Friday, 10 November 2017

Ann Charney Tribute

This past April, the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival celebrated Montreal writer Ann Charney. We have had requests from folks who could not attend, to make this short speech available. In her non-fiction writing, Ann has chronicled Quebec society, like few writers have, particularly for the three-decade period beginning in the early 1970s. The original speech included a reading from Defiance in Their Eyes.

In 1995, Véhicule Press published Ann Charney’s Defiance in Their Eyes: True Stories from the Margins. It was made up of six stories that focused on Pierre Vallières, Paul Rose, the Mohawks, Paolo Violi, Claude Jutra, and Jean Castonguay. For me, this book is emblematic of Anne’s journalistic writing.

As Ann writes in the Introduction to the book, these individuals, for different reasons were “trapped between rage and despair,” where “violence inevitably becomes the only possible resolution.” That she wrote about these people in crisis with such empathy and nuanced understanding of Quebec society is remarkable. Perhaps a contributing factor is that Anne is a Quebecer, as she phrases it, because “a capricious cataclysm of history swept the remnants of my family away from their birthplace, and landed them in this curiously innocent land, with its nearly bloodless soil and uncomplicated history.”

By reading the Acknowledgements page (And one learns much from the acknowledgements), the reader discovers that all the pieces in the book originated from magazines that were published in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It was a time when quality writing could find a home in national publications such as Weekend magazine (which was distributed across the country with the Saturday papers), Maclean’s, and Saturday Night. Most of the pieces in the Defiance in Their Eyes appeared in Saturday Night, which published Ann’s impeccably researched and crafted stories that, occasionally ruffled feathers. This is evidenced in the book when Ann thanks Robert Fulford, as she puts it, “for his steadfast support during the controversy surrounding the publication of [her] interview with Paul Rose.” We know there is a story there!

I first read Ann’s magazine pieces in either Weekend magazine or Saturday Night before I ever met her—long before I had any idea that she wrote fiction and that we would publish her novel Rousseau’s Garden. The book was well received. A particularly astute review appeared in Library Journal, and I would also apply the reviewers conclusions to Anne’s non-fiction. I believe it summarizes her writing in a nutshell.

“Charney has the wisdom to let her story speak for itself, and it does so very affectingly. The result is quiet, dignified work with telling insights that make one pause to reassess one’s own life.”

You can’t get better than that.

-Simon Dardick

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