Word on the Street
The annual Word on the Street festival took over library square in Vancouver yesterday afternoon. I had once been a participant in the event, when I was an editor for a book of animal stories contributed by people throughout British Columbia for the SPCA. Local celebrity and pretend editor Vicky Gabereau hosted the book's launch at the festival, along with my friend Steve Huddart, an SPCA executive and the book's originator. It's the kind of event that's probably more fun to be in than to be in the audience, although it was kinda fun drifting through clouds of loudly spoken prose and poetry from microphones and tents that intrude upon one's walkery like PT Barnum-basted dreams.
The first author I actually paid attention to was Evelyn Lau, whose autobiography my daughter enjoyed reading in high school. Seeing Sandra Oh recently in Sideways, it was somewhat alarming to remember her as the teenaged prostitute in the MOW CBC did of Evelyn's book. Later I turned Monique onto an article by Evelyn in Vancouver magazine about her unpleasent sex life with ancient and overly-famous "boyfriend" WP Kinsella. She still writes poems lamenting her inability to wrest the famous author from his wife. For a writer who boasts endlessly that no man is immune to her vast sexual charms, she looked surprisingly fat and ugly (Not the same thing). Maybe these men that find her so alluring are characters of her heated imagination. Thankfully, she read little.
Later, an even more famous author, Joy Kogawa appeared in another tent and read from something. She seemed to remember details of a house she lived in 60 years ago more than what was happening right then in the tent. Her novel Obasan is one of the few novels that has actually altered the political landscape (think Uncle Tom's Cabin, and, uh.....), bringing redress at long last to the Japanese Canadians stuffed into chicken coops (she described them vividly) during the great racist Tsunami that overcame North America after Pearl Harbour.
Also caught a few verses from muscular, old, and famous to those who read, Geroge Bowering. I was hoping to hear Lyle Neff read. He used to write for a magazine I used to edit- more of that on my www.seemreal.com site coming soon. But instead I wandered up the street to my usual Sunday meeting with the aptly named Sunday Club. I told the two women who were there first about Word on the Street and they seemed incredulous that people actually read books. They had both read the book To Kill a Mockingbird and discussed it warmly, as it may indeed be the only book they've read since reading was a required activity in their school days. I was going to mention that one of the characters in Mockingbird was modeled on Truman Capote, a childhood friend of the author, Harper Lee, but I seriously doubt the two women would have any idea who Capote was. Capote once reviewed On the Road: "that's not writing, that's typing." But Kerouac and the Beat Generation writers will be read long after the last Capote book turned into dust and vanished from all known memory. It is my contention that On the Road hero Neal Cassady (star of my play Neal Amid) changed the English language in the same way and with the same intensity that Jackie Robinson changed baseball. We are all able to communicate better than we were before Neal turned Jack Kerouac on to the possibility of communication. And have a lot more fun doing so.