About his old column Blush, Smith once wrote, “Each month, I sat down to write with the same question in mind: what about my sex life do I not want anyone to know? And that’s what I wrote.”
For years Canadians enjoyed Vancouver author Michael V Smith’s drag alter ego, Miss Cookie LaWhore, who wrote the racy sex column Blush for Xtra Vancouver for a couple of years. But Smith – writer, comedian, filmmaker, performance artist and “occasional clown” – has pretty much changed gears in recent years. To wit, Cormorant Books has just published Smith’s terrific second novel, Progress, and he’s a creative writing professor at UBC. Does that mean his days as a clown and sex raconteur are over?
“Cookie is resting,” Michael says. “I haven’t done Cookie in years. She was a vehicle to discuss sexuality in a way that was fun and challenging, but still full of charm and appeal. A different sort of hat, you might say, but doing a similar job to all my creative output.”
Today, Michael won’t discuss his sex life the way he used to – “Um, I’ll pass on that” – but he readily admits, “I still reveal a lot. I [just] spent seven years working on a book that can make me cry when I read it aloud, so I think that’s a wee more vulnerable than writing about my sex life via a persona.”
Smith – named one of Vancouver’s 25 most influential gay citizens by Vancouver Magazine – is on a book tour of Eastern Canada, with stops in Toronto (Gladstone Hotel on April 27), Kingston (Queen’s Grad Club on April 29), Cornwall (Cornwall Public Library on May 1) and Montreal (Drawn & Quarterly bookstore on May 3). His book Progress tells the story of a woman who loses her fiancé and is unable to move on with her life while everybody else around her does.
Smith says he no longer needs gay characters in his work, but he does not believe gay culture is losing its power through assimilation. “I think being woven into the mainstream is great, provided we are still doing some of that weaving. The gay marriages I’ve attended are still queer events, and everyone’s Aunt Betty and Uncle John are a little more queer for being at those celebrations. I don’t think we’re losing power. We’re gaining a new kind of power. Where we are losing power is with our sense of history. How did we get here? What was the cost of where we are today? Who paid it? That’s why stories are so important, I think. They help tell a bit of that history. They get it down on paper so we can remember it and reflect on it and carry the truth forward.”
Does he miss being outrageous?
“I still am outrageous,” he replies without missing a beat. “Or the Harper Government wouldn’t still be in power.”