3 min

Prudes vs libertines

What binds Billeh's nuts?

Credit: Xtra West files

“We all know that straight men don’t read.”

That’s the assertion that author Greg Kramer-tongue placed firmly in cheek-makes as he discusses the inherent queerness of the upcoming Vancouver International Writers Festival.

“I’ve always considered reading as a kind of homo pastime,” Kramer says. “I mean, it’s an activity that takes place on the enlightened edge of the mainstream, it’s isolated, and it involves the imagination. And I love the idea that strangers are taking me into their bedrooms.”

For Kramer, “the enlightened edge” is no barren place. With four novels to his name and over 120 production credits, he’s carved out a niche for himself as an actor, author, director (and sometime magician) on the move. After running away from his UK home, Kramer landed in Vancouver in 1981 and spent seven years here. Next up, the mandatory decade in Toronto, followed by his current residence in Montreal (where he proudly orders his meals in French). All that travel lends Kramer a world-won taste for new flavours and a hell of a performing voice, to boot.

That final, rare quality makes Kramer an ideal addition to May Contain Nuts, this year’s medley of misfit wordsmiths at the Writers Festival.

Event curator Billeh Nickerson will host Barb Daniel, Esi Edugyan, Hiromi Goto, Shane Koyczan, Richard Van Camp and Zoe Whittall, along with Kramer, for an evening packed with unexpected gems. For five years now, the festival has given over its Thursday evenings to fringe mayhem; this is Nickerson’s second turn as host (previously under the title Spiking the Punch).

May Contain Nuts goes for the younger, non-traditional demographic and promises a reading for “the tattoo and piercing set,” says Nickerson. “Gay. Straight. Whatever. We had two women in their 70s come last time and this was their favourite event. We get the whole gamut.”

So what’s the bond that ties these Nuts? “The audience is hungry to be moved, they want to be taken somewhere. There are no mumblers here.” Nickerson’s lineup of authors-from local genius Goto (Chorus of Mushrooms, Hopeful Monsters) to Ontario’s Whittall (founder of the Pretty, Porky and Pissed Off fat activist group)- offers the best in Canada’s Other talents.

But Canada’s queer writers don’t get noticed by only the “tattoo and piercing set.” In a world where “acceptable” gay talent has built mainstream inroads, being gay just isn’t enough to make you interesting fringe material anymore. Whittall (Geeks, Misfits & Outlaws) argues that “it has less to do with being gay and more with class and the way writers approach sexuality in their work.”

Kramer agrees. “I think nowadays gay is mainstream, isn’t it? And the Gay Writer is an outdated notion. The issue now seems to be more along the lines of Prudes and Libertines.”

“There definitely seems to be a queer ceiling in publishing,” says Whittall. “There are a few rare exceptions, but you didn’t see Ann-Marie MacDonald coming out on Oprah.”

Whether prude or libertine in nature, queer writers are making their mark at the Writers Fest. The events hosted by Vancouver’s inimitable gay wit, Bill Richardson, are legion as ever. And the festival’s highest honour-The Bill Duthie Memorial Lecture-this year goes to Vancouver-raised gay poet and novelist, Wayson Choy (The Jade Peony, All That Matters). Nickerson notes that “the Writers Festival has been really supportive, bringing in major gay and lesbian talent from around the world.”

Even those who enjoy tremendous success still make their forays to the fringe, shouting out, beckoning, to their fan bases. Why does otherness seem so conducive to good literature?

Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer introduced her 2000 publication Selected Stories with the claim that writers all have double personalities. “Excessive preoccupation and identification with the lives of others,” says Gordimer, will coexist with “a monstrous detachment.” The mix of connection and a sense of otherness “makes a writer.”

Apparently, it helps to make a Writers Festival, too. “I think a gay aesthetic fits in quite nicely at the festival,” says Nickerson, while he chops up veggies for dinner and shoos away a cat. He agrees that Kramer’s demarcation of Prude/Libertine is more important than Gay/Straight. It makes good political sense: if you fuck in the woods, and no one knows, did you really fuck at all?

Of May Contain Nuts, Nickerson promises an evening of Libertines (though the line between Gay and Straight might go fuzzy in the process) and he exclaims, finally, “it’s a big love-in.” A love-in, on the edge.


May Contain Nuts.

Oct 21, 8 pm.

Performance Works on Granville Island.