Some IFOA 2016 Book Covers We Love

We love book design at the IFOA! Here are just some of the great covers from this year’s library:

The never-ending news cover of Fauxccasional Poems:

Scott Tysdal, Fauxccasional Poems


Nina Bunjevac’s gorgeous illustrations for Fatherland:

Bunjevac, Fatherland


A Long Watch‘s gentle ocean:

Galappatti, A Long Watch


The beautiful profile on The Pain Tree:

Senior, The Pain Tree Cover


Fire‘s historical woodcut-inspired graphics:

Humphreys, Fire


The torn-paper landscapes of The High Mountains of Portugal, dotted with characters:

Martel, The High Mountains of Portugal



The Naturalist‘s combination of new and old scientific images and notes:

York, The Naturalist


The tempestuous graphics of Hag-Seed:

Atwood, HagSeed


The vivid colouring of The Little Communist Who Never Smiled:

Lafon, The Little Communist Who Never Smiled


Wild Rose‘s gentle ombre:

Butala, Wild Rose


The hungry goose on the cover of A Number of Things:

Urquhart, NumberofThings


The dark highway of I’m Thinking of Ending Things:

Reid, Im Thinking of Ending Things


The nightlights of Bright, Precious Days:

McInerney, Bright Precious Days

Stay tuned for these and many other attractive covers at the 37th edition of the International Festival of Authors, coming to Harbourfront Centre from October 20th-30th!


In Conversation with Jane Urquhart

By Janet Somerville

Lawrence Hill, the most gracious man in Canadian letters, sat down with Jane Urquhart to talk about her latest novel, The Night Stages. Among her inspiration for the narrative: the Air Transport Auxiliary in WWII of many women who flew wounded planes to be repaired in Britain, and Kenneth Lochhead’s mural at Gander airport, “Flight and Its Allegories.” urquhart 2

After Urquhart read a short excerpt that ended with the line, “there are thousands and thousands of miles inside him,” Hill opened their conversation by thanking her “for writing such a gorgeous novel. I ate up every page of it.” She began by talking about her relative Violet Milstead Warren, who was Canada’s first female bush pilot and by 25 had flown 45 different planes. On one mission during WWII, she was instructed to “hide a dozen Spitfires in an orchard.” She was of the air. Her story becomes part of Tam’s narrative “after Tam had given up flying and is earth-bound in Co. Kerry, Ireland, where Irish is spoken even now.” Hill noted, that, “As the story begins, Tam’s life is descending. The novel is partially about how love can be ravaging.” Urquhart added, “Tam’s lover, Niall, is a climatologist who brings her down to earth. I’m interested in the argument between earth and air.”

About a supporting character, Hill wondered, “How did Kieran grow in you?” Urquhart responded, “IntoUrquhart 3 every book I’ve written, there’s been a young man who has walked into the novel and taken over. Kieran came sailing into this novel and he’s the character we most want to empathize with. He’s a bright absentee, as Emily Dickinson may have said. By bright, I mean shining.” Hill added, “A lot of characters carry real loss. Tell us about Kieran’s coping strategy. He has rages that take over his body like a seizure.” Urquhart said, “He finds domestic chores calming. He becomes enamoured by a bicycle by a wall. It’s called the purple hornet. He transcends his pain by becoming a cyclist.” She added, “Growing up, my cousins called me athletically disinclined, so it was fantastic to inhabit the mind of a character who was achieving what he was achieving. I put off writing the race until the end, but it was thrilling to write. I loved every second of it.”

Of Kieran’s training, Hill remarked, that, “he met Irish poet Michael Kirby, who becomes his coach.” Urquhart admitted that she’d “met Michael Kirby in the ‘90s. He had been a fisherman, but was working on a book of poems about the life of the sea. As an artist he never lost his hold on the earth. As he was dying he wrote poems of farewell to his boat, to his kitchen chair. By including him and Kenneth Lochhead, I was trying to celebrate them and to try to understand how creativity moved through them. When I sent a copy to Kirby’s daughter, featuring him as a cycling coach, her father dead a decade, she said, ‘My dad has been 10 years on his holidays and he’s surprising us yet.’” Both Lawrence Hill and Jane Urquhart are doing just that. May they long continue to enrich readers’ lives with the craft and compassion of their stories.

Follow Janet Somerville on Twitter @janetsomerville.

A Tribute to Alice Munro

By Janet Somerville

The Fleck Dance Theatre was packed to the gills on Saturday, November 2, and the evening’s warm-hearted playfulness was established with IFOA Director Geoffrey Taylor quipping, “through the magic of prerecorded voiceover, I just got to introduce myself.” He celebrated Alice Munro as this year’s Harbourfront Festival Prize recipient, “who has made a substantial contribution to Canadian letters,” noting how delighted he was “that the Nobel Foundation agreed with us about a month after our announcement.” Avie Bennett, former Chair of IFOA and President of McClelland & Stewart, accepted the prize on Munro’s behalf and said, “Please settle for my assurances that I’ll convey both the cheque and your good wishes to Alice.”

Douglas Gibson

Douglas Gibson

Douglas Gibson, Munro’s longtime editor, who made her feel “that short stories were worthy fiction” decades ago, hosted the evening. About the Nobel nod this year, Gibson recounted how he sat by the phone for the past five years, awaiting THE call in the wee hours of the morning. This year, as soon as the news spread, he was invited to do several “interviews of exaltation” that went like this: “How great is it?” “It’s really, really, really great!” Well, it IS. Since a video of the evening was being sent to Alice, Gibson encouraged the audience to show its appreciation for her work, and we roared to our feet, cheering and clapping, absolutely chuffed for her.

Jane Urquhart

Jane Urquhart

The first to pay tribute was Alice’s longtime friend Jane Urquhart, who claimed Alice’s stories, grounded as they are in small town life, “gave me permission to play with the notion of writing myself.” She unfurled the tale of their first meeting in 1987, when Urquhart retrieved Munro from the bus depot in New Hamburg, “practically incoherent with excitement.” In her diary at the time, Urquhart mused about the number of exclamation marks: “Yesterday I spent the day with Alice Munro!!!! She sat in precisely the right chair at the kitchen table!!!!! She told me about her father’s book and she cried.” Urquhart then read an excerpt from Robert Laidlaw’s book and from Alice’s story “Working for a Living,” collected in The View From Castle Rock. She concluded with another piece from her own diary, where she recorded, “Alice told me that the Clinton librarian had been captured by Albanian bandits. She wondered if she could write a story about it. I hope she does!!!!!!!”

Miriam Toews

Miriam Toews

Miriam Toews, who Gibson noted, “grew up in the shadow of Alice and found the shade not depressing, but inspiring,” spoke next. Toews remembered that when she was twelve, her sister went away to university and told her to “stay out of my room,” a plea she ignored and therein found a copy of Lives of Girls and Women on the bookshelf, its cover image “like looking out my window.” Between its pages she began her “own course of study on life with Del Jordan. Serious. Badass. Hardcore adult literature.” And, after reading an excerpt from that coming-of-age collection, she noted, “Alice Munro initiated me into the world of literature and I am grateful for her exquisite company.”

Colum McCann

Colum McCann

Novelist Colum McCann took the stage after Toews, noting “literature is an intimate form of admiration. The short story is an imploding universe, a white star with hot language and beautifully defined singularities. I see Alice Munro as the absolute antidote to despair.” And, then he read a heartbreaking, exquisite excerpt from “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” the piece that Sarah Polley adapted into her Oscar-nominated screenplay Away from Her.

Alistair MacLeod

Alistair MacLeod

Celebrated short story writer and fellow IMPAC winner Alistair MacLeod waxed on about how “Alice notices everything and that is one of her great strengths.” Consider the details of the washing on the line, the Rhode Island red hens, the velvet paintings of Niagara Falls in the kitchen and other bits of what might be observed in Jubilee: “deep caves paved with linoleum.” With his rumbling East Coast cadence, MacLeod read from “Passion,” one of the stories in Runaway.

Margaret Drabble

Margaret Drabble

As Gibson introduced the final speaker, Margaret Drabble, he noted she had “a grandparent called Bloor and loves to return to Toronto where there is a subway line named after her family.” Who knew? Drabble began by delighting in carrying Munro’s complete work on her Kindle and her thrill in re-reading Alice, which is equally rewarding to discovering her for the first time. “She is a virtuoso, but with none of the self-conscious showmanship. She writes with insight, sympathy and great wit. Her stories turn ‘round on themselves, and come back to where they began. When I think of her work, I think of landscape and long journeys. Settings are described with poetic precision. Alice has such a powerful sense of the way landscape shapes our lives.”

Alice Munro’s stories reflect the narratives in our own lives. What, in fiction, is more powerful than that?

Follow Janet Somerville on Twitter @janetsomerville.