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MUSIC, LATE AND SOON a finalist for THE MAVIS GALLANT PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION

coverWe’re thrilled to share that on Friday, October 15, Music, Late and Soon (August 24, 2021) by Robyn Sarah was announced as a finalist for the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-fiction, presented by the Quebec Writers’ Foundation! The winner will be announced during a live-streamed gala event hosted by Giller prize-winning author Sean Michaels on November 24 at 7PM.

Since 1988, the QWF Literary Awards have celebrated the best books and plays published or performed by English-language writers and translators in Quebec, as well as those translating English works from Quebec into French. Each award comes with a purse of $3,000.

The other finalists for the Mavis Gallant Prize include: Tanya Bellehumeur-Allatt’s Peacekeeper’s Daughter: A Middle-East Memoir (Thistledown Press), Karen Messing’s Bent Out of Shape (Between the Lines), André Picard’s Neglected No More: The Urgent Need to Improve the Lives of Canada’s Elders in the Wake of a Pandemic (Random House Canada), and Samir Shaheen-Hussain’s Fighting for a Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism Against Indigenous Children in Canada (McGill-Queen’s University Press).

The winner will be announced during a live-streamed gala event hosted by Giller prize-winning author Sean Michaels on November 24 at 7PM.

 

ABOUT MUSIC, LATE AND SOON

A poet rediscovers the artistic passion of her youth—and pays tribute to the teacher she thought she’d lost.

After thirty-five years as an “on-again, off-again, uncoached closet pianist,” poet and writer Robyn Sarah picked up the phone one day and called her old piano teacher, whom she had last seen in her early twenties. Music, Late and Soon is the story of her return to studying piano with the mentor of her youth. In tandem, she reflects on a previously unexamined musical past: a decade spent at Quebec’s Conservatoire de Musique, studying clarinet—ostensibly headed for a career as an orchestral musician, but already a writer at heart. A meditation on creative process in both music and literary art, this two-tiered musical autobiography interweaves past and present as it tracks the author’s long-ago defection from a musical career path and her late re-embrace of serious practice. At its core is a portrait of an extraordinary piano teacher and of a relationship remembered and renewed.

ABOUT ROBYN SARAH

Robyn Sarah is the author of eleven collections of poems, two collections of short stories, and a book of essays on poetry. Her tenth poetry collection, My Shoes Are Killing Me, won the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 2015.  In 2017 Biblioasis published a forty-year retrospective, Wherever We Mean to Be: Selected Poems, 1975-2015. Sarah’s writing has appeared widely in Canada, the United States, and the U.K.  Her poems have been anthologized in Best Canadian Poetry, 15 Canadian Poets x 2 and x 3, The Bedford Anthology of Literature, and The Norton Anthology of Poetry, and a dozen of them were broadcast by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. From 2011 until 2020 she served as poetry editor for Cormorant Books. She has lived for most of her life in Montréal.

 

Get your copy of Music, Late and Soon here!

 

A Biblioasis Interview with Robyn Sarah

A decade and a lifetime in the making, Robyn Sarah’s Music, Late and Soon will be available to readers August 24, 2021. A memoir of a young woman’s career in music, which she leaves (for a variety of reasons) for writing, and returns to much later in life. An enticing ‘what-if’ story for the many people who abandon music in their youth and contemplate a return, but feel it’s too late. Sarah has spent the past decade with her first love, the piano, and has spent much of this time re-connecting and learning through celebrated teacher Phil Cohen. As a well regarded and award-winning poet, Sarah explores the relationship between the verbal and non-verbal arts, and verbal and non-verbal learning. A memoir of artistic vocation, it will be intriguing to music and poetry readers alike.

Q1: Can you provide a brief introduction to those readers who are not familiar with your work?

A1: Writing has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. I had it in my head from the age of six or seven that I was going to be a writer when I grew up, and that remained a lodestar for me through a lot of digressions – notably ten years in music school, when I thought I was headed for a career as an orchestral musician. I graduated from the Quebec Conservatory in the early 70s with a diploma in performance on clarinet, but abandoned music as a career path soon after, and eventually became the writer I always meant to be. Like many of my fellow writers in Montreal, I taught English in Quebec’s junior college system for many years, but since the mid-1990s I’ve worked as a freelance writer and literary editor, most recently serving ten years as poetry editor for Cormorant Books. Poetry is my primary genre. Though I’ve also published essays and stories, I think my poet’s perspective leaves its stamp on everything I write.

Q2: Music, Late and Soon chronicles another decade-long – to use your word – digression, a return to the serious study of music after more than three decades. “I was late for my piano lesson,” your memoir begins. “Thirty-five years late, to be exact.” Can you tell us a bit about why, at such a stage in your life, you returned to music, and perhaps a bit about the genesis of this book?

A2: Who can say with certainty why we do anything we do, and why at a particular moment? Human motivation is so layered. We have conscious motives, we have unconscious motives, we have intentions and impulses. We have game-changing encounters with chance. When we say, “It was just something I had to do at that moment”, we may not even know what tipped the balance. But when we make such a statement, we’re on our way to telling ourselves a story. This book is the story I told myself to explain why, at nearly sixty, I had to take piano lessons again – something I had thought about doing many times before without acting on it.

Robyn Sarah, age 8

– Which leads to your question about the genesis of the book. On this particular occasion, the thought came simultaneously with the idea of writing a book about it. And somehow, it was the book – the untold, unlived story I sensed there – that made it possible for me to do what I hadn’t been able to do before. I felt propelled into simultaneously living the story and writing it. At first I thought it would be a much shorter book – a story about a year of late-life piano lessons, leading to a small recital. I didn’t know it would take me back to my years in music school. I didn’t know it would demand that I finally make some sense of my abandoning a career as a clarinetist just as it was getting off the ground. It was only in the bringing together of both processes – my literary process and a return to serious musical practice on my first instrument – that the living and the writing overflowed those initial parameters.

Q3: You’ve explained how writing about your return to music took you back to your musical past. Can you say a little about where that return has taken you as you’ve moved forward?

A3: Well, it wasn’t very long before I realized this was no caprice. It wasn’t even a “project” – not in the sense of something I could finish and walk away from. I realized I was back at the piano for the long haul. I had dropped any expectations; I was open to wherever it wanted to take me. The second part of the book describes some of the places it initially took me – among them, playing piano in local cafes and a retirement home; playing a small private recital beset with unexpected challenges; attending a three-week summer piano intensive where I was the oldest participant by – you guessed it – thirty-five years. It also brought me new friends, new repertoire, new perspectives, and a sense of ongoing adventure as I entered my sixties.

Q4: Your memoir chronicles more than a return to and relationship with an instrument (or many instruments, several pianos and clarinets both!); it also tells the story of a special relationship with a very special teacher. Can you tell us a little about this?

A4: Philip Cohen’s legacy – very much his own, but at only one remove from celebrated pianist Alfred Cortot, who taught his teacher – lives on in the teaching of his students in Montreal, New York, Chicago, L.A. and overseas, all of whom acknowledge his extraordinary qualities. I began studying with Phil at eleven, stopped at seventeen, and returned briefly in my early twenties. When I came back to him at 59, I never imagined I would end up studying with him again for nearly nine years – the same length of time as I did earlier in life. My adult years as mother, teacher, and writer were book-ended by those two periods of intense musical mentorship. This “late and soon” aspect of our relationship was one thing that made it special. But everyone who studied with Phil Cohen had a special relationship with him, and everyone’s was different. His approach to teaching was based entirely on his appreciation of the individual human being: you felt he understood you better than you understood yourself, that you had his full attention, and that he cared. Not only were his musical insights endlessly inspiring, but regardless of age, background, or personality, he was able to reach people on a soul level.

coverQ5: The initial goal of this project was to return to piano for a year, to ready yourself for the possibility of performance, and to write a short book about the experience. Both book and the experience it chronicles became much more than this, and I think Music, Late and Soon is, among other things, one of the best books on artistic dedication and vocation I’ve read. Can you highlight a few of the things you learned along the way?

A5: When I first approached my teacher with the project of spending a year working to prepare a modest recital program, his response was, “Why would you not just start working again and see where it leads? Playing the piano is like any art form, any creative process – it doesn’t work by deadline.” I think the primary thing I learned as we worked together anew was to respect creative process – to trust it and to recognize the patience it requires. Not just at the piano, and not just in my writing, but in living life. The book became as much a meditation on creative process as it is a personal story. Many of the things I learned were actually things I had learned before but found myself relearning on a deeper level. This itself was one of them: that serious learning is a process of coming back again and again to deepen acquaintance with something we think we know.

You can order a copy of Music, Late and Soon here.

Biblioasis 2017 Media Year in Review

2017 was a big year for us here at the Bibliomanse!  We released a ton of great new titles, two new Bibliofolk arrived as Casey Plett and Jonny Flieger joined the team, Biblioasis books made it onto some very prestigious awards lists, and we had a lot of great coverage in the media. Here are just a few highlights of some of the spectacular reviews and coverage our books received this past year:

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Alejandro Saravia’s Red, Yellow, Green had a great review in Montreal Review of Books“a labyrinthine narrative that lodges like shrapnel—bracing and painful…playfully absurdist, funny, brilliant, and courageous… Saravia’s accomplishment in Red, Yellow, Green is to make you care, and deeply”
Montreal Review of Books: History vs. Oblivion

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Kevin Hardcastle and John Irving spent some time “Bro-ing down” at the International Festival of Authors together. Kevin’s new novel In the Cage has been collecting heaps of praise from places such as Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, Maclean’s, National Post, and Foreword Reviews.
In Conversation: Kevin Hardcastle & John Irving
Maclean’s: Five Must Read Books for October
Toronto Star: Twenty-Five must-read books this fall
National Post: Book Review

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The Vancouver Sun recognized their Vancouver daughter, Cynthia Flood, and her new short story collection What Can You Do, saying it  “…makes for page-turning reading…Flood’s writing is sparse and direct, and tackles the challenging topics unfolding in her stories with welcome clarity.”

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Quill & Quire wrote that David Huebert’s Peninsula Sinking “…establishes Huebert as one of Canada’s most impressive young writers … the stories are far-reaching, but tightly woven, each focused on characters in significant moments of development or change.”
Quill & Quire Review

 

 

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The late Norman Levine’s collected short stories, I Don’t Want to Know Anyone Too Well, took some people by surprise this year. André Forget wrote in The Walrus “If Levine lacks for a Canadian readership, it could be in part because there is no definitive, breakout collection of his stories…that might change with I Don’t Want to Know Anyone Too Well. If great writing has a mark, surely this is it.”
Ian McGillis raised the stakes even higher for Levine, writing in The Montreal Gazette that Levine’s short stories should be compared to Gallant, Munro, and even Chekhov, believing “Norman Levine deserves it and his time has come.”
The Walrus: Will a Posthumous Story Collection Help Canada Forgive Norman Levine?
Montreal Gazette: Neglected story master Norman Levine gets his due in new collection

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 Robyn Sarah’s long-awaited selection of poems, Wherever We Mean to Be, was named one of CBC books’ “Canadian Poetry Collections to Watch For” and Anita Lahey wrote a beautiful profile on Sarah for The Walrus.
CBC: 16 Canadian poetry collections to watch for
The Walrus: Robyn Sarah’s Exquisitely Untrendy Poetry

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The Toronto Star wrote of Molly Peacock’s The Analyst, that “The poems bear witness to loss and change in the lives of two women, but they also offer a remarkable account of the restorative power of creativity… [Peacock’s] poetry’s orderly grace can seem paradoxical when she’s describing intense, chaotic emotions. But that lyrical craft is exactly what makes these poems resonate.”
Toronto Star: Poetry transforms Molly Peacock’s relationship with her analyst

 

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Even celebrities couldn’t keep their hands off of Biblioasis books this year!  Sarah Jessica Parker of Sex in the City fame raved about Carys Davies, saying  “Oh my God! Oh my God! It was so great! The Redemption of Galen Pike. A collection of short stories. I never read short stories. This book is so wonderful. One of the clerks at Three Lives Bookstore convinced me to get that book. It’s fantastic!”
Sarah Jessica Parker & The Redemption of Galen Pike
The Redemption of Galen Pike was also an Indie Next pick and a Women’s National Book Association pick for their National Reading Group Month Great Group Reads 2017 List.
National Reading Group: Great Group Reads
Indiebound List

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The long-form review lives on over at Music and Literature. It’s a disservice to their careful and thoughtful review of Elise Levine’s Blue Field to excerpt such a short quote but needs must. Hannah Leclair writes “Reading the novel is a sensation akin to drifting weightlessly beneath the surface of the text…dazzling, textured, tightly woven.”
Music & Literature Review

The Winnipeg Review agreed, saying “Elise Levine’s new novel takes place in a state of not suspense, but suspension. It is set, tellingly, in the rough space between two deaths in the protagonist’s life—first Marilyn’s parents, back to back, then her best friend. The novel ceaselessly evokes the hanging feeling of being deep underwater: all is muted, slow, and yet sensation is almost unbearably heightened … Levine is, undeniably, an outstanding wordsmith. Her writing style moves in multiple directions, making high stakes out of small movements while turning panic into poetry.”

Winnipeg Review

In The New York Times

The Newspaper of Record took notice of a number of Biblioasis books this year. The New York Times featured glowing reviews for Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse, Mark Kingwell’s Fail Betterand Jorge Carrion’s Bookshops.

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The Lighthouse—New York Times’ On the Road in Germany, Accompanied by Troubling Memories
Fail Better—New York Times’ Now Batting: 14 New Baseball Books
Fail Better—New York Times’  How to Throw a Baseball
Bookshops—New York Times’ A Love Affair With Bookstores

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Biblioasis’ Awards

 

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Author, editor, and Bibliofriend John Metcalf won an Ottawa Book Award for his collection The Museum at the End of the World. Metcalf also edited Biblioasis’ successful relaunch of Best Canadian Stories (Biblioasis authors David Huebert, Paige Cooper, Cynthia Flood, K.D. Miller & Grant Buday are among those included in the anthology!).
2017 Ottawa Book Awards

 

Patricia Young was a finalist for the Victoria Butler Book Prize for her collection of poems Short Takes on the Apocalypse.
Victoria Butler Book Prize

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Boundary, written by Andrée A. Michaud and translated from the French by Donald Winkler, was named to the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist. World Literature Today says Boundary is “a haunting novel, rich with the details of the families’ daily lives and brilliant internal monologue, but the translation doesn’t draw attention to itself, a common flaw in translators too conscious of the masterful prose they are rendering. This is particularly appropriate here as Michaud’s remarkable writing seems entirely relaxed, belying what can only be very meticulously composed. Boundary has been recognized by a number of prizes in Canada, including the author’s second Governor General’s Award for Fiction. She deserves to be better known as one of the best writers in North America.”

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Scotia Bank Giller Prize: 2017 Long List Announced
World Literature Today: Book Review

And last but not least, Elaine Dewar was a Governor General’s Literary Award Finalist for her controversial book The Handover: How Bigwigs and Bureaucrats Transferred Canada’s Best Publisher and the Best Part of Our Literary Heritage to a Foreign Multinational. The book is all about the shady backroom deals that went on in order to package McClelland & Stewart off to international megapublisher Random House, robbing Canadians of one of the most definitively Canadian presses in the name of bigger profits and global monopolization.
Read the Maclean’s article on the deal and Dewar’s book here!

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Phew. All that and we’ve barely skimmed the surface. There’s so much more to discover–all of our authors have been killing it and there’s so much great coverage and great responses to their amazing work out there.  Come down to the shop or stumble around the website here and find out more.  Congratulations to all our amazing Biblioasis authors and thank you so much to all our readers!  See you in the New Year!