THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
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Christian Guay-Poliquin to talk at London's inaugural Festival America
Christian tells us about his novel, Running on Fumes, and London's upcoming celebration of North American literature
Where are you from, and how did you get involved in Festival America's inaugural London program?
I'm from a small village, just on the border between Canada and the US. In the last few years I’ve had two novels out from a Quebec-based publisher. Both were published in France and translated into English.
Festival America is a celebration of Transatlantic literature and culture. How important is it to safeguard and celebrate Transatlantic culture?
There are two answers to that question. First, as a writer - especially as a Québécois writer - we want our books to travel, to meet some new readers, to be part of something larger. Second, as a reader, we discover through literature that borders aren’t real, there are just different ways of seeing the world. And those differences are so similar that we often only find our true selves in foreign literature.
How will you be participating in the Festival? Are you discussing a particular work of yours?
I'll be speaking at two events - one at Canada House on September 26th and the second at the Québec Government Office in London on September 27th. In both cases, I guess we'll talk about young Québec literature, North American wilderness and my latest novel The Weight of Snow (Le poids de la neige).
What makes American and Canadian literature special?
There are many things that need to be said here. Among them, the North American wilderness, as mentioned earlier, is one of the most important catalyzer of our literature. I think effectively that the relation to nature and the relation to narrative are equal. It is why American and Canadian writings, as diverse as they may be, always carry the presence or at least a sense, of the great outdoors.
How do you reflect on your cultural connections through your work?
In a few words, in my work, I try to involve and remodel some aspects of our collective imagination. By coming back to the context of a massive electricity shutdown, I intend to rehabilitate the usual idea of "the end of the world." In fact, I much prefer an ending "that isn’t an ending" over the futuristic story of an imminent or a befalling end. Also, my characters are mostly manual workers. Doing so, I try to introduce into the main narrative certain details which personify a sort of inherent sense of the world. Anyway, I like to say that I'm writing novels where "nothing happens", especially because it is when nothing happens that anything can occur. That is the heart of every kind of relationship, and relationship is what we are made of, isn't it?
What do you hope visitors to Festival America, and your talk in particular, will take away from the experience?
Maybe one thing. I hope that it will spark curiosity about the work of the new generation of North American and French Canadian writers. I also hope that the public will be convinced of the relevance and the strength of literature – and fiction – to propose new ways of looking at the world we live in.
What's the best thing about being part of Festival America's London program this September?
Of course, I'll be happy to meet the Festival audience and discuss with them our respective "literary loves". But also, let's be honest, I really look forward to spending a few day in London, which I'm discovering for the first time! See you there!
Christian Guay-Poliquin will be speaking at a talk on September 26 at Canada House, from 1pm, on the subject of 'Myths, Moods and Melodies - click here to buy tickets - and will also attend a talk on September 27 at the Québec Government Office at 59 Pall Mall, SW1Y 5JH, from 6:30pm on the subject of 'Investigating language as the basis of culture' - click here to buy tickets. Pre-registered tickets necessary for entry to both talks.