Apr. 11th, 2006

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Last night, I went to the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street West) at 7 o'clock to catch Afua Cooper's interview with George Elliott Clarke, followed by a reading. Cooper, Clarke's interlocutor and questioner, is rightly gaining recognition for her new book, The Hanging of Angélique, a text that takes the life of one slave, Marie-Joseph Angélique, who was executed for burning down a good chunk of Montréal in 1734, and not only reanimates Angélique but points out how well early 18th century New France fits within the "Black Atlantic". Clarke, who wrote the preface to The Hanging of Angélique, is very well-known in his own right as a writer of note, using his origins in Nova Scotia's African-Canadian community to inspire both poetry (1990's Whylah Falls) and prose like his recent novel, George and Rue, most recently producing the volume of poetry Black.

The conversation between Cooper and Clarke was glorious. One recurring theme in the dialogue concerned the need for Canada's African-Canadian community to not only know its own history, but to develop and transmit it. The potential dissipation of this ability concerned Clarke, who talked about how Nova Scotian communities like his fiction Whylah Falls dissipate through out-migration and suburbanization while new urban communities are still forming, as well as about his vision of "Africadia". The revalorization of the word "black" as a positive descriptor was also discussed by the two, with no small amount of laughter. (What's wrong with "blackmail" after all, Clarke suggested?) After an enjoyable forty-five minutes of this, Clarke began his readings, selecting poems from the 2001 Blue and the more recent Illuminated Voices before heading on to Black. Clarke's poems are wonderful, with a perfectly judged use of the sensual world balanced against humour. He reads wonderfully.

This event was part of Pages Books & Magazines' ongoing "This Is Not a Reading Series." If the quality of the other events in this series is anywhere near comparable to last night's, it easily qualifies as a must-see series.
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I rather like Margaret MacMillan's 2003 Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, as a piece of literature and as a useful presentation of the conferences that ended up producing the Treaty of Versailles. Just yesterday, it occurred to me that the effect of the book might lie in its format, a structure repeated by MacMillan in chapter after chapter: She starts a chapter by providing an overview of a cause, examines how the backers of this cause (say, for an independent Czechoslovakia) managed to acquire the support of the allies, shows the opposition to this cause by the people with things to lose (in this example, Sudeten Germans, Austria, and Hungary), and ends by describing just how the Versailles settlement failed catastrophically and at such cost come the Second World War. This might or might not be an accurate portrayal of the emergent global order that followed the First World War, but it makes for wonderful reading.
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From the Los Angeles Times, taken from an article concerning lawsuits lodged by conservative Christian lobby groups against public institutions which have policies preventing them from harassing groups they don't like:

"Think how marginalized racists are," said Baylor, who directs the Christian Legal Society's Center for Law and Religious Freedom. "If we don't address this now, it will only get worse."
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