Ottawa
2 min

Powerful pages

Gay scribes on roster at International Writers Festival

Funny Boy. Toronto-based Shyam Selvadurai is part of Ottawa's writers' festival. Credit: Jerry Bauer

The eighth annual Ottawa International Writers Festival sweeps into Ottawa this month and with it, some of Canada’s hottest gay and lesbian scribes.



Sri Lanka-born writer Shyam Selvadurai is among them. Selvadurai has written for magazines, television, journals and anthologies, but is best known for his first novel, Funny Boy, published in 1994. He took a Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Men’s Fiction, for the story of a young boy’s coming out and coming of age story set against the backdrop of South Asia’s political upheaval.



The novel, which Selvadurai says is not autobiographical despite some similarities to his protagonist, also won the WH Smith/Books In Canada First Novel Award.



He moved to Canada when he was 19, after the 1983 riots in Sri Lanka and currently lives in Toronto. He has also written a second novel, Cinnamon Gardens.



Alberto Manguel, the prize-winning translator and editor of anthologies, is also on the writers’ roster. Manguel is an Argentinian raised in Israel, best known for his wildly successful A History of Reading.



The non-fiction book is Manguel’s tribute to his passion for the very act of reading and covers all aspects of the art. He explores the movement of the eye across a page, the unlikelihood of online novels replacing books and the reasons people read in bed.



He also taps into some of the more bizarre ways people can absorb information, including memorizing biblical verses by writing them on peeled hard-boiled eggs and eating them.



His more recent work includes A Reading Diary, for which Manguel spends a month with each of his 12 favourite books and details the reading experience itself and how life around us is affected by what we read. The diary follows him as he leaves Canada to set up house in a medieval presbytery in France, visits his childhood home in Argentina and explores other places, constantly with a book by his side.



Manguel became a Canadian citizen in the 1980s but recently moved to a home in France with his partner where he is building a library big enough to hold the 30,000 books he owns. Not surprisingly, Manguel’s latest book, With Borges, is about the celebrated Argentine poet who once said that he “imagined Paradise in the form of a library.”



Finally, Helen Humphreys will join the festival, touting her newest masterpiece. The Lost Garden is about a young horticulturalist helping with the British Second World War effort who forges a close friendship with a woman, while trying to understand her feelings for an officer.



Although Humphreys is openly gay, she says she doesn’t really like to be thought of as a lesbian author. She admits her work usually has gay undertones, but it’s not contrived and she is “just writing.”



Humphreys’ first novel, Leaving Earth, was a New York Times Notable Book in 1998 and won the Toronto Book Award the same year. Her second novel, Afterimage, won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.



Humphreys lives in Kingston with Hazel, her Hungarian Viszla. She is currently working on her fourth novel.



The festival runs Sep 29 to Oct 6 at the National Library of Canada.



OTTAWA INTERNATIONAL WRITERS FESTIVAL.

Sep 29–Oct 6.

National Library of Canada.

Box office: (613) 562-1243.

Info: www.writersfest.com.