January 9, 2004
To those of you who wrote that the weather in the north was unkind (-40 in Ottawa, -35 in Montreal, and -37 in PEI), thank you for wishing me a good time nonetheless. No one asked me to keep my warm weather thoughts to myself (so far).
It's been an amazing, inspiring, and very full day at the literary seminar. I'll try and share some of the writers' words that moved me and some of my thoughts.
Thursday night I heard author Bharati Mukherjee. She began by saying she was born of a high caste Brahmin family in Calcutta. She married a man born to a French Canadian father and an English Canadian mother (Canadian writer Clark Blaise). Her son had married a woman whose parents were German-American and Italian-American, and her son and daughter-in-law was, at the moment of her speech, in China adopting a baby who would be her first grandchild. This was her example of the increasing "mongrelization" of the US and this was, of course, a good thing. No longer would American writers such as Henry James, James Baldwin and others have to find out who they were by going abroad and writing about Americans (i.e. Isabel Archer) who go to Europe to find themselves. The world is now coming to the US. She says crossing borders transforms the writer, but her and all the immigrant voices are also transforming America. Her speech was very political -- naming the US as the only industrialized country that has no universal health care, the highest rates of incarceration, and ongoing capital punishment even of the mentally handicapped and juveniles. These comments angered some people, as we discovered the next day.
One woman, a member of the Board of the lit seminar, complained to the director that "these people should be grateful." In introducing a panel today, the director Miles Frieden slammed this woman. He told the 400 assembled people that this comment had been made to him -- and he reminded the audience that they had come to the seminar to listen and he advised them to listen with "tenderness and openness."
The comment that "these people should be grateful" got one of the speakers going on how America had invaded his country -- the Dominican Republic with "unbridled hypocritical military power" and for 31 years the US supported a dictatorship that massacred Haitians and Dominicans. He reminded the audience that the 1965 invasion was made under false pretenses -- not unlike the invasion of Iraq. He predicted that the US would create a US-supported dummy democracy in Iraq like they did in the Dominican Republic and reorganize the country's internal economics. He added that because of the chaos and poverty they helped create in the Dominican Republic, there was pressure on the US to also help the citizens. Suddenly after the invasion, airline passage from the DR to NY was artificially deflated making it possible for thousands of Domincans to immigrate. And he says, "you think we should be grateful?" This author, Junot Diaz, a warm and educated teacher and thinker, peppered his language freely and deliberately with the word fuck... no doubt to drive the matrons insane.
And there were matrons galore. Guess the ratio of middle-aged (myself included) and older women to everyone else? OK, maybe a handful of them brought spouses. A small handful.
Obviously this is already too long...but there is so much more to tell you...
More tomorrow...it's almost one a.m.