The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, May 03, 2007

In Some Places, You’d Go to Jail for That

By Anne Chudobiak

Last Friday, I went to see novelist Heather O’Neill read at Montreal’s Blue Metropolis literary festival. I was late, which was unfortunate. Not only did I miss part of the reading, I missed the introduction, which must have included an explanation about the chair, the free one at the front of the room, the one I sat on.

It wasn’t until the next day when I made it to a Liam Durcan event on time—catching the introduction—that I realized my gaffe: I had sat on the Chair of the Imprisoned Writer. That explained the PEN Canada poster resting on its back. (I’d contemplated moving it to the floor.) It showed a pencil with an eraser on both ends. We were supposed to look at the poster on the otherwise empty chair and think of our fellow writers who had been persecuted for their art. It was a way of saying: Hey, you're in jail. Things look grim, but we're saving you a seat for later. Or it had been, until I walked in.

It was as though I had washed my hands in holy water or taken a swig from the prophet Elijah’s wine in front of an audience of strangers. But if the gods were angry with me, they weren’t being obvious about it.

When the Heather O'Neill reading had ended, I went into the lobby, where I encountered Margaret Atwood being ferried to a conference room. This made me feel good (Cat’s Eye is my favourite novel), and sad, because I didn’t have a ticket to see her, and the event was sold out. I don’t know why I bothered checking at the door, but I’m glad I did. A stray ticket was produced—it had been abandoned, “left to a good home,”—and I was whisked in behind her.

I chose a chair in the back row. It was of no particular significance to the world writing community, I hope. If it was, let me know. I can be slow sometimes with symbols.

5 Comments:

Blogger tamara said...

That's such a great story, Anne! How thrilling. It's true, never forget the potential of the rush tickets. Looking forward to reading about the Atwood event. (I'm just assuming you're going to keep us waiting in anticipation...).

Fri May 04, 02:09:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I can't believe you sat in that chair! Too funny. Very touching to know that it was there, however. Holy water, indeed.

Fri May 04, 08:46:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Oh my goodness, this is funny funny Anne. To the surprises that await late arrivals :)

Fri May 04, 09:25:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

That's the kind of mortifying gaffe I'd make! My heart clenched in sympathy, Anne. Obviously the gods of literature weren't ticked with you, or you wouldn't have been blessed with Atwood ticket.

Fri May 04, 09:36:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Liesl said...

Fabulous, funny story, Anne.

Lovely photo too.

It takes great presence of mind to recover from so public a blunder. My hat's off to you.

Thu May 17, 12:45:00 am GMT-4  

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