On Sunday, a record crowd came out to enjoy an afternoon with Giller Prize-winning author André Alexis, along with local writers André Narbonne and Dorothy Mahoney. The weather was perfect, freshly roasted coffee was served by Red Lantern Coffee Co., and Stephen Phillips played early jazz of the 1920s from the bed of his 1945 Chevrolet. The mood of the afternoon was as bright as you'd expect, carried by laughter and conversations around the book signing table.
The readings started, as they always do, with poetry. This time it from our friend Dorothy Mahoney, who recited a few pieces from her latest collection, Off-leash. Like the title implies, the work involves dogs. But not in a superficial way. Dorothy's look into our relationship with canines was written to develop, in her words, “a larger commentary on love, loyalty, betrayal, and, at times, abuse.”
Next came André Narbonne, a writer, poet, and professor of literature and creative writing at the University of Windsor. He read a fable that was originally published in the Windsor-based literary journal Rampike, then a poem from a forthcoming collection due out this fall from Black Moss Press. One of the things I find fascinating about Narbonne—who's quickly become a valued member of the region's cultural community—is that he arrived relatively late to academia, having first labored as a maritime engineer. He was living out of his duffel bag when he arrived in Halifax on a damaged tanker in the mid-eighties. Years later, he completed two degrees in English at Dalhousie University, before going on to earn his Ph.D. His early experiences helped add remarkable authenticity to his story collection, Twelve Miles to Midnight, which was recently named a finalist for the Danuta Gleed Award—a prize that recognizes the best debut short fiction collection by a Canadian author.
Finally, our guest of honor, André Alexis, took the stage. Rather than deliver a lengthy preamble, he announced the work was from his forthcoming novel, Days by Moonlight—the fourth in his five-book series—and jumped in. The passage he read was from the book's second chapter, set in small town of southwestern Ontario, where its residents establish an annual parade in honor of marginalized Canadians and Canadian history. Despite the best intentions of the townsfolk, everything goes comically awry. Alexis' deadpan delivery heightened the scene's increasingly surreal humor, drawing bigger laughs as the reading progressed. (Interesting, as we learned later at the party, it turned out that the last bit of what Alexis read had been penned early that same morning.)
After the readings, we socialized, enjoyed refreshments, and had our books signed. Then door prizes were drawn. One of the winners, Rev. Morley Pinkney, left with a copy of David William's new novel, When the English Fall, along with the latest issue of The Walrus, and a gift certificate for dinner at The Main Grill & Ale House in downtown Kingsville. Two others won similarly cool swag. Most stayed to mingle and listen to music until Stephen packed up his truck.
Quite a few said it was the region's most memorable literary event of the year. A great portion of its success is thanks to our excellent participants, but also to the support the community. First and foremost, we're grateful for our hardworking volunteers, especially Chris Andrechek, who handled book sales; Stephen Phillips, who shared his rare music; Sharon Hanna and Philip Munroe, who assisted with a number of matters; Kirk Munroe for serving as our parking officer; and others. Huge thanks to Craig Marentette of Red Lantern Coffee Co., who'll be slinging java at all our future parties; the excellent independent businesses who donated gift certificates for our raffle—The Butcher of Kingsville, Merli's Coffeehouse & Eatery, and The Main—and the publishers who supplied our book table: Windsor's own Black Moss Press and Palimpsest Press, as well as Coach House Books of Toronto. Thanks also to the staff of the Pelee Island Winery, who graciously offered their event space as an alternative rain location, and to the Kingsville BIA, Mayor Nelson Santos, and Councilor Tony Gaffan for their outreach and advice. Finally, we owe a debt of thanks to all our friends in the local media, including Craig Pearson of The Windsor Star; Jerome Vaughn of WDET, Detroit's NPR affiliate; Colin Côté-Paulette of CBC Windsor / Radio-Canada; Nathan Swinn of CBC's Afternoon Drive; Louann Geauvreau-Karry of The Kingsville Reporter; and Nelson Santos of the same.
But most of all—thanks to all who joined us. In just two short years, you've helped Woodbridge Farm's events and sold-out classes grow to become the highlight of Windsor-Essex's summer lit scene.
In the coming weeks, I'll post a more comprehensive look back on the season as a whole, with a few words about planning that's currently underway for next summer. Until then, enjoy a restful Labor Day weekend.