The Writers' Trust Gala, arguably the glitziest event of the fall literary award season, is a very special night. Canadian authors and guests of the gala come together to raise money for several important literary awards and programs, the most notable being the $50,000 Writers' Trust Fellowship to honour one writer who has stood out as a leading voice in CanLit. Not to mention, getting dressed up is always incredibly fun. This year's event takes place Thursday, November 14th at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto and will be hosted by CBC's Steve Patterson.
With a different writer at each table (each guest at the table receives a copy of their author's book as a gift), the event also provides a great opportunity to celebrate and discuss many of the great Canadian books of 2019. Past guest authors have included Margaret Atwood, Cherie Dimaline, Emma Donoghue, and Lawrence Hill, among others.
We spoke to three authors attending the gala tomorrow night about their latest books, what they'll be wearing, and what they're looking forward to.
Adam Sol, author of How a Poem Moves: A Field Guide for Readers of Poetry (ECW), Sally Armstrong, author of Power Shift: The Longest Revolution (House of Anansi), and Zalika Reid-Benta, author of Frying Plantain (House of Anansi) talk about keeping an eye on your soup, hoping that tux from a past gala still fits, and which writer they would most like to share a table with.
Is this your first time attending the Writers' Trust Gala? If so, to what aspect of the event are you most looking forward? If you've attended before, what is one of your favourite gala memories?
This is not my first rodeo. I was on the Board of the WT for a while, so I’ve had the good fortune to attend a bunch of these Galas. Maybe 10?! Yikes.
Yes I have attended before. I always feels a little like Cinderella going to the ball, wondering, do I belong here with all these fascinating people. The best part is meeting other writers and schmoozing with the people who attend and knowing you’re in a room where you want to be.
This is my first time attending the Writers' Trust Gala! I don't know if there's a particular aspect that I'm looking forward to the most, I think I'm just excited to experience the whole thing in general and am silently praying I don't fall victim to my awkwardness and spill soup on my outfit or something (it's been known to happen).
Each guest at your table receives a copy of your latest book as a gift. Tell us about your recent book:
My new book is meant for people who are avid readers, but who are perhaps a bit intimidated by poetry. We learn by doing, so the book takes 36 contemporary poems and walks through what I think makes them great. Each essay is just a few pages, so if you don’t connect with my reading of one poem, you can just move on to the next. I call it a “field guide” for that reason. It’s called How a Poem Moves: A Field Guide for Readers of Poetry. Thanks, ECW Press, my publisher!
My new book is this year’s Massey Lecture. It’s called Power Shift: The Longest Revolution. The Massey team asked me to find out when women were oppressed in the first place, how that oppression was sustained over all these years and where women are today. What an odyssey I’ve been on in writing this book. I was dazzled by the new research I found and although there are disturbing stories in the book there are also stories that will make you stand up and cheer. Spoiler alert – women are winning the equality battle.
FRYING PLANTAIN is a linked short story collection that follows my protagonist Kara Davis from her childhood to young adulthood and explores issues of friendship, familial dynamics and the nuances of being a second-generation Jamaican-Canadian in Toronto.
What will you be wearing to the gala?
I hope my tux still fits. I may splurge for a new bowtie, though.
I think I should buy a new dress – something Cinderella would wear!
I will be wearing this gorgeous African print skirt I found on Etsy (PricelessCulture) that I'm just dying to wear honestly.
What Canadian writer, living or dead, would you most like to sit next to at dinner? What might you ask him or her?
I have two answers for this one. I never got to meet Al Purdy, so I’d love to have a drink or two with him, though I don’t know if he was much for these kinds of fancy parties. The other answer is “someone I don’t know.” One real pleasure I have of going to the Writers’ Trust Gala is meeting writers who are new to the scene, and whose work I may not yet be aware of. I always try to take the copy of my own book that’s sitting at the table, and trade it with someone at another table, so I can bring home something new to read.
Margaret Atwood of course! And if she’s otherwise taken, William Shakespeare. I’d ask questions about making words and phrases into magical utterances!
I'd love to sit next to Rebecca Fisseha. She's deadly funny. I would ask her anything I could think of to be honest but since her book Daughters of Silence came out not too long ago, I think I would just ask her all about that.
Adam Sol is an award-winning poet, writer, and teacher. He has published four collections of poetry, including Crowd of Sounds, which won Ontario’s Trillium Book Award. He lives in Toronto, Ontario, with his wife, Rabbi Yael Splansky, and their three sons.
Sally Armstrong is an award-winning author, journalist, and human rights activist. She is the author of four bestselling books: Ascent of Women: A New Age Is Dawning for Every Mother’s Daughter, The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor, Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan, and Bitter Roots, Tender Shoots: The Uncertain Fate of Afghanistan’s Women. Armstrong was the first journalist to bring the story of the women of Afghanistan to the world. She has also covered stories in conflict zones from Bosnia and Somalia to Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Jordan, and Israel. She is a four-time winner of the Amnesty International Canada media award, the recipient of ten honorary degrees, and an Officer of the Order of Canada. She was born and raised in Montreal, lives in Toronto, and spends the summer in New Brunswick.
Zalika Reid-Benta is a Toronto-based writer whose work has appeared on CBC Books, in TOK: Writing the New Toronto, and in Apogee Journal. In 2011, George Elliott Clarke recommended her as a “Writer to Watch.” She received an M.F.A. in fiction from Columbia University in 2014 and is an alumnus of the 2017 Banff Writing Studio. She completed a double major in English Literature and Cinema and a minor in Caribbean Studies at University of Toronto’s Victoria College. She also studied Creative Writing at U of T’s School of Continuing Studies. She is currently working on a young-adult fantasy novel drawing inspiration from Jamaican folklore and Akan spirituality.