Smitten, by Doretta Lau


Has it really been nearly a year since I stepped off a plane and entered Winnipeg for the first time to attend THIN AIR? I can’t tell you how excited I was for the festival. When I received my invitation, Souvankham Thammavongsa and Elizabeth Bachinsky told me about their fantastic experiences and I could not wait for my share of unicorns and rainbows and readers of the first order. On the flight I read Leanne Simpson’s phenomenal book Islands of Decolonial Love.

When I landed, THIN AIR’s Bruce Symaka was there to greet me. (He recognized me from my picture on Twitter.) We drove through the city and as we neared the hotel in the Forks, I saw the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which hadn’t yet opened to the public. A few hours later, I was at Leanne Simpson’s event at the Millennium Library, where she spoke about the Idle No More movement and the anthology The Winter We Danced.

That night on the Mainstage, for the event Women On the Front Lines, I had the pleasure of seeing Alison Pick, Audrey Thomas, Caroline Adderson, Joan Thomas, Miriam Toews, and Monia Mazigh. When I was an undergraduate, I studied Intertidal Life by Audrey Thomas, so I was pretty amazed that I finally had the chance to hear her speak in person. The passages the writers read were funny and moving and heartbreaking. Even now, I still have an image in my mind of Alison Pick’s therapist because her prose is so vivid and I laughed so loudly I think I scared the people sitting in front of me. Afterwards, I wandered down to meet festival director Charlene Diehl, who was every bit as incredible as everyone had told me.

The next day I had my two events. The first was at the Millennium Library for the Nooner. I was delighted that there was a sizeable crowd—the last time I’d read in the middle of the day, only five people showed up and four of them were paid to be there. John K. Samson, the only person I knew in Winnipeg prior to my trip, showed up. A teacher had brought her class and I wished that in high school I’d been able to go to a literary festival event in the middle of the day to see a contemporary Canadian writer in person. (My writing teacher in Grade 12 was a poet, so really I did get to see a contemporary Canadian writer in person five days a week for an entire semester.)

By the evening I was nervous. I was going to share the stage with André Alexis, Martha Baille, David Bergen, and David Alexander Robertson (who now beats me at Words With Friends far too often).

I can’t report much about the event because I had a migraine and I was trying very hard to not pass out. From all accounts we put on a good show. What I do remember is I talked to Owain Nicholson, who had just won the Banff Centre Bliss Carman Award for one of his poems.

On my final day in Winnipeg, I saw Owain read in the morning and I messaged my publisher Silas White to tell him that I had just heard poetry I knew he would like.

Owain and I ate burgers and fries by the water before I set off for Saint Boniface for my final hours in the city. There, I visited Louis Riel’s grave, bought sweets from Chocolatier Constance Popp, found a Japanese mystery novel in a lovely used bookstore and read it in a nearby café where I wanted to befriend everyone who was in the room.

There is so much more I could have written because every second of the trip was a thrill and everything went like clockwork due to the enormous efforts of staff and volunteers, but I shall stop here and say that I am very envious of everyone who will attend THIN AIR 2015 as a reader or a writer. Anyone who has even a fraction of the fun I had will go away with a massive stack of books and the brightest and best feelings about the festival and all the people involved.

Doretta Lau