Monday, October 12, 2009

Storytelling on Quadra Island CD

This summer I was on Quadra Island, on the east coast of Vancouver Island. I'd gone there to interview Robert Bringhurst, poet and scholar of oral tradition (not to mention designer, typographer, and translator of Haida mythology). My old friend Ron Evans, a great traditional storyteller and Metis oral historian, was also on Vancouver Island, with José Brown, his ceremonial apprentice and storytelling companion. The stars aligned in such a way that we were all able to stay at Heron Guest House, on Heriot Bay, on Quadra Island. While there, we had a storytelling soirée, hosted by Linda Inrig, the keeper of the guest house. She ordered oysters (from across the bay) and put the wine on to chill, and, despite a downpour, about a dozen people, two dogs, and a ring-neck dove gathered in her living room. I recorded the stories, and am delighted that a double-CD is now available. Storytelling on Quadra Island is an unusual CD. Along with our mix of traditional, personal, and historical stories, you'll hear the hiss of the fire, the rain on the roof, the dogs padding across the floor, a very squeaky chair, the ocean a few metres away, and the dove (who seems to come in right on cue). It was a wonderfully intimate time and place for storytelling, and I only realized afterwards that the recording would work as a CD. Ron and I have known each other for more than thirty years. He's one of my true storytelling heroes. It was an honour and a huge delight to swap stories back and forth with him. We hope, if you listen to Storytelling on Quadra Island, some of this friendship, spontaneity, and joy comes through. To order, write to: OR use the Paypal buttons on the CD page. They're available for $25 Cdn. plus postage.

Monday, October 5, 2009

F.O.O.L. - festival of oral literatures

Delighted to announce the first-ever F.O.O.L. - festival of oral literatures, which I'm co-directing with good friend and amazing storyteller Lisa Pijuan-Nomura. Please drop by for the full schedule. It runs Oct. 22 - 25, in house concerts, a farmers' market, The Barns, and Bread and Circus at Kensington Market. We would love to see you there! Lots of experimental storytelling, dance, spoken word, dub poetry, and two of the finest mbira players this side of Zimbabwe.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Article coming out in JEU revue de théâtre

JEU, a theatre journal in Québec, asked me to write an article about the Festival interculturel du conte de québec, founded and directed by my friend Marc Laberge. They wanted the perspective of someone from outside the quebeçois storytelling movement. I've been a big fan of storytelling in Québec, both in French and English, ever since I heard the incomparable Jocelyn Bérubé thirty years ago. Until I met Jocelyn, I had never dreamed that the art of storytelling could be so rooted in traditional stories and so avant-garde at the same time. He remains, for me, one of my all-time storytelling heroes - one of the greatest lyric storytellers in the world. Over the last thirty years, the storytelling renaissance has developed rapidly, and one of the places where it has found the richest soil is Québec. Storytellers there are experimenting with repertoire, performance styles, audiences, venues - and as a result they have attracted some wonderful younger tellers.

The piece is called Les fusées improbables: notes sur le Festival interculturel du conte de Québec, (translated by Michel Vaïs) and is coming out in the next issue of JEU (, which is devoted to storytelling.

Radio documentary on CBC Radio Tapestry

CBC Radio One's show Tapestry recently aired (on Easter Sunday) a radio documentary about my experience as a father with a baby in the neo-natal intensive care unit at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. Ines Colabrese was the producer, and she brought together extensive interviews to create a fifteen-minute piece. It includes the remarkable story of my neighbour, Liliane Scarpellino, who brought across the street her life-affirming story just when we most needed to hear it. You can catch the documentary at CBC's archives:

This was the hospital experience that led to the creation of Talking You In, a canta storia about storytelling in the NICU, which is set to the music of Brian Katz.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stories and Borders

Found this while I was digging around my UNICEF files. A few years ago I was UNICEF Canada's storyteller-in-residence. I still like this short description.


“The story is our escort,” says African writer Chinua Achebe, reminding us that today’s world is full of borders. They are drawn on maps and in minds. They separate countries, groups, and generations. But stories escort us into new territory. They carry a safe-conduct and pass freely through every frontier. A story can begin in English, travel for awhile in Ojibway, grow Arabic roots, wear Xhosa robes, and wind up in Chinese. Aladdin came to Quebec and became a trickster named Ti-Jean. Wherever stories are told and valued, they help humans communicate the things that most need to be remembered. “You must invent your own literature,” writes Vivian Paley about a class of four-year-olds (in The Boy Who Would Be A Helicopter) “if you are to connect your ideas to the ideas of others.” Stories cross time as well as geography, sharing their wisdom across generations. A story, they say, is a letter sent to us from yesterday. When we receive it we add our own message and send it on to tomorrow. Long before humans fought over borderlines in the sand, we laughed together at storylines around a shared fire. Story is our first language, our universal Mother Tongue.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Check out The New Quarterly winter issue

The winter issue of The New Quarterly has just come out. I have a piece in it called Chaucer By Heart. It is a tribute to Marvin Mudrick, my literature professor at the College of Creative Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara. It is also about the value of knowing poetry by heart, in this case, the Miller's Tale from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. At one point in my life, I memorized the whole thing, all 600 lines of rhyming Middle English couplets. This is probably the most useful thing I've ever done. Having that much Chaucer in my head has proven to be an excellent companion on the road, good counsel at troubling moments, and a great way to get through my laps in the swimming pool. Check out to find out more about this fine Canadian literary journal.