Every September since 1997, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival presents THIN AIR, a celebration of books and ideas. Their curated line-up is a perfect fit for curious readers who are ready to discover strong voices and great storytelling in practically every genre. This year, they're presenting a hybrid festival featuring 60 writers, live events, and a dynamic website.
To watch video content Molly Cross-Blanchard has prepared for them, visit the festival website.
I find it difficult to read other writers when developing my own voice, as I did slowly throughout the process of building my first collection, Exhibitionist. But there were a small bundle of books that I held hands with during that time, and which were instrumental in finding the rhythm of wry, conversational, and confessional language in my own work. Books that spoke to me like old friends, as I also hoped to speak to my readers. I hope you’ll make friends with them, too.
This Wound is a World, by Billy-Ray Belcourt
Maybe an obvious one, but it’s only obvious because it’s excellent. When I saw Belcourt’s debut winning awards, garnering praise and rave reviews, I thought, Hmm, maybe my rim job poems will make it in CanLit, too. More seriously, when I finished reading this book, I immediately turned back to page one and read it again. I sobbed and laughed and then wrote three poems of my own that I hoped would represent love as a serious and vital thing, like Belcourt’s poems did.
Undoing Hours, by Selina Boan
Selina Boan and I worked on our books side-by-side during the pandemic. We swapped manuscripts and brought new perspectives to each other's work. Reading her stunningly and carefully crafted lines was important in reminding myself to allow my poems to be beautiful, too. So often I found myself going for the gross-out image, or the cheap laugh, and then I’d read a Boan line like “we dandelion ideas of home blow on the edges,” and think, Do the hard thing, Molly. Make it beautiful.
For Your Safety Please Hold On, by Kayla Czaga
When I was a 19-year-old baby poet, I read Kayla Czaga’s award-winning debut. Czaga was the first CanLit poet I read who I felt like I truly understood. She wasn’t trying to trick me, and I admired that so much about her poetry. I wanted to be a poet who didn’t try to trick their reader, too. I wanted to be understood. To write something as clear and hard-hitting as: “Illness is just a word. Mother is just a word / without someone in it. Can I sing without words?”
Jonny Appleseed, by Joshua Whitehead
This one’s not poetry, but it sure did help me find the attitude in my writing. Jonny’s voice drips with irony and nonchalance, but conceals a deep longing for connection. I felt a great kinship with him, and knew he was going to stick with me. This is a book I know I’ll read again while trying to write my first novel. The beautifully winding, non-traditional plot makes me optimistic about being a poet-turned-first-time-novelist.
Personals, by Ian Williams
Ian Williams was my thesis supervisor, so I thought that it would help me understand his professorly feedback if I understood him too as a poet. Personals, for lack of a better or more accurate sentiment, blew my mind. These poems play: with the reader and with each other, in form and persona. I learned from Williams not to put restrictions on my work before they’ve even taken their first steps, and to let them wander into unexpected territory.
One minute she’s drying her underwear on the corner of your mirror, the next she’s asking the sky to swallow her up: the narrator of Exhibitionist oscillates between a complete rejection of shame and the consuming heaviness of it. Painfully funny, brutally honest, and alarmingly perceptive, Molly Cross-Blanchard’s poems use humour and pop culture as vehicles for empathy and sorry-not-sorry confessionalism. What this speaker wants more than anything is to be seen, to tell you the worst things about herself in hopes that you’ll still like her by the end.
"If this book had a fragrance, it'd be a Britney perfume, any one of them really, but with hints of prairie in the dry late-summer, notes of the sweet ocean smell that passes through Vancouver when the wind gets high, and a fabulous pair of overalls.” —Katherena Vermette
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