Illuminating Luminato: Writing North America


The Pulse Front installation at Toronto's Harbourfront by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer from the first ever Luminato Festival (Bahman A-Mahmoodi)

Luminato is a multidisciplinary arts festival held in Toronto in June. This annual festival features artists from a wide range of disciplines, including music, dance, film, visual arts, theatre and literature. You can see their entire roster of programming here. Luminato's curator of literary programming, Devyani Satlzman, will be giving CBC Books the inside scoop on this year's programming.

Luminato began its sixth year on Friday, June 8, as one of North America's largest multi-arts festivals. What I love about programming books at the festival is that in addition to launching some of the best of spring and summer's new fiction -- Peter Carey's The Chemistry of Tears, Chris Cleave's Gold -- we maintain a curatorial focus across our festival genres whether literature, theatre, dance, music or visual arts.

Last year, the Arab Spring was a key thread that ran through our programming. Our main theatre commission was U.K. director Tim Supple's One Thousand and One Nights, adapted by consummate Lebanese novelist Hanan al-Shaykh. In our literary program, we had the pleasure of hosting an incredible group of writers and thinkers discussing everything from politics in the Middle East to the next generation of writing from the Arab world.


This year we turn our focus homewards, to North America. The bicentennial of the War of 1812, a key event in the formation of the Canadian-U.S. border, became a jumping-off point for a large portion of our 2012 literary program. We share a language, a continent and the longest land border in the world. What does it mean to "write" North America? I don't know if there's an answer to this question, but I do think it will be a pleasure to hear some incredible writers and thinkers from both sides of the 49th parallel discuss it.

Kicking off the debate is, appropriately, a debate. Authors and historians Jack Granatstein and Stephen Clarkson tackle the provocative proposition "The U.S. has Coveted Canada Since the War of 1812." Jack Granatstein, in addition to teaching Canadian history at York University, was a former director of the Canadian War Museum. Stephen Clarkson has written on everything from foreign policy to Pierre Trudeau and the Liberal party. I'm looking forward to this since they'll provide two very divergent perspectives on the effects of the War of 1812.

The conversation continues with Lewis Lapham, of Lapham's Quarterly, in discussion with Kyle Wyatt, managing editor of The Walrus, on the current state of Canada-U.S. relations, from the Occupy movement and the Maple Spring to energy security. I loved the idea of pairing a seminal man of American letters with a member of the editorial team from our national magazine of culture and ideas. Lapham has seen so much, and his own life has dovetailed quite incredibly with history -- from his great-great-great grandfather having led one of the botched attempts to invade Canada during the War of 1812 to his own coverage of U.S. presidential elections.

We return to fiction, and the way we write the landscapes of each nation, with an exciting array of writers discussing the similarities and differences of the North American experience. Annie Proulx -- whose writing reaches from Newfoundland to Wyoming (The Shipping News, Brokeback Mountain) -- discusses her body of work with The New Yorker's fiction editor, Deborah Treisman. I felt Annie would be a lovely bookend to Richard Ford. Her work has painted some of the most amazing American and Canadian landscapes, especially her depiction of Newfoundland in The Shipping News. It will be interesting to hear her speak to Deborah, who has also been Alice Munro's longtime editor for The New Yorker, in essence seeing and editing Canadian and American masters whose work reflects both sides of the border.

Linden MacIntyre (Why Men Lie, The Bishop's Man) appears on stage with Kyo Maclear (Stray Love, The Letter Opener) and Ayad Akhtar (American Dervish). Ayad's wonderful debut novel follows an American Muslim boy growing up in pre-9/11 Wisconsin. They are in conversation with producer and actor Zaib Shaikh (Little Mosque on the Prairie). I'm excited to hear the diversity of voices that North American stories contain, whether set on Canada's East Coast or in the American Midwest.

One of the highlights of this year's festival, for me, is Richard Ford in conversation with Jane Urquhart. Ford joins the festival to share his first novel in six years, Canada. Looking northwards, the novel tells the story of Dell Parsons, a young fugitive who makes his way from Montana across the border into Saskatchewan. In terms of exploring the Canadian landscape, I can't wait to hear Jane Urquhart, a master in that area, talking with Ford. Hopefully, these conversations will have audiences thinking about where we are as two bordering nations both going through incredible shifts in terms of politics, identity and immigration -- and how the stories we are creating reflect that.