Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Luminato 2011 - Confessions of a Literary Intern

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Luminato 2011 - Confessions of a Literary Intern

From time to time we will have guest bloggers in the lead up to Luminato. Today Mari Ferzli, Luminato Literary Program Intern and MA candidate in comparative literature, writes about her experience on the job:

I started as the Literary Program Intern at Luminato last February. Growing up in Finland where books, libraries and storytelling have always enjoyed a very special role (reading is one of the most popular hobbies and libraries are considered as the nation’s living rooms), I was thrilled to get the chance to work with the Luminato Literary Program. I moved to Toronto two years ago and continue to write my thesis about the representations female chastity in Elizabethan drama while working at the festival. At the end of my first day, I returned home with my bag full of books to read. I was especially fascinated by the works of Leila Aboulela, Elizabeth Hay, Miriam Toews and Maxine Hong Kingston, all of whom appear at Luminato as a part Modern Day Shahrazads, an event celebrating the female voice in fiction.

It is now May and, after months of reading, I have spent the past week distributing bookmarks and posters around Toronto. From bookstores and cultural centres to coffee shops, I was delighted to meet people from all walks of life. I was especially glad to hear the buzz around the Beirut39 event, my personal favourite, which features five young Arab authors of under the age of 39. After walking over 45 kilometres in two days, I am starting to be convinced that being a bibliophile can be quite far from curling up with a good book in a comfy arm chair and a glass of red wine. I’m calling this my literary marathon.

Most celebrated authors have been men, including those who carry the mark of master storytellers: From Homer to Hans Christian Andersen. Yet it has been the women who have told stories when they could not write them down, and have been only recently been granted their own authorship as writers. Writing fiction as a vocation is a relatively young phenomenon, which makes me adore the Modern Day Shahrazads line-up even more. The program was built to be paired with the festival’s commission of Hanan al-Shaykh’s adaptation of One Thousand and One Nights, her being the first woman to adapt the story cycle.

To me, the Modern Day Shahrazads are writers and storytellers who create a sense of life and continuity in their writing. Hong Kingston, Hay, Toews and Aboulela certainly do that and more. For Shahrazad, her ability to tell a story literally kept her alive, from one night to the next. I can only imagine the intensity of each night unfolding, when the purpose of each story was nothing less than maintaining life itself. Aboulela, who is from Arabic-speaking Sudan, writes about a country and a society I knew very little of. As I opened the book in February and immersed myself into the family saga unfolding, I felt a startling sense universality in her writing and walked the streets of Umdurman, Sudan, with every word. Through Aboulela’s brilliant writing this unfamiliar city morphed itself to more than a mere geographical location or a mention in the news. With Lyrics Alley, I magically took a trip to Sudan and Egypt without a single class at Hogwarts.

Leila Aboulela spoke about Lyrics Alley at the Pen World Voices Festival. Watch the video here.

Traveling to Sudan through her words reminds me of the magic of books. As I walked through Toronto, from coffee shop to coffee shop, I felt the same need for stories. I'm a listener for our modern day Shahrazads.

Miriam Toews, Maxine Hong Kingston, Leila Aboulela and Elizabeth Hay will be in conversation with Eleanor Wachtel (Host of CBC’s Writers & Company) on June 16.

By Mari Ferzli

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Devyani Saltzman

Devyani Saltzman is a Canadian writer. She is the author of Shooting Water, a memoir, as well as articles for The Globe and Mail, The Atlantic Monthly, Marie Claire, TOK: an anthology of new Toronto writing, The Literary Review of Canada and Tehelka, India's weekly known for arts and investigative journalism. She is currently Curator of Literary Programming for Luminato, Toronto's Festival of Arts and Creativity.

Go to Devyani Saltzman’s Author Page