Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Literary insurance policy. Tassles, beads and bananas included.

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Literary insurance policy. Tassles, beads and bananas included.

By Becky Toyne

Several years ago, when I was in need of a full-time job, I was advised by one of the esteemed Canadian publishing types from whom I sought guidance to get myself a ticket to the Book Lovers’ Ball, pronto. I went to the website of this annual fundraiser (administrated by the Toronto Public Library Foundation) and my heart sank. Telling an unemployed junior publishing person to attend a $600 a ticket event was perhaps not the most useful piece of advice ever doled out. Needless to say, this Cinderella took her chances with the missed networking opportunity and did not go to the ball.

A few weeks ago, an advertisement for a rather more manageable fancy-pants book-nerd night out landed in my inbox. On December 7, Brick magazine is hosting its inaugural fundraiser at the Berkley Church on Queen St. East. Dubbed KIKI’S PARIS: THE CITY OF LIGHT IN 1925 the event aims to combine something we love (literary magazines and writers) with something we love a little less (parting with our scarce pennies) with something we would love to do more often, if only our pennies weren’t so scarce (party!).

What does it have on offer…?

High literati content? Check.
For starters, Michaels Ondaatje, Redhill and Helm (of Brick’s editorial board) will be in attendance, as will all manner of celeb writerly types such as Susan Swan, Mark Kingwell, Karen Solie, Claudia Dey, Dionne Brand and Michael Winter. The list is sure to grow, so dip into Kiki’s blog for updates.

High alcohol content? Check.
There is a bar, at which you will not be required to part with further funds. And since this is Kiki’s Paris of 1925, expect absinthe-inspired libations on the menu.

High-wattage celebrity content? Check.
Jian Ghomeshi hosts, Jill Barber sings, and you can bet your bottom dollar there will be a few other “there’s that guy/gal from the radio/telly” faces in the room as well.

High socializing content? Check.
Take liberal amounts of the bar, literati and celebrity ingredients specified above. Combine. Serve shaken, and also a little stirred.

Oh, and if that’s not enough, did I mention that you get to dress up all 1920s glam? (she says, dusting off her Mary Janes).

Price tag for all this feel-good, jazz-time jollity: $75 (or four for $60 each).

Ah. At the mention of money I sense some of you balk. Every year at Giller time, prize founder Jack Rabinovitch implores the press and public to consider that, together, the five shortlisted titles cost only the equivalent of a meal in a restaurant. And while I maintain that Mr. Rabinovitch is dining in swisher eateries than I (or maybe he is also paying for his friends), I am not above appropriating his sentiment. I have easily eaten, imbibed and cab-fared my way through $75 on many a Friday (or Tuesday) night, but rarely with the added opportunity to put on an extra specially snazzy outfit, support such a good cause and challenge myself to appear smart in the presence of Canadian literary royalty while also three Kiki cocktails to the wind.

So why Kiki? “We liked the idea of modelling the party on the artist-run gatherings that were so popular in the 1920s on the Montparnasse,” says Brick publisher Michael Redhill. “They succeeded in raising morale, they brought people together, and they often resulted in fruitful new relationships, not all of them illicit.” Networking and community building, then…with beads and tassels!

The folks at Brick aren’t the only ones looking nostalgically back to the jazz age. The Great Gatsby (published, conveniently enough, in 1925) is currently enjoying something of a renaissance, with stage revivals pulling in crowds on Broadway and a Hollywood remake in the works. Coincidence? Perhaps. But a recent Observer article suggested that as a time of great decadence the ’20s have become a fetishized decade. Moreover, as a time of great decadence followed by a social-landscape-altering fall, we naturally turn to those years as a means of considering, through a more distant, soft-focus lens, our current economic predicament.

Earlier this year, the federal government announced the new Canadian Periodical Fund — replacing two previous funding streams. Under the new regime, periodicals with a paid circulation of fewer than 5,000 (accounting for the vast majority of this country’s literary magazines) were frozen out of future funding. As it happens, Brick remained unaffected (it does receive funds from certain granting bodies, but the predecessors to the CPF were not among them), but nevertheless the headlines highlight the very real need for literary publications to indemnify themselves, through generating multiple revenue streams, against having the granting rug pulled from under them. Staging fundraisers isn’t only about bringing in cash, it’s about raising awareness for who you are, what you do and why you’re important to Canada’s literary landscape. It’s about creating an insurance policy of sorts.

Towards the end of The Great Gatsby, the gambler Mr. Wolfsheim suggests, “‘Let us learn our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.’” In Wolfsheim’s mouth it is a cruel rejection of comradeship, but his point rings true of so many oft-lamented predicaments in the literary industry. There’s no use in being sad after your local indie bookstore has closed down; make the most of it while it’s alive and well to ensure it stays that way.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I give you KIKI’S PARIS: party, dress-up opportunity, night of hobnobbing, merry making and nostalgia. I also give you, KIKI’S PARIS: endowment policy. It will never pay off your mortgage but as investments go it’s a pretty low-risk, high-return one to make this winter. And anyway, how often does paying an insurance premium come with the chance to see someone dancing in a Josephine Baker banana skirt?

Becky Toyne is a freelance editor and publicist based in Toronto. Since embarking on a career in publishing in 2002, she has worked as an editor at Random House UK and Random House of Canada; as a bookseller, event planner and publicist for Toronto’s Type Books; and as Communications Coordinator for the International Festival of Authors and Authors at Harbourfront Centre. She is a member of the communications committee for the Writers’ Trust of Canada, and the publicist for the 2010 Writers' Trust Awards. She tweets about life in book land as @MsRebeccs.

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