THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
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Guillaume Morissette to talk at London's inaugural Festival America
Guillaume tells us about his literary works, including The Original Face, 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 programme?
My name is Guillaume Morissette, I am a novelist and I live in Montreal, Canada. I was born in Québec and raised in French, but I write primarily in English, which is a little weird in Canada, but probably less weird in Europe, where it’s more common for people to write in English as their second language. I honestly have no idea how I ended up getting involved in Festival America’s London programme, the invitation just appeared in my email inbox one day.
Festival America is a celebration of Transatlantic literature and culture. How important is it to safeguard and celebrate Transatlantic culture?
Like everything (news, culture, language, money, the arts, etc), literature is increasingly global, like my artistic influences include Canadian writers who exist and publish in the same context I do, but also contemporary American writers, Japanese writers in translation, internet writer friends who live in various countries I’ve never visited, etc. When I get to travel, it’s always astonishing to me to do readings with writers I am friends with online and realize our work has various things in common, even though we live in radically different contexts. In that sense, literature can be a way of collapsing borders and encouraging communication and empathy.
How will you be participating in the Festival? Are you discussing a particular work of yours?
I am doing a panel on September 27 with Cherie Dimaline, a Canadian Métis writer and YA author who rules, and Christian Guay-Poliquin, a French Canadian novelist who I’ve actually never met but who seems nice. I’ll probably be presenting my two novels, The Original Face and New Tab, plus talking about whatever else comes up, so like, technology, the internet, contemporary literature, making fun of Canada’s Prime Minister, etc.
What makes American and Canadian literature special?
Canadian literature often has an inferiority complex towards American literature, even though it probably shouldn’t, like Canada has produced some really great books in the last ten years. Personally, I feel weirdly at home in this inferiority complex because I am also perpetually insecure, but I am excited to see how the next generation of Canadian writers, who are younger than me and just starting their writing journey, will reinvent Canadian literature and what it means to be a "Canadian writer." If you’re interested in checking out young, emerging Canadian writers, I would recommend A. Light Zachary, Sennah Yee, Cason Sharpe & Shazia Hafiz Ramji, just to name a few.
How do you reflect on your cultural connections through your work?
I am a weird case because I was born and raised in French in a small town in Québec, but by the time writing came into my life, I wasn’t very interested in writing about my cultural background or Québec society. Instead, I wanted to write about contemporary relationships, cities like Montreal or Toronto, the gig economy, the way the internet is transforming communication and other things that aren’t necessarily culturally specific to Québec. I love Québec and being Québécois, but I think part of my reflection about my cultural heritage is trying to find a way to be Québécois, Canadian and North American all at once.
What do you hope visitors to Festival America, and your talk in particular, will take away from the experience?
Hopefully I’ll give everyone a glimpse of what contemporary Canadian literature is like and what life for millennials feels like in cities like Montreal and Toronto.
What's the best thing about being part of Festival America's London programme this September?
Getting to visit London for the first time, I’ve planned nothing, I only vaguely know what to expect and I hope I end up feeling completely lost and disoriented.
Guillaume Morissette will be speaking at 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'. Pre-registered tickets necessary for entry: Click here to buy tickets.