Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Get Lit Up

Big cities are home to lots of people.

More people, more ideas. Simple math, I think.

I like keeping an eye on the "ist" sites of big cities. Torontoist.com, LAist.com, SFist.com, Bostonist.com, etc. These sites go out of their way to tell readers about the happenings of the cities, the news, the events, profiles of prominent inhabitants, festival profiles, TV schedules for the region, restaurant reviews, public transit news, architectural news, music listings, etc.

I love seeing what's going on in the cities where the numbers are up above Windsor's. Why? Because in those towns, when you float a crazy idea, you are not the only one standing there looking around, listening to crickets. In big cities, there are others who share the taste for flair.

In particular, I like taking these ideas and using them.

I did just that yesterday evening. I saw a night of book-appreciation in San Francisco and Toronto, where authors come in to discuss books, or the topic of their book, but NOT TO DO A READING. At Phog, we have had plenty of readings, and we've had good results. The idea of a book discussion spoke to me because it was more than the same old praise for the ACTUAL words being spoken. I wanted to know more about what these authors had to say about books.

In connection to this, I cleaned out my house. Began at least. The books were the first thing to be culled. Then what? What was I going to do with them? I decided to build the event around the sharing, and ridding of books into the hands of more appreciative readers. From there, I thought about getting some local authors to give their take on books on a panel at the front of the bar, on stage. Thirdly, I compiled a short list of people who read every time I see them, and I asked them to list their top five books. I then printed these out to give to the attendees of the event, so they had something to take with them as a referral to new, influential books.

What happened?

I was nervous as hell, and I figured the turnout might be slim, but to my surprise, there were about 35 people in all who attended, maybe more, plus the hundreds of books brought by the literati attendees. While I expected a book trade and sale, it turned out that people were more willing to give them away en masse. There was a free-for-all after the discussion period where people grabbed books they wanted, didn't know they wanted, and books they knew someone else wanted.

The pride of the evening, aside from the awesome people who brought books, was the discussion. My guests were mentors of mine from days past and present. Here's who spoke:

Paul Vasey, author of several fiction and non-fiction, ex longtime host of CBC Windsor's morning show, and ex-columnist for the Windsor Star. He, alone, shaped my writing to be exactly what it is today. He told me to write the way I talk. I tell stories well with my voice, but it needed to be translated to paper. Ever since then, I think of him when I finish writing anything.

Bob Monks, who has had two books published about how to make art, or about his journey into his life as an artist. Monks was also the editorial cartoonist for The Windsor Star for YEARS, and he was a TV personality with CBC News. He's a total pro, and is now 81 years old (you'd never know it). He was a mentor in my cartooning career between the ages of 16 and 20 (another story). He taught me composition, editing, humility, and honour.

Mary Ann Mulhern is a very successful narrative poet, who admits her attachment to the dark imagery in her stories, and she taught me once a week in a "special class" when I was in grade 7. She's extremely artistic with her view on books, writing, and expression. She's a great inspiration.

Scotty Hughes is graphic designer who has helped lay out and produce MANY local nature books, reference books, children's books, etc. He is a hugely gifted guitar player, idea guy, inspirational presence. I love having him stroll through the door, because it means I will be having meaninful conversation before the night is through.

The panel took off and never looked back. Paul Vasey, co-moderated the discussion, with me, but not out of request but out of habit. He saw gaps where I was not pushing people to express a little more in their answers, and he made the discussion SO MUCH better because of it. It was a lesson in interviewing and moderation for which I will forever be grateful. All the panelist answers were intelligent, true-to-themselves, expressive, un-rushed, un-forced, free-flowing, and fun. Monks had quick, perfect answers that left people laughing, while the others had reflective stories that put the life of a writer and book lover into perspective.

An hour and a half later, I needed to end the discussion, and try to properly thank the panelists. Still, I do not know how to properly appreciate their contribution.

Good news for those who could not go and wanted to go; I recorded the entire thing.

This link will take you to where you can download the file for free! You may want to skip all the parts where I talk, it really doesn't help. Also, some people are reporting some trouble with this link. If it doesn't work, check back again later. I will try to fix it.

This night was a huge success, shedding some light on the under-appreciated literary arts in Windsor. I am proud, and I am anticipating the next Get Lit Up event...but I need to focus the discussion. That's not going to be an easy thing to decide.

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