For a city that has so many international festivals — Just for Laughs, the International Jazz Fest, and the Fringe Fest to name but a few of my favourites — Montreal has one festival that a book lover like myself has always held close to her heart; Blue Metropolis.
The Blue Metropolis Foundation was founded in 1997 by the wonderful Linda Leith, a Montreal novelist, essayist, and publisher of Linda Leith Publishing, whose book Writing in the Time of Nationalism: From Two Solitudes to Blue Metropolis, I never fail to recommend to readers wanting to get a true insider’s perspective of what it was like (and in many ways, still is) to be a writer in Quebec representing one of two distinct minorities; French-language writers within English-dominated Canada, and English-language writers within French-dominated Quebec. Leith practices the linguistic diversity and intercultural understanding that she preaches. Linda Leith Publishing recently translated journalist Pascale Navarro’s excellent French essay, Women and Power: The Case for Parity, into English.
A non-profit organization dedicated to bringing people from different cultures together to share the pleasures of reading and writing, the foundation gave birth to the first Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival in 1999. While the festival has always been bilingual, (featuring and promoting Quebec writers writing in either or both languages), it has increasingly put the emphasis in latter years on multilingualism, cultural and linguistic diversity, and respect for inclusion. In other words, this festival has always represented – at least to me — the very best of Montreal’s cultural and linguistic offerings and spirit of openness.
This year, Blue Metropolis has plenty to interest anyone who wants to read and promote the works of women. Its series Women & Words highlights women authors who continue to be under-represented and under-valued. As part of the series, here are a few notable events taking place that are very much worth catching and I worry may not have been covered as much by mainstream media.
LE FEMINISME – UN PASSAGE OBLIGÉ?
This 60-minute round table taking place Friday, April 28, at 4 p.m. hosted by Laura T. Iléa, with participants Houria Bouteldja, Chantal Maillé, and Naïma Hamrouni is certain to be of interest to many.
Houria Bouteldja is a French-Algerian political activist and writer focusing on anti-racism, anti-imperialism, and Islamophobia. She serves as spokesperson for the Parti des Indigènes de la République (Party of the Indigenous of the Republic). Her book, Whites, Jews, and Us: Toward a Politics of Revolutionary Love, a scathing critique of the European Left from an indigenous anti-colonial perspective, reflecting on Frantz Fanon’s political legacy, the republican pact, the Shoah, the creation of Israel, feminism, and the fate of postcolonial immigration in the West in the age of rising anti-immigrant populism, claims that whiteness is not a genetic question, but a matter of power.
Chantal Maillé is a professor at Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute and its Women’s Studies Department. She has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Université du Québec à Montréal and has written and co-written numerous books on feminism, postcolonial theories and intersectionality, among them Le sujet du féminisme est-il blanc? Femmes racisées et recherche féministe and Malaises identitaires échanges féministes autour d’un Québec incertain.
With both a Ph.D. in philosophy and post-doctoral studies at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia, Naîma Hamrouni, who co-wrote Le sujet du féminisme est-il blanc? Femmes racisées et recherche féministe with Chantal Maillé, there is no question that this round table will probably be one of the most diverse, multi-layered, informed, potentially controversial, and most definitely intersectional conversations on feminism and women’s issues organized in a while. It shouldn’t be missed. Admission is $10.
POWERFUL WOMEN IN TRADITIONAL CULTURES; IS MATRIARCHY A THING OF THE PAST?
Writers Anita Desai (Clear Light of Day, Fasting, Feasting), Imbolo Mbue (Behold the Dreamers), and Samah Sabawi (I Remember My Name) discuss their cultures of origin, their fiction and their female characters. Hosted by journalist, political commentator, social activist, and proud feminist Anne Lagacé Dowson, this 60-minute panel discussion is certain to be enlightening and lively. It should be noted that world-renowned Indian writer Anita Desai is being honoured with The Blue Metropolis International Literary Grand Prix this year (which also comes with a $10,000 prize) for her impressive and critically acclaimed body of work so far. Cameroonian author Imbolo Mbue (seen in the main picture above), is also being honoured with The Blue Metropolis Words to Change Prize ($5,000 to an author whose work upholds the values of intercultural understanding and social inclusion) for her debut novel Behold the Dreamers. The event takes place Friday, April 28, at 5:30 p.m. and is free.
DENISE DONLON: FEARLESS, FEMINIST AND A FORCE FOR GOOD
Denise Donlon, Canadian business executive, television producer, host, and member of the Order of Canada, joined MuchMusic in 1985 as a host and producer of The NewMusic, and certainly has some stories to tell. In her critically acclaimed memoir, As Fearless as Possible (Under the Circumstances) she reflects on touring with Whitesnake, on being the president of Sony Music Canada, and discusses feminism, leadership, and pop culture. Her 60-minute interview with musician and filmmaker Matt Zimbel will take place on Friday, April 28, at 7 p.m. Admission is $10.
LITTLE SISTER: BARBARA GOWDY IN CONVERSATION WITH HEATHER O’NEILL
Canadian novelist and short story writer of all things strange and unusual, Barbara Gowdy sits down with Montreal’s very own literary darling, Heather O’Neill, to discuss her latest book, Little Sister. The book explores the astonishing power of empathy, the question of where we end and others begin, and the fierce bonds of motherhood and sisterhood. The event takes place Saturday, April 29, at 7 p.m. and is free.
FEMINICIDIO NO MORE
From #stolensisters in Canada to #niunamenos in Argentina, a conversation about violence against women in the 21st century, enveloped by the darkly symbolic and often-disturbing work of Mexican artist Teresa Margolles now on exhibition at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. The price ticket of $20 includes admission to the exhibition. The 90-minute multilingual round table is hosted by Ingrid Bejerman and includes the participation of Innu poet Natasha Kanapé Fontaine who is well known in Montreal’s literary scene with her beautiful French-language work that focuses on Indigenous women, American novelist, journalist, and Professor of Literature and Creative Writing, Francisco Goldman, and Canadian poet and biographer Rosemary Sullivan. The event takes place Saturday, April 29, at 4 p.m.
Once again this year, Blue Metropolis has managed to impress me with the depth, breadth, and quality of its events, and the awareness and emphasis it places on ensuring that all languages, cultures, and points of view are represented and discussed. In a world where most people still have problems defining, let alone understanding the importance of intersectionality, the direction and organizers of this wonderful literary event deserve a round of applause.
For a look at the complete schedule of events, go to: www.bluemetropolis.org