A veteran photojournalist on the Toronto arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.
Left-right: Koffler@IFOA Moderator Jessica Wyman and Israeli author Assaf Gavron.
International Festival of Authors 2015 Reviews
Part 2 of 2-part series
Koffler@IFOA: Assaf Gavron
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artsport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Sunday, October 25; 12 p.m.
In opening the Koffler Centre of the Arts’ annual IFOA forum, Israeli author Assaf Gavron read from his latest book The Hilltop, a look at the complexity of the Arab-Israeli Conflict with a fictionalized account on the land settlements issue, in regard to a small-time West Bank Palestinian farmer versus an Israeli winemaker with military connections until they both find unity when the infamous West Bank Wall is set to go in their direction.
Speaking with host Jessica Wyman afterwards, he speaks on the bureaucracy that complicates and creates these divisions between the two states of ever establishing an agreeable peace between them. “(The West Bank) is a place with no clear set of rules or laws, no clear authority, no clear borders,” he explained. “And part of it is controlled by the Israeli army [and] part of it by the Palestinian Authority and according to international law it’s occupied land, which means a set of rules apply to the Israeli government is in charge of a part of the area and of the Jewish citizens who live there, although they do not live in a beneficial part of Israel.
“It’s just a tip of the iceberg on how complicated it is, and because they are so many ways to look at things and so many different offices and authorities that are in charge of different things. This is probably the greatest ‘achievement’ of the settlers, which is manipulating everything and managing to find the loopholes to sneak in between the different decisions and authorities and rules to stay there and to continue to prosper and continue to build there and so on.”
Around one point Wyman brought up the concept of the kibbutz in regard to the book and as part of the history of Israel prior to and after the establishment of the country and wondered if their importance has become outdated in the post-independence years, as she put it to Gavron, and if there are any connections to the latter-day occupation settlers.
“First of all, I knew I wanted to write about the settlements, about settlers and of them I knew, for me, the picture of today’s Israel and the whole idea [of the kibbutz] of feeling it’s alright and what we think in regard to the actual law,” Gavron said. “I think the main problem is both communities see themselves as the forefront of Zionism and (Israelis) used to see of themselves when they were there in the beginning on the founding days of Israel, they see themselves as…a little bit patronizing and above society, because they have this commitment and position to lead. You can see today many settlers going into the elite units in the army and becoming officers and traditionally this is what kibbutzim (kibbutz settlers) used to do.
“Of course, the purpose of kibbutzim is always associated with socialism, the left wing and the Labour Party, while the (illegal) settlers are on the outside of the mark. But apart from that, it’s a striking resemblance. And the kibbutzim, by and large, have failed with the socialist system that’s not working, not all of them but a handful. And that’s a good question whether they are a ‘failure waiting to happen,’ it might be a kind of wishful thinking. I oppose the settlements on a [certain] level and I don’t think it’s part of the (Talmud). I’m careful not to involve [too much] politics in the book, because I thought it would be right and important to tackle the subject in a clean set of lines.”
Left-right: Host Brendan de Caires with Giuseppe Catozzella, Assaf Gavron and Witold Szabłowski.
Brigantine Room, Bill Boyle Artsport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Sunday, October 25; 4 p.m.
A more than timely topic at IFOA, given the flux of refugees incoming across the European Union since this late summer mainly the victims of war from the overspill of revolutions and civil wars in the Middle East, journo-authors Giuseppe Catozzella, Assaf Gavron and Witold Szabłowski sat down with moderator Brendan de Caires in the discussion to their experiences on what they’ve seen in their reportages, in bringing up a sense of hope within these exiled communities and the issue of protectionism from the places they seek asylum to, which was a subject brought up at our recent federal election.
While Szabłowski and Gavron simply elaborated on what they’ve discussed in their other forums earlier at IFOA (Szabłowski on pre-Arab Spring Turkey, Gavron on present-day Israel), Italian news vet Catozzella discussed the tragic tale of two Somalis who tried to flee to Europe with huge dreams in Little Warrior, one of them being 2008 Olympian track star Samia Yusuf Omar who simply was trying to avoid death threats from Islamist fundamentalists, but drowned in the Mediterranean en route to Italy in time for the 2012 London Olympics.
“(Omar) was born in Mogadishu three weeks after their civil war started there” Catozzella started off, “and she was from a very poor family. She didn’t have any help, apart from her best friend (former Somali Olympian runner) Abdi (Bile), who was from another clan and they were forced to be enemies…and she manages to get to the Beijing Olympic Games (in 2008) by herself. Her dream is to get to London for 2012 Olympics Games, but she knows once she gets back to her country that there are the fundamentalists there.
“So she spends eighteen months (walking) through the Sahara Desert, she gets incarcerated in Libya, she was called a animal…and when she finally manages to arrive in Tripoli, she does the same thing and waits for the weather to get good so they can leave (across the Mediterranean).When she gets the money from her sister to pay for the smugglers for the trip on the boat, she never arrives so she’s one of the thousands whose bodies are in the biggest cemetery in the world which is what we call our sea, the Mediterranean.”
Szabłowski further explained about the great contradictions of Turkey wanting to be part of the European Union as an official member, yet wanting to keep their unique Muslim identity by remaining non-Western, so to speak. “That’s what I was trying to show [in The Assassin from Apricot City]. They are afraid of us (Europeans), but at the same time they want to be us. They hate us, but at the same time they want to be part of our club, if you want to call the European Union a club. Turks are much more divided than other societies.”
“We’re also a bit like Turkey,” added Gavron, in relation to Israel’s position in the region. “We don’t have that strait where we can go from one continent to the other, but we’re very much in between [in the Middle East]. We’re dominated by two main groups, the Jewish side and groups from the Arab-Oriental world from the Western European world. So already we’re a social mecca in this mixture, so you have this eternal kind of question to become part of the Western, modern world and one with the Arab World. You have a lot of pride of being different…and then you have this on what you’re talking about, which is on one half criticizing America or the West and saying ‘who are you to be telling us what to do?’ and the other is that we crave to get assurances from the West, especially from America.”
CBC Radio personality Elanor Wachtel gestures for the opening theme song of her long-running literary show Writers & Company to commence for a live taping at Fleck Dance Theatre for its 25th anniversary broadcast.
Writers & Company 25th Anniversary Celebration
Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queen’s Quay West, 3rd Floor
Wednesday, October 28; 7:30 p.m.
A full house buzzed with anticipation for the long-running CBC literary Writers & Company’s anniversary broadcast show at the Fleck Dance Theatre with a couple of pre-show toasts from noted writers Guy Vanderhaeghe and Shyam Selvadurai in praise of its host who has been with it throughout its history, Eleanor Wachtel, and of its importance to Canadian and international writers.
The former stated “For those like me, who live in the small cities and towns of this vast country and are unlikely to ever the opportunity that you in the audience tonight have, to hear writers change the face of contemporary literature speak about art, Writers & Company, whether by radio or online; gives us the privilege of eavesdropping wherever we may be” whilst the latter praised Wachtel and recalled the time she visited his native Sri Lanka to cover a literary festival there in 2012 with him as a curator there, described the show as a place “to disappear into the minds and practice of another writer, to enjoy that they’ve succeeded in wresting to submission that failed beast we call, the novel (and) to have my own thoughts changed and deepened by these conversations.”
Left-right: Caryl Phillips, Zadie Smith, Aleksandar Hemon and Elanor Wachtel.
Joined onstage for this literary koffee klatch was Bosnian author Aleksandar Hemon, British author-academic Caryl Phillips both in town for IFOA and superstar novelist Zadie Smith, who tore away from England from her two young children and in the middle of working on her next book, just for the occasion and sat down for an hour to chat on their inspirations and backgrounds into the creative process, the power of reading and literature on their psyche and personalities in finding their own voice.
“For me, one the great continuities in this life, is really reading and my relationship to books,” Hemon stated, “and this is why reading is still rewarding to me, to be able to measure the distance from the previous self to reading that (particular) book.” But he did point out that some books make the cut while others don’t. “Some books pass the test and some of them get better with age when you get to that understanding…but it’s also that I like that part of myself, the part that is sitting in this room and reading books.”
Phillips, the most entertaining of this group with his compatible dry wit, put it in a more interesting perspective on going back to old books you haven’t read in a long while and enjoying them even more. “I reread more than I read now,” he said. “In fact, I’ll only read if somebody that I trust tells me to read [something] because gradually, I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that I’m not to live forever and therefore, I want to revisit things that matter rather than ‘roll the dice’ too often [with something new].”
“When I first started writing fiction, I still very much believed in writing essays in defence of it,” Smith admitted in her revelation in seeing a different world of writing after being schooled in post-modern literary criticism or the “new criticism” from her days in Cambridge. “And the idea of a text being separated and not being too dependent on their point of view of the student critic is really important because you can’t know who this writer is anyway, so it’s useless knowledge, really. You have to deal with the text that is right in front of you. But the way I was taught, poetry wasn’t just disdained, it was banished. You couldn’t even enter it into discussion and also about an author you couldn’t enter into any kind of intimate or remote experience with a book.
“One of the first things that happened to me in America on my first book White Teeth and I had to go on a book tour and I thought I’d make it [more] interesting that I decided to meet a writer in each city,” she recalled. “And it was so freeing to meet the realization that there was this profound connection. It’s not some biographic criticism to everything, but if you deny the fact that a book is an experience of a (author). I think it’s one of the reasons why although I love to meet writers, I know that I’m really meeting them when I’m reading them; I’m reading this very intense version of their way of being in the world.”
“Writing is effectively intuitively ‘fumbling in the dark’ and writers are constructing something,” added Phillips. “And a lot of what they are doing is deconstructing, taking things apart and trying to rip the wings off something, to understand it. Actually,” he quipped, “we don’t understand a lot.”
In closing, Wachtel asked her circle for their look on the novel in a quarter-century from now, Hemon offered this notion: “Other the world will be changed, but there will be novels. I’m two hundred years behind with my reading, so I could stop writing novels now and get twenty-years of sleep! So there’ll be novels in whatever format will be up for grabs, but twenty-five years of history will change the perceptions of all the leisure and interests of things. As long as there is language, there will be needs to engage through the world which means stories and narration and poetry too, so there will be something.”
Left-right: JAZZ-FM broadcaster Garvia Bailey with Lawrence Hill and Dane Swan.
‘Membering: A Celebration of Austin Clarke
Brigantine Room, Bill Boyle Artsport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Sunday, November 1; 12 p.m.
As a saxman doled out preshow jazz ditties in one corner of the Brigantine Room for the tribute event to Canadian author Austin Clarke as moderated by JAZZ-FM broadcaster Garvia Bailey, it was regrettable that the man of the hour was unable to make it due to health reasons. Still, things weren’t going to be dampened by Clarke’s absence for his third memoir ‘Membering (Dundurn Press) as other writers were more than eager to fill in the spot.
Lawrence Hill read a passage from ‘Membering where Clarke recalled his decision to make an actual living as a novelist after a tenure as a CBC journalist with a young family in Toronto when he launched his first published work, The Survivors of the Crossing in 1964, amidst a turbulent decade of change where he had to suffer the blows of some white intellectuals who attacked it underneath the veneer of subtle racism of a otherwise more tolerant society and the realities of being that rare voice of the African-Canadian experience.
Outgoing Toronto Poet Laureate George Elliot Clarke (no relation) read a few passages from Clarke’s latest poetry collection In Your Crib (Guernica Editions), a crashing account of jazz, the Civil Rights movement, racial “invisibility” and the plea for equality that he delivered with rapid fire intensity and a except from Clarke’s first short story “When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks” before giving up the stage for spoken-word artist Dane Swan with a couple of more lines from In Your Crib and a Clarke-like tribute from his own work Bending the Continuum (Guernica Editions), “Black Fits.”
Afterwards, Hill and Swan sat down with Bailey – the other Clarke had to leave early – to swap stories about Austin Clarke and his influence on Canadian writers of all flavours and not just the African-Canadian community alone, as Hill would point out on why he choose that passage on Clarke’s early struggles with his work. “He didn’t enter the scene quietly,” Hill explained. “He talks in his book about paying attention to the text and he insists on text being respected and having it respected and examined thoughtfully and carefully. And if you look at the text of Austin’s work, including his (Toronto) Trilogy (1967’s The Meeting Point; 1973’s Storm of Fortune and 1975’s The Bigger Light) which he burst onto the Canadian literary scene, he’s loud and he’s lewd, he’s provocative, he’s ribald. He take takes risks in some ways he’s much more open and censorious. You could almost be beaten back if you tried to enter the scene like that today.”
Other than his boldness, Clarke is also noted for his gregarious manner when Swan tells of his first humorous encounter with the iconic writer. “I’d seen him in passing a number of times [before], but I was way too shy to say anything because basically this is one of the people that I hold high up on a pedestal,” he recalls. “And I was a group of people in a place that I was passing through and I was introduced to Austin and they said ‘This guy is a poet.’ And we were at a bar and he looked at me and he said: ‘You’re a poet…and you don’t have a drink in your hand?’”
Swan also notes that because of Clarke, other writers are taking bolder steps away from the big and small publishing houses that have otherwise ignored them. “What’s happening now is some of the most incredible writers you’ll ever read, they’re just giving up on trying to break through the literary scene and [are into] self-publishing. So there’s a lot a writers whom you’ll never meet, never know about who are incredible and get the satisfaction of writing and self-publishing. Some of them are better than the ones that are published [by established publishing houses] and are selling hundreds and hundreds of books on their own.”
Getting the last word was Ontario Institute for Studies in Education sociology associate professor and the Director of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto Dr. Renaldo Walcott, speaking on Clarke’s behalf as a last-minute addition, but using his own words in a impassioned if humbled speech about a writer having two bodies, being the physical one that eventually must let go of its mortality and the body of work left behind that achieves immortality.
“Indeed, Austin’s body of work is a tremendous gift to letters in Canada, from short stories to novels to essays to memoirs and a play or two. Austin Clarke has graciously and determinedly written our collective story and returned it to us as a gift to treasure. He has given us words that we might have written it ourselves, our lives offered back to us in a fashion and style and in a language that allows us to see our lives and make the truth revealed to us, his readers, as necessary for life itself,” he praised of Clarke. “Austin Clarke has also given a tremendous gift of letters to the Caribbean (community); he has given us its language, its humour, its tenacity and even its breath in an elegant and crisp fashion.”
Left-right: Patrick Gale, Sharon Johnston and Andrew Motion.
Readings: Patrick Gale, Sharon Johnston, Andrew Motion, Sophia Nikolaidou and Steve Toltz
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artsport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Sunday, November 1; 2 p.m.
For the final reading for this year’s fest came a last-minute change with former IFOA Communications Manager Becky Toyne sitting in as host for the event for the ailing Sheniz Janmohammed, starting with British author Patrick Gale in weaving a descriptive seriocomic story from his latest work, A Place Called Winter, about a suicidal Briton steered away from offing himself when he sees a opportunity to start anew as a farmer in Saskatchewan, full of atmospheric lightness to begin the event.
Sharon Johnston, in her in her debut novel Matrons and Madams – with a supportive husband in the audience, Canadian Governor-General David Johnston – took a historical narrative loosely based on her grandmother’s experiences in setting up a health clinic for prostitutes in post-World War I Lethbridge that stirred up controversy back in the day since it was a mining town that drew in a boon for the sex trade and a venereal disease outbreak, as well as being a story between two transatlantic widows during the 1920s. Her presentation was somewhat dry and straightforward, but the story in itself did pose for some interesting moments.
Andrew Motion decided to read a couple of poems from his collection The Customs House instead from his new release The New World, first being “The Discoveries of Geography” about a canoeist contemplating on travel and the pioneering spirit and the impact of World War II seen from a veteran’s point of view in the aftermath in “The Gardener” were well received; as Greek author Sophia Nikolaidou linked a history of her country from the mystery surrounding the murder of American journalist George Polk in covering the Greek Civil War in 1948 to the present-day chaos of its financial crush as seen through the eyes of a rebellious teen unwilling, or unable, to choose a future for himself for all its uncertainties in The Scapegoat, even if her English wasn’t all too bad.
Left-right: Sophia Nikolaidou and Steve Tolt.
Australian writer Steve Toltz ended it with his dark comical Quicksand about two best friends Liam, a police officer and Albo, a ne’er-do-well always looking for life’s shortcuts as Liam has to interrogate him as a suspect in a hotel room murder he’s (may or may not) complicated in as a concierge in the establishment brought out reasonable laughs at the conflicted friendship between the two characters was a nice way to end the festival on that note.
All in all, IFOA 2015 was a chockfull of areas to choose from its line-up with little to complain about, despite not having its usual visual art component – the leftover installations from September’s Word on The Street fest didn’t count, sorry – from the topics of race, identity and the added plus of our democratic rights foundations with the Magna Carta exhibit/talk on October 22, a bit more with graphic novelists and the 25th anniversary of CBC Radio’s lit show Writers & Company as the highlights of the fest.
Playboy Swings!: How Hugh Hefner and Playboy Changed the Face of Music
by Patty Farmer
395 pp., Beaufort Books
Non-Fiction/Jazz History and Commerce
Say what one might will about Playboy, it is a hardy survivor from fighting against the morality laws of the stringent 1950s, the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s, leading the sexual revolutions and going head-to-head with competitive wannabes of the 1970s and up into the digital/print divide of the early 21st-century. Few will actually remember how it manage to change the postwar nightclub scene and break down racial barriers through music and live entertainment as its empire grew as Patty Farmer brings to the forefront for the first time in Playboy Swings!: How Hugh Hefner and Playboy Changed the Face of Music that will convince the hardest skeptic on its influence on popular culture and society.
Farmer speaks with those who brought the publication to life in 1953 from its editors, writers, artists and its founder Hugh Hefner, former Playboy Bunnies that worked the nightclubs and over 100 musicians, mostly jazz; comedians and performers who got their start from its very first jazz festival they hosted in 1959 at the Chicago Stadium – billed as “the greatest three days in the history of jazz” – to the slew of infamous nightclubs that dotted across the United States and around the world (including their one and only Canadian franchise in Montréal) that opened its first doors in 1960 Chicago until their closures in 1988, yet to resurrect themselves as a smaller casino format (for now) in 2011 London.
She reveals many engaging stories from the biggest names like Tony Bennett, Ramsey Lewis, Lily Tomlin, Jerry Van Dyke, Quincy Jones and Ellis Marsalis to the lesser-knowns like Mabel Mercer to talk about behind the scenes with highly interesting stories the Playboy Clubs had endured in those halcyon days that had sophistication than its bawdy reputation they undeservedly earned, including trying to branch out into family-friendly territory in the 1970s (no, I’m not kidding) with resorts that practically fell on its face and forced Hefner’s empire to retract when changing times and attitudes no longer tolerated the atmosphere that became synonymous with the magazine.
While the book does mainly discuss the publication’s audacity to engage in sexual mores against conservative and feminist beliefs – believe it or not, Hefner does support women’s rights and gender equality – not many knew they were the first mainstream magazine to publish the little-known genre of jazz fiction; serializing the works of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels before they became popular in America; short stories by literary giants like Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut and Arthur C. Clarke to the public and even dared to publish “The Crooked Man,” a dystopian gay romance short story by Charles Beaumont (who also penned episodes for The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery) in 1955, which was wholly unheard of at time and generated quite a storm.
Despite Playboy Swings! focusing on its expansive enterprises from television to the hospitality businesses being its only shortcoming, the author does devote roughly a fair percentage on its championing Hefner’s all-time favourite music, jazz, when nobody else would outside of jazz-oriented publications. From its first forays into spreading its popularity with its annual Playboy Jazz Poll, which was just as important as being on Down Beat or (long-defunct) Metronome’s polls; they tried a few times to launch a music label under their banner, but found more success with their annual Jazz Festival that’s been going strong at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl since 1979. And as a side note, Hefner defended having African-American musicians and singers (and Bunnies) in their clubs before the Civil Rights movement and fighting Jim Crow laws when they opened their franchises in the then-segregated American South.
Farmer’s style of writing may seem a bit more informal than most in talking about a straightforward history of music, entertainment and the publication’s unenvied and polarized position in regarding sexual attitudes and behaviours in gender politics, and the photos accompanied in the book, while good, could have been in better quality and on glossy insets. But it’s not dry reading for anyone who is interested in learning more about Playboy, its founder and the full-bodied history in finding out there’s more to the magazine than just another pretty face on its covers.
Eighties synth-pop pioneer tickles the ivories on a acoustic piano tour
Among the many faces that came during the so-called Second British Invasion of the 1980s like Thomas Dolby, The Thompson Twins, The Human League and so forth was Howard Jones with his first hit single “New Song” in 1983 that encouraged a whole generation to “throw off your mental chains” with his synth-pop structures, followed by other chestnuts “Things Can Only Get Better” (which recently had a fourteen-week reign back on the Billboard Top 40 dance charts in 2013 as a new version made with hot electronic star Cedric Gervais), “Like to Know You Better” and “No One Is To Blame.”
Jones makes a rare Canadian appearance on a intimate solo tour “The Song, The Piano & The Stories” at Hugh’s Room (2261 Dundas Street West) for a two-night date November 11 and 12 where he’ll play all his classics on acoustic piano, as well as tell stories and inspirations behind the songs from his three-decade career that not only talks about his commercial success as a singer/songwriter, but also as a pioneer in the now-growing trend of DIY independent artist approach.
He was one of the first in the music industry to make live recordings available to fans on the night of certain gigs directly onto CD that would include digital artwork from photos from that specific concert alone. Even his latest album, Engage, is entirely a fan-funded venture with money raised via studio visits, the creation of personalised ‘Piano Solos’ composed specifically for fans and a unique arthouse interactive book, plus his live techno shows and productions include interactive art projected onto screens in front and behind the musicians where he allows his audience to participate with a smartphone app that has also been used by the likes of Peter Gabriel to Pet Shop Boys, among others.
While he’s definately not giving up his standard Roland Juno 60, Jupiter 8 and Moog Prodigy keyboards that made him famous, Jones gets down with his favourite instrument – the piano – for a stripped down approach with “The Song, The Piano & The Stories” that isn’t seen too often from a Brit-pop legend willing to get back to the basics.
For tickets and reservations, call 416-531-6604 or visit: hughsroom.com..
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