Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thursday: Colm Toibin and Histoires Berlinoises

As usual, I hope I can write every day from the Festival front-line but as usual I underestimate how busy things are and how I have little time for anything other than putting out fires.

That said our first few days have been booming. Starting with Etgar Keret events on Sunday (both
Michel Labrecque
sold out) we were off and running: the opening cocktail on Monday was packed and lots of fun. We gave away two homage prizes to Sheila Fischman and Judith Mappin, in addition to welcome the Quebec Ministre of Culture, Maka Kotto who charming and lovely.

Tuesday we had a smallish but very devoted and enthusiastic crowd at our launch party to celebrate our first year of publishing on the Jewish arts of Montreal. Made some great connections and we discussed some interesting ideas for our second year.

Wednesday was slower though we had two events which stood out: Straphangers with Taras Grescoe and Michel Labrecque (of the STM) was really fascinating: two experts on transportation, one Francophone, one Anglophone, discussing the future of Montreal`s public transportation system and what it means for us, commuters. The affinity between them was really lively and interesting because though the come from different backgrounds, have different agendas and live with different assumptions in certain ways, both agree on core issues in regards to the best way to let our city develop and change into the future. What happened after this event is the kind of thing I always hope for: a small group of enthusiasts stayed over, stood in the corner and continued debating the topic for a long while.
At the Grande Bibliotheque tonight at 6:30 pm
The other event was our Perfume Stories event which had almost 200 people, a band, models, readers and a lovely hostess introducing excerpts from books which feature perfume. Definitely a highlight of our Festival this year and the smiles on everyone`s face as people made their way out of the event: priceless.

Today, day four, is about Colm Toibin at the Grande Bibliotheque. There are about 17 tickets left (in a space for 300) so it`ll definitely sell out...this will be a conversation on stage between the Irish writer of Brooklyn and The Master and Eleanor Wachtel. Then it`s off to dinner to honor Mr. Toibin, then back to the hotel to welcome all the arrived authors into the authors` suite.

Tonight we also have Histoires Berlinoises at Hotel 10. This one is in French and will be a discussion between Regine Robin, Eric Dupont (La fiancee americaine), director Daniel Briere. Hosted by Manfred Stoffl of the Goethe Institut. This starts at 6pm.

To win tickets to Colm`s event (there are only a handful of tickets left) and the big event with Edmund White on Saturday at the Grande Bibliotheque, check out the Blue Met Facebook page in a little while: you could win four tickets!

Busy day but I look forward to what is in store...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Three Events you Must See at Blue Met 2013!

In our annual survey each year, we ask our Festival-goers how many events they saw. The  majority see around three. So which three should be at the top of your list this year? (Note: this is HARD for me, they all feel like my children so, yes, I'm choosing my favorites!):

Grand Prize Event: an onstage interview with Eleanor Wachtel and 2013 Grand Literary Prize Winner, Colm Toibin. Thursday, April 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Grande Bibliotheque (475 boulevard Maisonneuve East). $15 Tickets here.

A Tribute to Phyllis Lambert, readings from her new book, Building Seagram, and with Deni Y. Bechard as host, Eleanor Wachtel, Alan Shepard, Annemarie Adams, Linda Leith, Dimitri Roussopoulos, Cameron Charlebois and more! Sunday, April 28 at 5:00 p.m. at Hotel 10 (10 Sherbrooke St. West). $10 Tickets here.

Baseball and Beer: sit around a big table, beers in hand, and talk about baseball and literature with Molly O'Neill, The Gazette's Richard Burnett, Dave McGimpsey, and Chad Harbach (who will be there via Skype). A beer's included in the price! Saturday, April 27 at 3:00 p.m. at Hotel 10 (10 Sherbrooke Street West). $20 Tickets here.

None of these include sold out events (which are many, this year our pre-sales have been phenomenal) though it's likely all of these events above will sell out so it won't hurt to be safe and get your ticket early.

To download the entire PDF programme, click here.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Etgar Keret at Blue Met 2013

We're getting closer! Our first 2013 Festival events start on Sunday, April 21 (when I see that this is three days, my heart starts racing: so much to do still!) with two events for Israeli writer, Etgar Keret.

Mr. Keret is one of the most widely praised short story writers working today and one of the most unique facets of his work is his tone and sense of humour. It's almost impossible to explain here but his stories are uniquely funny and very entertaining.

He will be here on Sunday at 3pm at Chapters/Indigo (the one on the corner of McGill College and Ste-Catherine): an interview, reading and book signing. Come on down, it's free!

Then later that evening, he will appear at the Jewish Public Library (5151 Chemin Cote-Ste-Catherine) in an author talk: a lecture, a longer reading followed by a book signing. This event is selling really well so I would highly suggest getting your tickets asap and/or arriving very early to get tickets at the door. Books will be available on site as well. TIckets are $15 and available here.

His events are sure to be a great kick-off to our 2013 Festival and are in partnership with the Israeli Consulate of Montreal, the Jewish Public Library and Chapters/Indigo downtown.

Incidentally, check out Ernest Hoffman's really fascinating piece about Etgar Keret in this month's Almemar.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mothers Who Leave....Nancy Richler at Blue Met 2013

Nancy Richler's book, The Imposter Bride, got some great buzz going when it was nominated for the Giller Prize back in the fall. In all honesty, I had the book sitting on my bookshelf for months and didn't pick it up until well after her nomination and I have to say that I enjoyed it. I passed it around to some friends who all read it and raved about it. It's been a long time since a book by a Montreal was so well-received by boots-on-the-ground Montreal readers.

Here is a brief article I wrote on the book back in the fall.

Nancy Richler has two events at the Festival: one is a staged reading of her book produced by the Montreal Review of Books. This event is on Saturday, April 27 at 9pm. It'll be a great opportunity to meet Nancy and see a scene from her book performed by actors. $10

The other event is an event that is likely going to sell out. It's on Saturday afternoon at 1pm  and is called Mothers Who Leave, a round table with Shelley Pomerance (the host), Colm Toibin, Nancy, and Arnon Grunberg. $10

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Gianrico Carofiglio: Italian crime-writing at its best

One aspect of running a literary Festival's programming is the opportunity to bring well-known writer to our public. But equally exciting is the chance to introduce authors that our public may not know about but should. Gianrico Carofiglio, though quite well-known in Italy, particularly Italian crime-writing circles, is one such writer.

Gianrico Carofiglio
On Friday, April 26, Marianna Simeone will interview Carofiglio on stage at Hotel 10. Carofiglio is an interesting figure: a former anti-Mafia judge, he left his judicial career and became something of a sensation: a crime writer with years of experience in Italy's notoriously bureaucratic legal system. His best-selling series featuring Prosecutor Guido Guerrieri have both a crime writing twist and legal thriller angle as well.

Bitter Lemon Press, based in the UK, specialist in international crime writing, his his main publisher in English and anyone who's interested in international writing generally or crime writing in particular should check out their website. A great tour of the world for any fans of the genre. Their crime fiction map allows you to choose the area or region you want to focus on, and they recommend books from authors in that area (personally I am fascinated with the notion of Polish crime writing though I have yet to read any).

The event is hosted by one of our favourite people, the gorgeous and always charming Marianna Simeone and is in English. Fans of crime writing, legal thrillers or even those just longing for Italian sunsets or Mediterranean cuisine: all will have a great time hearing about an established writer in a booming genre. Make an evening of it: the event starts at 5:30 on Friday, April 26 at Hotel 10. Then walk up afterwards to Amelio's (on Milton and Ste-Famille, just a few blocks from the hotel) and have a pizza to discuss...

Tickets are $10 and available here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Deni Béchard, Dinaw Mengestu, Yejide Kilanko and our Unforgotten Lands

Deni Béchard
Last night I went to the launch of the French translation of Deni Béchard's Cures for Hunger and it was an all-star Montreal writerly event. Translated by Dominique Fortier, an excellent writer in her own right (Du bon usage des étoiles, among others), Béchard's book caused something of a stir when it came out a year ago. The book traces the history of Béchard's relationship with his father, André, and meditates on the influence the senior Béchard had on his son's entire life.

André Béchard was an assumed identity, and the man had a colorful, criminal, adventurous past, robbing close to 50 banks in Quebec and running from the law. Deni grew up negotiating a fraught relationship with his father (who lived in Vancouver) and his mother (in Virginia) and also inherited a love of adventure from his father. The book is a really beautiful and moving tale of loss and love.

We were very happy that Deni Béchard was in this neighborhood during our Festival because he agreed to host an event on African writing. Anyone who keeps up with Deni's Facebook page will know that the man is always on the move: Afghanistan, Tanzania, the Middle East, so he seemed like a natural choice when we were looking for a host for an event entitled Unforgotten Lands: Writing and Remembering.

This event is scheduled for Saturday, April 27 at 11:00 a.m. and will be discussion with Dinaw Mengestu and Yejide Kilanko.

Mengestu is an interesting figure: born in Ethiopia, he came to the US when he was 2 years
Dinaw Mengestu
old and his first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, zeros in on an Ethiopian man living in Washington, trying to come to terms with his past and his rootlessness (there's a Ulysses-like quality to the book as the protagonist wanders the city, always on the move, unable to let the past go: in a certain way, it set the stage for Teju Cole's amazing book Open City a few years later). The book got great reviews and Mengestu followed that a few years later with How to Read the Air, a novel that has, according to Montreal writer Miguel Syjuco in the New York Times:

"...forged something meaningful from his cultural perspective. The book lingers in the mind as personal - not in the characters' specifics, but in their frustrated dislocation in the world. Now that the remarkably talented Mengestu has successfully explored these ideas in two books, one looks forward, excitedly, to watching the author's gaze expand to the world beyond his own experience."

(Yes, a slight dig there at the end, but a constructive and hopeful one.)

Mengestu, incidentally, was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Grant for 2012, one of the most prestigious honors given to a writer (among other professions).

Yejide Kilanko
The other writer involved in the above event is a Canadian-Nigerian novelist called Yejide Kilanko whose book Daughters Who Walk This Path got some good reviews but also some stinging criticism for its portrayal of Nigerian society and, in particular, the role of and violence against women. The book portrays contemporary life in Nigeria, a perspective that for years was uncommon but is now, thankfully, becoming more accepted.

This is a great opportunity to hear three young writers with vastly different backgrounds at early stages in their careers. Tickets to the event, Unforgotten Lands: Writing and Remembering, with Dinaw Mengestu and Yejide Kilanko, hosted by Deni Béchard, are a steal at $10 and can be purchased here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Tribute to Phyllis Lambert

Phyllis Lambert is a Montreal powerhouse. Born here, she studied architecture at Yale and had her hand in the building of the Seagram Building on Park Avenue in New York. Lambert herself selected Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson as the architects and was instrumental in getting Mark Rothko to create the mammoth installation which was part of the lobby's construction.

The building has often been called one the 20th century's most iconic and innovative structures. Novel at the time, the building was constructed slightly off the street which allowed a large public space to be opened up and filled with sculpture, benches, fountains. It was a very democratic milestone for urban architecture, making a private building part of the public space, the public consciousness. It has been widely mimicked since.

Yesterday's New York Times has a piece about the building and about Phyllis Lambert's new book (Yale University Press), Building Seagram, which talks about the launch of the book.

And what a beautiful book: it tells the story of the construction of the Seagram Building (with all kinds of fascinating anecdotes about Picasso, Philip Johnson, Brancusi, and Mark Rothko). One constant is Lambert's strong personality: her challenge to her father, Samuel Bronfman (she rejected all his ideas on what should be built on the site with a letter that started, "NO NO NO NO NO NO!" Later Bronfman invited her to New York, from where she'd been living in Paris, to advise on the project.), and the process by which Lambert was instrumental in choosing Mies from a pool of some of the most famous architects of his day.

Canadians love these kinds of stories, make no mistake: local girl/guy makes it big in New
York (or London or Paris) and now we must pay attention to them. But in Phyllis Lambert's case, this really is a big deal: the book, her story, her role in building one of the most famous and influential buildings in 20th century architecture. She really is a major figure and our city should be proud to call her one of our native daughters...

All this to say that it's a rare treat we'll have to hear Phyllis in person at a 2013 Festival event, A Tribute to Phyllis Lambert. Eleanor Wachtel will be there. Deni Bechard will be there. Many important notables, architects, writers, artists, Montrealers, New York-a-philes and assorted groupies - all there to celebrate the book's publication, to hear Phyllis read from it, to hear hilarious anecdotes about one of the coolest cities in the world, to make a toast in her honor.

A Tribute to Phyllis Lambert, in our official closing Festival event on Sunday, April 28 at 5pm at Hotel 10, 10 Sherbrooke Street West in Montreal. Click here and then click on the ticket price to get tickets (you'll be redirected to the website of La Vitrine). Tickets are $10!

Monday, April 8, 2013

What do Chad Harbach, Edmund White, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath have in common? Blue Met 2013 Meal Events and Food Workshops

Due the success of our "food" events last year, we've expanded them slightly in 2013 and have some interesting events involving meals, drinks, and snack foods.

First, we have two breakfast events, one in French featuring the diary of Virginia Woolf. This
Bell Jar fan? Sylvia Plath Breakfast!
one will involve each participant reading a provided page from Woolf's diary and then there will be a discussion of her diaries after everyone reads. This event is on Saturday, April 27 at 11am at Hotel 10 and is hosted by Marie-Andree Lamontagne.

We have another breakfast reading event on Sunday, April 28 on Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. This one, too, will be a discussion over breakfast on the work with some reading samples provided. Hosted by Magnificent Octopus' Isabella Kratynski.

Tickets for both events, $25 each, include breakfast. Last year both our Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway breakfasts were sold out and highly acclaimed.

We have an Edmund White brunch on Saturday, April 27 at 12:30. What a great opportunity to sit at the same table, break bread, chat, laugh, and listen to one of America's best-loved writers talk about his career and his works. Hosted by Peter Dube. This one costs $45 and includes brunch.

An Israeli Cooking event is planned for Thursday, April 25 in the evening at Appetite for Books in Westmount. This will be a really lovely evening: wine, conversation, and Jonathan Cheung, the owner of Appetite for Books, will prepare a meal while participants sip wine and listen to Janna Gur, one of Israel's top food writers. The best part is that the $125 ticket includes a copy of her gorgeous book The Book  of New Israeli Food. Personally, I think this will be a memorable evening that should be a Blue Met highlight.

Janna Gur will also teach a workshop on Saturday, April 27 at the hotel on magazine
writing and how to balance the necessity for recipes while maintaining the creative side of cooking spontaneously. This one is 90 minutes long and will be a great opportunity to talk to Gur about how to approach food writing.

In addition to Gur, we have food critic (formerly of the New York Times) Molly O'Neill in a workshop on cookbook writing. This will allow a great chance for those who dream of writing their own cookbook: how to develop a persona, how to pitch a book, how to sell yourself and your book. Should be fun!

Baseball and Beer with Chad Harbach
O'Neill will also do an event at the hotel called Baseball and Beer with Chad Harbach (author of the best-seller The Art of Fielding. Harbach will beam in via Skype), David McGimpsey and hosted by The Gazette's Richard Burnett. The event will be a discussion about baseball in literature and writing. With a big frosty one, the event will be a great chance to hear about baseball writing from some literary baseball fanatics. This one costs $20 and includes a beer! Saturday, April 27 at Hotel 10.

Finally, our closing breakfast on Sunday morning gives you your chance to send the 2013 Festival off into history, a large table shared with writers, editors, publishers and lovers of literature to talk about highlights, lowlights and all the other lights in between.

All tickets can be purchased at or at

Friday, April 5, 2013

Hisham Matar and Colm Tóibín doing what they do....

Hisham Matar, our 2013 Blue Met Al Majidi Ibn Dhaher Arab Prize winner was interviewed the other day by Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

He also has a piece in this week's New Yorker.

Check them out and then come check him out in person as part of our 2013 Festival. Matar will be interviewed by CBC Ideas' Paul Kennedy on Friday, April 26 at 7pm. Tickets are $15 and are selling quickly! You can get them here while they last!

And our Grand Prize winner, Colm Tóibín, had an excellent short story in the New Yorker from a couple of weeks' back. Tóibín is on-stage with Eleanor Wachtel at the Grande Bibliotheque on Thursday April 25 at 6:30pm. Get tickets here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Alison Bechdel in Montreal

The other day I saw a young woman reading Are You My Mother on the metro and I wanted to grab her and say: "Hey, did you hear that Alison Bechdel will be in Montreal soooooooon?"

I didn't, of course. And for all I know, she was the one who arranged it (maybe she works for McGill University, one of the sponsor's of Bechdel's appearances).

But I am really looking forward to seeing Bechdel again. I've written about her before here, of course. Her books are a revelation and more than that, show how powerful the graphic novel/memoir/comic books (whatever) can be.

For any fans of the graphic memoir, you'll be in for a treat. But for anyone who doesn't "get it" and hasn't quite gotten on board with the way visuals and text can beautifully sit alongside one another on the page, I highly encourage you to check out Bechdel. It'll change the way you think about what "reading" means...

Sponsored by Drawn & Quarterly, she's here on Friday, April 12 at 7 p.m. in Mile End.

One of the best parts of the deal is that ticket purchase gives you $5 off her books.