A Galaxy of Stars
Toronto graffiti, spotted in 2003
Tuesday 28th October 2003, Harbourfront Festival, Toronoto.
I was invited to the Harbourfront Festival I think about three times, before my modest sales and failure to emerge as a massive literary star put a kybosh on that. Speaking to other writers of similar age, they too noticed a slackening of invites as we have grown older and curiously, even those with more robust sales than I - there is a greater emphasis on the new, the very topical, the book awards winners, the media-connected, and of course, celebrities. It makes sense, to be honest. Bums on seats.
But it was always great fun, and often featured stand out performances. I saw Coupland perform while watching from the wings in 2003. The following account is from my contemporaneous notes.
"... the format of the evening was a series of half hour talks from a parade of writers, then, later on, a conversation. There is always an empty chair on the stage to represent a writer currently in jail. I was on after Dan Rhodes and Louise Welsh but before Douglas Coupland, who appeared at the very last moment dressed in a suit which made him look like a branch manager of a small provincial bank. He was polite and pleasant and we chatted amiably before we all went on. Louise read from her book, Dan told some anecdotes, and I described a little of the writing experience and a small passage from The Well of Lost Plots . Coupland was up next, reading from Hey Nostradamus! , a fictional account of a high-school shooting in Canada but reminiscent of the Colombine murders. His delivery was excellent. I usually like to come away seriously impressed by at least one person, and Coupland was it, closely followed by Tomson Highway who was also hugely entertaining. Coupland's diction was crisp and quiet yet extremely compelling.
When he finished he didn't pause for breath but closed the book and went straight on to a story concerning Colombine where once the fire alarms were suddenly quietened, the emergency services were able to hear the trilling and beeping of the cellphones as the living tried to communicate with the dead. He postulated that whenever we next hear a mobile phone ringing near us that we look at it not as an annoyance or a distraction but with a positive line of thought, that here was one human being wanting to talk to another human being, something that should be celebrated.
He then asked everyone to get out their mobiles and find the button that makes them ring, then, after asking for dimmed lights from the lighting manager (whose name he had already ascertained) proceeded to ask everyone to make their cell phones ring and witness a 'Cellphone Sonata' that might have been heard that night after Colombine. It was a strange and very eerie sound, and was immensely powerful. He thanked the audience, walked back stage and glanced at the clock. He had been exactly 30 minutes. To this day, I have not witnessed a more powerful presentation from a writer at a literary festival..."