Right coast, left coast, and all the news in between

Reading at the Association for New Canadians Training Centre. Photo by Andrew Sampson, CBC.

On Tuesday night the CBC and the Association for New Canadians hosted a local Canada Reads event in St. John's and it was a full house. I usually know the crowd at literary events but standing at the podium, looking out at the audience, I thought "who ARE all these people?"And that's when it hit me that this is what happens when the CBC promotion machine starts churning. It's not just friends and friends of friends supporting my book anymore. (I know...I know...why is this STILL a surprise?)

I have to hand it to the CBC and the ANC: they pulled off a fantastic evening with very little notice. There was music, food, and a great group of speakers who told their own arrival stories. I was struck in particular by the gentleman who arrived in Canada seven months ago after spending 17 years in a refugee camp. Seventeen years. Let that sink in. This is what people endure just to come here, just to have all these freedoms and privileges that most of us Canadians blithely take for granted.

L to R: Luwam, Bwisengo, Celestine, and Aveen share their stories while the CBC's Heather Barrett listens. English teacher Grace is on the far right. Photo by Andrew Sampson, CBC.

The five newcomers who shared their stories were seriously, seriously impressive. One young woman is about to graduate highschool with a full scholarship to Memorial University. After the staged part of the event, people stuck around to socialize and I heard the word "resilience" in more than a couple of conversations. Resilience is part of it, sure. But I think there's something else going on here. When good fortune isn't given to you on a platter you don't have the option to be lazy. It's something I've been thinking about a lot since Tuesday.

Segments of Tuesday's event will be aired on Weekend Arts Morning so tune in for that (I'll post a link to the podcast version when it's up). And Andrew Sampson (who kindly let me use his photos) wrote an article about the event.

Signing books. Photo by Andrew Sampson, CBC

In other news, The Boat People received a very favourable review in the Winnipeg Free Press. Here are a couple of my favourite lines: "Bala’s strength is in showing the human side of everyone involved" and "Many details of the situation — trying to evaluate individuals amidst federal government concern about letting in criminals — might have been dull and bureaucratic if Bala’s narrative were not so clear and engaging."

Reporter Dana Gee interviewed me recently for a piece that ran in both The Vancouver Sun and The Province. We talked about the best and worst parts of novel writing, character creation, and the engine of rage that powered my work.

I was on the St. John's Morning show on Thursday chatting with host Jamie Fitzpatrick (author of The End of Music, one of my very favourite books of 2017) and my Canada Reads champion Mozhdah. The segment isn't online yet but for those of you who missed it, I'll post a note as soon as it's up.

Next week I'm off to Vancouver for a couple of days of interviews and an evening event at the Vancouver Public Library. If you are in Van-city, the event is free but you do need to get tickets. Presented by the Vancouver Writers Festival, Incite is a free reading series featuring Canadian authors. I'll be reading from The Boat People and answering questions along with few writers Kim Fu, Djamila Ibrahim, and Guillaume Morisette. As always, I'm as excited for the reading and Q&A as I am to meet fellow authors.

Kerry Clare at 49th Shelf asked me to recommend a reading list for fans of The Boat People. The piece went live earlier this week.

American War toppled me off the top of the mountain and The Boat People is #2 on the CBC Bestseller list this week. No hard feelings. I absolutely adore Omar's book (see aforementioned reading list). We are both going to be at a couple of events in the next few months and I can't wait. Keep an eye on the events page. I post upcoming events, appearances, and readings as soon as they are confirmed.

And speaking of Canada Reads authors, all the finalists will be speaking with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter in the coming weeks. This week's episode features Mark Sakamoto speaking about his luminescent book Forgiveness. The conversation is well worth a listen.

Finally, check out the book's new cover! My first sticker! (Not available in stores just yet)

Tolstoy is not a mail-order bride

On Tuesday I spoke at the Status of the Artist legislation announcement. I did so somewhat reluctantly and only because I thought I could use two of my allotted five minutes to say something in defence of literacy, libraries, and the fantastic cultural institutions that are under threat from the provincial government’s make-believe commitment to the arts.

Yesterday, I woke up to find this article in The Telegram riddled with inaccuracies, the worst of which were the misquotes. Let's get something straight. I am NOT a cheerleader for the Status of the Artist legislation. I am NOT a cheerleader for the provincial government. When I was asked to give a reading at the announcement, I very nearly said no.

To his credit, the reporter was mortified when I pointed out all his mistakes and we worked together on the correction that appeared in today’s paper. But it made me decide that it was time to say something more pointed and specific.

There is nothing wrong with legislation that commits to treating artists fairly and professionally. But I am skeptical of a government that lauds culture with empty words while chipping away at it with its actions. A government that supports culture doesn't try to sneakily drop it from the ministry's name. A government that supports culture doesn't attack literacy by closing more than half the province's libraries and slapping a tax on books. And a Minister who is committed to culture doesn't say at a press conference, as Mitchelmore did on Tuesday, that books by mail are just as good as a bricks and mortar library. (No they are not. NO. NO. NO.) The government can crow all they like about the importance of culture but unless they create an environment where books and visual art and theatre are valued and supported, it's just hot air.

This province is running headlong into a capital D Depression. We have massive debts we can't pay back. We are bleeding young working-age people. We are saddled with a boondoggle called Muskrat Falls that will cripple us. Austerity is inevitable. I get it. I know. But I also know it's bullshit to slap a tax on books with one hand and give Ed Martin a $1.4 million dollar parting gift with the other. It's bullshit to threaten to close more than half the libraries, citing lack of funds, and then turn around and pay a private company to write a report on the future and viability of said libraries. If there's money to pay private industry for make-work reports, if there's money to build a massive hydro-electric dam so mining companies can get cut-rate electricity, then there’s money for a library in every town and outport. Private industry, oil and gas, Muskrat Falls, Ed Martin’s retirement, they are not the only ones that rely on government subsidies. The arts need resources too.