Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Politics & The Pen

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Politics & The Pen

Yesterday I flew to Ottawa to attend the fundraising event billed as “Ottawa’s Great Literary Dinner” – Politics and the Pen. It was the first time I’d been invited as guest author. Talk about going from rags to riches (the rags being me at home in TO in my Mom-sweatpants trying to figure out how to cover both rent and daycare costs this month. The riches being me in my lace dress, high heels and good earrings, wandering through the ball room of the Chateau Laurier with the country’s most powerful politicians and some of our greatest writers.)

When these invitations come, and they come infrequently for most writers, I always feel a little like an imposter. I suspect most writers feel this way. We blend in for the evening and then return to our humble lives. Writers and politicians were mingling, schmoozing, nibbling lamb, cheese and watermelon canapés, and drinking wine. The wine definitely helps to loosen the tongue and quell the nerves. Because I don’t drink alcohol I wandered the room and tried to make meaningful conversation without any help to take the edge off. (No, I’m not in recovery. I simply decided when I was 12 that I would never drink and I kept to that promise. A small, personal gesture of solidarity with my grandfather who was a recovering alcoholic.) Luckily I saw literary icons Dionne Brand, Nicole Brossard and Fred Wah standing together and I thought, ‘poets are gentle souls let me join them’. I’m being facetious, of course. Great poetry requires ruthless honesty and fierce emotion, qualities not generally associated with the word “gentle” – but I digress. As it turned out, all three were very gracious. That part of the evening became a highlight for me.

The lobby and ballroom at the chateau were stunning. The tuxedoes and formal gowns were stunning. The food, once we were seated in the dining hall, was stunning. Then came the other highlight of the evening: For the 5 finalist of The Writer’s Trust of Canada’s Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing it was the announcement of the winner (Marcello Di Cintio for his book Walls: Travels Along the Barricades.) For me the highlight was seeing the advance reading copy of my forthcoming book, Matadora at my place setting, and finding out who, amongst all of the politicians there, was to be my tablemate.

When I was packing for Ottawa I tried to imagine who I would most want to be seated next to. Which politician would I want to speak with about issues such as electoral reform, low voter turnout and how we might turn that around? Who would be open to talking about women’s (under) representation within the political process, or the environment, or healthcare? I had a list in mind, but it was a very short list. And top of my list was the lone wolf, Elizabeth May. Having watched her, as leader of the Greens, in a televised debate (the time before the last debates when she was excluded) I was amazed by her quick intelligence, her informed responses, and her plain speaking style. I wondered, at the time, how she could be so unflappable. Yes, I decided, Elizabeth May would be someone I would like to sit next to at dinner.

And then it happened. I have no idea who makes these decisions or how they are made but there we were. Not only did we talk about the things I mentioned above, we talked about our children, parenting, the future of the Green party, and more. We talked with our fellow tablemates as freely.

For me, an author who writes about outliers, characters who thumb their noses at tradition or social expectation, to go it alone, Elizabeth May was a perfect dinner companion. Naturally chatty, genuinely friendly. Open to others and differing points of view. In short: very human. In a city where humanity is so often be overlooked in favour of ego and profit, I was impressed.

After the meal, people shuffled out of the dining hall and into the lobby for more cheese and wine. Elizabeth May said she was going for a swim in the hotel pool. I headed back to my room to rub my feet and stare at the bound copy of my new book.

The Writer’s Trust of Canada was the beneficiary of the Politics and the Pen event, as are all writers in this country who are supported by the Trust directly and indirectly. But I felt like a major beneficiary myself last night.

If you would like more information on the Trust you can visit the website:

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Elizabeth Ruth

Elizabeth Ruth’s first novel, Ten Good Seconds of Silence, was a finalist for the Writers Trust of Canada Fiction Prize, the Best First Novel Award and the City of Toronto Book Award and was named a top 10 book of the year by NOW Magazine, the Vancouver Sun and the London Free Press. Smoke, her second novel, was chosen for the One Book, One Community program and also named a top 10 book of the year by NOW Magazine. Her most recent novel, Matadora, will be published in April, 2013 by Cormorant Books.

Go to Elizabeth Ruth’s Author Page