The annual Word Vancouver festival is back again with a massively varied menu of author readings, workshops, and events, set to run at venues around town from September 24 to 28. As part of the runup, we asked some of the writers on the bill to tell us about the reading experiences that shaped them. Which books gripped their imaginations early on? Which ones showed them what words can be made to do?
Here’s what Caroline Adderson told us. She’s the author of such prize-winning works of fiction as Bad Imaginings and Sitting Practice, along with her new novel Ellen in Pieces and books for young readers. She’ll be appearing at 6:30 p.m. on September 26 at Christianne’s Lyceum (3696 West 8th Avenue), and at 2 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. on September 28 at Word Vancouver’s main event in and around the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
In the mid 1990s, struggling with my first novel, freshly rejected by an agent who had courted me, I was depressed. Very. One day an invitation arrived for a Canada Council reception at the Orpheum. Somehow I scraped myself up to go. As I entered, I was accosted by a board member, an opera singer, who demanded to know who I was and what I did. Then he dragged me over to Carol Shields, also on the board, and thrust me at her. “Madame Shields, this little girl says she is a writer.”
Shields shook my hand, and amazingly, she knew who I was. She asked what I was working on. “A novel,” I admitted. She asked what it was about. “Two hairdressers who make a pilgrimage to the Auschwitz Museum.” Her eyes narrowed. I could almost see her novelist brain chewing on what I’d said. Two more specific questions followed, then she smiled and nodded. She approved.
Carol Shields got it! She understood what I was trying to do! I realized then that there was only one way to be a writer as opposed to just saying I was one. Write for, not agents or even publishers, but Carol Shields.