a child being killed in a car accident, he didn’t even want to tell his wife because she’s superstitious. But the dream haunted him and he started asking himself, how do we protect our children? And if you lose a child, what do you do? How does the father react, how does the mother react? The novel became an examination ofthe human condition, fear and the complexities of grief.
Anthony Marra was a junior in high school when 9/11 happened and has spent his entire adult life in a world where terror is present in a new way. Marra’s debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, takes place in Chechnya, a war-torn region of Russia. The story follows three character’s unlikely companionship at a deserted hospital in the devastated region. He spoke on the process of authentically re-creating violence that he didn’t personally witness. “The currency of fiction is emotion,” he said. To see the world through an individual character’s point of view, to be transported—reading is an emotional connection between the author and the characters.
Following this very interesting event, I met Christian Bök and Robyn Read for lunch downstairs at McLab. Originally I’d been planning to grab a muffin and a giant coffee and return to my room to finish a post and start the next one. Tick, tick. But when I sat down at a table with Christian and Jowita Bydlowska, author of the memoir Drunk Mom—what happened next warrants its own post—and I will sign this story off and invite you read my festival finale, Rimby & Jangles—Into the Wild with Jowita Bydlowska.
BUT FIRST! Big shout out to Eleanor Catton, Man Booker-winning author of The Luminaries. Set during the heady days of New Zealand’s gold rush, The Luminaries revolves around three crimes that draw together the fates and fortunes of an entire community. Catton is also nominated for the 2013 Governor General’s Award. She read alongside Cathy Marie Buchanan, Charlotte Grimshaw, Wayne Johnston and Anakana Schofield in the Festival’s sparkling final event, Afterwords, where sun steamed in through the big Kinnear windows framing each author as they read against a backdrop of mountains and blue sky.
To see more photos by Official WordFest Photographer Monique de St. Croix, CLICK HERE.
Samantha Warwick is the author of the novel Sage Island (WordFest artist 2008 + 2009). Her nonfiction and poetry have been broadcast on CBC Radio and appeared in various literary and commercial publications including Geist, Event, Room, filling Station, The Globe & Mail and FASHION. Samantha is the Official WordFest Blogger for 2013.