So this weekend I've been holed up in a basement conference room near McGill University, attending the National Forum on the Literary Arts which Canada Council for the Arts is putting on.
What an incredibly rich gathering of literary professionals from all over the country: poets, writers, festival organizers, publishers, booksellers, storytellers, librarians, publicity agents, probably over 200 people. We've all come together to discuss the future of the literary arts in Canada and what a conversation it's been.
One thing I have to say that I have really appreciated about the forum is the intentional variety that's been a core part of how it's been organized. I've been in rooms with only writers or only festival organizers and so often individual groups involved in the literary arts have specific sets of problems. But talking to different kinds of stakeholders in the literary world makes us all aware of the entire eco-system.
Yesterday we heard from Richard Nash of Byliner.com who was snowed-in so stuck at Laguardia but still beamed in to give us his funny, thoughtful and provocative take on the last 1000 years of literary history (in 50 minutes). I didn't agree with everything he said but he certainly got the audience talking.
The best moments, though, of these conferences, are the moments in between sessions: sharing a coffee in a corner with one of the country's best literary magazine promoters, being irritated at an off-hand comment by a major Canadian publisher, seeing old friends I've known for years and shaking hands with people I've never met but sent 500 emails to, traipsing through a blizzard with three major west-coast Festival directors, a writer, and a poet, and discussing writers to avoid (yes, we share notes, writers so behave yourselves!), writers who are a gem to work with, companies, themes, problems, personalities, venues, etc., etc.
We're very lucky in Canada that we have the Canada Council who does so much to promote the arts but then also takes the time to listen to its artists. Working in the arts isn't easy and though it has its perks, is not something someone does unless they love it. And the fact that the government of Canada is willing to invest in supporting and promoting its arts is one of the most amazing things about living here.
This said, mind you, from someone who only became a Canadian citizen less than a month ago...