IFOA Event #1 - PEN Canada Uncensored

So early last week I was using the internet to distract me from the fact that a cold was seriously kicking my butt. A google talk window pops up and tells me that I have three emails and then quickly gives me a preview of them. I'm not paying so much attention and click on to the next preview when I pause...."Did that just say Ami McKay???"

A quick click assured me that it *did* say Ami McKay. Ami McKay is writing to me??? What the heck? So I click on the email and open it. Ami McKay is inviting me to attend the PEN Canada Uncensored benefit event with her on Friday evening. AND I can take a friend. AND she reads my blog. Eek! The woman who wrote The Birth House, the book that knocked the Da Vinci Code out of it's number one spot on the best-sellers list, wants to meet me? And take me to a literary event. Ummmmmmm ok.

Ami has started her own tradition of taking local bloggers to events when she's in the city. She's a rather savvy lady and knows that bloggers and books are a good combo. I mean, look at what bloggers did for the Thirteenth Tale. And she herself blogs. Months ago I remember reading on Book Lust that she invited Patricia to the New Faces of Fiction event and I seethed with envy. Admit it - I wasn't the only one.

So Friday night arrived and I showed up at the coffee shop where we were meeting. As usual I was a bit early. I rely on the TTC public transit system to get where I want to go and it is virtually impossible to get anywhere on time with it. You are either 20 minutes early or 10 minutes late. I tend to veer toward the early arrivals most of the time (I once dated a guy who was often as much as an hour late showing up for things - he was chronically late - I wonder how we ever managed to date for as long as we did). My friend arrived. And then Ami arrived.

We sat, talked, took pictures (that still need to be uploaded...I'm working on it - I was catching up on sleep on Saturday and out of the house most of the day yesterday). She autographed my copy of The Birth House. We talked about how people in the US are ordering copies from Canada because they prefer the Canadian cover to the American one (who can blame them?). We talked about about the process of immigrating to Canada from the US because Ami did it and my friend is just starting the process. I think I managed not to be a total flibbergibbet... She was still speaking to me on Sunday so I'm assuming so.

We left the coffee shop and progressed across the street to Convention Hall at U of T where the PEN Canada event was being held. We had to wait in line for a bit which was amusing because my friend was taking every opportunity to use Ami's full name loudly. We make an adorable and entertaining although possibly obnoxious entourage. We're just enthusiastic...yeah that's it. Enthusiastic. It turns out that Ami actually had an extra ticket so she gave it away to a stranger who was waiting in line to buy one. See, she's nice! And not just to bloggers! (My friend made a comment that she clearly has been assimilated by the Canadians...I told her that she's next.)

We had good seats. Much better seats than I would have ever gotten on my own. I'd have been one of the people up in one of the balconies although I likely would have tried to sneak down to the half empty main floor. (When it's clear that the event hasn't sold out why don't more places do that - the balconies were full, the main floor only about half full. When I went to see Eve Ensler in March they had us move up - I went from the very last row in the third balcony to a 5th row orchestra seat - in the aisle no less. I'd totally go back to that theatre...even if it did have a bat.)

Ann-Marie MacDonald hosted and she was fantastic. And funny! Really, she was a great host.

Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist was gunned down by her apartment on October 7th was honoured. She wrote what she saw and was critical of what she saw. You can click here (you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader in order to read this document) to view and copy a letter to President Vladimir Putin urging a full investigation and the prosecution for those responsible along with the addresses of others to whom you can send a copy the letter. Please note that many of these addresses are Canadian. I know many of your are American and I've looked at Pen.org but I can't find an equivalent letter.

John Ralston Saul, husband of former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and the former president of PEN Canada (I could be wrong about that though...), presented the Paul Kidd Courage Prize to Vancouver Sun journalist Kim Bolan. Bolan said something in her speech that stuck me with me. She said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that the most important stories, the stories that journalists most often endanger themselves to get, are the ones that are often ignored.

And then there were the readings. The first reader was Miriam Toews. She read from an unpublished work (one that she said may always be unpublished). It was funny and it proved that sometimes swearing just *works*. There was one moment during her reading where someone yelled something but I didn't catch what was yelled and neither did my friend. It was an odd moment but Toews handled it well - she ignored it.

The second to read was M.G. Vassanji. I'm afraid I can't remember what he read from. I know, I should have been taking notes. Shhh. It may be from an upcoming work in process.

Following M.G. Vassanj was...er again this is where I need to take notes. I believe the next person was Wayson Choy. And again I cannot remember what he read. But he was very engaging and amusing.

Then there was Azar Nafisi. (I may have Wayson Choy and Azar Nafisi in the wrong order...). I never did finish Reading Lolita in Tehran. I had borrowed it from the library but only got to keep it for one week. Yet oddly I still remember sections from that book. I say oddly because that really is a bit rare...I often have to sift through my brain but parts of that book stuck with me. Which is sort of surprising because I don't remember it having that much of an impact at a time. I think that perhaps it's one of those books that needs to sift around in your brain a bit and then lays roots. She read a piece about her mother that will appear in Things I Have Been Silent About.

The final reader was Wole Soyinka. He won the Nobel Prize for Literatuer in 1986. He is also an author that was both imprisoned and who went into voluntary exile. Wole Soyinka read from You Must Set Forth at Dawn (hey look! I remembered!). He has a very...commanding voice. My friend described it as a mix of James Earl Jones and Patrick Stewart (ok fine, she said Captain Jean-Luc Picard).

After that Ann-Marie MacDonald talked about PEN Canada. She encouraged everyone to sign a petition (that I never did find...). She also said that if you joined PEN Canada that night you got The Writing Life free...it actually cost an extra $10. I blame the copy that she was reading from (and that she was editing on the fly as she didn't like some of the words they chose - I told you she was funny already right?).

After the event was over we talked to Ami for a few more minutes and then let her run away to the Gala. We browsed through the books and the PEN Canada table. We picked up our membership applications and got our books and then I decided I needed one of their t-shirts.

And that was that. This was long. Sheesh. No wonder it took me so long to write it. ;)