Keynote Address - A Conversation with Tom Wayman and Fred Wah
Admission: No charge for conference participants or Festival pass holders; $15 at the door
Knox United Church, 201 2nd Ave
THE MYSTERIOUS GRAVEL ROADS: WRITING AND THE LOCAL
The U.S. farmer, poet, and environmentalist Wendell Berry has argued that all knowledge is based on a place. Our young people are taught that what they learn has no connection to a specific locale, Berry says, and as a result they believe they can go anywhere in the country or the planet to apply their knowledge. Thus they often ruin the place where they work. U.S. ecologist and magician David Abram goes one further: he maintains that oral cultures are always place-based and the invention of writing itself--which can be "heard" anywhere--began our disastrous separation from the local.
The local has been a constant concern of Kootenay author and teacher Fred Wah. "One feels at home nearly anywhere there are rivers, pulp mills, trucks, and the mysterious gravel roads," Wah has written. His poetry and poems magnificently portray people and landscapes from China to Calgary. "But," he stresses, "out there is only meaningful in its correspondence to in here. I live in the 'interior' of British Columbia and such a qualification affects my particular sense of what the world looks like."
Yet there are currents in contemporary literature that feel the need to contest the local. "The 'home place' is where it's not," crows Jon Paul Fiorentino, the editor of Post-Prairie, a 2005 anthology determined to showcase new prairie poets who feel the need to deflect the stifling designation of “prairie poetry” they feel caught within: "My obsession is with…not remaining true to place, and finding that the fictive is just as 'true'," Fiorentino says in the anthology's introduction.
Nevertheless, the “local” for many contemporary writers seems crucial as a measure of the imagination. Whether it’s an urban “shining city upon a hill,” the rough edges of the city dumpsters, or back roads to a logging show, “where” always seems to pose creative and social problems (and answers). In writing, this dilemma frequently gets reduced to adjectival euphemisms (urban/rural, beauty/disaster, etc.) that displace the actual and the authentic.
Meantime, Kootenay writer and teacher Tom Wayman has stated that any human locale--any community--is based on the work that occurs there, that to understand a place literature needs to turn an unflinching eye on the conditions of employment in that place and our job's effect on our lives during the hours we're not at work. A community exists, Wayman says, because there is work in that locale to support us--both the work we do, and the work of others that sustains us.
Is the local, then, central to writing, or an outmoded obstacle to self-realization, self-expression? Friday night's keynote will feature Fred Wah and Tom Wayman in conversation about the local and its impact on writing, followed by selected readings from their work.