Literary Blue: Metropolis book fest is back

In light of their upcoming literary festival, The Concordian spoke with Linda Leith, the artistic director and president of the Blue Metropolis Foundation, and got you the insider details on this year’s program.

Can you give our readers a quick history lesson on Blue Metropolis?

Blue Metropolis Foundation, which organizes not only the festival but a wide range of educational and literacy programs, came into being in 1997, and the first Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival took place in April 1999 at the Europa Hotel on Drummond. About 1,500 people attended the first festival, which featured 58 participants who write in French or English. Blue Met has become the world’s first multilingual literary festival, and we expect over 13,000 to attend the 9th festival, which takes place April 25-29, with about 300 writers, literary translators, actors, cartoonists, journalists and publishers. There’ll be 130 events, not only in French and English, but also some in Spanish, Arabic, Italian, Mandarin and Inuktituk.

Blue Metropolis festival features a wide variety of artists, events and workshops. How do you come up with them?

Programming is fun, but it’s also very time-consuming and demanding, especially since we work in different languages. So I work not only with my staff but with a programming committee and numerous sub-committees that can advise me on specific programming areas such as writers working in Arabic, cartoonists, and writers for young people.

What is the most challenging aspect in organizing a festival of this size?

Programming is always a challenge, but I have to say that fundraising is probably the biggest. With cuts to some of the government funding we have had from the start, we have had a tougher job than ever finding the resources to cover the costs.

Why did the foundation choose to present its literary award to Margaret Atwood this year?

We give out the Blue Metropolis International Literary Grand Prix every year to celebrate literary achievement. Margaret Atwood is Canada’s pre-eminent writer, recognized and read across the world, and she is the writer who is most identified with the spectacular international success of Canadian literature over the past 20 years or so. We’re delighted that she agreed to come to Montreal to accept the prize at our Opening Night on April 25. She’ll be participating in two other festival events, as well. One is a one-on-one with Jian Ghomeshi, the host of the new CBC Radio arts and culture program Q, and one is an on-stage conversation for Atwood and her partner, Graeme Gibson, with Ramona Koval of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s national daily Book Show.

Are there any events you’re particularly excited about?

Too many to list here! Launching Michael Ondaatje’s new novel on the Saturday night (April 28) will be fun. There are many terrific Canadian writers, in fact, including Barbara Gowdy, Jane Urquhart and Noah Richler. The great Lebanese novelist and journalist Elias Khoury. The Italian Melania G. Mazzucco. John Burnside and Suhayl Saadi from Scotland. The Chinese emigre Ha Jin. And with our science writing strand focussed on the environment and climate change, and several events devoted to the Middle East, Iran and the war in Afghanistan, this is probably the meatiest festival yet. Not to mention, we have Bill Brownstein coming to talk about his book on Schwartz’s smoked meat! Now that really will be meaty!

Are any of the events specifically geared towards college students?

I think students will be interested in the environmental discussions, as well as in the writing workshops,. Also definitely in some of the terrific writers who have been emerging over the past few years — a very talented new generation of writers like David Bezmozgis, Heather O’Neill, Rawi Hage, and Neil Smith. We always have an event called ‘Becoming a Writer,’ in which writers who have recently published a book explain how they did it.

Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival will be taking place April 25 to 29 at the Delta Centre-ville, 777 University St. ; metro Square Victoria. All programming and ticket info can be found on their website


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