Morrin Centre holds a magical ImagiNation Writers’ Festival

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Photo: Mary McCown

CBC journalist Julia Caron moderates a lively discussion with authors Anna Leventhal and Saleema Nawaz.

Anyone can write a novel; try getting it down to 400 words,” says author Barbara Reid, explaining the challenges of writing for children. It’s hard to think of a more appropriate quote to open this article. Covering the ninth annual ImagiNation Writers’ Festival at the Morrin Centre was the easy part; giving the events proper recognition in a few words is a tall order.

The Morrin Centre added an extra day of activities to this year’s festival. “Quebec City is a good selling point,” said Elizabeth Perreault, the centre’s development and communications director, referring to Quebec City’s rich literary heritage. It’s no wonder that Charles Dickens was charmed by Quebec City when he visited in May 1842, writing that it “is a place not to be forgotten or mixed up in the mind with other places...”

“The [authors] all know each other; they will comment on which festivals to go to. It’s becoming easier,” said Perreault of the author recruitment process.

Tuesday evening began with a discussion on the art of translation and the many voices that emerge when one book has multiple translators.

Kathleen Winter, author of Lost in September, drew a large audience on Wednesday evening, despite the spring snowstorm. The discussion of Kyo Maclear’s Birds Art Life with Jack Breakfast delighted a full audience.

The highly anticipated “Books & Wine” Thursday was a stellar success thanks to sommelier Yann Barrette-Bouchard. Bestselling novelist Elizabeth Hay discussed her most recent book, His Whole Life, a coming-of-age story set in Quebec in the mid-1990s.

Sci-fi fans crowded College Hall Friday as authors Kaz LeFave, Sylvain Neuvel and Jo Walton created new worlds and spirited the audience from distant pasts to toxic futures in just one hour. Bestselling Canadian novelist Joanna Goodman discussed her book, The Home for Unwanted Girls, which is based in part on the story of her own mother.

Author and illustrator Barbara Reid started things off Saturday morning with her illustration techniques. “Creating plasticine art is like creating a pizza; it’s fun to play with distance,” said Reid, talking about the layering process which allows her to create depth.

Gary Barwin, author of Yiddish for Pirates, entertained participants by playing the saxophone before reading from his book and poetry collection.

Taras Grescoe, Montreal-based writer and author of Shanghai Grand, and Xue Yiwei, Chinese-born author of Dr. Bethune’s Children, discussed the contrasts and connections between China and Montreal. Xue’s book focuses on political secrecy in China. He talked about the difficulties of censorship in China. “To understand contemporary China is to understand the future of the world,” remarked Grescoe, a chilling statement in the changing political landscape of the West.

CBC’s Julia Caron brought a lighthearted atmosphere to the “Writers Out Loud” session she moderated, featuring authors Anna Leventhal and Saleema Nawaz, who took the audience on a literary tour of Montreal with readings from their books Sweet Affliction and Bone and Bread respectively.

A last-minute change to the program went off without a hitch thanks to the dedication and collaboration between the Morrin Centre staff and the literary community. Alejandro Saravia, Bolivian-born author of Red, Yellow, Green, discussed nationalist identity, culture and labels. He shared concerns about patriotic ties becoming too strong. 

“When asked to do something for a flag, take a step back and reconsider,” Saravia said. Reflecting on finding his home in Quebec, he said, “The word ‘Canadian’ always has this warm smell of bread and butter. It feels good.” 

Karl Subban, father of NHL players P.K. and Malcolm Subban and author of How We Did It: The Subban Plan for Success in Hockey, School and Life, gave an empowering talk about the benefits of children participating in hockey. 

Juno-award-winning recording artist Ron Sexsmith wrapped up the evening with his newest creation, Deer Life. 

Sunday morning, festivalgoers enjoyed “Books & Brunch” with Lee Maracle, author of My Conversations with Canadians. Townships-based singer-songwriter Randall Spear poked a little fun at at sadness with his song “More Bad News” Sunday afternoon.

“This year’s ImagiNation Writers’ Festival felt like a party,” said Perreault. With a mix of photography, music, readings and discussions, how will the Morrin Centre celebrate its 10th annual festival in 2019? 

We’ll just have to wait until next year. 

See page 4 for more ImagiNation Writers’ Festival happenings. 

Louisa Blair (right) moderates as Chinese-born author Xue Yiwei (left) and Montreal-based writer Taras Grescoe (middle) discuss contrasts and connections between China and Montreal.  


Author Gary Barwin entertains guests by playing the saxophone before reading from his book, Yiddish for Pirates.