Spring readings …

In the first few years of the 1980s when I was book editor at The Windsor Star, it was frustrating petitioning publishing companies, all based in Toronto, to send authors to Windsor. I discovered that writers would embark on a book tour, and wind up as far south in the province as London, Ontario. It was as if someone had mistaken Wellington Road for the start of the U.S. border rather than that invisible line in the middle of the Detroit River. I set about to change that as book editor at the paper here. I remember interviewing Pierre Berton, the late journalist, historian and media personality, and promising him that if he ventured a little further south, he might sell more books. He waved me away, suggesting there was no point in visiting Windsor. The only time he had been there, he sold only four books. There was no point in going back, he protested. I begged him to give it another try, but I nearly screwed it up when I sat across from him in his Sackville Avenue office in Toronto. I  pissed him off when I suggested that the common thought surrounding his fame was that his researchers really did “all the work” in preparing his books. Berton nearly tossed me out the window of his office. He rose to his feet, and towered high above me, and leaned forward and told me that wrote each and every word, and he needn’t have to explain that to a naive young journalist who knew nothing of the etiquette of asking questions. My query obviously provoked something in him. Fortunately, I was permitted to remain, and the interview improved…gradually. And I insisted “Come to Windsor!” He relented and when his next book came out, he rode down to our city. South Shore Books, then operated by Sheila Wisdom, who later would become a city councillor, accommodated Berton. He sold nearly 400 copies of his book, The Invasion of Canada,  the first volume in the history of the War of 1812. From that point on, Berton made a point of including Windsor on his tour across Canada. He also opened the doors for other writers to make their way here, so it was not uncommon for novelists, poets, and non-fiction writers to go another 100 miles south to our city. The rest is history.

When I started Black Moss Press in 1969 from an attic apartment on Dougall Avenue with my wife, Donna, I had no idea where this would take me. I had no money. I borrowed what I could to buy a Gestetner mimeograph machine. At that same time, Eugene McNamara and a small crew operated Mainline magazine. Another publication fizzled out around that time. It was called Connexion. McNamara was also behind the founding of The Windsor Review. Of the three, the only one that still persists is The Windsor Review. Black Moss also continues — long after some 600 titles in print, and many of those authors having been published for the first time. Readings in those days took place at the DH or the Dominion House in Sandwich, Ontario. McNamara and I also worked the first Art in the Park at Willistead where he got the idea of hawking Walt Whitman t-shirts. In those early years, our books were sold out of my wife’s tiny sports car — we would run from one store to another crisscrossing southern Ontario and Toronto. In those years, we had the advantage of  a string of small independents that regularly supported us. Most have now disappeared, having given away to distributors, agents, and chain stores. Now many publishers like us load up our authors with a supply of books to hawk to fans at literary readings. Oddly enough, we have virtually cycled back to where we began. In those early days, we were lucky to get a review in a newspaper.

I am saying all this by way of a long introduction to the state of things now in Windsor. For years, Black Moss was virtually the sole publisher in this part of the province. Others that have emerged, and are basking in the lime light are: Biblioasis, Palimpsest Press, Cranberry Tree Press, and Urban Farmhouse Press. On top of that, BookFest Windsor has  become a regular feature in the city, drawing writers from all across the country. Literary Arts Windsor is also operating to keep literary activities before audiences. And there are a host of other initiatives happening, including the much-valued Cultural Affairs office of the City of Windsor which created the poet laureate program. Vanessa Shields has also started the very popular Mouthpiece or venue for storytelling. It is going gangbusters. It’s breathed fresh oxygen into the literary scene. Kudos to her. In other words, Windsor may be developing into the liveliest, and richest literary scene in the province, certainly outside Toronto. I am sure we are drawing the largest audiences for literary events. Poetry At The Manor each October attracts nearly 200 to its readings at the old Willistead Manor. It’s standing room only. And each spring, Black Moss sees 300 to 400 coming out to its annual literary launch at the Caboto Hall. This year, we had 325 attending Barry Brodie’s launch of his Tom Thomson book, and Bruce Meyer’s 1967: Centennial Year. Is that happening anywhere else?

Anyway, in Windsor over the past two weeks, there have been a number of springtime readings. Biblioasis opened its Wyandotte Street doors to two fiction writers: Elise Levine and Terry Griggs. Elise, author of the story collection Driving Men Mad, was promoting Blue Field, while Griggs, best known for her book, Quickening, shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award, was pushing The Discovery of Honey. The two performed at Biblioasis. Below are my photographs of that event.

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TERRY GRIGGS.jpgTerry Griggs

The readings here are informal, intimate, inviting. The store is a good venue for it, and Bob Stewart, the store’s manager, does a terrific job of organizing the readings. Dan Wells the night I was there was the host of the readings, and spoke about his association with these two writers whose works had always fascinated him. It was Dan’s interest in their writing that led to him inviting both Levine and Griggs to join the Biblioasis stable.

BOB STEWART.jpgBob Stewart at Biblioasis

And last week, Literary Arts Windsor held a meeting at Mackenzie Hall in Sandwich and invited poet and University of Windsor English professor Susan Holbrook to read. She was also interviewed briefly by writer and editor Daniel Lockhart. A comment that she made that surprised me was to a question about her beginnings as a writer.

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P5110083.jpgSusan Holbrook being interviewed by writer Daniel Lockhart

She told the audience that years ago as a young aspiring writer in Guelph, Ontario she stumbled across a book by John B. Lee called The Bad Philosophy of Good Cows. The Trillium-nominated Holbrook said this book of poetry —published incidentally in 1989 by Black Moss Press—changed everything about the way she wrote.

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Maclean’s

Good news about the Editing and Publishing courses that I teach at the University of Windsor with Maclean’s Magazine calling them “cool.” I’ve been teaching this for a dozen years, and I can count nearly 30 students who went on from this training to working in the publishing industry in some capacity. The course is unique because it provides students with an opportunity to work for a publishing company and produce two or three titles. That distinguishes it from other courses in universities and colleges.

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Maclean's recognizes University of Windsor publishing course

401 Poetry Tour by Biblioasis

NOAH WARENESS2.jpgBIBLIOASIS brought to Windsor three poets Thursday night to launch three new books. The writers were Toronto’s Molly Peacock for The Analyst, Victoria poet Patricia Young for her new collection The Apocalypse, and Noah Wareness of Toronto for Real Is The Word They Use To Contain Us. I was anxious to hear each of them and picked up my camera and headed out to Biblioasis on Wyandotte Street.

Molly Peacock was delightful, entertaining, and her poetry, though focusing on therapy, was far less “confessional” as one might have thought. She herself mentioned this. Molly read these poems with authority and feeling in a deliberate but sensitive manner and it clearly resonated with the audience. These poems are exceptional, and deliver ironies in the simplest and most direct way. They are honest, poignant, and her delivery of them connected immediately with her audience in the most compelling way.

Molly Peacock.jpgMOLLY PEACOCK (1).jpgGovernor General’s Award Winning nominee Patricia Young set out to convey to her audience that the basis of her book was a response to Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing but the work ranges all over the map of emotions and themes and at times deals with the largest of subjects. There is no question of that she is, as some critics have said, “a masterful technician.” Prairie Fire said, “She masons each brick into place just so. …She thrives on ambiguity and twists while fostering a rapt interest in them in the reader.”PATRICIA YOUNG.jpg

Noah Wareness, who arrived late for the reading because he missed or took the wrong train, was forgiven when he got up and enlivened the night with a powerful reading from his new collection that Biblioasis editors described as “stealing electricity from nihilistic horror fiction and shaggy late-night cartoons to create a landscape of profound loss, vertigo and wonder…” Indeed.

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Zach Wells, the press’s poetry editor said Wareness is the “explosive secret (on the literary scene) for the past decade.” Perhaps. Maybe Zach is right and maybe after reading this book, as he suggests, “you will see the world a little differently.” It was fun. It was lively. It was in your face.

It is always my great pleasure to see children at a reading. Here Biblioasis publisher Dan Wells listens to the poet reading but keeps a close watch over his young daughter.

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Experience 150 — Words and Smiles

MARTY SPEAKING2.jpgI’m sitting here at Tim Hortons — a place that I describe as my second office — and it’s a little later than usual — it’s after 6 a.m. The events of last night are still bouncing around in my blood, and my brain is a running slide show that includes the pop/soul singer songwriter Crissy Cochrane. I also see the poets — Bruce Meyer and Barry Brodie — furiously autographing their books, and there is a throng of students at what certainly has to be the largest literary reading in SW Ontario. These students are mingling about with big smiles on their faces. The night is over. They know they’ve done a great job of organizing it, and making this all happen.

But this is morning now, and it’s quiet: a cup of tea, a bagel and the newspaper spread out on the table before me. I’m by myself. There is the vague echo of an ambulance racing by, and other than that, there is only the sound of the coffee shop’s coffee machines… and the memories of the night before at the Caboto Hall.

Last night, Black Moss Press launched Bruce Meyer’s 1967: Centennial Year and Barry Brodie’s Tom Thomson: On the Threshold of Magic. The launch was done in conjunction with the University of Windsor’s Editing/Publishing Practicum. These are the two courses that I teach, and it’s the one that was selected by Maclean’s as one of the “cool” courses for 2017 in the magazine’s annual report card on universities. And throughout the night, this was a constant refrain, including the University of Windsor Provost Douglas Kneale calling me “a cool guy.”

Twenty four of my students were involved in this program, having edited these books from September to December, and then taking on the role of designing, laying out, marketing and producing teaching kits and press kits. Hundreds of hours were spent in this endeavor, and the Caboto Club event was the crowning glory of it all.

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Toronto-born writer and former poet laureate of Barrie, Ontario Bruce Meyer remarked, “I’ve never seen anything like this.” He said book signings and launches are never this formal or elegant. This is coming from someone who has published 50 books, and someone who has had at least two Canadian bestsellers. Bruce maintained there is nothing like this anywhere in Ontario, or maybe Canada. I am not sure if it’s true, but for an annual gathering, as this has become, there is little to rival it. Besides, we have been doing this for a dozen years, and it grows every year. We also sold nearly $3000 worth of books.

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For Barry Brodie,  one of the prime movers behind the ever-popular Sho Gallery in Walkerville, this was his first book. And, of course, his first book launch. Maybe we spoiled him. People queued up for his book. Some remembered his play about Tom Tomson that received rave reviews, and now this was a chance for them to have a copy of it between the covers of a published book.

CBARRY BRODIE2.jpgOne fan bought 14 copies of 1967: Centennial Year, and Bruce painstakingly signed each and every one with a personal note. The authors were in their element: head down and scribbling their salutations in book after book after book. How glorious a feeling is that!

It was a night with lots of fanfare. Superbly well-orchestrated. All by these students. I felt blessed by the moment. In my remarks to the crowd, I maintained that it was a stress-free semester teaching these students the rudiments of publishing, and that it was because they were “responsible, mature, insightful, gracious and made a difference.”

For me, education ought to be experiential, and provide students with the opportunities to develop skills that they can take into the real world of business. Life skills. And last night, those students stepped up to the task, and showed what they had. I also told them how important it was for them to dream deeply, to hold steady with their dreams, always aiming higher and ignore the naysayers. “Believe in yourself,” I said.

 

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For poetry, it was a win. It brought people to the Caboto who might never have attended a literary soiree in their life. For the photographers, it brought out some from the local media, including local photographer and good friend Ted Kloske whose photographs are displayed here.

As I get up to leave the coffee shop, someone from nearby Chrysler strolls in, and notices me. He approaches me with this: “I heard on the radio that you had a good night last night — you’re doing great things for Windsor.” I nodded, and thanked him, then made my exit. The sun was just coming up.

Postscript: http://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/macleans-recognizes-university-of-windsor-publishing-course

STAN ROGAL TASTES ‘WINDSOR SALT’

Stan RogalThe Vancouver-born poet and novelist Stan Rogal was the featured reader for the launch tonight of the2017 Spring issue of Windsor Salt, a publication from the University of Windsor’s Creative Writing department. The work in this magazine also included the work of a group of graduate students, taught by Dr. Karl Jirgens, former editor of Rampike, one of the longest-serving literary periodicals in Canadian literary history.

This event took place at the popular Mare Nostrum Café on campus. Rogal, the  co-founder of Bald Ego Theatre and at one time coordinated a weekly literary reading series at The Idler Pub in Toronto, is one of the more entertaining and best-known writers on the public reading circuit. His powerful delivery was filled with humour. Rogal was joined by an impressive gang of other writers that included Vanessa Barraco, Jennie Broadwell, Tim Fogarty, Micaela Muldoon and the ever-engaging and funny Yanik Gallie.

Rogal’s poetry and fiction can be found in scores of magazines and anthologies in Canada, the US and Europe. He has some 19 books to his credit including four novels and 11 poetry collections.

 

A Woman Walks on the Detroit River

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Emily Schultz at Biblioasis

 

It was such a great pleasure to see Emily Schultz back in Windsor Wednesday night (March 22). Her roots are here. She not only studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Windsor, but her grandfather, Herman, was a rumrunner in Detroit during Prohibition. She can tell you stories of how at the age of 14, her grandfather started in the business to become a small-time gangster and entrepreneur. He operated out of an auto shop where he fixed up old jalopies that were guided across the ice on the Detroit River to pick up shipments of Canadian whiskey. That is why it is so appropriate for this newest novel from Schultz to begin with a man falling through the ice. A classic Prohibition story. Men Walking On Water, published by Knopf Canada ($25)

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Emily Schultz at Biblioasis

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Emily Schultz at Biblioasis

and set in 1927, opens with a Model T loaded with booze having just crashed through the icy Detroit. Alfred Moss, the driver who is carrying a bag of money, is now lost in the frozen river. It is this mystery that fuels Schultz’s book, keeps you turning the page. She is the kind of writer that knows how important it is to catch your attention, keep your gaze fixed on the words, and make you want to see this through to the end. That’s the kind of novel this is.That’s the kind of an effective writer she is. I’m better than half way through, and I seem to spend every waking moment, eager to finish this new work of fiction — it is that good!

Emily was at Biblioasis reading from Men Walking On Water to a packed house. She read from novel in a measured and effective way, and afterwords, the queue snaked up and around the bookshelves for book buyers seeking her autograph.

Now living and working in Brooklyn with a five-year-old son, this author who was named a finalist for the Trillium Book Award and selected by NPR and Kirkus for Best Books of the Year, is on a book tour to promote the novel whose subject is one that is dear to my heart, having written The Rumrunners. It is interesting what Schultz says about the influence of her family’s stories on the making of this book. She said when she was attending university here on the south shore of the Detroit River, she often gazed at the waterfront, daydreaming of its presence and its symbolic importance in her life. She said, “My father crossed the river himself, during the Vietnam War, to escape the U.S. Army. I looked at the river every day of my university years. The river could give you freedom, or money. It could also end your life. And it sits at the centre of my family’s story.

Schultz tells the story of her father coming across a pearl-handed revolver when he was 10 years old. It had belonged to his father, or Emily’s grandfather: “Its patina worn, it was already a relic by the 1950s. He took it out and held it in his hands, knowing he wasn’t supposed to have found this. Quietly he put it back and made no mention of it until he decided to collect our family’s history. By then, he knew where the gun had come from.”

Read this newest book by Emily Schultz. You will be drawn into the high-flying romantic period of the 1920s, the era of flappers and gangsters. I’m with Stephen King one hundred per cent when he remarked, “Emily Schultz is my new hero.”

Welcome home, Emily.

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Emily Schultz at Biblioasis

Radish Poetry

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe renowned award-winning poet Susan Holbrook led her merry band of poets to Biblioasis Books Thursday night (March 16) to read from their newly-minted book Radish, the result of work in the University of Windsor’s English Department creative writing course #498. This impressive chapbook, released by Biblioasis as No.5 in its South Detroit Chapbook Series, employs a novel approach with each student contributing a poem. In each case, however, the poem underwent an “erasure” procedure, whereby another student would remove words from the original in an effort to create yet another poem. The result, says Holbrook in her introduction, was a collaboration of sorts: “Some of these crystallize the original; some answer, playfully undermine, or hold hands with it…These works reveal the voices within our voices.” Fascinating. I was particularly impressed with Abigail Roelens’ piece They Worked Ninety Years Side by Side and Never Spoke A Word:

their mother had a silent womb/even the doctor said so and/he had put his head up to her/held his breath/didn’t even hear a ping of a pitchfork tine/”voter uterus eat come uno tomb”/—spring, 1925/to belgian farmers/it was a fair assumption/after that/ their mother and her still belly/ came in with extra vowels/birthed her twins in a cornfield/on county rd 8

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Terry Dang reading from his poem

It was a delightful evening, hosted at Biblioasis here, with Yanik Gallie as the emcee introducing some 16 writers. Among this talented bunch were Kaitlyn Benjamin, Terry Dang, Joe Rowley, Victoria Sinasac, and there was a neat piece by Ellie Hastings, who performed her poem side by side with Holbrook. Here are my photographs of the event.Nicole Clark.jpg