Saturday, 1 November 2014

We Were Here First - We Never Thought You (White People) Would Stay


RBC Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction Spotlight: We Were Here First  with Thomas KingLee MaracleSamual Watson and Waubgeshig Rice.
"We weren't concerned because we never thought you (white people) would stay ..." laughed  First Nation's author Lee Maracle at  last night's RBC Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction Spotlight: We Were Here First.  Well-known CBC Host (not that one - it was CBC videographer Waubgeshig Rice) had asked Maracle and three other celebrated indigenous writers from Canada and Australia to comment on the evening's theme  - We Were Here First.

The Friday evening book event was an integral part of the closing weekend of Harbourfront's International Festival of Authors.  The festival, now in its 35th year, brings the world's biggest names in literature to a number of Harbourfront stages  along Toronto's waterfront.

The  Friday night panel had two famed two Canadian First Nation writers - RBC Taylor Prize 2014 winner Thomas King (The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America) and West Coast writer  Lee Maracle (Celia’s Song) sharing notes with two Australian Indigenous writers - Samuel Wagan Watson (Smoke Encrypted Whispers) and Ellen van Neerven (Heat and Light, winner of the 2013 David Unaipon Award).

Thomas King signs his book, His wife Helen Hoy watches on
For Thomas King, We Were Here First is not as an important question as Who Owns The Land Anyway? "It all begins and ends with our land.  We can settle most differences (between the First Nations' people and the Canadian Government) but we have lost so much land we now have to draw that line in the sand."

The two Australian authors have roots in the community of the native indigenous people of Beaudesert in the Queensland region on Australia.  Both agreed with King that it is the stories of their people's  land that inspires and motivates indigenous writers.

The onstage IFOA conversation, presented by the Taylor Prize, was also part of Planet IndigenUS  --  a programme that gives prominence to the voices, stories and cultures of Indigenous people. This project is assisted by the Australian Government.

We Never Thought You (White People) Would Stay - explained Lee Maracle (below left).
Lee Maracle has been published in anthologies and scholarly journals worldwide, and is the author of a number of critically acclaimed novels and works of non-fiction. She was born in North Vancouver and is a member of the Stó:lō Nation. Maracle's latest novel, Celia’s Song, chronicles one Native family’s harrowing experiences over several generations, after the brutality, interference and neglect resulting from contact with Europeans.

Samual Wagan Watson (middle) is an award-winning raconteur from the southside of Brisbane who hails from an honourable ancestry of Birri, Munanjali, Gaelicand Germanic peoples. His poetry collection Smoke Encrypted Whispers won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry and the New South Wales Premier’s Book of the Year. He latest work is a collection of poetry, Love Poems and Death Threats. He is now writing a cookbook!
The moderator at the IFOA event was CBC’s Waubgeshig Rice (right), video journalist in Ottawa. An Anishinaabe from Wasauksing First Nation, Ontario, Waub believes that staying true to his roots has been key in his success as a journalist and published autho

"It is all about the land," explained author Thomas King.Thomas King is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, scriptwriter and photographer of Cherokee and Greek descent. For 50 years, he has worked as an activist for Native causes and has taught Native literature and history at universities across North America. He was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2004. King presents both his RBC Taylor Prize-winning book, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, and his first literary novel in 15 years, the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction finalist The Back of the Turtle at the IFOA Friday night in Toronto.
Ellen van Neerven is a writer of Aboriginal and Dutch descent whose work has appeared in many publications, including The Best of McSweeney’s, Voiceworks and Review of Australian Fiction. 
She currently lives in Brisbane where she works as an editor for the black&write! project at the State Library of Queensland. Van Neerven presents her debut novel and the winner of the 2013 David Unaipon Award, Heat and Light. Divided into three sections, it is inspired by the intersection of familial history, location and identity, and takes readers on a journey that is mythical, mystical and still achingly real.

After the lecture ... Friends, authors, sponsors and audience members gathered in the Harbourfront book selling lounge. 
From the left to right: RBC Taylor Prize Founder Noreen Taylor, 2007 Taylor Prize winner Rudy Wiebe ( Of This Earth: A Mennonite Boyhood in the Boreal Forest), RBC 2014 Taylor Prize Shortlisted author and the Toronto Book Prize winner Charlotte Gray (Massey Murder) and Vijay Parmar, President, PH&N Investment Counsel and RBC Taylor Prize trustee. 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Ottawa author Charlotte Gray wins the 2014 Toronto Book Award

It has been a good year for the Massey Murder


Ottawa author Charlotte Gray is the winner of the 2014 Toronto Book Award for her non-fiction book, The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country. She is 40th author to capture Toronto's annual literature prize.  Gray $10,000 win was announced at last night's award ceremony, held at the downtown Toronto Reference Library. 
"I offer my warm congratulations to Charlotte Gray, who has drawn an unforgettable portrait of Toronto's social life at the beginning of the 20th century," said Acting City Librarian Anne Bailey. "In telling the true story of Carrie Davies, the maid who shot a (famed) Massey, Charlotte Gray captures the class conflict and societal upheaval that marked our city's reinvention of itself at the onset of the Great War. As the author notes:  'A single bullet fired on Walmer Road had an extraordinary significance.'" " In 1915 Toronto thought of itself as 'Toronto the Good'  but by our standards it was very far from the good," explained Charlotte Gray. "It was a city that had grown enormously in the last decade (since the year 1900 ). It had doubled in population, but it was a very class ridden society with the elite at top that totally believed it was absolutely right, and with a surge in working class immigration at the bottom, mainly from Britain.  These were people who were determined to make a new life in the new world,  and were escaping from the British class system."
1915 newspaper report of the Massey Murder
"Bert Massey (the murdered man) was  known as a man-about-town," she continued. "He was somebody who had a diamond stick pin in his tie, he liked driving fast cars,  and he was very representative of the young men of that period who got away with what they could get away with. By our standards his behaviour was unacceptable because he sexually harassed and tried to seduce this 18-year old servant.  In his day it was sort of seen as something that young men men did.  What was surprising is not that he had played around with an eighteen year old but that the Masseys had employed a young woman who had access to a gun and knew how to fire it."

The Toronto Award caps off a spectacular year for Gray's 9th book. It  won the Canadian Authors Association Lela Common Award for Canadian History; was long-listed for the B.C. Non-fiction Award, and shortlisted for both the Charles Taylor Award and the Evergreen Award.  Based on the success of the Massey Murder in 2014 she  was  also short-listed as "Author of the Year" by the Canadian Booksellers Association. She has been a judge for several of Canada’s most prestigious literary prizes, including the Giller Prize for Fiction, the Charles Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction and the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. 
cover of the award winning book
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Toronto Book Awards. Established by Toronto City Council in 1974, the Toronto Book Awards honour authors of books of literary or artistic merit that are evocative of Toronto. Each shortlisted author receives $1,000 and the winning author receives $10,000 in prize money. More information about the awards and what the jury members said about the shortlisted books is available at  
This year the Toronto Book Awards Committee looked at 70 entry before deciding on a short-list of five titles. The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country  was chosen from a list of finalists that included Anthony De Sa for his novel, Kicking The SkyCarrianne K. Y. Leung for her novel, The Wondrous Woo; Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis for their social science, agriculture and food book, The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement; and Shyam Selvadurai for his novel, The Hungry Ghosts.

btw - earlier this year Elizabeth Gray was interviewed by videographer George Soca. A resulting 6 minute video was used by Huffington Post in its coverage of the RBC Taylor Prize (formerly the Charles Taylor Prize For Literary Non-Fiction.  In that video the author talks about impact the Massey Murder had upon Toronto's upper and lower classes in the days of the First World War.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Book Prizes and Outdoor Festival in Toronto. City Busy Busy Busy for Book.

A Prize Week For Authors In Canada
By Stephen Weir 

Published September 17, 2014 Huffington Post Story

Yesterday it was the Giller. This morning it was the Griffin and the Weston Prizes and this weekend Word On The Street. This week is the busiest time of the year for authors, readers and the nation's book industry.
On Tuesday it was the Scotiabank Giller Prize announcing their longlist of a dozen authors for the 2014 Canadian Fiction Prize. The Giller also dropped a bomb - they aare doubling the prize purse given to the winning author - first prize is now $100,000. Runner-ups will receive $10,000 each.
The Giller is Canada's most prestigious fiction prize, and, with the new $10,000 award, it is now also one of the world's largest English language prizes. Usually the Giller announces here Toronto, but this year's shocker was made at McGill University'sMoyse Hall Theatre in Montreal. The award will be presented on November 10 and will be broadcast by the CBC.
This morning - Wednesday - the world's largest cash prize for poetry - the Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry - announced their 2015 jury. The three member jury is made up of Canadian poet / author Tim Bowling, American poet Fanny Howe and Polish poet/author Piotr Sommer.
There was also a press conference held this morning in downtown Toronto to announce the shortlist for the Honourable Hilary M. Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. Held in the aisles of the Loblaws store at Maple Leaf Gardens in downtown Toronto (pictured), the press conference introduced the five Canadian authors now in the running for the $60,000 2014 Prize.
Hilary Weston at the podium. Press conference was held in the aisles of a downtown Toronto Loblaws food store.

Nominated Weston Prized authors are:
Susan Delacourt for Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them 
Naomi Klein for This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate 
Charles Montgomery for Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design 
Paula Todd for Extreme Mean: Trolls, Bullies, and Predators Online 
Kathleen Winter for Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage
The Weston Prize also announced that Indigo Books is now one of the marketing sponsors. As well they added two Canadian celebrities - CBC's Peter Mansbridge and Filmmaker Deepa Mehta - to their jury pool.
Four of the Giller Prize longlisted authors will be at the other big literary event being held this week in Toronto - Sunday's Word on the Street Festival. The free outdoor event will be held on University Avenue from Bloor Street south to College St. Word On The Street is a celebration of literacy and the written word and annually attracts over 200,000 book lovers of all ages to Queen's Park Circle in Toronto.
There will also be Word On The Street festivals in the cities of Halifax, Lethbridge, Saskatoon and Kitchener, The Word On The Street festival describes itself as the event that "unites the country in a national celebration of literacy and the written word'.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Monday Night At The Movies - Caribbean Tales Film Festival Continues In Toronto

Haiti, Guyana and America - Three Films, Three Views on Political People in The 
Caribbean - by Kevin Relyea

Caribbean Tales International Film Festival 

Films shown on Day 5 of the Festival at the Royal Theatre, Toronto

The Royal, home of Caribbean Tales International Film Festival- Relyea

Showing at the Royal Theatre as part of the Caribbean Tales International Film Festival, Political People is a trio of films that detail the domestic problems of a less than thought of region that deserves western attention. The three films are related thematically but are all drastically different in their  message, approach and style.

The Caribbean Tales International Film Festival is a celebration of Caribbean art and culture that will excite any casual movie-goer or anyone with a political background. The films shown are more than just entertainment as they can be educational as well featuring history and politics of the region.  Now in its ninth year the festival and related events have taken place in Toronto, New York, and Barbados.

The Joy of Reading
2014 | Haiti |   Kreyol with English subtitles | 14 minutes
Director: Dominique Telemaque

The Joy of Reading is a short film that tells the tale of a Hatian boy named Lolo who is kicked out of school after he loses a book and his subsequent attempts to find the money in order to buy a replacement. In just fourteen minutes this film is filled with ups and downs and ends off on a somber note with Lolo making a plea for parents to invest in children’s educations so they can better their lives.

The film is very well shot and edited to provide a very succinct yet deep in its emotion and colourful cinematography.

Rebecca’s Story

2014 | Guyana/USA | English | 12 minutes
Director: Alysia S Christiani

Rebecca’s story is much like the first film. It tells the story of a Rebecca, a young Guyanese girl who is forced to live with her abusive grandmother after he parents are killed in a tragic car accident. This film has the same message of the importance of literacy but also has a theme of personal freedom being essential to people advancing in life as well as advancing society as a whole.

This film features comparison shots of a jungle serving as a great tool for the narrator’s metaphorical dialogue and the internal shots and cinematography give the impression of a person who is living in a cage. Great care was given to ensure that this short feature’s visuals fit the tone.

Thunder in Guyana

2003 | USA | English | 50 minutes
Director: Suzanne Wasserman

If you are a history buff then Thunder in Guyana is a hidden gem among political documentaries.  The film covers the lives of the late Janet Rosenberg Jagen and Cheddi Jagen and their   fifty year stuggle to free Guyana from the influence of British Imperialism and an American backed rightwing dictatorship. 

The film shows off the early life of Janet Rosenburg. Growing up in Chicago, intellectual adventurous free spirited woman with a tendency to push the boundaries set by society. She ran off to Guyana with her husband Cheddi and never looked back. 
Cheddi being the first peasant worker to gain an education returned to Guyana and dedicated his life to improving his impoverished country to gain independence from Britain and put an end to racial violence between the Indian and African population. His efforts over the course of four decades are sabotaged by British military intervention, and CIA covert ops due to his unabashed Marxist-Socialist beliefs. The film focuses heavily on the progressive leadership and unprecedented actions and unorthodox lives of this beautiful couple.

Thunder in Guyana features a great depth of footage and pictures that elegantly portrays the lives of these revolutionary political figures in stunning depth.  The interviews glean a further understanding of their personal character, motivations, and the overall political climate over the course of five decades. This film does a fantastic job of blending history of a nation and personal biography. What I loved about this film is that Guyana is not a country you would learn about in a history class as it is simply not taught. This film shows just how important Guyanna is in terms of political and racial turmoil Guyana suffered combined with the personal struggle of Janet and Cheddi Jagan whose actions could be compared to Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi. 

When the lights come on you begin to wonder if their actions set Guyana on a better path or these two people were foglights in a haze of corruption. What is truly unique about the documentary is that the production of the film as well as its content displays a bond between the Caribbean and Jewish community. Perhaps this is the reason why all those Caribbean people kept asking me where the manischewitz wine was when I worked for the LCBO

Political People enlightens the audience as to a basic plight of Caribean people such as literacy, something that we take for granted and the political reasons as to why the people of these nations still suffer. The overall message this group of films displays is the need for society to be flexible and progressive for development to occur as holding on to political and social tradition invariably is a recipe for human suffering and stagnation of society.

I whole heartedly recommend this trio of films although Thunder in Guyana is the clear frontrunner due to its content and length and is definitely something you might want to better educate your friends and family with or just something worthwhile for yourself. At the very least it might help you one day beat the Jeopardy contestants in the comfort of your living room. 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Watch This Documentary Before the Glamour is Gone

 The Mighty Sparrow on stage at the Royal Theatre - Photo by Weir

From my Huffington Post feature about the Mighty Sparrow and Lord Superior in the movie The Glamour Boyz Again -
Toronto's Caribbean Tales International Film Festival kicked-off its ninth annual season last night at the Royal Theatre with a world premier screening of a new documentary about the Mighty Sparrow (Dr. Slinger Francisco) and Lord Superior (Andrew Marcano). Once dubbed the Calypso King of the World, an obviously failing Mighty Sparrow appeared on stage after the first showing of the Glamour Boyz Again: The Mighty Sparrow and Lord Superior on the Hilton Rooftop.
Written and directed by American author/filmmaker Geoffrey Dunn, the feature length movie follows a very simple format: two famous aging Calypsonians on a roof with one guitar and a bucket of Caribe ale. The two men are on top of Trinidad's swankiest hotel drinking beer and fruity cocktails while they sing and swap memories of the emergence of Calypso music in Trinidad back in the 1950s.
While the movie might has a basic premise its message gives deep deep insights into the maturation of Calypso, Carnival and the cultural independence of Trinidad and Tobago. Dunn filmed the Mighty Sparrow and his long-time friend and accompanest as they joyfully sing songs they had written while Trinidad was starting to come out from under strict British Colonial Rule.
"The Glamour Boyz," Dunn recently told the Trinidad Express Newspaper, "presents this single acoustic performance by these two giants of the art form. It's an absolutely brilliant performance. I still can't get enough of it! The energy between the two of them -- their friendship now goes back nearly 60 years -- is lively and dynamic."
The concert was was filmed in Port Of Spain during Trinidad's 2002 carnival. The two men are seen in excellent health, fine voice and high spirits. A dozen years later, both men face serious health challenges. Lord Superior was not well enough to travel to Toronto, the Mighty Sparrow did make an appearance but needed considerable help to make it into the theatre and onto the stage.
Macomere Fifi sings Before Yuh Gone while Sparrow sits on stage - photo by Weir
Macomere Fifi (Tara Woods), Canada's ruling Soca Monarch joined Sparrow on stage last night following the screening of the Glamour Boyz Again. Often with her arm around a seated Franciso Fifi performed the song she sang to win her 6th Calypso Monarch title during Toronto's Carnival this summer. The song? "Before Yuh Gone" - a tribute to the Mighty Sparrow. In that song she prophetically says she wants to tell the Mighty Sparrow before he dies how great he really. She got that wish, and the Mighty Sparrow seemed to enjoy her singing about his impending doom!
Geoffrey Dunn is a Santa Cruz, California award-winning author and documentary filmmaker with more than three decades experience as an investigative reporter. His books include the American bestseller "The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind Her Relentless Quest for Power". His documentary films include the award-winning "Calypso Dreams," "Miss...or Myth?," "Chinese Gold," and "Dollar a Day, 10¢ a Dance."

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Sci-Fi Movie The Moon Would Have Been Put Into Orbit

... If the Litton Logo Police Were Still Patrolling Outer Space
but say what you want it still looks like a man on a toilet

Logo for Sci-Fi Movie The Moon

I was never a card carrying member of the Logo Police when I worked at Litton Systems Canada Ltd and later at Litton Industries.  Oh, I did a bit of sleuthing for the Force now and again, sniffing out internal fliers, memos and shower invitations that took liberties with the Li.  But, when it came to taking on companies that monkeyed with our trademarked symbols, it was a crack team of lawyers and PR directors from both sides of the border who manned the walls firing off lawsuits and writs at anything that moved.
Hollywood's man on toilet logo

Pre-Internet, a logo, its pantone colours and its careful designed typeface were as much a part of the company treasures as the patents for everything from dithering mechanism in ring laser gyros to the secret recipe of the chicken pot pie sold by Stouffers back in the sixties (when Litton owned Stouffers hotels, their frozen foods and their chunk of the Cleveland Indians). 

In the 70s and early 80s Litton Industries and all its divisions used a stylized i atop a capital L. In Canada, our division was allowed to put the Li inside a maple leaf (see picture of the logo on a shoe bag we used to handout at trade shows).  

As I heard it after I (unsuccessfully) moved down to corporate, Maple Leaf outline or not, the Li logo was doomed when a member of the Board in Beverly Hills opined that he thought the logo looked like a man sitting on a toilet.

The infamous Li Logo

Within the PR world it was a giant stop-the-presses moment. All around the Free World our martinis were put down. Our Export A's were left to smoulder in executive dining room ashtrays. Slide projectors were fired up and everyone careful examined the Li logo.  

Who would question a board member? Every man, woman and AI module suddenly agreedthat the Li did look a man sitting on a toilet.  
The logo that replace the Li

It didn't take long before all the divisions worldwide were flushing the toilet logo for a simple Litton with conjoined tees and an overly tall i.  Logo police were given scorched earth orders.  Soon no Li was to be found on building signs, PN and SN plates, letterheads and in our case in Toronto even service award clocks. 

So thorough was the removal, the only Li I could find in my collection of Litton ephemera is that same shoe bag mentioned previously.

I was watching the sci-fi movie "Moon" on Netflix last Wednesday evening. It was a good British yarn about a bad American company. Lunar Industries had a mining operation on the moon. They were using short shelf life clones to do their work.

I couldn't enjoy the film because every time I saw Lunar Industries' logo on moon vehicle bumper, I had an uncontrollable urge to unfreeze the Litton Logo Police and get them back to work.  You see the Lunar Industries logo was everywhere on the moon and it was a logo we have all see before. The Lunar Industries Li and the Litton Industries LI are only an orbit or two apart.

And you know, sitting here in my attic office looking up at the waning moon through my tiny little window, I can't help but think that be it down here or up there, the Li still looks like a man sitting on a toilet.

Pix of the logo on a give-away shoe bag. Popular at air shoew and bowling lanes around the Free World