Irish-Canadian author Anakana Schofield read from her recently published book Malarky last Thursday. Though she has been recognized by American book giant Barnes and Noble as one of the “Great New Writers” of 2012 (above many American authors, no less), Trent University was actually the first place to recognize her talent by offering her a reading.
Malarky is, in her words, “a meditation on grief,” but is at the same time absolutely hilarious. Schofield’s readings from the book, and Schofield herself, kept the crowd laughing almost non-stop. She mentioned that coming to a university environment gives her a chance to read sections from her work that she wouldn’t normally get away with reading publicly. Thus, the audience was treated to several of the book’s sex scenes, one of which involved the main character’s son getting it on with the neighbour boy as it is witnessed through the perspective of the main character, an elderly Irish woman known only as “Our Woman.”
Such a light-hearted response to literature is common at Trent’s Writers’ Readings. Series Coordinator Lewis MacLeod comments that the readings provide “an opportunity to see Literature as an art rather than an academic subject.” Furthermore, he says that people require no prerequisite knowledge to enjoy them. “There’s at least two ways of enjoying it or processing it: one is that confirmation thing [watching a writer you already know and enjoy], and the other is kind of a journey of discovery. […] A comic novel [like Anakana’s] is better if you haven’t heard the joke already.”
MacLeod also assures that those who might be put off by the formality of a reading should not fear. “You get to hear the talent come at a full bore according to his or her own likes, then you get to ask questions in a formal setting, and then you get to have a drink and a snack and kick around [with the author]. It goes from its most structured to its least structured through those three phases.”
Anakana Schofield’s reading was one of the least formal I have been to (I mean this in a good way), and it really benefitted from this gradually loosening structure. During the question period Schofield was joking with the audience, teasing me for taking so many pictures, and sharing many stories which I was asked by her not to repeat in this article. She was totally in her element.
In fact, it was during this part of the reading that Schofield mentioned another literary job of hers—discovering forgotten novels written by Vancouver-based writers from the 1970s. When asked which literary movements she was most influenced by she mentioned this period of Western Poetics, specifically Helen Portebenko’s novel Taxi! She characterized the work as “working class feminist,” a title that seems apt for her own writing. “That’s my background” she told the audience.
Schofield was also asked to give her advice for up and coming writers, to which she replied “become a gardener.” She rescinded this comment and said “what motivates me is that I’m deeply passionate… like stupidly passionate.” Her passion was clearly evident in her discussions of her own work and the works of other writers which she holds as personally important.
However, there are some novels that don’t resonate for Schofield: “I can’t stand novels with writers in them. [sic] That’s the most boring topic I can think of!”
The next reading will take place on Wednesday October 17 and will be given by Robert Earl Stewart, writer of the poetry collections Something Burned Along the Southern Border and Campfire Radio Rhapsody.
November will be the biggest month for the series as three writers are scheduled to appear. The first, on November 1, will be Michael Crummy who has “been shortlisted (or won!) just about every award available to a Canadian writer” according to the event description. November 14 will see Jessica Westhead, a Trent graduate, return to read from her short story collection And Also Sharks. One week later on November 21 Linden MacIntyre (yes the TV star; he’s also an author) will visit.
Though there’s only one reading in December, it’s a big first for the series: the first ever triple-bill! Betsy Suthers, Gordon Johnston, and Florence Treadwell will all take the stage that night to read from their respective works.
For more information about the series you can check out www.trentu.ca/english/events.php. You can listen to my talk with Lewis MacLeod regarding the series online at trentarthur.ca.