Two authors, one clad in red boots, the other in a red sweater, lit up the stage with their rich tales of fiction, engaging the audience, and bringing us who escaped the strong winds and swirling leaves outdoors, into their worlds. The weather, no doubt the reverberations of the super-storm Sandy, also kept the third author Ayad Akhtar along with the earlier slotted Rabbi Harold Kushner.
The evening began with a reading by Shani Boianjiu , a young Israeli-author, new to the scene of professional art literature. Her novel titled The People of Forever Are Not Afraid , depicts the stories of three young Israeli women and their experiences while fulfilling the mandatory two-year national army service required of all Israelis. The reading focused upon Avishag, a sarcastic, defiant, yet insecure character. Boianjiu wowed the audience with the manner in which she brought Avishag to life.
Following Boianjiu’s reading, author Sarah Dearing took the podium, and read excerpts from her novel, The Art of Sufficient Conclusions . Beginning with a dramatic scene, Dearing took the audience into the life of her protagonist, Abigail, sharing with us her quirky obsessions as well as her wit, fears and insecurities. Dearing embraced the audience with her reading, demonstrating her storytelling capacity.
Following the readings, event host Sandra Abma of the CBC, began a discussion with Boianjiu and Dearing, delving into the meaning of identity and the role it maintains in their novels.
To begin, Abma asked the authors, what they were trying to accomplish in the writing of their respective novels.
In response, Boianjiu expressed her desire to paint a picture of life as an 18-year-old female. She stated that her goal was not to write about the army itself; rather, she sought to bring meaning and art to the army experience. To do this gives a voice to people who often do not get one - including border guards, and Sudanese refugees. Importantly, Boianjiu also speaks of her intention to bring to life the difficulties of balancing female teenage life with the responsibilities of being a soldier.
Dearing suggested that her novel began as a journey about discovery. Discovery of truth- about her father and his origins, and manner in which she could decrypt the story she discovered in a meaningful way. Dearing also spoke to her desire to highlight the important role a father maintains in his children’s lives - even in death.
Writing fiction from fact, is common to both Boianjiu and Dearing’s novels . When asked about the process of creating fiction from fact, both authors admitted that they struggled. Boianjiu and Dearing expressed that they had struggled to work through what they wanted to include from real life, what they wanted to embellish, and what they wanted to leave out in favour of a tale born from their imagination. Dearing suggested that fictionalizing herself was challenging (her protagonist is loosely based off of her journey to understand her father’s past), and Boianjiu commented that it was difficult to determine which of her personal stories best suited the personalities she established for her characters.
As the evening came to an end, Abma asked the two authors about the role of humour in their novels. In response, both agreed that humour was an important element of their works. “After all”, she said, she had to make her character “more [screwed] up than she herself.”
Boianjiu’s novel is currently being translated from English to her mother tongue, Hebrew. She anticipates the reaction of Israeli readers. Boainjiu's decision to write in English was more a pragmatic decision than a calculated one; she took creative writing classes while at Harvard, and thus had to write in English. Writing in a second language compelled her to be more thoughtful with her words, and Boianjiu felt that it also resulted in unique style and voice.
The discussion concluded with thoughtful questions, and a hearty applause from the audience - expressing their thanks for an entertaining evening, and respect for these two dynamic authors.