Writer’s Words: Dorothy Ellen Palmer

Dorothy Ellen Palmer read from her novel When Fenelon Falls in the Great Books Marquee along with fellow writers Jeff Latosik and Vivek Shraya.

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After attending The Word On The Street for many years as a fan and longing spectator, it was an extraordinary thrill this September, as a first time author and reader, to finally get up out of the audience and stand on the other side of the podium! I had just received my first novel, When Fenelon Falls, quite literally, from Coach House printers on that Friday afternoon, so to be able to hold it in my hands on Sunday and read from it for the first time at The Word On The Street was a happy convergence of firsts I will always remember.

I had arrived much earlier in the morning and spent the day enjoying readings both evocative and provocative. And I’ll admit that it felt different, that I found myself savouring the day with an extra layer of anticipation, proudly wearing a lanyard that said “The Word On The Street Author,” something I hoped other people believed as I still didn’t quite believe it myself! After working for a school board for 23 years that hosted us to exactly one pop and one piece of pizza each Christmas, it was likewise lovely to get the VIP treatment and sit for lunch and a cool drink in Hart House, glancing surreptitiously around the tables at the authors around me, trying hard not to stare or look star struck.

Thanks to the energy of the day, only some of which was the warm summer weather, the crowds were still milling about for my late afternoon reading at the Great Books Marquee. As a disabled author, the set up of any reading has its own terrors. I am always less worried about the reading itself than about being able to get there and stand there in a dignified fashion. The volunteers were positive and friendly and helped me out greatly by improvising both stairs and podium when all 4ft 11 of me had trouble getting up on the stage and reaching the microphone. When I read my first sentence, looked out and saw both family and total strangers smiling back at me, it felt like coming home and arriving somewhere new at the same time.

At the book signing table, I had the absolute pleasure to be seated beside one of the other readers on my panel, also a first time author, a young man named Vivek Shraya, who had read and sang from his book of short stories with the inspired title of God Loves Hair. I had thoroughly enjoyed his reading which dealt with some serious cultural and coming-out issues with both insight and a joyous life-affirming humour. We were so busy discussing his book and the importance of the “It Gets Better” campaign that reaches out to gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender high school students, that we hardly noticed that Yann Martel’s book signing line was some thirty times longer than ours. One of the volunteers winked at us and kindly said, “Don’t worry, that’ll be both of you next year.”

As winter approaches and I turn to the chilling prospect of the blank screen that has yet to produce my second novel, I look back on that day as a source of warm inspiration. I truly appreciated being asked to be a part of such a great enterprise, to have added a few words to its truly encyclopedic contribution to Canadian writing. Next year, indeed. I hope so.

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About her book: A spaceship hurtles towards the moon, hippies gather at Woodstock and Charles Manson leads a cult into murder: it’s the summer of 1969. And as mankind takes its giant leap, Jordan May March, disabled bastard and genius, limps and schemes her way towards adulthood.

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