Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997
Library and Archives Canada395 Wellington street

Past Imperfect

with Anne Fleming, Helen Humphreys and Anne Michaels
Hosted by Rhonda Douglas

Past Imperfect

with Anne Fleming, Helen Humphreys and Anne Michaels
Hosted by Rhonda Douglas
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington street
Anne Fleming - Photo by Martin Dee
Anne Michaels - Photo by Marzena Pogorzaly
Helen Humphreys

Join author, editor and poet Rhonda Douglas for a conversation on the ways the past remains present with three brilliant authors whose new novels explore history’s resonance and our relationship with the past.


Anne Fleming makes her first appearance on the Festival stage with Curiosities , a genre-bending novel that opens with amateur historian Anne, stumbling across an obscure memoir. The full story eventually weaves together five manuscripts, each a different thread in the same strange tale: The Plague descends upon a village, and two children, Joan and Thomasina, are the only survivors. They bond with each other and with "Old Nut," a woman who lives in the forest nearby. But when relatives return, Old Nut is accused of witchcraft and condemned to death. Joan is hired as a maid, and Thomasina is sent on a perilous voyage to Virginia, where she adopts boys' clothing and navigates life as a male. Years later, Tom and Joan find each other and fall in love. It falls upon Anne, reading between faded pages and centuries, to uncover the fate of the lovers—and add her own line of "truth" to this tale from a time when there were no labels for who Tom and Joan might be.


Helen Humphreys, winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, a Lambda Literary Award for Fiction and the Toronto Book Award, return with a new novel, . Inspired by his journals and writing, this moving novel inhabits the life and mind of renowned nineteenth-century naturalist, poet and abolitionist Henry David Thoreau, revealing the deep connections between his time and our own. The forests were being destroyed by the logging industry. Wildlife was increasingly being slaughtered for profit and sport. The railroad clanged through his quiet hometown. And the catastrophes of the American Civil War were beginning to stir.


Anne Michaels, winner of the Orange Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize, and the Lannan Award for Fiction returns to the Festival stage with Held , a deeply affecting and intensely beautiful novel, full of unforgettable characters and imagery, wisdom and compassion. Held moves through history to light upon Darwin, Sir Ernest Rutherford, North Sea ganseys, early photography, Ella Mary Leather, modern field hospitals…while lovers find each other and snow drifts down across the centuries. From the WW1 battlefield where the novel begins, and its opening lines, Held is alive with seeking: "We know life is finite. Why should we believe death lasts forever?”


Books are available from our friends at Perfect Books.


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See Also

Included in Optional Sunday May 05 Sunday Afternoon pass

1:30pm • Library and Archives Canada • 396 Wellington Street
3:00pm • Library and Archives Canada • 395 Wellington street
5:00pm • library and Archives Canada • 395 Wellington Street
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