The Book That Changed Your Life: Johnnie Christmas

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      The Word Vancouver festival’s annual celebration of all things literary is getting set to present its 2019 edition, which will take over venues around town starting September 24, and end with a huge array of panels, talks, readings, and more at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch on September 29. At the heart of the fesitval is, as always, a wide-ranging roster of authors.

      The Straight approached a group of these writers and asked them to describe their most their most significant experiences as readers. Which books fired up their desire to become authors themselves? Which ones resonated in a life-changing way?

      Here’s what Vancouver’s Johnnie Christmas told us. Christmas is the cocreator not only of the renowned comics series Sheltered, but also, with Margaret Atwood, the graphic novel Angel Catbird. He’ll discuss his work at 1:15 p.m. on September 29, on the Community Stage in the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

      High-school English could put me to sleep faster than a fog descends on the Thames. "Important" Victorian literature was hard to relate to in the Florida of my teenage years. Me living in a black community, under fast moving clouds churned by hurricanes, enthralled by myth.

      Then Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God was assigned and I was spellbound. It was black mythology, Floridian mythology, of killer hurricanes and square-toed death. A story of love, of becoming, expressed in black vernacular and told from within black culture. Hurston, a folklorist and anthropologist, deftly wove myths she collected in her travels across the African diaspora into a narrative of her own, utilizing a sublime yet disciplined prose.

      This book taught me something: worthwhile stories need not originate from long ago or far away. They are in you. In a sawgrass swamp, on a bridge over False Creek, or in the words you speak, burning the fog away one breath at a time.