Canadian publishing is not known for its choreography. However, festivals and launches do often try their best to not step on each other’s toes during the frenzy of each season. So Erin Moure’s recent presence in bi-coastal shortlists for regional awards seems overtly quixotic. As previously reported on these pages, Moure’s 2017 non fiction book Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots got a QWF nomination. And we got all excited about that.
Well, fast-forward less than a month and it’s happened again. This time, here in British Columbia of all places! We feel torn in excitement in two directions, and the author herself couldn’t be more pleased.
Sitting Shiva is the story of a man without public record, or at least, by today’s “Google Search” standards, a civic phantom. Moure, the acclaimed award-winning poet and translator, a verified CanLit icon, only slightly demystifies the almost Holy act of creating this book in but a week.
“The text was cleaned up some, copyedited, some newly remembered things were added, and I added the research history at the end. It turns out — I should have known but I didn’t till later — that the memories of a little man actually hold the history of cities, Vancouver and Montreal, and of peoples, and of colonialism and its generational traumas, and of a class of people that always got the short end of the stick in everything but that still had dreams and loves and joys and perceptions and strivings and appreciation for life and respect for others. I learned so much from that little man.”
It’s a noteworthy occurrence, we think, for a BC publisher to have book by a Montreal author (who lived 11 years in Vancouver from 1974–1985) to get nominated in both cities of the book’s origin. Moure is appreciative of the recognition. She’s clearly proud. To use a worn out word from the current zeitgeist, the happenstance of Toots story becoming a full-fledged and now double-award nominated book seems almost random — slightly larger than a mere writing exercise one morning. Moure only slightly dwells on the books origin and rather private initial reception. “People who have since read that book say they learn something about why I am the way I am too from that book. They see it. Maybe the book thinks like my brain does.”
The victor will be announced at a public ceremony at the VPL on December 8th.
Bonus fun. Here is a link which is mentioned at the end of Moure’s book. The author says Paul looked like Dean Martin on a certain album cover. Also, the NFB film Pierrot à Montréal which the book speaks of, as Paul was most like the guy who puts up the numbers in the dance contest.
“Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue is a book of sorrow that bears comparison to the great ones, among them Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, White’s Once and Future King, Milton’s “Lycidas,” and, recently, a slim but not slight volume of poetry, City Poems, by forensic reporter Joe Fiorito, who mourns The Invisible Ones.” The Malahat Review
A brief excerpt:
Before I’d met him and before he’d had a steady job at CN as a waiter then steward, he’d had unemployed periods of bad alcoholism,and he had stories of the prostitutes and police, and of police mistreatment of the poor and intoxicated. Of being in the drunk tank and the police hosing them down because one person was shouting, and the impossibility of fighting against the force of water, being pushed across the floor by it. Then let out, later, into the icy cold, with wet clothes.
Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots is the story of a man who had no obituary and no funeral and who would have left no trace if it weren’t for the woman he’d called Toots, who took everything she remembered of him and — for seven days — wrote it down. Erín Moure, a poet who once lived in Vancouver, begins this “work of the imagination” (“minto,” in Galician, means “I’m lying”) with a quote from Judith Butler about those persons who have “come to belong to the ungrievable,” though there may be some that grieve them. In recording the tale of the little man, through memories and Google searches, the book gives a glimpse into an entire era of urban Canada, from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Main Street and Chinatown to a long-ago Montreal between the Great Depression and Expo ’67.