Friday, 25 November 2011

Forty years and $1.5 million later, McGill Book Fair bites the dust

Book Fair coordinator Victoria Lees unloads boxes at Redpath Hall. Photo: Owain Harris

The volunteer-run sale of books, CDs and DVDs, which has raised over $1.5 million in endowment funds for student scholarships and bursaries, just doesn’t have enough volunteers to keep going.

The Book Fair committee took a vote on the question of whether or not they could continue on Sept. 13th.

“It was a sad decision but it was a unanimous one,” said Victoria Lees, a Book Fair volunteer for the past eight years, and coordinator for the last four.

Many tears were shed said Lees, a former Secretary-General of McGill, but in the end, it all came down to the fact that “younger people aren’t that interested in volunteering.”

The Book Fair committee is composed of 23 women and one man. Most are retired McGill employees, with many in their mid-seventies and some in their mid-eighties.

Another 150 or so volunteers are recruited for the three-day sale itself, to be held this year from Oct. 18 - 20. The best recruits are the friends of other volunteers, Lees said, but at this point their network has been exhausted.

Books, CDs, DVDs and albums, new and used, are donated and collected at depots around Montreal. The committee starts work each year in February, receiving and sorting through thousands of donations. Last year’s sale raised $85,000.

Lees says many of the books that come her way are from people who are closing up their parents’ apartments or homes. The work can involve the unpacking of “often filthy" boxes.

“For every 50 to 55 thousand books we put on sale each year, we must process about 10 times that number," Lees said. "There’s a tremendous amount of sorting and moving of heavy boxes. Redpath Hall is a great location but there are lots of stairs involved.”

The promise of a rare find has attracted amateur collectors and book dealers come from Ontario, New England, and throughout Quebec over the years.

Occasionally, there are incredible finds. One year, Lees recounted, two first-edition James Bond novels in mint condition were uncovered—hard covers with their dust jackets. They fetched $11,400. There’s a lesson in that, Lees said.

“Never throw away a dust jacket. Ninety percent of the value of a book from the 20th century is in the dust jacket.”

Another year, Lees came across a first edition of Samuel Johnson’s "Dictionary of the English Language." It went to the Rare Books Collection at McGill for $1,800, a sum Lees calls “a real bargain. That’s the sort of thing that makes me saddest about all this. What will happen to all these books? That’s the thing that breaks my heart.”

Besides volunteers, about 20 students are hired to work as cashiers or security agents for the Book Fair. Jonathan Haines has been the hiring manager for the past three years; for two years before that, while a McGill linguistics student himself, he was one of the student hires.

Haines said he’s sad about the Book Fair’s demise, “as are a lot of the students I’ve mentioned it to. It’s a loss not just for McGill but for Montreal, and also for the regional community.”

Customers are from all walks of life, though they are mostly students, according to Haines. Books are available in English, French, and foreign languages.

Parents would bring their children and spend hours together at the Book Fair. “It’s an opportunity not just to buy books but a way of being around books that’s completely different,” Haines said.

McGill University administration officials did not respond to OpenFile's request for comment, but Haines said he’s “been hearing a lot of people talk about what can be done.

“People are thinking about this. It’s not a totally lost cause.”

Beverly Akerman is author of the story collection, "The Meaning Of Children."

Originally reported on October 18, 2011 at OpenFileMTL.

The final McGill Book Fair took place:

Tuesday, October 18, 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Wednesday, October 19, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Thursday, October 20, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Location: Redpath Hall (east side of McTavish Street, one block north of Sherbrooke)
3461 McTavish (McTavish Gates)
Montreal, QC, H3A 2K6

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Keeping Students Engaged is Key

Engineering lecturer and first-year program coordinator Nancy Acemian

If students find Nancy Acemian sometimes feels like a big sister, it is probably because she’s been a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Island for almost three years now.

She finds mentoring preteen girls very gratifying. “I’m a role model they can come to about issues in their lives.” She uses her love of painting and crafts — knitting, crocheting, jewellery making — to help connect with the girls.

Nancy Acemian was honoured with the President’s Teaching Award in 2010 for Innovative Excellence in Teaching. | Photo by Concordia University
Nancy Acemian was honoured with the President’s Teaching Award in 2010 for Innovative Excellence in Teaching. | Photo by Concordia University

This desire to connect drives her achievements in the classroom, too.

Acemian received the President's Teaching Award 2010 for Innovative Excellence in Teaching for her classroom performance and leadership in developing innovative teaching in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science (ENCS). The year before, she was recognized by the Faculty with the Teaching Excellence Award.

A native of Montreal, Acemian earned her bachelor’s from McGill with a major in Mathematics and a minor in Computer Science. She then obtained her master’s in Computer Science from Concordia and is working on a PhD in Educational Technology, also at Concordia. She taught at Marianopolis College for 11 years before arriving at Concordia in 2000. Plus she teaches in her third language, giving her unique insight and a deep appreciation of the diversity that’s the heart of Concordia.

“At Concordia, we give everyone a chance, with kids straight out of cegep alongside young adults back at school after several years at work,” she says.” The multicultural diversity of the student body is also way up on her list of Concordia pluses.

Acemian is the first-year program coordinator at ENCS, and shares her knowledge and expertise through the Centre for Teaching and Learning Services; however, her passion is teaching introductory level courses in computer science, which can be difficult. “Classes are large and the students are very diverse. Some have never programmed before.”

Keeping students engaged — ensuring they’re active participants in classroom discussions — is paramount. Acemian believes in a very interactive class: “Teaching is a two-way street.” She needs to know right away if students have problems with the material.

That’s why she uses the i>clicker classroom response system. Like the “ask the audience lifeline” from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the i>clicker lets Acemian pose multiple-choice questions and get instant feedback. Because it’s anonymous, “everyone participates, even the shy ones.” And she can zero in on unclear concepts in real time.

She also uses i>clicker to get students interacting. “Sometimes, the answer will split 50/50 in the class. I’ll tell them ‘find someone who doesn’t have the same answer as you and talk about it, try to convince each other.’”

Acemian also relies on the tablet. “Students can have the teaching slides ahead of time and we can figure out the problems in class. And because I’m always facing them, I can see when the light goes on,” she laughs.

Sometimes attention spans are short, especially when it comes to teaching on a Monday morning at 8:45 a.m. “You can’t be passive. You have to challenge the students, to keep them involved. Programming isn’t a spectator sport.” Breezing in, doing a lot of talking, and then walking out again is what doesn’t work. “The challenge is to keep from boring them.”

Respect is also very important. Acemian cultivates an open-door policy, encouraging her students to consult her, and not just about course content. “Life can be tough. There are career decisions and sometimes problems in their private lives. There’s the juggle of kids new to Montreal, living on their own for the first time.”

And Acemian likes being there for her students. Just like a big sister.

Related links:
Centre for Teaching and Learning Services
Slide show of the 2011 Mascot Design Contest Acemian organized as first-year program coordinator at ENCS

(Originally published in Concordia NOW.)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Jordan LeBel's Recipe for Success in the Classroom

One part real world, one part no nonsense, and one part fun

Jordan LeBel, an associate professor at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business, calls upon his experience as an executive chef in some of Canada’s food service organizations and a top restaurant to teach The Marketing of Food and Experience Marketing.

Currently on sabbatical, LeBel has twice received the Dean's Award for Teaching Excellence. In 2010, he was a recipient of a President’s Excellence in Teaching Award for full-time faculty. Recently, he was the first recipient of the student-created award for MBA Elective Professor of the year for his course on Experience Marketing.

Marketing professor Jordan LeBel is studying ways to encourage consumers to make healthier food choices. | Photo by Concordia University
Marketing professor Jordan LeBel | Photo by Concordia University

A Montreal native, LeBel has taught at the Norwegian College of Hotel Management, the École Hôtelière de Lausanne, as well as Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration. He holds a bachelor’s and a master’s of science from Cornell and a PhD from McGill.

He co-developed the award-winning online course Marketing Yourself and its accompanying textbook. One of his latest undertakings is the online ‘edu-tainment’ course, The World of Chocolate: Explore, Experience, Enjoy.

LeBel’s research focuses on consumption for pleasure or aesthetic reasons, and the impact of related marketing on consumer choice and behaviour. His expertise and findings have been featured by NBC, CBS, PBS, the Discovery Channel, CTV, Global, Glamour, Self, Washington Post, New York Daily, Globe & Mail, National Post, Toronto Sun, The Gazette, La Presse, and Le Devoir. He has written for publications such as Commerce, and starting next February he will sign a branded column in the glossy Le Must Alimentaire, titled Parlons plaisirs.

What is it that makes him such a successful teacher? “That’s like trying to pin down the indefinable ingredient that makes a recipe sing,” he offers with a laugh. But when pressed, he says “it’s human interest. I care that the information I share will be useful to students, not just for the exam but in their work and in their life. We reflect on concepts larger than just the textbook concepts and theories.”

LeBel describes his approach as “very real-world pragmatism” and “no-nonsense grounded theory.” Fun is another valid descriptor, if the year-end student presentations, which follow the format of the popular CBC TV show Dragons’ Den, are anything to judge by.

His engagements outside class, such as his vice-presidency on the board of Youth Employment Services (YES), enrich his pedagogical approach. He says activities such as co-chairing the annual fundraiser for the not-for-profit organization help to make what he says to students more relevant.

LeBel has also been involved with the McGill World Platform for Health and Economic Convergence (MWP), which brings together representatives from business, government, academia and other organizations to brainstorm about improving health worldwide through better standards of living. MWP has given LeBel the opportunity to meet such innovative thinkers as Mohammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who founded an institution to provide microcredit to people who want to start a small business but have no collateral. The organization has enabled LeBel to share a global outlook with his students.

He says his students “ask the kind of questions that make me a better volunteer,” and he admires that so many of them manage to balance part-time work with their studying. He praises the university as blessed with “an incredible vibrancy, energy and multi-ethnic diversity” that keeps him and other professors on their toes. Even on sabbatical, he likes to stay in touch with students, recently giving a sold-out talk to help raise funds for the MBA student's International Community Outreach Program.

Students give him grief about being old-school for his short quizzes on assigned readings, but he is determined to ensure his students learn the basic lingo and culture code of the discipline.

LeBel’s teaching is most likely celebrated because he so clearly values its role. “I know research is important and that we have to do it, but we are a higher education institution,” he says. “We all have to develop our own approach, I just hope that my work inspires others as I have been inspired by gifted teachers.”

Related links:

John Molson School of Business
Jordan LeBel’s bio
“The Skinny on Bulging Waistlines” — NOW, February 14, 2011
“Dragon's' Den, Concordia-style” — NOW, April 18, 2011
Marketing Yourself
The World of Chocolate: Explore, Experience, Enjoy.

(Originally Posted on Concordia - NOW, November 14, 2011)

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Mordecai makes Charles Foran a Governor General's Literary Awardwinner

Congratulations to Charles Foran, Winner of the 75th Governor General's Literary Awards for Nonfiction. Mr. Foran is honoured for his recent biography of Mordecai Richler, a double GG Award Winner himself (for fiction in 1968 and 1971), Mordecai: The Life & Times.

For my look at the book, please see "A Feminist Jewess on Charles Foran's Mordecai: The Life & Times."

From the press release:

The Canada Council funds, administers and promotes the Governor General's Literary Awards, Canada's oldest and most prestigious awards for English- and French-language Canadian literature. In addition to the monetary award, each winner will receive a specially-bound copy of the winning book, created by Montreal bookbinder Lise Dubois. The publisher of each winning book receives $3,000 to support promotional activities. Non-winning finalists receive $1,000 in recognition of their selection as finalists, bringing the total value of the awards to approximately $450,000.

His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, will present the Awards on Thursday, November 24 at 6 p.m. at Rideau Hall. Media representatives wishing to cover the awards presentation should contact Christelle Legault at the Rideau Hall Press Office, (613) 998-7280 or"

Also from the GG website, all the winners & the committees that chose them:



Patrick deWitt, Portland (Oregon) [originally from Vancouver Island], The Sisters Brothers
(House of Anansi Press; distributed by HarperCollins Canada)

Brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters are at the centre of this “great greedy heart” of a book. A rollicking tale of hired guns, faithful horses and alchemy. The ingenious prose of Patrick DeWitt conveys a dark and gentle touch.

Perrine Leblanc, Montreal, L’homme blanc
(Le Quartanier; distributed by Diffusion Dimedia)

In L’homme blanc, Perrine Leblanc invites us to travel to a period in history in which a profoundly human character achieves universal status. This novel teaches us that we can never predict destiny, and that even white itself can have varying degrees of whiteness.


Phil Hall, Perth (Ontario), Killdeer
(BookThug; distributed by Literary Press Group)

Killdeer by Phil Hall realizes a masterly modulation of the elegiac through poetic time. It releases the personal from the often binding axis of the egoistic into that kind of humility that only a profound love of language – and of living – can achieve.

Louise Dupré, Montreal, Plus haut que les flammes
(Éditions du Noroît; distributed by Diffusion Dimedia)

Plus haut que les flammes is a collection of admirable restraint, where the everyday is interspersed with memories of the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Louise Dupré explores and questions the experience of pain evoked by places of extreme horror, and uncovers a deeply human truth.


Erin Shields, Toronto, If We Were Birds
(Playwrights Canada Press; distributed by University of Toronto Press)

If We Were Birds is a bold and brilliant retelling of a classical myth. The language is poetic and contemporary. Erin Shields creates a haunting and viscerally impactful play about the sexual politics of war. She invites us into a world of complicated family relationships, dangerous sexuality, revenge and fierce loyalty.

Normand Chaurette, Montreal, Ce qui meurt en dernier
(Leméac Éditeur / Actes Sud; distributed by Socadis)

With Ce qui meurt en dernier, Normand Chaurette creates disturbing and mysterious moods in a polished, chiselled language. His almost surgical style paints the portrait of a woman who struggles with her desire to please. The beauty of the writing serves the play’s thesis wonderfully.


Charles Foran, Peterborough (Ontario), Mordecai: The Life & Times
(Alfred A. Knopf Canada; distributed by Random House of Canada)

Mordecai: The Life & Times by Charles Foran is biography as high art, illuminating not only the character of Canada’s most provocative writer, but also, in the most vivid and compelling fashion, the times and places in which he lived. This is a grand, sweeping work that sets the standard for future literary biography.

Georges Leroux, Montreal, Wanderer : essai sur le Voyage d’hiver
de Franz Schubert
(Éditions Nota bene; distributed by Socadis)

Almost a year after Beethoven’s death, Schubert, suffering from a concealed affliction, saw his own death approaching. Winter Journey is the pretext for a fine requiem in white that Georges Leroux has penned in a lovely, pitch-perfect book. Musing on human suffering as a philosopher, incorporating poetry and photography, the author gives us a sumptuous meditation on existence.

Children’s Literature — Text

Christopher Moore, Toronto, From Then to Now: A Short History of the World
(Tundra Books; distributed by Random House of Canada)

From Then to Now: A Short History of the World, by Christopher Moore, is a fascinating examination of the evolution of human civilization that is global in its span and inclusive in its outlook. The energetic narrative tells a story that rivals the very best fiction.

Martin Fournier, Québec, Les aventures de Radisson - 1. L’enfer ne brûle pas
(Les éditions du Septentrion; distributed by Diffusion Dimedia)

With Les aventures de Radisson, Martin Fournier skilfully measures the suspense of his tale, and more than succeeds in transcending the dryness of a historical character. He depicts the adventures of Radisson, the rebellious adolescent who will pay for his boldness. An almost ethnological initiation into the Iroquois culture of the time – the French language at its best.

Children’s Literature — Illustration

Cybèle Young, Toronto, Ten Birds, text by Cybèle Young
(Kids Can Press; distributed by University of Toronto Press)

Ten Birds is a whimsical, surreal visual riddle. A disarmingly simple story becomes a complex discussion of the adjectives used to
“pigeon-hole” individuals in society. Cybèle Young’s beautifully crafted pen and ink images describe a journey to simply cross a river. Ironically none of the birds can fly, but ultimately the simplest answer may be the best.

Caroline Merola, Montreal, Lili et les poilus, text by Caroline Merola
(Dominique et Compagnie, a division of Éditions Héritage; distributed by Messageries ADP, Groupe Sogides)

By playing with a familiar theme, Caroline Merola succeeds in drawing us into her universe filled with astonishing contrasts. She stages simply-drawn characters in a lush, generous forest. Lili et les poilus is a work full of dynamic compositions, with profound and luminous colours that are applied with unbridled energy.


Donald Winkler, Montreal, Partita for Glenn Gould
(McGill-Queen’s University Press; distributed by Georgetown Terminal Warehouses)
English translation of Partita pour Glenn Gould by Georges Leroux
(Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal)

Partita for Glenn Gould, Donald Winkler’s translation of
Georges Leroux’s brilliant essay, shines with the musicality of language that reflects Gould’s life and creative discovery. Winkler expresses the depth of feeling and baroque complexity of the original text with impressive sensitivity, dexterity and precision. A masterful performance, at once learned and lyrical, it is a tour de force.

Maryse Warda, Montreal, Toxique ou L’incident dans l’autobus
(Dramaturges Éditeurs; distributed by Diffusion Dimedia)
French translation of The Toxic Bus Incident by Greg MacArthur

Toxique ou L’incident dans l’autobus is an effective and deftly-honed translation. The language is incisive, imbued with an oral character that is perfectly suited to the theatrical text, and skilfully renders the dense and sober style of the original. Maryse Warda says a great deal in few words, in language that delivers the essential.

The peer assessment committees

The winners for the Governor General’s Literary Awards are chosen by peer assessment committees (seven English and seven French) appointed by the Canada Council. The committees, which meet separately, consider all eligible books published between September 1, 2010 and September 30, 2011 for English-language books and between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011 for French-language books. This year, 1002 titles in the English-language categories and 682 titles in the French-language categories were submitted.

English-language committees

Fiction: Douglas Arthur Brown (Ross Ferry, N.S.), Peter Oliva (Calgary), Kerri Sakamoto (Toronto)
Poetry: Joanne Arnott (Richmond, BC), Stephen McCaffery
(Buffalo, New York), Douglas Burnet Smith (Antigonish, N.S.)
Drama: Christian Barry (Halifax), Lisa Codrington (Toronto),
Eugene Stickland (Calgary)
Non-fiction: Emma LaRocque (Winnipeg), Philip Lee (Fredericton), John Terpstra (Hamilton
Children’s Literature – Text: Maureen Hull (Pictou Island, N.S.), Richard Scarsbrook (Toronto), Darcy Tamayose (Lethbridge, Alta.)
Children’s Literature – Illustration: Murray Kimber (Nelson, B.C.), Susan Tooke (Halifax), Ange Zhang (Toronto)
Translation – French to English: Jo-Anne Elder (Fredericton),
Hugh Hazelton (Montreal), Maureen Ranson (Calgary)

French-language committees

Fiction: Salah Benlabed (Montreal), Nadine Bismuth (Montreal),
Alain Bernard Marchand (Ottawa)
Poetry: André Brochu (Montreal), Nadine Ltaif (Montreal),
Alain Raimbault (Longueuil)
Drama: Sounia Balha (Montreal), Marc Prescott (Winnipeg),
Pierre-Michel Tremblay (Montreal)
Non-fiction: Joël Des Rosiers (Charlemagne, Que.), Daniel Jacques (Québec), Claudine Potvin (Vernon, B.C.)
Children’s Literature – Text: Bertrand Laverdure (St-Liguori, Que.), Diane Carmel Léger (Moncton), Hada López (Québec)
Children’s Literature – Illustration: Naomi Mitcham (Whitehorse), Janice Nadeau (Montreal), Pierre Pratt (Lisbon, Portugal)
Translation – English to French: Laurent Chabin (Montreal),
Patricia Godbout (Sherbrooke), Louise Ladouceur (Edmonton)

(Of course, Patrick deWitt would be from Portland...if any of you have read my essay "Six Pixels of Separation," you might understand to what I refer...)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Akerman shortlisted for Aesthetica Creative Works Competition

Beverly Akerman's story "Spilt Milk," a more compact version of her "Sea Of Tranquillity," has made the short list for Aesthetica's Creative Works Competition. "Sea of Tranquillity" has won several other prizes and appears in Beverly's 2011 collection, The Meaning Of Children (see here for highlights of some rave reviews!).

"Spilt Milk" was also shortlisted for The Writers' Union of Canada's 2007 Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers.

Beverly received a Commendation for "Pie," the winner of Gemini Magazine's first flash fiction contest, in last year's ACW competition (read the story or listen to Bev read it).

Aesthetica is a UK arts and culture magazine published bimonthly and read by 60,000. The Creative Works Competition showcases outstanding artists, photographers, writers and poets from around the world. The prize is £500; finalists are also published.

Results for the 2011 contest will be announced in early December (

The Meaning Of Children, published by Exile Editions, is available in fine bookstores including Chapters/Indigo, KidLink, Nicholas Hoare, and by all the major online purveyors.

Beverly seeks an agent or international publisher to bring the book & e-book beyond Canada's borders.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Boys Of Summer : Summer Literary Seminars (2010)

[Encore presentation of an article originally published on The Rover June 18, 2010. Includes comments...]

Maybe we are, as Hanna Rosin argues in the current Atlantic, facing “The End of Men,” but I’m happy to announce that men are still alive and well and gazing into their (creative) navels here in Montreal. See the Summer Literary Seminars which kicked off earlier in the week at Concordia University.

At a cool two grand for tuition alone, the event is a little steep for my bank account, but I relish the opportunity to attend the free sessions this combination workshop/conference/bacchanal, brainchild of the redoubtably energetic Mikhail Iossel, has on offer. It’s the equivalent of mini literary festival. After over a decade of SLS St. Petersburg, Russia, Iossel, now professor of creative writing at Concordia, has expanded to Montreal.

Monday morning, I heard Joel Yanofsky speak about Mordecai Richler and Sherry Simon on language and translation. Fascinating stuff, if a little short on detail. (Asked by a Torontonian how many Montreal Anglos there are, Simon refused to hazard a response: “It depends on who you ask,” she kept saying. “It’s all so political.” Spoken like a true academic.)

Then post-modern fabulist Robert Coover delivered a pretty dreary lecture on a Brown University project he participates in called CAVE: Computer Audio Visual Environment. Basically, a 3D immersion in sound, image and text.

Which had me thinking: if this is the future, writing is already dead.

Thursday, Joel Yanofsky offered a second lecture, “Confessions of a Literary Stalker.” Mostly about Mordecai and Joel Yanofsky and Yann Martel and Joel Yanofsky—okay, let’s face it, Joel Yanofsky basically writes about people who have talked with Joel Yanofsky (that’s why it’s called personal writing)!

And, to be sure, Yanofsky is clever and self-deprecatingly amusing enough to carry it off. Describing the process that led to his becoming obsessed with Richler, Yanofsky started off with his foray into teaching grade 7 and 8 students 30 hours-worth of personal writing. He asked them to write about something they were expert at, but quickly discovered the kids preferred their peers’ stories about things they had flubbed, as opposed to aced. (Remember, “if it’s happy, it’s not literature.”) Which sat very well with a belief of Yanofsky’s crystallized in an interview with Brian Moore some years back. Moore had been inspired by some other writer’s first novel, a novel “so bad, it inspired him to write his own.”

The bad novel, which Moore would never name, turned out, according to William Weintraub, to be Mordecai Richler’s “The Acrobats.”

Proof that “We do what we do for all the wrong reasons,” according to Yanofsky, meaning writers are partly (wholly?) motivated by envy and the art of one-up-manship. Yanofsky went on to discuss what writers desire most deeply—“to make a splash. And we’ll settle for a little one if we can’t make a big one.” Writing as pissing contest (piss splashes, doesn’t it?). Or as male display behaviour. My terms, of course.

During the course of the Yanofsky entertainment—and, there’s no denying, fun to listen to he is—his discourse was peppered with allusions to a number of other illustrious writers: Orwell, David Gilmour, Martin Amis (who apparently expressed some concern about Yanofsky’s mental health), Kingsley Amis, E.M. Forster, Henry James, Ingmar Bergman, Nicholson Baker, John Updike, Saul Bellow, Mark Harris, Paul Theroux (followed immediately by V.S. Naipaul, needless to say), J.D. Salinger, Jeff Dyer, D.H. Lawrence, Guy Vanderhaeghe, James Joyce, (noticing a pattern yet, by any chance? Anyone? Anyone??), and finally, Yann Martel. Since Yanofsky’s writing is a hybrid of stand-up and confessional, we were treated to the tale of his totally cringe-worthy episode on the eve of the awarding of the Booker for “Life of Pi,” a novel, Yanofsky admitted, he hadn’t bothered to finish and apparently was invited to dis live on television immediately following the Booker announcement—“I could either be bitter and envious or a suck-up,” Yanofsky said. “Those were my choices.”

I love listening to Yanofsky—I’ve read all of his books, two-thirds of them years before I’d met him. But he apparently doesn’t seem to consider a single woman writer from Canada worth mentioning.

To bend over backward in the fairness department, Carole Shields’ name did come up, but only in the context of the Booker shortlist.

Next up were Jon Paul Fiorentino and David McGimpsey, discussing contemporary Montreal literature, and moderated by Alessandro Porco (who graduated from Concordia’s writing program and now teaches in Buffalo). Some time was spent examining the definition of “Montreal writer”: those born and raised here who have stayed or left, those who moved here and stayed, those who moved here and left (e.g. post-degree), those who took a wrong turn on the 401 and wrote a suicide note, etc. Turns out that, by the panel’s standards, just about anyone who dallied in Montreal for more than five minutes (long enough to ingest a poutine or take a flyer on a Bixi) is entitled to moniker himself “a Montreal writer.” Though why someone who spent a couple of years in a degree program and then high-tailed it ASAP would want to be considered a Montreal writer is anyone’s guess.

You will perhaps be pleased to learn Montreal writing is also now moving past the era of Leonard Cohen, and that reading Richler is no longer de rigueur (McGimpsey mentioned this as though it was a good thing). At least, during this segment, which sounded more like an ad for Concordia’s creative writing program than anything else, a couple of women’s names were actually—amazingly!—uttered: Heather O’Neill’s name twice, Zoe Whittall once.

At least McGimpsey was man enough to mention the mass exodus of Anglos in the years that followed the first election of the Parti Quebecois in 1976, and made reference to the political situation between French and English, which is, episodically, fractious.

Later in the day, an actual woman—Alana Cox—was due to “own the podium,” as we Canadians like to say. At least, she was to be part of a discussion on the state of Canadian publishing. But I had had enough. Between them, Yanofsky, Fiorentino and McGimpsey had clearly established that writing in Montreal is a boys club anon—if not an old boys club—and I decided to leave the auditorium to attend to an episode of the vapours.

Beverly Akerman is a Pushcart-nominated Montreal writer (born and always lived here variety). Nineteen of her stories are published or in press, one of them a finalist for the Hoffer Award/Best New Writing 2011. Her unpublished collection “The Meaning of Children” just won the David Adams Richards Prize.

The Summer Literary Seminar’s free panels and lectures continue through June 27.

For more on women and writing in Montreal and Canada, check out:


Comments (8)

The irony here Bev is that men are not the readers of fiction. I had one literary agent recently tell me that she thought she would have a hard time shopping my MANuscript around because she couldn't imagine the ladies of the book club recommending it to each other.
1 reply · active less than 1 minute ago
that should have read WRITE and CONSUME most fiction...seems i need my own personal copy editor...
i bet women read and consume most fiction--and i'm talking commercial, genre and literary. yes, maybe we should start calling them WOMANuscripts.
Cynthia Hartwig's avatar

Cynthia Hartwig · 72 weeks ago

Hi Bev. I didn't see your comments on the Rover until this evening (Friday) after doing a Mordecai Richler move of shit stirring on the SLS Facebook page where I decried the lack of female participation at SLS. You ain't seen the half of it. 2 women, Sina Queyras and Elizabeth Bachinsky, were workshop leaders along with 8 men (Kevin Canty, Padgett Powell, Martin Estrada, Patrick Leroux, Louis Sachar, Josip Novakovich, Chuck Klosterman, Mac Wellman). Seventeen women either read or presented at the 2-week long seminar while over thirty men presented. Mike Spry had the gall on Facebook to say that he's never heard such a complaint and cited the fact that most of the volunteers who do the work of SLS (all unpaid!) are women. Does the emperor have no clothes? I will say one weird thing happened, though. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes commentary from the women attendees at SLS about the sexist programming, especially when the little boys club of Klosterman, Fiorentino, Gimpsey, Orti, and some volunteer wannabe named Gonzalo read work that celebrated either banging or bonging. However, when I raised the issue on Facebook, no women commented in public. They were happy to complain in private but silent in a public forum. Maybe they're afraid the little scraps the boys club throws them will not be offered if they misbehave. I don't care. Yanofsky came across as an enlightened man by comparison.
Jon Paul Fiorentino's avatar

Jon Paul Fiorentino · 72 weeks ago

Hello, Beverly

I originally was not going to post this, but it's been eating away at me since your article was published. I sent it to you privately, but received no response:

The picture you paint of the new Montreal writing discussion is inaccurate. The point I was trying to make is that there are many wonderful books that have been written IN Montreal, by writers who may or may not view themselves as Montreal writers. Although I feel that my contribution to the discussion was regrettably terse and inarticulate -- I am not a morning person -- I did mention quite a few new 'Montreal' women writers: Katrina Best, Kate Hall, Sachiko Murakami (who is now Toronto-based, but whose fantastic book of poetry, The Invisibility Exhibit, is a book concerning the poetics of Vancouver and it could only have been written in Montreal), Zoe Whittall, and yes, Heather O'Neill. It occurs to me know that I spoke of the work of Sina Queyras as well -- how she is ours now and we are so lucky to have her, but how she can't be pinned down with a civic label. I also mentioned Montreal scholar Karis Shearer, whose absence from the panel was definitely felt and whose work on new conceptions of literary feminism is, in my opinion, essential -- see the "New Feminisms" issue of Matrix Magazine for a glimpse of what she is up to. So that's Best, Hall, Murakami, Whittall, O'Neill, and Shearer. The men I mentioned were the late Robert Allen, Louis Dudek, George Bowering (through an anecdote told to me by Karis Shearer), Jason Camlot, and Nick McArthur. This was, I remind you, a brief and obviously incomplete discussion of what's happening right now in Montreal writing.

I also think you have misrepresented David's point about having to read Richler. His point was, that it's entirely conceivable for a "Montreal writer" to have great literary success without having read Richler. It is not desirable, but it is reality. I think we both even agreed that this hypothetical writer would obviously be well served, and a better writer for having read Richler. But much like I know certain poets who haven't read Shakespeare's sonnet sequence and still manage to "thrive" as practitioners, I know there are "Montreal writers" who haven't read Richler. It's not cool but it is a condition in the real world. If you looked closely, you may have noticed that David was holding a copy of Barney's Version throughout the discussion.

It's sad to note, also, you get the name wrong of the "actual woman" you mention. Alana Cox was not at SLS. Alana Wilcox did participate and is a tireless editor and publisher with a dedication to women's writing. She is the English language editor of Gail Scott and Nicole Brossard -- two of my favourite Montreal writers.

I am the proud publisher and/or editor of books by Angela Carr, Zoe Whittall, Melissa Thompson, Sarah Dowling, Chandra Mayor, Kim Minkus, Sarah Steinberg, Anne Stone, and Katrina Best. As the editor of Matrix, I am proud of the many women writers we have published over its 35 years and most recently in issues like our "New Feminisms" issue, edited by Melanie Bell and Karis Shearer. It's one of my personal favourites. A quick look at David's work at Joyland and Punchy reveals an impressive list of women writers, including you!

In the end, I would have done some things differently on that panel you attended. There were some regrettable omissions, and some poorly phrased sentiments and ruminations on my part. But I think it's unfair to characterize that panel as having participated in some sort of boys' club mentality.
1. Alana "Cox" was clearly a typo, for which I apologize. Looking at it more closely, I see it may have been what my Mom would call a Freudian slip...given the wider subject under discussion.

2. Most of the women writers you cited were tossed off from a list of theses in an appendix of a book by Jason Camlot, as I recall.

3. Cynthia Hartwig (thanks so much for your comment!! And please, FB me!) proves you have a problem over at Mission Control, Houston.

4. Until women can stand up for themselves in public, as Cynthia points out, things will never change.

5. And, while I have your attention, what would a Montreal-based winner of the Litpop contest win?
Jon Paul Fiorentino's avatar

Jon Paul Fiorentino · 71 weeks ago

Hi Beverly,

2. three of the seven women writers I mentioned appear in the theses appendix of Language Acts -- a great book about Quebec Anglo poetry since 1976, edited by Jason Camlot and Todd Swift. and i used that as a starting point for a discussion about books composed in Montreal vs. Montreal books... something i discussed at length. like Sachiko's poetic sensibility in her book about Vancouver's missing women (The Invisibility Exhibit) has been informed greatly by living in Montreal and being part of our community...

5. a Montreal based writer would receive an additional stipend. the accommodations could still be used. there's nothing like a vacation in Montreal!
Hi Jon Paul

What I wrote was my perception of the event. I didn't answer your FB message because I didn't think I had to justify or explain myself: what I saw and described are pretty clear, I think. SLS invited the public and I was grateful for the opportunity. I came as an open minded observer but I sat there over a couple of days, my eyebrows rising higher and higher. Put any spin on it you feel is required, what I wrote is my perception (though I will say it was the way others of the female persuasion who were there saw it, also). SLS is noticeably Y-chromosome-centric, as my piece and Cynthia Hartwig's comments make clear. You can tell me that some of your best friends are women (and what's wrong with the "old" feminism, by the way?) until the cows come home. Doesn't change a thing.

And all the (unpaid) interns were female? There's a word for that, I think. Perhaps it's harem.

Consider yourself lucky I didn't write the second installment on Trice & Treisman--"The Ladies of Summer," I would have called it. I especially loved Deborah's response to the question about whether she thought the quality of the submissions she was seeing had improved over the past decade or so, what with the deluge of newly minted MFAs and all.

"Hmm," she said. "How can I put this without offending anyone?" Oopsy!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Award-winning teacher believes in blackboard and chalk

[Originally published October 21, 2011 on Concordia NOW]Adaptive approach led to prestigious teaching award for Concordia's Lyes Kadem

Concordia NOW featured profiles of outstanding educators — people making a difference in the classroom and within in the Concordia community.

If you phone Lyes Kadem’s office, you probably won’t get his voice mail. Kadem, who received the Concordia President’s Excellence in Teaching Award (New Faculty) earlier this year, is nearly always at his desk — unless, of course, he’s in the classroom.
Lyes Kadem | Photo by Concordia University

Kadem, who has been teaching at Concordia since 2006, is the first-year program director for mechanical engineering, and an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.

Educated in Algeria, France, and here in Quebec where he did a PhD in Bioengineering at Université Laval and a Post-Doc at the renowned Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal, Kadem says it’s the environment and ambience that he enjoys most about Concordia. “You can find people from everywhere in the world,” he explains. “It’s a true melting pot, and I really like that.”

In addition to his teaching duties, Kadem conducts research as the director of the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Fluid Dynamics. The lab researches the cardiovascular system from an engineering aspect, using engineered cardiac simulators. The effort necessary to develop simulators, “shows us how highly efficient the human body is – how it’s been optimized,” Kadem says. “We need two pumps and a large Plexiglas structure to try to duplicate the heart.”

The lab also examines the parameters used to diagnose cardiovascular diseases to develop new diagnostic methods based on physical concepts. This is being specifically applied to valvular diseases and prosthetic heart valves so far.

“Doctors now use ultrasound to evaluate the speed of blood passing through the heart valves,” Kadem explains. “In our lab, we can take out the variability due to patient features, such as age or sex. This allows us to correct and suggest ways of improving the specificity and sensitivity of the tests.”
Sending a person who is actually healthy for more testing is known as a false positive. When this happens too often, a test is said to have poor specificity.

“But false negatives, when a sick person is actually told he or she is fine and to ‘go home,’ are more serious,” Kadem adds, explaining that it signals that a test has poor sensitivity.

As for his teaching philosophy, Kadem says, “I can summarize my thoughts on teaching in one line: a piece of chalk, a blackboard, and to make it simple, like my teachers taught me.”

He understands the increasing use of technology, and that making information free and open-sourced — available in the form of YouTube e-course videos, for example — “is very democratic.” However, he remains convinced that students appreciate and benefit most from the instruction and interaction that can only happen in person. He supports his stance with reference to a recent study that indicated 80 per cent of the surveyed students preferred to be in an actual classroom with a teacher.

Kadem says teaching with notes and a blackboard always leads to new ways of explaining a concept. “New ideas come up, sometimes suggested by the students themselves,” he says.

“It’s hard to follow the process of deriving equations with PowerPoint,” he adds. “It’s more of a discussion – there’s more give and take.”

His notes-and-blackboard approach can result in him completely revamping his lectures on the same topic from one semester to the next.

“That’s also better for me,” he says, “because it keeps things fresh for me, too.”

Related links:

Lyes Kadem’s biography
Faculty website
Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering

The Meaning of Children: An Interview with Beverly Akerman by Darryl Salach

The Meaning Of Children: now available on Kindle!

1.) You spent twenty years working in molecular genetics research, before deciding to become a writer. Why the sudden urge to become a writer and how difficult a transition was it?
The urge wasn’t sudden, though it might appear so from here. I always intended to be a writer “some day,” but I never entertained it as a way to support myself or my family. And I remember feeling I had to amass some experience in life, wondering what I would have to say as a 20-year-old. Maybe that was just that ol’ deflating self-doubt. But in 2003, my father-in-law died and I suddenly—viscerally—understood that my time, too, was finite, that I better seize this day and do the things I’ve dreamed of doing. Because sometimes “later” doesn’t quite work out.

2.) I found an interesting line in your bio that reads, "Beverly Akerman realized she'd been learning more and more about less and less." What did you mean by that exactly?
What I meant is that genetics used to be the study of individuals, traits, and populations. Then it became the study of chromosomes. Now it’s the study of molecules. In other words, the areas of concern grow more minute as time passed. I grew tired of trying to believe in the importance of the vanishingly small. Also, despite the passage of a generation, cures for genetic disease are still few and far between. We can prevent a lot more disease, usually through selective abortion. But worldwide, the largest use of therapeutic abortion is sex selection. I guess I stopped believing in the value of what I was doing. No matter how well-intentioned. It started to feel like, “the hurrier I went, the behinder I got.”

3.) Did you have a mentor or someone that helped guide you through the early days of your transformation into becoming a writer, and how valuable was that to you?
I’ve been fortunate in having a number of wonderfully generous writing teachers; I won a Quebec Writers Federation mentorship with noted poet Robyn Sarah, and studied for brief periods in the US and Canada with Luis Urrea, Nancy Zafris, Brad Kessler, Neale McDevitt, Mikhail Iossel, Tess Fragoulis and many others. In taking my work seriously, these writers helped me to take my aspirations seriously. They helped me learn to shush that internal yenta, that nudgy little voice that said, “who do you think you are?” That has been very important and empowering. Still is, in fact.

4.) What was the genesis behind putting together your collection of short stories The Meaning of Children and how long of a time period did it take to write the stories for the book?

I started publishing my short stories in 2006. By 2010, I had over 20 out there, many winning or placing in contests. The next step was to publish a book. Maybe it should have been a novel, from a marketing point of view (agents and publishers seem to think no one reads short stories…unless the author’s name is Munro). I started submitting a huge collection which included unpublished work. No dice.
So I looked at them all again and tried to find some commonality, some thread other than that they were all written by me. I realized how central children were in my work and decided to structure the book in three parts: ‘Beginning’ features first person point of view stories of children, ‘Middle’ tells of those in the child-bearing years, and ‘End’ is about older people, or stories that take the longer view of life.
And bingo! Of course, life is an uncontrolled experiment, isn’t it?
I started negotiating with Exile Editions. And then Enfield & Wizenty told me I was one of three finalists for their 2011 Colophon Prize.

But it was too late to back out of the first negotiation (I hadn’t signed anything but…well, let’s just say it was complicated). The three E&W finalists would win publishing contracts (the only difference was the size of the advance). I recently discovered the overall winner was W.P. Kinsella, for his first novel in decades (Butterfly Winter). Pretty impressive company to be in.

5.) How difficult was raising three children of your own, and were those mothering years paramount in giving you the ability and proper perspective in order to be able to write these kinds of stories?
As a student of genetics, I’ve always been taught that life is all about producing the next generation…As a feminist, I always intended to have meaningful work and not let motherhood stop me. The truth is, women can have it all—just not at the same time.

Having children is one of the most significant experiences of the human adventure. At the same time, despite all these wonderful supports available in Canada and in Quebec—paternity leave, $7 a day daycare—it is still hard to combine full-time work and motherhood. Very hard. My husband, former MNA Russell Copeman, travelled a lot in his job—we estimated he was gone about three whole YEARS of the first decade when our kids were growing up. That put a lot of pressure on me. So I have a fine-tuned appreciation of the under-appreciated bailiwick of women.
Mothering—and the other nurturing professions largely filled by women—are still systematically devalued in our culture. And that’s a damn shame. I read the papers and it frustrates me that there are so few front section articles where the featured newsmaker is a woman.
Which is another way of saying that being a working mother is absolutely essential to who I am, and the kind of book I’ve written.

6.) Do you have a personal story from your collection that you feel closer to than any of the others, and if so why?
I feel close to all the stories, they’re all my “babies.” And all, in their way, semi-autobiographical. Even the fantastical one, “The Woman with Deadly Hands.” I wrote part of that one naked in the Super 8 Airport Motel in Portland, Oregon, after I woke early from a disturbing dream. I continued writing it later that day in the San Francisco airport while awaiting a connecting flight (don’t worry: I’d put on some clothes by then!). As writers, we’re always told to read, read, READ! Which I do. But can one read too much? That’s what the story is about. To me, anyway.

7.) All of your stories have a recurring theme to them: sex, death, guilt, and social prejudice. How difficult was it for you to capture the complexities of these themes and emotions through a child's eyes?
I wouldn’t say ALL my stories deal with these themes…but childhood is fraught with sex, death, guilt, and bigotry. We live in a great country but it’s by no means perfect. And we shouldn’t over idealize childhood. It isn’t all Care Bears and unicorns. By the time my kids got to elementary school, half the kids in their classes were already children of divorce. Of course, where I live, most parents never even marry in the first place.
It’s not for me to say how difficult it is to capture complex situations through a kid’s point of view. I had a pretty mature grasp of a lot of the world as a kid. I can recall talking about the Vietnam War and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings with my Dad when I was 9 or 10 years old. Kids are smart and often deep. One of my own children, while working through his bar mitzvah project, told me couldn’t believe in God because of the Holocaust.
It may comfort adults to believe children aren’t aware of big picture issues, but they are. Maybe those who don’t realize this just haven’t spent enough time with kids. And my kids are upper middle class kids, never been beaten (or seen their mother being beaten), never gone hungry…

8.) Do you see life possibly getting any easier for children in today's world and the generations of children to come?
I think children suffer when adults are under more pressure. We live in a very pessimistic society compared to when I was growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. At the same time, by most conceivable measures, we’re better off now than a century back—I mean, a century ago, half of Canadian children were still dying by the age of five. But you wouldn’t know that from reading the papers or watching the news. Because fear is the best marketing tool there is. Check out Michael Moore. We could use a good dose of optimism.

9.) What was the last book you read that you felt inspired by in some way, and why?
One of my current projects is to reread the books I was assigned in school as a kid. So I’d choose Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Big issues and a writer who tried to make a difference with his stories. Chris Cleave’s Little Bee is a more recent book in this inspiring vein. I also can’t speak highly enough of To Kill a Mockingbird, a book as much about parenting as about racism (though I didn’t see that at all as a 12-year-old; one of my bugaboos is that we give kids books to read that aren’t really appropriate. Another is that schools are still giving kids the same books to read that I got 30 years ago—but I digress). 

My favourite book of all time is Barney’s Version . Richler so perfectly crystallized the concerns of his character’s point in place and time. I admire Lionel Shriver so much for her fearless take on motherhood in We Have to Talk About Kevin, a much braver book than Room or The Book of Negroes, IMHO. I’m not big on mindless anomie, navel gazing, or young people fucking.

Finally, The Loved and The Lost has always stuck with me. TLATL is the first CanLit novels I remember reading as a really young person. This great novel of the immorality of racism also takes place in Montreal; the main character is Jim McAlpine. My last science job ended in 2003, when I left a biotech company called Ecopia. Some time during the last year or so I was there, a new VP was recruited from the States, a man named Jim McAlpine. 

Now, I hadn’t thought of TLATL for years at that point, but the moment I heard the new VP’s name, all I could think of was that this was the same name as Callaghan’s protagonist in TLATL.

I dug up my old copy and brought it to work; it sat in my desk drawer for months while I tried to work up the nerve to show the biochemist his literary namesake. I could never do it. Every time I caught sight of the paperback, I puzzled over why the coincidence of the names meant so much to me.

Eventually, I recognized this was part of the reason I had to quit science and try writing. It’s a nice bonus that Exile Editions is run by Morley’s grandson Michael Callaghan. I’m a sucker for stuff like that.

10.) In your opinion, what makes a good short story? Is there a particular formula that you try and stick to when you write?
I don’t believe in formulas, per se. But the writer has to be moved by her own subject or she won’t be able to bring the reader along with her. A story is a shared emotional journey, after all. And I do believe in moving the reader. I’m sick to death of stories that make me want to kill myself at the end—I mean, real life can be hard enough, why do I need to read about the world ending for some fictional character, too? Of course, I also write about the world ending, but I try to write from a place of hopefulness, if that makes any sense. Which may sound strange because so many of the stories in my collection are dark. But I keep hoping to understand what happened in life, to myself or my characters (who are just proxies, in a way).
I love a story with a moral wrapped in humour. One of my favourites isn’t even in the collection. It’s weird and whimsical, about Santa Claus, Brian Mulroney, and Karlheinz Schreiber.
“Based on a true story,” as they say. But I just couldn’t see it fitting into my “Beginning,” “Middle,” and “End” structure. Maybe if I’d had a little more time to discuss it with my publisher…calling our production schedule compressed misses the truth by at least an order of magnitude.
Anyway, “Now It Can Be Told: The Hardboiled Stress of Being Santa” is up at and I hope people will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it…and rereading it. It features footnotes and links, but the final one isn’t quite working on the Joyland site. Here’s the url that the last word of the story should be linked to: 
Hope it gives you a few laughs. It did me!

11.) How difficult was it finding a publisher for The Meaning of Children and what's your experience been like with Exile Editions?

It’s my first book so I guess I can’t really judge how difficult it was. More difficult than I’d hoped, anyway. But the market is undergoing such changes, the loss of bricks and mortar stores, the advent of e-books…Exile have been great. I’ve had launches in Montreal and Toronto and there’s been talk of a small reading tour. I’m hopeful for the future; maybe it depends on awards and such…it’s still early days yet.

One thing, though: I’ve taken a gamble and kept all rights EXCEPT Canadian print. I’m hoping to find an agent who can bring the print and e-books to all other markets; I’m dreaming of film... Please cross all crossables for me, and help me spread the word!

12.) The Meaning of Children has been longlisted for a 2011 ReLit Award. How does that kind of recognition make you feel and to what extent do awards help open doors for writers?
I am thrilled to be longlisted for the ReLit; last year Lisa Foad, another Exile writer, won the ReLit for short fiction. She also edited my collection, so I’m sure that’s helped.
I’ve always believed in submitting to contests—spent a small fortune doing it, over the past few years. But I think it’s been worth it: I’m a winner of
--the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick’s David Adams Richards Prize,
--the Professional Writers Association of Canada’s Short Article Award
--The Vocabula Review’s Well-Written Writing Contest
--an Editor’s Choice Award, Best New Writing 2011/Eric Hoffer Award
--a Fishtrap Fellowship
--Gemini Magazine’s Flash Fiction Contest
--the Fog City Writers Short Story Contest
And I’ve placed or been a finalist in
--the Sheldon Currie Fiction Contest,
--TWUC’s Short Prose Contest for Developing Writers (twice)
--The Potomac Review’s Fiction Contest
--The Glass Woman Prize.
I’ve also been nominated for the Puschart Prize in both fiction and nonfiction, received funding from The Banff Centre for the Arts, The Canada Council, and the Playwrights Guild of Canada to attend a residency, give readings, and see my first monologue professionally performed. I’ve travelled to Banff, Fredericton, Winnipeg, Ohio, and Oregon, solely for my work as a writer.

These contest accolades have helped me create a substantial literary CV. There is so much rejection in this business—the feedback from these contests has made a huge difference. It’s been a wonderful ride so far.

13.) What inspires you creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Kindness and compassion, people being moved by the work and devotion of others.
How much some of us do, so unselfishly, for others. The feeling of being in this
together—I guess it’s just that ol’ John Donne thing: 
No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Seeing kids enjoy things. My mother used to take my kids to see plays put on occasional Saturday mornings at The Centaur Theatre–the rapt look on the funny little faces in the audience used to make me cry. Probably still would. Luckily, my kids are grown and I don’t have to humiliate myself in public to the same degree anymore.

But I’m still trying to move people.

14.) How important is it for you to read your stories in front of a live audience, and to what extent do you think that experience helps you with your writing?
I LOVE reading my work aloud! It helps that I’ve got one particular piece—“Pie”—that’s a monologue and in a Southern drawl. Which I can do…people are always somehow surprised by my readings, I think. 

Here’s a link to a reading I gave as part of a residency at The Banff Centre for the Arts.

I think it gave me real credibility to be able to get up there and slay the audience. I mean, I’m “just” a middle-aged woman. Not a sexy young thing, not a flavour-of-the-month. “Just” a writer with the courage to pull some wonderful stories out of my hat…er, psyche. When people enjoy my work right there in front of me, it gives me an incredible boost.

16.) What words of advice would you give people out there working a job they might be tiring of and wanting to try their own hand at becoming a writer?
First of all, marry well, someone who truly supports you (actually, that’s good advice no matter WHAT you want to do!!) I don’t want to be glib about this—I’m earning a fraction of what I did as a researcher. And I never really earned all that much money at that…but I think people should really try to find the thing they were meant to do. You’ll know it when you find it. And when that feeling goes away, find something else that does it for you. ; I could never do what I’m doing without hubby’s financial help.

Other advice: take courses and workshops, find a writing group, and a professional organization like PWAC ( that can help you make contacts. (I’m also a freelance writer—my work has appeared Macleans, The Toronto Star, The National Post, The Montreal Gazette, and on CBC Radio One, as well as in many other lay publications and learned journals.)

If you haven’t already, read these “rules” for writing fiction, put together by The Guardian
Finally, if you’re unhappy, try changing some of the things in your life: I changed jobs and moved house a number of times before I faced up to the cause of my malaise. Get a good therapist, if you have to.

Finally, you’ve got to BELIEVE you can do it. I can’t stress that enough: if you’re going to plunge into a realm that’s 99% rejection, you better really believe you’ve got the goods. Or you’ll be demolished by it.

17.) What's next for you? Are you working on a new book and when should we expect it to be published?

I’m trying to get this book into the hands of an agent who will bring it to the US (and other) market(s). I’ve sent the book to a film maker who sent me back a really nice note instead of laughing in my face. I keep dreaming/hoping/believing. And trying to figure out how to write a novel…believe me, I’ll be more than happy to let you know when it’s going to be published!

[The Meaning Of Children is available in fine bookstores across Canada and online at, Chapters, and through Exile Editions]