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April 12, 2001 Multilingual Blue Metropolis is a world-class literary festival





Linda Leith

Linda Leith, English instructor and Blue Metropolis organizer.

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Alyson Grant

When part-time Concordia English instructor Linda Leith isn’t teaching her students the finer points of science fiction, she is busy organizing the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival, arguably one of the most important literary festivals in the world.

Just over three years ago, Leith ran with William Gass’s idea that blue is a word of many meanings—the blues, blue chip, blue collar—and put it in front of metropolis to create a non-profit organization that promotes the arts and literature with the festival as its showpiece.

Three years later, she is shaking her head over how far the festival has come. “Blue Met has always been a city you might dream about, and frankly, it’s amazing how it has become a reality, how what was basically an idea has become a festival that welcomes 150 writers from all over the world, and thousands of Montrealers can hear what they have to say,” Leith said.

Leith said she may sound starry-eyed, but for good reason. After only its second year, the festival was short-listed for the grand prize of the Conseil des arts de la Communauté urbaine des arts de Montréal. The competition for the $25,000 prize was fairly illustrious, including La La La Human Steps and the Festival of Films on Art.

“We’re a young festival, and that was amazing recognition,” Leith said, adding that Blue Met was presented with $5,000 at a gala lunch simply for being nominated.

Part of what has always made Blue Met unique is its multilingual nature, something Leith has stressed as important from the beginning.

Although this year’s festival, which opened last night, promises to have more languages and cultures represented than ever, there will be changes in how many languages you can hear at one event, minimizing some of the confusion people felt in past years.

“What we’ve done is include a greater number of languages, but in most events, some will be in French only, some will be in English only and others will be described as multilingual,” Leith said.

Concordia writer-in-residence Anne Dandurand is one of several Concordia people who are participating in the festival. This is Dandurand’s third year, but her first time reading in French.

“I like the festival, because literature takes center stage, and that doesn’t happen that often in the cultural life of Montreal,” Dandurand said. “Also, they don’t trap themselves in one kind of writing. They have many genres that they expose the public to, such as spoken word, drama, poetry and non-fiction.”

Québecois writer Jean-Claude Germain teamed up with CBC host Eleanor Wachtel to host the official opening ceremony last night, at which Norman Mailer received the Blue Metropolis Grand Prize of $10,000. The first annual short-list for the $80,000 International and Canadian Griffin Prize for Poetry was also announced.

There will be a wide variety of events running until April 16 at the Hôtel des Gouverneurs on St. Hubert St., many of which will be broadcast on CBC radio and Radio Canada.

To see the complete schedule of events, see the Web site at www.blue-met-bleu.com.