Arts and Culture

An interview with Heather O’Neill

The celebrated novelist sat down with our Editor-in-Chief to discuss her published works and an upcoming novel. 

Montreal is ripe with celebrated authors, like Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler, and Heather O’Neill. On a sunny Tuesday morning in March, following a win on the Canada Reads game show, O’Neill met up with The Concordian to discuss her literary journey. 

The Concordian: Thank you again for sitting down with me. Let’s start by learning a little more about you.

Heather O’Neill: I was born here in Montreal and then my parents got a divorce. My mother took me to the American South, which is where she is originally from and I lived there with her for a while. After some years, she decided she didn’t want to be a mother anymore and sent me back to Montreal to live with my father.

TC: I’m so sorry to hear that. Through all that, when did you discover your passion for writing?

H.O.: I remember it started when I was in elementary school. I remember back when I was eight or nine, I got a journal for my birthday. I started journaling and I loved doing that. It was my favorite part of the day, getting back to my journal and describing my day. It was like the journal was the only person on my side. Afterward, in grade five, I had a teacher who was very excited about my writing. I remember she gave me this little folder and she told me to keep everything because she told me I’d be a great writer.

TC: I love that. Going into your young adult life, what was the first major inspiration for your first novel?

H.O.: Funny enough, I was in a workshop at Concordia. I wrote a short story with the characters that ended up in Lullabies for Little Criminals, Baby and Jules. I noticed that story in particular got a lot of attention and seemed to capture the attention of the readers. So I sent it to a magazine and it got published. After it got nominated for the Journey Prize, I told myself, “Okay, I have something here.”

TC: How do you feel now that your written works are now being studied in courses, like an English class that I took at Concordia?

H.O.: It’s funny because it’s just starting to hit me now, that sort of appraisal. As an artist, you don’t have a sense of the outside world. Now, turning 50 this year, I think I am slowly starting to see that impact. I have so many young women writers who have come up to me and told me that they have read my books.

TC: Which of your books do you find people come and talk to you about the most? 

H.O.: It’s hard to say, but Lullabies for Little Criminals has been around for the longest. I would say The Lonely Hearts Hotel has really struck a chord in people. 

TC: What would your advice be to young writers who are just starting out?

H.O.: I don’t know what exactly my advice would be because a novel is such a strange beast. I think people just get gripped by it and you can’t stop the writing until you finish it. It’s a lot like Narnia, you get into a novel and you don’t know how much time you’ll spend on it. When you finally finish that novel it could’ve been over a span of 10 years or even six months. The madness is real for sure.

TC: What does your writing process look like?

H.O.: I write in a very rough way, where I already have the idea of the novel in my head. It always changes as I go along. When I start the novel, I write the different scenes from different parts of the book to kind of get a feel of how it’s going to look. After that, I piece everything together into a legible book. Then I send it off to my editor and it goes back and forth four to five times.

TC: Do you currently have anything in the works?

H.O.: I have one coming out in September. This novel is my first that is not set in Montreal. It’s set in this little imaginary country and in this country, they base their entire identity on the arts. They have this incredible arts culture, but then they get occupied by another country. It’s sort of how occupying forces first destroy the artists.
Fans have been eagerly awaiting O’Neill’s next novel since her last release in 2022, When We Lost Our Heads. For updates on O’Neill’s newest creation, have a look at her Instagram account, which she shares with her daughter, @oneillreads.

Arts and Culture Culture

Iron Flame: A Concordian’s Book Review

Fight or fly? Discover the sequel of Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros.

“The first year is when some of us lose our lives. The second year is when the rest of us lose our humanity.” — Xaden Riorson

Iron Flame is the second book of the adored fantasy The Empyrean series. I think it is rare when the second book of a series is as good or better as the first, which is the case for this series. 

Rebecca Yarros left us on a cliffhanger in Fourth Wing (May 2023) for months before releasing the anticipated Iron Flame (November 2023). It is a high fantasy series about a war college with magic, dragons, mystery, and adventure. If you are a fan of A Court of Thorns and Roses, Caraval, Fable, or Throne of Glass, you will also love this series.

After surviving her first year at Basgiath War College, main character Violet Sorrengail is ready to fight her way to graduation. Whether it’s the new vice commander determined to diminish Violet’s power or the consequences of learning the truth her government hid for centuries, Violet has obstacles to face—or risk her life and her lover’s. Violet uses her wits and friends to navigate these challenges, but it might not be enough.

Violet is described in the book as living with a physical disability. She gets injured much more easily than everyone else, and although it is not explicitly said in the book, Yarros said in an interview that Violet’s physical disability greatly resembles a chronic condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), which affects the body’s connective tissue.

The Empyrean series is a great fantasy series because it draws the reader into its world and makes them escape their reality. It has an intricate magic system and world-building while still keeping it relatively simple for readers who are not familiar with fantasy. The characters are well-rounded and driven, adding to the story’s depth. 

Finally, the series includes inner conflict experienced by Violet, small-scale conflicts with other characters, and larger-scale conflicts against a magical, powerful group. The plots and conflicts are layered ideally one after the other to keep the readers interested and engrossed in the story, which is helpful if you usually find fantasy to be long and heavy. 

Iron Flame covers critical themes such as resilience, betrayal, and ethical dilemmas. The main characters are at war against their government, fighting their lies and dark magic wielders. It also conveys the repercussions of betrayal, from a mother’s love to keep her children safe amidst the chaos to a prude friend who doesn’t question the rules. It shows great bravery and resilience to stand against someone who was supposed to protect you.

In Iron Flame, what struck me the most was the character development. Violet becomes more confident in her abilities; she is confident in her knowledge and her power. She does not shrink away from her power but embodies it and becomes one with it. The author sews multilayered characters that could not be categorized as simply evil or good—every character’s story explains their morally grey decisions. 

Usually, the second book of a series lacks movement and is relatively slow, but in Iron Flame, every chapter and every scene flows. Every word contains hidden meaning or foreshadows answers. The plot leaves us on the edge of our seats; from one moment to the next, unexpected things happen, a discovery, an unexpected attack, or a gruesome death. The complex plot with its multiple subplots keeps the story fluid and engaging. 

Since its release, the series has been compared to A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Mass because of its exceptional narrative and storytelling. Like in Maas’ books, the characters are so compelling and relatable that you will easily find yourself deeply invested in their fate. The love interests in both series are also very similar—mysterious, almost identical powers, and morally grey. 

Since Iron Flame is very popular and its reviews are diverse, it might be hard to decide whether it is worth it or not. It is an easy book for fantasy beginners because it doesn’t have complicated world-building or a complex magic system. It is, however, supposed to be a five-book series, so that might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

I was reluctant to finish this book because it meant parting ways with an enchanting world and characters I consider home. The Empyrean series has secured its place among my favorites. Yarros’ incredible storytelling has captivated my heart and soul.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Arts and Culture Community

A celebration of the English language in Montréal

The Quebec Writers Federation’s recent events have been a testament to the thriving anglophone literary community in Quebec.

The Read Quebec book fair, held between Nov. 3–4 in Concordia’s J.W. McConnell atrium, was a glorious demonstration of the anglophone literary community’s integral value to Montréal’s culture and economy. 

Entrance to the Read Quebec book fair’s opening cocktail. Photo by Emma Bell / The Concordian.

The space was shoulder-to-shoulder with lovers of literature who had gathered to highlight the work of English-language publishers in and around Montréal, including the Montréal Review of Books, Maisonneuve Magazine, Drawn & Quarterly publishers, Concordia University Press and more. Each organization brought along a selection of their recent publications to show the incredible range of anglophone literature being produced in Quebec. From art history to science fiction, every genre was represented. 

Representatives from Concordia University Press selling copies of their recent publications at the Read Quebec book fair’s opening cocktail. Photo by Emma Bell / The Concordian.

The event was collaboratively hosted by the Quebec Writers Federation (QWF), the Association of English-Language Publishers of Quebec (AELAQ) and Read Quebec with a shared mission to promote the brilliance and celebrate the continued presence of anglophone authors in Montréal.

Publisher from the Montreal Review of Books, Rebecca West, speaks at the Read Quebec book fair’s opening cocktail. Photo by Emma Bell / The Concordian.

As an American student studying art history at Concordia, the proposed tuition hikes for traditionally anglophone universities in Quebec was particularly personal. As a writer and researcher, what opportunities are left for me after graduation if I choose to stay here? Sometimes I can’t help but think it might be wiser to move back home. This would mean leaving behind my partner, my friends and the network I worked so hard to build here. But if the only thing standing in the way of my career is a language barrier, it almost seems like I would be doing myself a disservice by staying. 

As I navigate these difficult and emotional decisions, I realize I am not alone. Out-of-province and international students are equally concerned for their futures in Montréal—we’re experiencing the dim feeling of being unwelcome in the city we have come to know and love. However, we are more determined than ever to assert our value in the province. This jovial evening brought me and my fellow aspiring writers a great glimmer of hope and a strong sense of community.

Further strengthening the anglophone writing community’s sense of camaraderie and celebration, on Nov. 13, QWF hosted their 25-year anniversary gala at Cabaret Lion d’Or. This event honoured the brilliant work of both emerging and established writers with awards for a number of categories.

Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Douglas Sanderson giving their acceptance speech at the QWF award gala. Photo by Emma Bell / The Concordian.

Katherine Li’s Efflorescence won the QWF College Writers Award for students; H Felix Chau Bradley’s fiction work Three Disorientations won the Carte Blanche Award; the Janet Savage Blanchford Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature went to Edeet Ravel for her book A Boy is Not a Ghost; Erin Robinsong’s Wet Dream won the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry; Fayne by Ann-Marie MacDonald won the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction; and finally, Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Douglas Sanderson’s Valley of the Birdtail: An Indian Reserve, a White Town, and the Road to Reconciliation won both the Concordia University First Book Prize and the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-fiction. 

Many of the winners spoke to the urgency of writing as a means to bring about truth, justice and solidarity. The atmosphere of the event was one of gratitude to each other and our growing community, to those who came before us and mentored us, and to the art of writing in the English language as a tool of uninhibited expression.

Arts and Culture

Trick or treat yourself to spooky fall reads

Whether you’re in the mood for a comfort read or an unsettling one, we have the book recommendation for you.

Not ready to let go of the spooky season yet? After spending two months reading strictly witchy books, thrillers, historical fiction and dark academia-type stories, I’ve compiled a few recommendations for my fellow fall-loving bookworms.

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for comfort reads, so let’s start with those. When I picked up The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston, I already knew it would be fun, but I did not expect this tear-jerking, pun-ny, cozy book. When ghostwriter Florence Day returns to her hometown for her father’s funeral, she encounters a ghost, who happens to be her very confused and very dead editor. This is a story of grief and loss coloured with humour and wholesome romance.

If you’re into the soft-hearted villain, grumpy x sunshine, (soft) enemies to lovers, and doomed romance tropes, pick up A Witch’s Guide to Fake Dating a Demon by Sarah Hawley. Mariel is a clumsy green witch who messes up a spell and accidentally summons Ozroth the Ruthless, a demon whose mission is to collect witch souls. This spicy rom-com had a cute environmental activism side-quest and fun world-building. A story of self-confidence, this is a feel-good read—but beware of emotional somersaults.

Because I am nothing if not diverse, here are eerie and (I cannot emphasize this enough) unsettling thrillers. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is artfully done. Noemí’s cousin mysteriously asks to be rescued from the house she just moved into with her new husband. When Noemí arrives, she realises every character is creepy, but the house itself is worse—it’s a living nightmare. This isn’t for the faint of heart and addresses disturbing themes (heavy trigger warnings). It’s an uncomfortable read, but a unique experience thanks to the author’s cinematic writing style.

Sharing that energy, my experience reading K. L. Cerra’s Such Pretty Flowers was tainted with utter disbelief and shock. If you’re looking for something macabre and twisted (again, heavy trigger warnings), this one was very weird and addictive. Holly, who has little to no survival instinct, is investigating her brother’s apparent suicide. The book features sapphic romance, gore and a creepy botanic cult. I literally had to put the book down and just stare into the ether at times before diving back in.

“Gourd” book picks to stretch out the fall season // Photo by Xavier Bastien-Ducharme

Moving into historical fiction, yours truly was enchanted to find Anna Maxymiw’s book, Minique. The story follows Minique through her life in New France as she grows up an odd child, suffers numerous tragedies and becomes an isolated witch. Minique is a man-scaring feminist, bold and authentic. As a witchcraft-loving Quebecer, I loved the references to local mythology, and Maxymiw’s lyrical writing felt like a legend in itself. If you loved The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and Circe, you’d probably enjoy this one too.

Because it’s midterm season and I needed something uplifting, I am currently reading and loving The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna, featuring a diverse cast and the heartwarming found-family trope. Secret witch Mika Moon receives an odd request: a family needs her help training three little witches with their magic. Charming in its colour and personality, this book is a wholesome escape with adorable characters and a side of romance.


Créatique: Connecting Creative Practices and Research

On Feb. 16, the English Department of Concordia University launched Créatique, an event featuring a discussion with PhD students about their creative writing and research practices

I attended this gathering held inside the Richler Library seminar room, located in the LB Building of Concordia University. The evening’s host, professor Jason Camlot, gave me more insight into the origins and the objectives of Créatique

Initially, he noticed that there were a high number of talented poets who were pursuing PhDs in the English and Humanities departments. In the Creative Writing program, students study literature, so they have to explore the connection between literary creation, literary criticism and reflection.

“We thought it could be useful and interesting to have a forum where they could talk about the relationship between their creative practice and their research practice,” said Camlot.

This is an opportunity for people who are not familiar with poetry to learn more about creative processes. At each event, two research artists are invited to read from their work, reflect on it critically and explain their process of incorporating themes and concepts into their writing.

Charlotte Wetton, an AHRC-funded (Arts in Health Research Collective) PhD candidate from the University of Manchester, and Professor Alexei Perry Cox of Concordia’s English Department were the two speakers last week.

Wetton’s poetry focuses on labour, more specifically the impact of gender roles and social class in society. Her creative work addresses concepts from eighteenth-century literature. Wetton’s passion for poetry began when she read novels as a child. The pleasure of reading sparked a curiosity about finding the proper words to express herself.

“When I started writing, it was just so satisfying to find the right words to express something, capture moments and experiences,” revealed Wetton in an interview after the event.

When she began her career, Wetton was unable to find many poems about labour. She decided to spark meaningful conversations about work that were lacking in literature in her opinion.

“Actually, I always feel very nervous before readings. Reading any kind of creative work puts you in a vulnerable place. But when I start, I feel very confident because these are the words that I’ve committed to paper and I enjoy sharing them,” she added.

Professor Cox’s creative work focuses on nationalism, immigration, liberation, and the search for identity, among other subjects. Cox’s curiosity about life and finding ways to escape reality with art fuels her passion. We spoke about her experience that evening and ambitions about poetry.

“I love being in the thrill of it and feeling that exchange of energy with the folks who are present,” said Cox.

“As an academic and creative writer, you’re able to gather and bring ideas together. Those ideas can then become more expansive through activism and have impact daily on larger conversations, especially in terms of policy-making,” she said.

What Should I Read Next?

 Five book suggestions to help you with your daily commute

If there is one thing I love to do, it’s read books, and if there is a second thing I love, it’s to recommend my favourite ones to other people. Getting to share my love of reading with other people is fantastic. I like to think I am a well-read person because I read a variety of genres. With the school year starting up, and with more classes in person, students will be commuting more — so, I figured that I would choose a variety of books to recommend to help make the commute better.

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz 

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom is a book that discusses four rules we should follow in order to help better ourselves and our lives. Each rule is followed by a chapter that covers why that agreement is important, and provides information on how the rule can work in our lives, and how we can incorporate them all. The four agreements are: 1) Be impeccable with your word, 2) Don’t take anything personally, 3) Don’t make assumptions, and 4) Do your best.

With the start of back to school season, all the changes happening and the pandemic still going on, this book is amazing because it helps us to be less hard on ourselves. This is a book that focuses on making agreements with yourself. Sure, the self-help genre might be a little overrated sometimes, but Ruiz’s book is different. The Four Agreements allows you to be less hard on yourself and doesn’t sell you some fantasy about how to get rich quickly, or preach platitudes like everything happens for a reason. It is really about looking deeply into yourself and realizing that we aren’t perfect, and shouldn’t need to be perfect.

Home Body by Rupi Kaur 

Home Body is Rupi Kaur’s third poetry book, and like the other two, she captures many events and traumas that have occurred throughout her life. She writes her poems with no capital letters, and there are also her own drawings that accompany her poems.

When travelling, sometimes poetry books make the best companions. Poems get you to think, and with all the movement, sometimes reading something shorter is a little better. Rupi Kaur is an amazing poet with such interesting material; she talks a lot about her experience as a woman of colour and various traumas, and getting to step into her world even for just a short while is so moving. Even her shortest of poems will leave a lasting impact on the reader. I love this poetry collection more than words can express.

The Roommate by Rosie Danan 

The Roommate by Rosie Danan follows Josh and Clara who end up being roommates. Clara comes from a pretty high profile family, and Josh is a pretty well known porn star. At first, they seem like polar opposites, but with time, they realize they might actually be able to get along.

The experience of living with roommates is not all that new to many students, so I thought it would be fun to include a book that explores that as the main premise. This book is fun and presents sex in an interesting way, as the two main characters try to make porn more accessible to women, by making it for women. In my reading, I felt that the way the relationships between characters were described were much more realistic than most of those romance novels with the muscle man on the cover. If you are expecting more than a lighthearted and cute, romantic comedy, then perhaps this is not the book for you. That being said, if you want a cute book to distract you from all the people surrounding you on public transit, then I think this is a great choice!

The Last Time I Lied By Riley Sager 

The Last Time I Lied features Emma, a rising NYC socialite, who goes back to a summer camp fifteen years after an awful event occurred. Back when Emma was at the camp, her roommates left the room one night, and she was the last person who saw them alive. How she remembers things, and what happened are the main questions. Emma uses painting as a means of remembering, and she is asked back to the camp to help with teaching art.

Riley Sager has recently become one of my favourite authors. And of all of his books, this one was the most fitting for going back to school, as it takes place over a summer, and that love of summer goes away once the back to school period starts. This book kept me questioning what was happening the whole time. It’s one of those books that you just cannot seem to put down. The Last Time I Lied is such a good book because it has all the elements of a great suspense novel. It has the thrills, the action, and a lovely little twist that most readers would not expect. What’s better than a book that can captivate you when dealing with a long commute? Just don’t forget to look up once in a while because this is the kind of book that will make you miss your stop.

William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Mean Girls by Ian Doescher

What if Mean Girls took place in Shakespearean times? That is what William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Mean Girls tries to answer. The play takes various elements of Much Ado About Nothing and Mean Girls, and creates a whole new way of appreciating both the movie and Shakespeare’s play because it stays true to the Shakespearen style, and includes how this adaptation uses the variety of techniques that Shakespeare uses. The book focuses on the style and ways in which characters interact with each other in Shakespeare’s play, and applies that to the context of a teen high school flic.

Mean Girls is essentially one of the most quotable movies of my time, and Shakespeare is the most known playwright of all time. So, when Doescher combines them it makes for such an unexpectedly exciting and funny read. Also, with it being back to school season, why not go back and relive such a classic movie in a new way. Furthermore, the way William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Mean Girls is written is so seamless, it feels like the two worlds truly belong together. This play made me laugh so much — it is a fun read and makes for a great commuting companion.


Feature graphic by Madeline Schmidt

Trevor Ferguson writes his way through trying times and forges ahead with new novels

A Canadian Novelist’s voyage through the literary frontier

Trevor Ferguson, also known by his crime writer pen name, John Farrow, has gone from teenage wanderer to bestselling fiction author. And after nearly six decades of writing, Ferguson remains as committed as ever to the craft of storytelling.

On a clear day, Ferguson can see Mount Baker in the distance, a far cry from the gritty streets of Park Extension where he grew up. He moved from his home in Hudson, Que., to Victoria, B.C., right before the pandemic struck.

“For a writer to be required to stay home and not move around much means business as usual,” Ferguson said. His day-to-day may not have been interrupted by the pandemic, but connecting with readers has proved challenging. “Dead in the water,” he said of his 15th novel, Roar Back, which was released last January. His most recent novel, Lady Jail, was released on Feb. 02.

Ferguson believes that the pandemic has cast a dark shadow over the publishing industry. “People are trying online engagement, but public readings are out, and travel is out, so it is far more difficult now to get a book into the hands of readers,” he said. “What’s not working out for writers will hurt publishers and booksellers, some will not survive.”

However, Ferguson is no stranger to obstacles. His childhood reads like a coming-of-age story in which the main character overcomes the harshness of a mesmerizing but hostile world. At 11, he narrowly escaped an assault while on his newspaper route. At 14, he ran away from home and ventured west where he worked odd jobs and began to write. There, he camped beneath the northern lights and was almost run over by a train. In a motel Bible, he wrote a promise to become a writer, and he kept his word.

“I had to break the bonds of trauma,” he said. “I’m lucky to have survived in those wilderness camps but having done so I have a deep appreciation for anyone’s willingness to gamble with one’s life to create a new beginning.”

These trials helped shape the writer he would eventually become.

“Hard experience, such as a violent attack intended to be sexual, or starving on the road as a kid, which really can rip a person apart, and being and feeling utterly alone in a hostile world, all these things formed me as a person and in a way shaped me as a writer, but helped to imbue a certain resilience which over a long career has been necessary.”

But there were also struggles on the page.

“I had to write through the Faulkner influence, and that took a decade of hard-slogging and much misery, before I could break that down and rewire how my brain worked and come out the other side with a voice that is my own,” he said. “That is the magic a writer is looking for: the natural voice that in its own way simulates breathing yet spits onto the page all manner of notion.”

Ferguson published his first novel, High Water Chants, in 1977 and went on to publish a host of critically acclaimed novels like Onyx John. Yet, a wide audience of readers eluded him. To support his writing, he continued to work odd jobs for years, including driving cabs and bartending. It was not until he began writing crime fiction under the name of John Farrow that his writing achieved commercial success.

Today, the author continues to be drawn to his detective muse, Émile Cinq-Mars.

“He is a mystic in a secular age with a great interest in cosmological sciences; a moral cop among ‘dirty’ cops and living in an amoral time. He’s conservative yet living with a younger wife and he’s a French-Quebecker whose wife is American; a faithful Roman Catholic yet he considers himself a heretic. A city cop who lives in the country with a stable of horses,” he explained. “There’s dimension and contradiction in everything he is and in much of what he does. I continue to discover wells and veins I hadn’t realized were there, so while the lazy writer in me might repeat myself from time to time, the better writer in me discovers much for the first time.”

In 2014, the author returned to literary fiction with his first Trevor Ferguson novel in a decade, The River Burns. However, he did not find the transition difficult. The prose in literary fiction is more demanding, he explained, but crime fiction requires greater attention to narrative drive.

“Good writing is good writing,” he said, regardless of the  genre. “A well-conceived, intelligent, well-written crime novel can blow away a lot of poorly craftly, ho-hum writing, even if it calls itself literary,” he said. “I think there is a distinction, in ambition and style, scope and narrative inclinations, but there is no automatic distinction in quality. That has to be earned and demonstrated.”

Ferguson seeks to engage his readers with multi-dimensional characters to match the complexity of the worlds they inhabit, regardless of book classification. He believes in the power of fiction and hopes that in his characters his readers will find a world beyond themselves. “Fiction is a way of restoring the world — not necessarily repairing it — but restoring its energy to carry on.”

The future of the publishing industry may be uncertain, but the author, whether telling stories as Ferguson or Farrow, has more projects lined up, including television and film writing. After a lifetime of traversing borders, both narrative and geographic, Ferguson continues to place his faith in fiction and is busy penning new chapters.


Feature photo by Rod Ferguson


Subversive strength: Alice Munro’s confident, unassuming prose

Alice Munro writes without a trace of didacticism or judgement

A lot has been said about Alice Munro. Her writing: incisive, intuitive and economic. Her voice: ineffably poised — on paper and on camera, on the rare occasions this reclusive writer offers interviewers a piece of her mind. Yet, some have remained skeptical of the richness of possibilities offered by Munro’s narratives, real and fictitious.

Perhaps, in the end, Munro’s stoicism in the face of all these assumptions is her most lasting legacy. 

When she first won the Nobel Prize in literature seven years ago, reactions from the literary community were mixed. Many were agape at how Munro, with her outmoded, interior backdrops, conventionally feminine characters and preferred short story format (which is often considered a diminutive of the novel) managed to secure a win from the Swedish Academy.

If Munro was aware of any incoming controversy, she seemed unsurprisingly nonplussed: “Well, I don’t care what they feel as long as they enjoy reading the book,” she said, when asked by the Academy if she feels she had inspired writers — women, particularly — with her win.

Her habit of being coy —  showing rather than telling —  naturally lent itself to the question of feminism, where Munro remained similarly noncommittal. Her answers on the movement have continued to waver over the years. She remains steadfast, however, to the definition of her writing as a product of intuition — a desire to illustrate her visions of girl and womanhood, rather than expressing a concerted effort to follow political theory.

Maybe what is most feminist and remarkable about Munro, then, is exactly this ability to draw out the hidden agency of characters in circumstances of disadvantage. Marlene Goldman, a literary scholar who has written extensively on Munro, said of the twists and turns in the architecture of her narratives: “Munro’s stories don’t promote the view that we’ll live happily ever after. Instead, they insist that life is full of radical, shocking, sometimes supernatural transformations.”

Munro’s canon is indeed stuffed with transformations. Rather than settling characters in their positions of poverty or pitifulness, Munro renegotiates their power without making that human hunger — a reckless reach for freedom — a revolutionary act. Each human impulse is treated with compassion and empathy, as a simple fact of life.

On the inspiration front, she isn’t doing too badly either, despite previously apparent nonchalance. Sonja Larsen, who won the 2017 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction for Red Star Tattoo: My Life as a Girl Revolutionary, said reading Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women in her early twenties was a formative experience for her.

“She had people who were vulnerable and underdogs, but also not without their own power,” Larsen says. “The women were oppressed, but not powerless. That was eye-opening to me.”

The portrayal of human beings as neither victims nor perpetrators is something Munro does masterfully, added Larsen. Munro’s ability to craft prose that is simple but emotionally impactful has remained with her as she progressed in her own career as a writer.

Larsen’s sentiment will resonate with many Munro fans. And to those who continue dismissing Munro’s proficiency, her catalogue of award-winning books persists, as she did, in quiet defiance of all who belittled her ability to make the small meaningful.


Visuals by Laura Douglas.


yolk: bringing Montreal’s literary community together

yolk literary is more than just a publication

“Short. Punchy. Poignant,” says creative director Curtis McRae, when describing the name yolk. “I will say this, though: it didn’t resonate at first.”

A literary journal of non-fiction, poetry, and visual arts, yolk is a Montreal-based digital publication. They have created a multi-faceted, interactive platform where both emerging and established writers can at once be experimental and sophisticated.

“We want to take the beauty of art and translate it into a social arena where individuals can celebrate that beauty together,” says Josh Quirion, Editor-in-Chief.

Their inaugural print issue, released in September, centred around the theme “circles.” However, according to Chelsea Moore, yolk’s managing editor, further issues will not have a theme. Their intent is to release print issues biannually.

According to Alexandre Marceau, fiction editor, the idea behind the magazine originated as Marceau was digitizing Bishop University’s literary journal, The Mitre. He adds that he and his fellow literary-enthusiast friends, McRae and Sean Lee — both masthead members of yolk — were, at the time, having long discussions centered around their place in the literary timeline and what they could do to represent what their generation has to offer.

But with a multitude of digital and print literary magazines constantly surfacing within the market, what sets yolk apart from the rest?

“We’re very much our own,” says Quirion. “I prefer to think of yolk as a literary (cultural) ‘community,’ rather than a literary magazine.”

Very much their own, indeed. Their first event, Egg the Poet, yielded over 70 guests, who gathered at Gham & Dafe, a visual arts centre in Hochelaga. Audience members were invited to throw eggs at the authors and poets as they recited their works.

“Our first event proved that people want more literature — not simply to read words, but to be a part of them — to read, listen, throw eggs, shout, and dance,” says Marceau.

As a result of the great reactions garnered from their first event, their goal is to make Egg the Poet a monthly reading series, once the confinement period is over.

“There’s certainly a desire in Montreal to populate ‘poetic’ spaces, and we want to create one of those spaces,” says Quirion.

In addition to creating a space for the arts and like-minded artists via events, submissions are reviewed anonymously and yolk remains committed to sharing the voices of any individual affected by structural inequality, says Lee, poetry editor and social media manager.

Submitting to journals should be a deliberate and intentional practice, says Quirion, adding that aspiring writers must note that just because a work is good, it doesn’t ultimately mean it is right for a certain publication. He notes that many very good works have been rejected because they didn’t align with yolk’s voice and resonate thematically with the kind of work they aim to curate.

“If you don’t see a space for yourself, your voice, and your art, there’s an opportunity for you to create that space on your own accord,” says Lee.

Submissions for yolk’s second issue will be opening in mid-November. Writers and artists interested in submitting work can find more information on yolk’s website.


Photos courtesy of yolk literary.


Brave New World and our dystopian society

Critical masterpiece Brave New World by Aldous Huxley outlines the components of a complicit society — one of pleasure and beauty and a drug called soma. Do we share anything in common?

Have you ever done drugs?

Let me dial back a few notches — what is a drug? Is it a substance that alters a state of consciousness? Something that shimmies around your brain chemistry and makes you feel good?

Are drugs something to be wary of? Like a thief in the night, coming to steal your body’s vitamin C supply, which is a common side effect of smoking?

In these strange times, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and its depiction of the drug soma is more relevant and frightening than ever. Our society enjoys drugs in the same way the citizens of the World State do, which is the governing society of Brave New World. This got me thinking: seeing as we are on the brink of complete societal collapse, what is the root function that drugs serve in both of these societies?

Whenever a citizen of the World State has a moment’s pause, or an unpleasant experience, they pop a “gramme” of soma and go on “holiday.” This leaves people with no opportunity or reason to sit and think. It preserves world order.

In present-day North America, we often go on “holiday” like the people of the World State, except in our case, it’s on a screen. We don’t even go number two without zoning out on “holiday” to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or Youtube. These days, we don’t think critically about our society’s conventional wisdom and we don’t assess our own thoughts and opinions. Did I think of this idea myself, or did I hear it somewhere? Where did I learn this information? Is this source peer-reviewed? Who conducted this research?

Our soma is literally called Crave, could the message be any clearer? What do you call it when you’re up all night binge watching a show — a bender?

According to the digital Harvard Library, in the 1950s, British neuroscientist John R. Smythies researched the stroboscopic effect on “normal individuals.” According to literary scholar and philosopher Anthony Peake, the stroboscopic effect is when flashing lights create a “flicker effect” in front of the eyes — in other words, what a screen does every time it’s on, whether it be a cellphone, tablet, or computer.

In concluding his research, “Smythies compared the strobe’s “power of addiction” to the powerful drug [mescaline].”

News has become reality television and reality television is now scripted. Thirty-minute Netflix series now end in the middle of the story, and we end up in bed watching marathons instead of running them. Is it all a coincidence?

The hard lines of fact and fiction, of journalism and propaganda, of documentary and reality television, are fading. It’s a dangerous thing that, as more content becomes more accessible, more of our time is spent accessing this content. Commercials are now tied right into the series, as the protagonist breaks the fourth wall and nudges to the audience the shameless product placement.

Is this the holiday soma promised?

I’m left with more questions than answers, but maybe that’s a good thing. It’s important to be critical of our surroundings. How is it that a cellphone plan is now an easy $50 a month? I remember making my first budget when I moved out, and there it was, a $50 cut in my broke-berry pie. When did this become an essential cost of living?

This concept that we need our cellphone is a conventional wisdom of our time. You see the little note taped to your door that reminds you what you need before leaving: “Phone. Keys. Wallet.”

Do I need my phone? Or am I experiencing an addiction to the millions of lights flickering on the screen every time I check it for the time, or get a really well-timed targeted ad.

Isolation has only exacerbated the issue. For those of us fortunate enough to have the option to stay home and self-isolate, most of our communication is taking place on a screen. Hell, I’m writing these words on a screen, and you’re reading it off one. We’re now working from our screens, meeting people from our screens, taking exercise classes from our screens, even having essential services like doctors appointments from our screens.

With all this time spent staring at screens, it would be a good idea to screen the content once in a while. Consider the addictive nature of these devices and take a day off. Since the lights off our phones impact our brains like Mescaline, does that mean you’re getting high right now reading this? Soma promises the people of the World State a holiday, but all my screen promises me is a vitamin C supplement for $29.99, and yours can too if you act now.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


Argo Bookshop re-emerges from the choppy waters of COVID-19

How one bookstore adapted to survive the pandemic

Argo Bookshop, Montreal’s oldest English-language bookstore, is returning to business and reaching readers in novel ways as Quebec’s lockdown eases.

After teaching linguistics at Concordia University and managing a successful YouTube channel, The Ling Space, New Jersey-born Moti Lieberman, together with co-owner Adèle-Elise Prévost, made the decision to acquire the bookstore from the previous owner in 2017.

Located on Ste-Catherine Street in the Shaughnessy Village, Argo, which opened its doors for the first time in 1966, was ordered to close on Mar. 23 like all other non-essential businesses in Quebec. The lockdown has since eased, and Argo is adapting to the evolving situation.

“We thought we could continue to serve as an anchor for the literary community,” said Lieberman. “Bookstores are really important features of communities, and without one I think this area would be impoverished.”

Argo specializes in books on linguistics, Japanese literature and books authored by LGBTQ writers.

“Diversity became a watchword for us,” said Lieberman. “Whoever you are, you can come in and see yourself reflected in the books that we are selling because we think it should be an inclusive and welcoming space. That’s really what we view the mission of the store to be.

“Our business model before [COVID-19] was really focused on the local community,” Lieberman added. Allowing customers to “come in and discover stuff which they wouldn’t necessarily have run into before is not possible now.”

In response to the pandemic, the bookshop offers its clients deliveries and curbside pick-ups.

“We had to really retool the way the business works,” Lieberman explained. “We had to cancel all in-store events for the year. We had a lot of stuff that had been planned for the summer, which was in a way the hardest thing for me.”

Instead of giving up on events altogether, Argo has been hosting readings, book clubs, and virtual author visits via Zoom for the past few months.

“In a way, we’ve expanded some of the people that we work with,” said Lieberman. “The vibe isn’t the same as having everyone in a room together and building an atmosphere that way together, but I think some of these events we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise, like the one where we invited people from around the world.”

While the owners have found creative ways of reaching readers, Lieberman misses the store as it used to be.

“The thing that I miss most is the ability to just talk with people about books and about topics and authors that they’re really passionate about,” said Lieberman. “The way we have to do things currently is definitely a step down, but we felt that it was important that we would give people activities to do during the period where lockdown was happening so we actually extended our event range a bit.”

Argo is taking precautions to ensure the security of its clients, including regular handwashing, installing plexiglass screens by the cash register, and requiring the use of masks and hand sanitizer. The store is also implementing other measures like limiting the store’s capacity and discouraging browsing clients from handling books.

Despite the bookstore’s challenges, Argo’s delivery service has allowed it to reach new customers, especially in the months of April and May.

“A lot of people found us during that time who I don’t think were familiar with the store already,” he said.

Business has stabilized after a rocky start to the lockdown.

“I don’t want to say that we’re out of the woods,” Lieberman said. “But the support from the community and people who have been going out of their way to order stuff from us because they wanted us to continue being here… we’re really overwhelmed by it emotionally.”

What are Argo’s plans for the future?

“If we can make it through this, we would like to continue doing the sort of stuff we had been doing before and maybe get back to some of the initiatives for bringing in authors,” Lieberman said. “But so much is up in the air.”

For more information about events, visit Argo Bookshop at 1915 Ste-Catherine St W. or


Photo by Kit Mergeart


More Than Murakami: Straying from Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami became a household name after releasing the ever-popular coming of age novel Norwegian Wood. This sensual and tragic story centers around Toru Watanabe’s life in Tokyo amidst the student movement that took place in the sixties. Norwegian Wood became a hit in the West, with 2.5 million copies sold in the U.S. alone. Murakami demonstrates how a coming of age story is one that is nostalgic at its core and more than often harbors tragedy-stricken characters.

As a fan of both Japanese literature and the bildungsroman genre, as well as someone who quickly became a fan of Haruki Murakami, I finally decided to read Norwegian Wood, his most recognized work. The book had been recommended to me countless times and I began to ask myself just how great it is in comparison to his other works.

When I finished reading, I was surprised at how disappointed I was, despite still having enjoyed it. It was beautifully written, but something was still lacking. The book had become so glorified, most likely for its depth and beautiful prose. However, in comparison to his other books, something about Murakami’s portrayal of certain characters painted a picture of instability and insecurity, especially for the female characters. This isn’t always a bad thing, but I feel Murakami exaggerates a bit too much.

Despite a range of talented writers, Japanese literature had become dominated by Murakami and this one book is what the West most frequently associated the genre with. It’s almost a crime to limit yourself to one writer in a genre where the sky’s the limit.

The hangover from Norwegian Wood led me to order a few books from some of Japan’s finest modern authors. I decided on three books, although if I’m honest, choosing which three felt like Sophie’s Choice. I finally decided: Banana Yashimoto’s Goodbye Tsugumi, Ryu Murakami’s Coin Locker Babies, and Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor.

Goodbye Tsugumi follows cousins Maria and Tsugumi as they prepare to spend one last summer together in their sleepy coastal town, bidding farewell to their childhood home. I wasn’t a stranger to Banana Yoshimoto’s simplistic yet equally existential style, but Goodbye Tsugumi took me by surprise. Through the author’s minimalist imagery, the mundane is celebrated and appreciated. This narrative stayed with me long after leaving the page.

Next on my list was Coin Locker Babies. This postmodern novel follows the lives of two young boys abandoned by their mothers at a Tokyo train station. Known for his visceral horror stories, Ryu Murakami explores themes similar to those found in Haruki Murakami’s work. Ryu Murakami’s style deviates, however, in its exploration of the darker facets of life in Japan. Coin Locker Babies is an exceptionally told story for those who seek a coming of age account with a splash of dark comedy and surrealism.

Finally, The Housekeeper and the Professor centers around a brilliant mathematician who, due to an accident, suffers short term memory loss. The story follows his interactions with a lowly but irritated housekeeper and her son. Ogawa’s brilliant use of mathematical terminology is intertwined into the book, along with her usual earnest tone. This book is a much lighter read than the rest, but still manages to make the reader question the world they live in, even in the most ordinary moments. Ogawa leaves you wanting more each time, but that’s just part of her charm.

Japanese bildungsroman novels zone in on the psyche and moral growth of their characters, subjecting the readers to an often turbulent journey. They’re rewarding but also difficult to digest at times. Just as anyone would attest, no human life is devoid of adversity. If you’ve ever sought out the perfect coming of age story, one with a cut-and-paste happy ending, it’s simple: there just isn’t one.

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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