THE KNOWLTON LITERARY ASSOCIATION
L'ASSOCIATION LITTÉRAIRE DE KNOWLTON
Report for the Year 2018
Presented by Philip Lanthier, President, to the Annual General Meeting of the Knowlton Literary Association on Saturday, March 23, 2019 at the Lac-Brome Community Centre, 270 Victoria, Knowlton, Quebec.
Mark Abley was here in October to warn us all of the dangers of plastic words, the bloodless, abstract language favoured by grant applications, corporate press releases and annual reports. Personally, I can write this stuff easily and know from experience that it works in applications where one hopes to exude what Abley calls “an air of professional competence.”
Since we’re a literary society, however, we should avoid the plastic in favour of what: the organic? WE should also avoid clichés, which “stop ideas in their tracks,” says Mr Abley, moving into the idiomatic where he is more comfortable. Here’s my report in straightforward English.
Shakespeare in the Park
First came Repercussion Theatre of Montreal with their gender fluid version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet staged this year in Knowlton's Lions Park which proved to be an ideal location. I don’t know whether the Park sits on unceded Abenaki territory, but Repercussion acknowledged the possibility in its programme notes, just in case. The performance itself, featuring a stage in the style of Brutalist architecture—that’s their word-- a female Romeo, a gay Mercutio, and other surprising inversions of the usual dramatis personae, was, to say the least, a challenge to our usual expectations regarding this famous play. The weather was fine and around 300 people turned out, We look forward with bated breath to what Artistic Director Amanda Kellock will do with this summer’s Measure for Measure, due in Lions Park on Saturday evening, July 20. The MeToo movement in iambic pentameter.
We opened the Ninth Edition on Thursday evening the 11th of October with five local writers and three who used to live here but now live, for some reason, elsewhere: Townshippers Maurice Crossfield, Anne Fortier, Isabelle LaFlèche, Rob Paterson and Benny Beattie along with ex-pats Eva Echenberg, Jim Napier and Morri Mostow. Wendy Seys of the Yamaska Literacy Council and Lucy Hoblyn of Brome Lake Books kept things moving along nicely. Less well attended than the year before, the festival was left with a small, colourful mountain of cheese much of which found consumers elsewhere, but authors were heard, books were sold, and discoveries were made. The practice of writing in these parts continues to flourish.
During the day on Friday, Werner Zimmerman, Governor General's 2018 nominee for young people's literature, entertained and inspired the children of Knowlton Academy with his stories and illustrations. A truly energetic, charming, and witty artist, Mr. Zimmerman delighted both kids and all available adults.
On Friday evening we paid tribute to Signy Stephenson to whom we dedicated our ninth edition, recalling her vigilance as a proofreader and her warm hospitality for our visiting writers. Then we heard Mark Abley on the importance of watching our tongues and how English idioms, the “small artifacts of the imagination” encapsulate so much of human history and experience.
It was Mr. Abley who ran our two-part writing workshop, and he was very well-received. Of the seven (out of ten) participants who returned surveys, Mr. Abley scored very high. Some would like to see an all-day session, others a workshop in French; all were taken with his warmth and helpfulness.
Mr Zimmerman made a second appearance on Saturday morning where he succeeded in getting a collection of adults and some more children to sing along to his ingenious and very funny Canadianized version of the Twelve Days of Christmas. He was followed by local author Isabelle Laflèche on the challenges and rewards of writing for teens: “Be bold, don't shy away from big issues, use flawed characters, find the character before the issue; talk to teenagers.” It was an extremely interesting presentation which deserved a larger audience than the dozen or so who turned out. Similar problem with Mr. Zimmerman; festival goers missed a highly entertaining show suitable for kidlit fans of all ages. In fact, Saturday mornings have proved to be a hard time to bring readers—especially younger ones-- out so soon after breakfast. Short of offering Michel Obama or the Cirque du Soleil, it seems this time zone is resistant to a surge in participation. We’re working on this for 2019. Perhaps people need to be fed?
Saturday afternoon worked much better: Roy MacGregor, who was to speak on his book about the rivers of Canada, was at the last minute sent on assignment by the Globe and Mail. We replaced him with Gazette sports reporter Pat Hickey whose capacious memory produced a host of anecdotes not only about Les Canadiens, but about his own writing career. “When you don't remember your own life, you're in trouble,” he said. He's in no trouble at all.
Mr Hickey was followed by a panel discussion led by Montreal Noir editor Jacques Filippi with authors. Johanne Seymour, Catherine McKenzie and Peter Kirby who explored the variations of this dark and subversive world-wide literary phenomenon. The day concluded with Wayne Johnston's fascinating evening talk on the Old, Lost Land of Newfoundland. Poor families, said Johnston, tell stories; it's all they've got. [In Newfoundland] “Family, memory, myth and fiction still persist together inextricably. And fiction is always, and sometimes blessedly, our story of last resort.” We were pleased to welcome our fourth writer from the Rock and sincerely hope it is not the last.
We wrapped up the Festival with two morning events at Le Relais: Anne Fortier in a lively and insightful conversation with Helen Antoniou about Helen's book on Eric Molson, “One of the things writers tend to forget,” remarked Ms Antoniou, is that someone is actually going to read your book.” In her case, the book was read first by lawyers, just to be sure. Writers nowadays do indeed need to tread carefully. She was followed by Giles Blunt, author of the John Cardinal crime series, with his professional insider's view on the importance of minor characters.
The following made all this happen:
• For financial support: The Townshippers' Foundation, the Brome Missisquoi MRC, The Lions Club, Brome Lake Books, the Quebec Writers Federation, the Town of Brome Lake, and the citizens of Knowlton and beyond who made donations. And to Sue Davies who gave us a welcome and handsome donation.
• For food services: Le Relais. Eileen Menec and her associates, IGA for sandwiches,Virgin Hill for coffee, and the children of Knowlton Academy for really great muffins.
• For signing, once more, our very effective fund-raising letter: Alex Paterson, Janie Barakett, Debbi Eaman and Jane Livingston.
• For translation: Ann Enns
• For technical support: Rugge Thompson
• For flowers: Debbi Hornig
• For computer work: Nancy Pagé
• For website management: Michel Gabereau
• For pamphlet, poster, banner and bookmark design: Jamie Lawson
• For photography: Ben McAuley under the expert guidance of Karen Coshof
• For books to read: Lucy and Danny of Brome Lake Books
• And for putting it all together, the KLA Board of Directors: Judith Duncanson, Rob Paterson, Alan Eastley, Frank Johnston Main, Lucy Hoblyn, Jane Livingston, Renalee Gore, Sheryl Taylor, and Frances Gallagher. A sincere thank you for the hard work and dedication to the written word.
Tales for Tots
In the immortal words of that distinguished literary scholar, Dr Seuss, “You're never too old, too wacky, too wild to pick up a book and read to a child.” Our Tales for Tots, Les Petit Trésors” program now involves just short of a dozen volunteers whose mission is to help as many families as possible give their kids a good start towards literacy.
Tales for Tots now brings together people determined to get books—English and French-- into the hands of children: Wendy Seys and Cindy Elston of Yamaska :Literacy, Jana Valasek of the Pettes Library, Holly Bailey of Mother Goose in Bedford, Maggie Severs of the Townshippers Association, Christine Laroche of Avante, Gib Rotherham of Wellness, Joanne Nowak of the CLSC, Gary Crandall of the Food Bank, and three members of the Knowlton Literary Association: Judith Duncanson, Frances Gallagher and Rob Paterson. They may or may not be wacky or wild, but they were able to get hundreds of books out to kids in Christmas food baskets.
In line with recommendations listed in last year's Report, we have:
• increased our non-print media presence via Facebook and radio
• encouraged local writers through our Thursday evening event
• included three non-fiction writers out of the nine invited
• featured one panel and one “conversation” as part of Festival events
• persuaded authors to keep their presentations under an hour
• ensured that snacks and coffee were available at most sessions
• expanded our Tales for Tots initiative
• kept the number of Board meetings to about once a month except, unavoidably, in the weeks leading up to the Festival
• maintained Board membership at the current 10 people.
• drafted and circulated a critical path as guide to planning and implementation
What we haven't yet moved decisively on, or which we identified as requiring further action in our review of the Festival in October 25:
• getting donors to actually come to events
• recruiting more volunteers to ensure the future of the Festival
• organizing periodic coffee meeting with local writers
• developing a productive working relationship with Massey Vanier thus encouraging more young people to attend the Festival
• clarifying responsibilities of individual Board members
• maintaining close contact with writers before they arrive
• controlling food services at events,(snacks and coffee especially) possibly hiring an individual responsible for purchase, delivery, and serving
• reviewing the brunch event and the opening reception, in fact reviewing the whole matter of food services
As we prepare our 10 the anniversary edition, it may be timely to speculate on whether we want to get any bigger. If we measure ourselves against what has been termed “the most fabulous literary love fest on the planet,” namely India's annual Jaipur Literary Festival held every January and featuring over 360 writers, including the likes of Tom Stoppard, Rupi Kaur, Germaine Greer and Alexander McCall Smith, and attended by 100,000 people, then the Knowlton Literary festival had best remain modest. Where would such a crowd park? Where would they eat? Could we, like Jaipur, provide Cadillacs and BMWs for rent, or issue a Survival Guide to help people negotiate an event of such mad proportions?
We have, as Louise Penny says, been moving from strength to strength, but, let's face it, we simply don't have the critical mass to get much bigger than we already are. Better to learn from festivals closer to home. As we prepare to complete a decade of literary festivities I think we can be proud of the quality, variety and wide appeal of the event we work so hard to deliver to readers young and not so young. Louise Penny has described
Knowlton and the country around it as a place which has seduced writers, poets, artists and musicians for generations. Let's keep those powers of seduction alive in 2019 and in the years to come.
Respectfully submitted to the Annual General Assembly of the Knowlton Literary Association on Saturday, March 23, 2019 by Philip Lanthier, President