5 Questions with GGBooks shortlist authors Michael Kaan & Jocelyn Parr

IFOA2017 Five Questions banner 5

Shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language fiction, Michael Kaan and Jocelyn Parr answered a few questions for us ahead of their IFOA 2017 appearance. We discussed what it’s like being a debut author, the moment they found out they were shortlisted for the GGs and of course, their award nominated books. You can find both Michael and Jocelyn with the other nominees at the GGBooks @ IFOA event on October 23.

parr-jocelyn-uncertain-weights-and-measuresIFOA: What inspired your book?

Michael Kaan: The Water Beetles is based mostly on memoirs that my father wrote in the 80s and 90s about his experiences as young boy during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in WWII. But what inspired it was mostly the driving need to write and to find a story that I believed would connect to other people. I also wanted to find a way to talk about aspects of the war that are less well-known to western readers.

Jocelyn Parr: A friend happened to loan me a tremendous book called Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. It was filled with many very short, very intriguing articles, one of which described the brain institute that displayed Lenin’s brain in the early years of Stalin. I stumbled upon that article and then read everything else I could find about the institute. There didn’t turn out to be very much because the history of the institute had been systematically erased once the cult of Stalin surpassed the cult of Lenin. When my sources ran dry, I started inventing.

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Poetry NOW: 9th annual Battle of the Bards

1 stage. 20 poets. 1 winner.

Our popular poetry competition returns in 2017 to feature 20 of Canada’s upcoming and established poets! One poet will receive an automatic invitation to read at the 38th edition of the International Festival of Authors AND an ad for their book and IFOA event in NOW!

Poetry NOW is presented in partnership with NOW Magazine.11 Poetry NOW logo

Poetry NOW FAQ

IFOA is inviting submissions for Poetry NOW: 9th annual Battle of the Bards. Even if you’ve submitted/presented work here before, please read our submission guidelines below:


So what’s this all about, anyway?

In 2009, IFOA posted its first-ever open call for submissions. Poets 35 and younger were invited to be part of a celebration of our 43 years in the reading series business. The standard of entries was astonishing, and the resulting event was one of the highlights of our year. The event returned in 2010, but was opened up to published poets of all ages. 2010 also saw a new partnership with our friends at NOW Magazine, and that collaboration continues to this year.

I’m pretty good, y’know. Will there be any sort of prize?

Oh yes. One reader will win an automatic invitation to appear at the 38th edition of the International Festival of Authors (October 19–29, 2017) AND an ad for their most recent book of poetry in NOW Magazine as well as an ad for their IFOA event! Not bad, eh?!

Who is eligible for Poetry NOW?

You must be published by a trade publisher in a collection that is all your own work (so anthologies, literary journals and magazines aren’t eligible). Your book must have been published within the last five years, and it must be currently in print.

This one seems kind of obvious, but you must also be in Toronto on March 29 and available between 5pm and 10pm. (We will not be covering car/train/boat/plane or accommodation expenses.)

I was part of last year’s event, can I still enter for the 2017 event?

Absolutely. We’d love to have you back.

What sets Poetry NOW apart from your regular weekly literary events?

We’ll be featuring 20 readers in one event, instead of our usual two or three. And we won’t be making a judgement call about who gets an invite. If you fit the criteria and your name gets pulled out of the hat, you’re in!

Do I need to pre-register? Or can I just sign up on the night?

Although we’re throwing open the call for submissions, we will be confirming the line-up several weeks in advance and liaising with publishers to promote the event according to our usual procedures. Submissions must be made by your publisher by Friday, February 24 at 5pm.

(See our submission guidelines for publishers below.)

What’s the closing date for submissions?

Friday, February 24 at 5pm.

How many authors will get to read at the event? And for how long?

20 authors will read for up to 3 minutes each.

How will you choose the readers?

Submissions that fit the above criteria will go into a draw. You have as much chance of being selected as the next person.

Who picks the winner?

Three judges.

When will I find out if I’m in?

Publishers will be notified and details confirmed by March 3. We’ll announce the line-up March 9.

What if I have more than one publisher? Can they both submit my work?

By all means, but we will only put your name in the draw once. (Also, see below re: books being for sale on the night of the event.)

Will my books be for sale at the event?

Yes, but we will require each presenting poet or their publishing representative to bring the books on a consignment basis. Your publisher can arrange these details with us once we have the line-up confirmed.

I have lots of friends/family/groupies. How can they all come and support me?

Tickets are $10 (free to our supporters, students with valid ID and youth 25 & under) and can be purchased online soon. Stay tuned!

Will there be a bar?

You betcha!


Please submit eligible titles by email to submissions@ifoa.org by Friday, February 24 at 5pm.

You must include the following information:

  • Name of Author
  • Brief bio
  • Eligible title(s) and their year(s) of publications

Please write “Poetry NOW” in the subject line.

And please let us know if we already have the book under consideration for our regular weekly event series.

Once the 20 authors have been picked, we will contact the relevant publishers to confirm details.

At that point, you will be required to send:

  • 3 copies of the book the author will be presenting
  • An author bio and brief synopsis of the book
  • An author photo and book cover image (both as high res. jpegs)

Five Questions with Nathan Storring

IFOA: Why is Jane Jacobs work so important today?Storring Nathan

Nathan Storring: In a world that is increasingly urbanized, and in a time of rising inequality and environmental crisis, Jane Jacobs still has plenty to tell us. As we note in the book, her vision of the city was not only one of lively streets, but of a place where any ordinary person can make and carry out their own “vital little plans.” In the social realm, this is what keeps our cities interesting, safe, and functional. In the economic realm, this microscopic, often marginal activity is what continues to create an urban middle class, and what produces the genuinely groundbreaking innovations that upset the status quo. Without that flow of new plans by ordinary people, she argued, the rich would grow richer, the poor would grow in number, and our problems would pile up unsolved—a claim that sounds eerily familiar today.

IFOA: How can we use her ideas to make our cities better?

Nathan Storring: There are so many fresh, concrete ideas and strategies in Vital Little Plans that people could try out in their own community. Fundamentally, though, I think the most important thing Jane Jacobs has to teach us isn’t what she thought about the city, but how she thought about it. She encourages us readers to observe real places, talk to real people, and come to our own conclusions based on what we see and hear, rather than relying on conventional wisdom—including hers.

IFOA: Tell us about editing this book.

Nathan Storring: This book had steeped for several years before we really started working on it in early 2014. My first job after graduating from OCAD University in Toronto was actually working on a graphic novel compilation of short stories about Jane Jacobs with some of her colleagues. It never came to fruition, but in the process, I read all of her books and got a second education on cities from those wonderful people. It was around that time that I started noticing a few obscure articles by Jane Jacobs and tucking them away in a folder on my computer. A few years later, I met Sandy as a Masters student at Brown University, and he first raised the idea of publishing these articles as a collection, especially given her centennial this year.

The actual editing process was quite difficult. We have a massive spreadsheet of every article, speech and interview we found, and what made it into the book is less than a quarter of that spreadsheet. We narrowed it down by focusing on Jacobs’s own words, avoiding things she wrote collaboratively and including interviews only sparingly. We also narrowed the field to works that offers both fresh, new material and connections to her major books. For example, many speeches build upon her seminal book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), but address things she never talked about there, like infill construction or new kinds of zoning. And of course, we tried to avoid too much overlap between the works, since many ideas and examples recur throughout her career.

In terms of organization, we decided to present the works chronologically rather than thematically to dispel the idea that you can really understand any part of Jacobs’s thought in isolation. The city building intertwines with the economics which intertwines with the ethics. Instead, the works are divided into periods that reflect important moments in her writing career: when she moved to New York; when she began writing at Architectural Forum; when she decided to become an author rather than continue her career as a journalist, and so on. Each part adds a new layer of themes to the last, but the prior themes never disappear.

IFOA: What will this work teach the new architects, urban planners and policy makers?

Nathan Storring: People often talk about how Jane Jacobs has already been incorporated into the work of city planners and architects and urban politicians, but I hope this book will challenge urbanists to reexamine how deeply they really make use of her ideas. The physical city she described in Death and Life—dense and mixed-use with short blocks and old buildings—has become conventional wisdom. But the thinking behind those qualities is lost. We preserve plenty of old buildings, but we’re terrible at preserving the affordability of housing and workspace, which is why Jacobs advocated for saving old buildings in the first place. So hopefully this collection will help professionals think through Jacobs’s ideas about the social and economic city in greater depth, and if they disagree with her reasoning, I hope it spurs some passionate, thoughtful rebuttals.

IFOA: How would you describe Jane Jacobs’ ideal neighborhood or community?

Nathan Storring: I think I accidentally already have: a place where any ordinary person can make and carry out their own “vital little plans.” In other words, a place that is not only pleasant and lively, but a place that serves the greater potential of cities as Jacobs saw it: problem solving, prosperity, and social mobility.

Nathan Storring @ IFOA:

Robert Kanigel, Nathan Storring, and Samuel Zipp discuss Jane Jacobs’ legacy and how she changed our perception of the neighborhood and the city with David Miller on Saturday, October 29 at 12pm. For tickets click here!

Happiness Is Always Somewhere Else

Guest post by visiting Spanish author, Luisgé Martín.

The 9-11 attacks against the Twin Towers is one of those happenings that will remain in the memory of mankind even when mankind does not remember anymore its sociopolitical causes, nor is there any trace left of its aftermath. It will remain because it has, adapted to modernity, a Shakespearian-theatre art. This is because it is the perfect stage on which to represent all human passions, all tragedies, all the substance of life.

In The Same City I don’t talk about the attacks. The attacks are the set and the driving force of what happens to the main character, Brandon Moy, but they are not the core of the story. In 2004 or 2005, whilst reading some books on the 9-11 attacks, I came upon terrible stories, with an extraordinary literary symbolism. One of them—I don’t know if true or not—was about a mother and a son who died at the same time during the attacks: she in the plane and he in the tower.

There were also many stories of those who had saved their lives just by chance: the one who had lost his flight because he had woken up late, the one who had changed his flight in the last minute due to an unexpected and arbitrary work trip, the woman who had been fired from her job at the towers just the day before the attacks. All of them were lives on the wire, on the edge of the abyss. And in that storm of dreadful trifles there always was a literary feel which I liked.

That is how I came up with the story told in The Same City. Or rather, that is how I found the setting for a story that had been haunting my novelist mind: that of a man who has everything that might be needed to be happy—a wife he loves, a son, a valued job, money, freedom—and yet he isn’t happy because he yearns for the dreams he had when he was young.  

The Same City is a novel about human dissatisfaction, about that curious feel we have all had many times that it is only others who have managed to make their dreams come true. We need to be born again, we wish to start anew, but we are not able to do so because we are trapped by life. Brandon Moy, suddenly, gets that second chance: when everybody takes for granted he has been killed in the attacks, he decides to run away.

The 9-11 attacks were not the only element with an excellent narrative drive, New York also had it. New York is the city everyone wants to live in, it is the world’s capital. My character, who lives there, on the contrary, wants to leave. Many people think they could be happy in New York; he believes he can only be happy away from it.

Dissatisfaction, the urge to change, to be reborn, to live one thousand lives. That is one of the main themes of human nature, I believe, and I have talked about it in many of my books. In The Same City it becomes the core subject. When I sat down to write it, I didn’t know where Brandon Moy and I would end up. I traveled with him to Boston, to Latin America, to Spain and I searched next to him those dreams of youth that he believed he had lost and that he believed he would achieve far away from the routines of his life. Would he be able to do it? Would he really be reborn? Would he have another life better than the one he was leaving behind while New York was in flames? That is what I wanted to know, perhaps to follow his steps if his attempt was successful. And that is what I try to get the reader to do.

Luisgé Martín @ IFOA:

Darren Greer, Luisgé Martin and Nathan Whitlock reinvent the Man and propose a more fluid and ever changing identity that breaks rules and assumptions on Wednesday, October 26 at 8pm. For tickets click here!

Join international authors Luisgé Martin and Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir as they read from their latest works in Found In Translation on Thursday, October 27 at 6pm. For tickets click here!



Martin Luisge

Five questions with Miguel Ángel Hernández

Hernandez Miguel AngelIFOA: Why did you choose to write a novel to talk about contemporary art?

Miguel Ángel Hernández: I work as an art critic and historian and I had written a huge number of texts on contemporary art from an analytical point of view. But I felt myself doing art autopsies, like forensics, feeling that something was missing in my approach to art. I needed to introduce emotions, intensity, the real experience of art. I needed to make art works in real life. And I needed to move the discussion about some problems of contemporary art (the body, the self, social engagement, pain, death…) out from the world of art, to connect with a larger audience beyond the world of art experts and amateurs. So I decided to write a novel in which contemporary art could act and have a seminal role in real life. Because, in the end, art is always about life, even if sometimes art criticism makes us believe that it is just about art.


IFOA: Is your character, Marcos, an artist after all?

Miguel Ángel Hernández: He is a student of Fine Arts, so even if he wants to escape from the idea of being an artist he can’t avoid it. His research about migration looks like a work of art, his own action in Escape Attempt could be considered a performance. He decides in the end to choose life instead of art, but this decision, if you think of it carefully, is also an artistic decision: contemporary art is full of those kind of acts of rejection. Conceptual Art is sometimes about that. So in a certain way Marcos is close to being a conceptual artist. Maybe he can’t escape from art.


IFOA: Why did you choose to focus on invisibility & immigration?

Miguel Ángel Hernández: I was interested as an art critic in both subjects, but they were separated in my work. I wrote a PhD on “Antivisual Art”, the forms in which contemporary art avoid visibility fighting against the pleasure and domination of sight. And I curated an exhibition on Migratory Aesthetics and the ways in which contemporary art embodies the experience of migration. When I started writing my novel I realized that both interests were close. For one of the central issues in immigration is precisely invisibility. And I decided to work about how we perceive immigration in visual terms, how something can be invisible even if it is in front of our eyes, or how sometimes you need to hide, to erase, to efface in order to make the absence visible.


IFOA: Should art have boundaries? Is there unethical art?

Miguel Ángel Hernández: I think the limits of art are the legal limits. Art is not different from other jobs. It is not a state of exception. An artist is a worker, not someone that can do everything she/he wants. When you think of art as a separate world with no boundaries at all in the end you are thinking of an art without political agency. I prefer to think of an art engaged in social reality, that’s to say, an art that plays a role in the realm of politics. And that is an art that has social and legal boundaries and only then can it try to expand, subvert or reform them. But an art without boundaries is a non-effective art.

The question of ethics also has another answer, because art and ethics are separate domains, at least on what refers to modern art. From Courbet on, modern art is free from ethics as a coercive force. This means that an artist can do a good work of art that is not a good ethical action. That’s exactly what happens with Jacobo Montes, the artist in Escape Attempt. His works are valuable and full of potency as works of art, but they are problematic in ethical terms. The whole novel is about the tension between these two things. Because sometimes you have to choose: to be in the side art or to be in the side of ethics. And that decision, of course, is complicated.


IFOA: What’s next for you?

Miguel Ángel Hernández: I published my second novel last year, The Moment of Danger (El instante de peligro). It is a reflection about the memory of images, polyamory and the necessity of slow time. The novel remains in the realm of contemporary art and in a certain way could be considered a sort of second part of Escape Attempt, in the sense that the main character is close to Marcos, but in his forties and with the feeling that all the dreams of his youth have been shattered.

And now I am writing a non-fiction novel about a hard moment in my life twenty years ago. It is a true-crime novel in which art for the first time has nothing to do. I am entering an absolutely new and dangerous territory for me. And I must confess that I am not exactly enjoying the process. Sometimes literature is painful, but necessary.

Miguel Ángel Hernández @ IFOA:

Miguel Ángel Hernández, Suzana Tratnik and Ruth Ware discuss the journeys of their characters with the Toronto Star’s Deborah Dundas on Tuesday, October 25 at 6:30pm. For tickets click here!

From Spain to New York and Canada, from painting to performance art and music, Miguel Ángel Hernández, Molly Prentiss, and Eric Beck Rubin explore the lives of artists and their surroundings on Saturday, October 29 at 8pm. For tickets click here!




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