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December 12, 2008

What a lucky one am I

Last month I was invited as a blogger and a writer to participate in the 33rd Art Matters forum, an initiative of Their Excellencies the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, and Mr. Jean-Daniel Lafond. The theme of the forum was “A Passion for Reading/Le désir de lire”, and I had to accept the invitation, naturally, as it was irresistible however terrifying. How fortunate that terror can be swallowed too, because these last two days I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

First, the forum. Even before I met my co-panelists, I suspected their conversation would make for something very special. I’ve attended plenty of forums and literary events in my time, but never heard people speak from these particular backgrounds, and all speaking together no less. The other panelists were Margaret Eaton, President of the non-profit adult literacy foundation ABC Canada; Geneviève Côté, Governor General’s Award-winning children’s book illustrator, author, and arts educator; and Miriam Cusson, whose work as general and artistic director of Le Salon du Livre du Grand Sudbury has helped to cultivate a thriving Francophone literary culture in that city.

The forum was so much fun. Each panelist was so vibrant, well-versed in her particular point of view, and each of our presentations so complementary. (I will post a copy of my presentation in the next few days). The atmosphere was exceptional, each of us with something to share, nothing to prove, and ever-supportive of one another. All marvelously presided over by our moderator, CBC Arts Reporter Jeanette Kelly. I learned so much from the others, and from the presentations by the Governor General and M. Lafond. The audience clearly felt the ambiance to be as warm as I did, no one shying away from sharing their own perspectives on passionate reading, and everyone had something important to contribute. I was honoured and proud to be a part of this extraordinary event.

Another overwhelming aspect of my experience was the opportunity to spend the next two nights as a guest at Rideau Hall. I was so fortunate to be joined by my five panel co-participants, who were exceptionally good company and made the experience a lot of fun. Our rooms were magnificent, decorated with brilliant Canadian art, furnished beautifully, outfitted for everything a guest could possibly require, and oh, the comfort. I’ve never in my life been to anyplace so nice, and I’m not sure when I’ll have such an experience again. We were treated so well, a particular highlight being our breakfast on the veranda– a glassed in porch with the sun shining in and the snow-covered grounds of Rideau Hall on show. I could have lingered there forever, the conversation with these women so exciting and inspiring. Rideau Hall is impeccably run by a staff whose object seems to be their guests’ comfort, even if that guest is ordinary me.

And then there was the presentation of the Governor General’s Literary Awards last evening, which the five of us were so fortunate to attend. The atmosphere at Rideau Hall was electric as the guests arrived, well-dressed men and women who appeared in their element, and then the writers, artists and publishers dressed in the nicest clothes they’d ever put on in their lives. All ecstatic to be in attendance. The Governor General made a tremendous impression, the artists’ acceptance speeches were so moving and inspiring, and when all rose to sing our national anthem at the end of the event, I’ll confess to crying a little bit. The evening had been so moving, and I was once again proud and honored to be a part of it. It made me think of any cries of elitism, which should be shot down by the simple fact they let me in. And that once a year, at the very very least, we do celebrate our country’s literature in such style. That these artists have it affirmed that what they do matters, and I can only imagine how satisfying that must be after the struggle and sacrifice required to succeed in the arts at all.

I am not sure I even suspected how truly marvelous days could be (and we all know that I do collect good days like postcards). My respect for Michaëlle Jean knows no bounds, I think, and I am awed by her intelligence, her demeanour and elegance– class personified. I have met some lovely people I hope to know for a while, and made fabulous memories. And now to be home again, where the staff aren’t so agreeable but it’s where I belong. What a lucky one am I.

4 thoughts on “What a lucky one am I”

  1. rona says:

    What a happy landmark in your life! Looking forward to seeing your presentation here.

  2. writer_guy says:

    I’m a mere fly on the wall for your blog, but this post really moved me. A big thank you for sharing your experience.

  3. Kerry says:

    I am glad you appreciated it! Truly one of the highlights of my young(ish) life.

  4. Tricia Dower says:

    Wow, Kerry, I didn’t know this had happened to you. How wonderful! You should be proud indeed.

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