Sunday Salon: Luminato Festival

July 3, 2011


Alright, so I’ll admit that I’m a little bit behind here on keeping everyone updated on the World of Me. Here’s my attempt at getting you a little bit more caught up.

Luminato, a festival devoted to the arts (or “free creativity” in their words), ran in Toronto from June 10-19. I managed to get tickets to a couple of events, including a few that looked really good from a literary standpoint, and even got to go with people to them! It was really exciting. So I’m going to give you a quick rundown on the things and people that I went to see.

Leila Aboulela, Elizabeth Hay, Eleanor Wachtel, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Miriam Toews (L-R).

The first event that I was able to attend was Modern Day Shahrazads, billed as “an evening with four acclaimed women writers from around the world”. (You can read more about this, or the other events, by following the links to their Luminato descriptions.) In reality, there was one obviously international writer – Leila Aboulela, the one name that really drew me into the event – and a few women with other kinds of interesting ties: Maxine Hong Kingston is an American writer of Chinese ancestry, and Miriam Toews is a Canadian writer who grew up in a Mennonite community. Even after being to the event, I’m not clear what the “around the world” connection was supposed to be for Elizabeth Hay, though I’m sure there must have been one.

The event itself was really great, actually – the conversation focused mostly on the power of stories and of storytelling, and about how these four authors became storytellers and how their stories are influenced by their own lives and experiences. I had a fabulous time. I wish that I could tell you all of the awesome things that were said, but I didn’t manage to take notes. However! I did realize at the beginning of the evening that it was being taped for CBC Radio’s program Writers & Company (with Eleanor Wachtel), so I knew that I’d be able to do this bit of awesomeness when the time came …

You can check out the entire interview right here!

I also managed to get myself all three of Aboulela’s books, and she signed them afterwards. I’ll be reading and reviewing them for Ramadan Reading in August!

The second event that I was able to attend was Art as Safe Ground?, a panel discussion aiming to “discuss the vital role of storytelling in society” that was co-produced with Diaspora Dialogues. Steve Paikin (from The Agenda) was moderating the discussion, which featured Deepa Mehta, Anna Porter, and Judith Thomson. (Can you tell that I tend to lean towards literary events that involve women?) I was actually a little disappointed by this event; it was billed as being an exploration of whether or not storytelling provides a “safe space in which to tackle challenging subjects”, but all three of the presenters generally talked about how there’s no such thing as a taboo subject here in Canada. I mean, they gave little examples of things that are a bit touchy, but there was basically agreement amongst them that art isn’t censored or unsafe here, and that was that. There was no discussion about it, just the statement that they’ve never really felt unsafe while pursuing a project. Even when Amy (who went to the event with my roommate and I) asked them a question that was meant to make them think about the assumptions they were making in this, they kind of side-stepped the issue while answering. So we were left with a bit of a feeling of something being … unfinished or unsaid. It wasn’t really a bad event, persay (unlike the one that Amy and my roommate attended the next day, which I missed), but it just wasn’t as great or thought-provoking as I had been expecting it to be.

Finally, I went to see One Thousand and One Nights with Amy later that day. It was in two parts – of 3 hours each! – and Amy and I had been under the impression that it was an opera. You know, ‘cuz it was being put on in an opera house. But no, turns out that it was “just” regular theatre – only done in a mixture of English, Arabic, and French with subtitles on screens in the background. For the most part, I really enjoyed it, though it’s hard to explain. It was really just an interesting re-telling of the classic story of Shaharazad and her storytelling over the span of a few years in order to keep her husband from killing her like he had his other wives. But it was beautifully done, including some really spectacular set design (and rather … interesting … costumes at times). You can read more about it by clicking through to the news articles from the Luminato page for the event.

So that was my first – and last, for a while – experience at Luminato festival!

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