We asked Joe Fiorito five questions about working with Richard Atkinson, and what the similarities are between his journalism and his work on The Life Crimes and Hard Times of Ricky Atkinson, Leader of the Dirty Tricks Gang. Joe will join Richard at their Toronto Lit Up launch on Friday, September 29th and it’s free to attend!
IFOA: What was it like working with Richard Atkinson on his memoir?
Joe Fiorito: Ricky was a treat to work with once he came to trust me. And I’m not sure I trust me, so this speaks volumes about him. We met regularly for coffee in Parkdale and worked through the manuscript in pieces: I’d do some rewriting, show him the results, he’d correct it, we’d move on. Once he was comfortable with the process, everything went smoothly. He is a very smart guy.
Fiorito: The similarities between working on this book and writing my newspaper column are close. There’s a natural tension between fact and opinion which suits me fine. The key point is how best to tell the personal story, how to make the narrative compelling, and forward-moving, and how to keep the reader interested.
There were times when I had to tease out some additional information; after all, a memoir is subjective, and having written one myself, I know that sometimes you need distance to see what you’re looking at. I took plenty of notes when we talked, and feathered them in where appropriate, trying to keep as close to his voice as I could. The hardest part was to keep out of the way of his story.
Not true; the hardest part was making sure we were as accurate and discreet as possible, given the nature of some elements of the story, and the fact that Ricky is still on parole; a certain caution was required.
IFOA: What’s a fun fact that you learned while working on this book?
Fiorito: Fun fact? We’ve both read Franz Fanon and Malcolm X. We both play chess (although me not recently). But the most delicious and ironical fact is that the Atkinson Co-Op is named in honour of his father, who was a community organizer bent on cleaning up the neighbourhood at a time when, unbeknownst to him, his son Ricky was running a gang.
IFOA: What are you reading right now?
Fiorito: At the moment, I’m reading Fat City by Leonard Gardner; Nobody Leaves, a collection of essays by the late Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski; and A Bird’s Idea of Flight by the British poet David Harsent.
IFOA: What are you working on next?
Fiorito: My next book, tentatively called City Poems, will be published by Exile Editions in the spring.
Joe Fiorito is a journalist who has worked as a city columnist for the Montreal Gazette, The Globe & Mail, The National Post and the Toronto Star newspapers. He won the National Newspaper Award for Columns in 1995; the Brassani Prize for Short Fiction in 2000; and the City of Toronto Book Award in 2003.
He is the author of seven books and his most recent work, The Life Crimes and Hard Times of Ricky Atkinson, Leader of the Dirty Tricks Gang, has just been published.
He is married, lives in Toronto and is currently at work on his first collection of poetry which will appear with Exile Editions in 2018.