For the first time, the writer in residence at the Vancouver Public Library hails from beyond B.C.
Visual artist, photographer and award-winning Montreal-based author Rawi Hage is the library’s ninth writer in residence.
“He has an extraordinary body of work behind him and he’s internationally acclaimed and the committee was really impressed with his writing, with his work,” said Sandra Singh, chief librarian. “He also brings his perspective as a visual artist, his experiences as an immigrant to Canada and a very intriguing proposal for public programming and public engagement.”
Hage only began writing in 2004 after he penned short stories to accompany his photographs that were on display in the Museum of Civilization and someone suggested he should write more. Since then, Hage, who had been earning a living as a commercial photographer, cab driver and restaurant worker, has written three acclaimed novels including 2006’s De Niro’s Game. The book was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award, won the international IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and has been translated into 29 languages.
De Niro’s Game focuses on two best friends who have grown up together in war-torn Beirut in the 1980s who are making decisions about their futures. 2008’s Cockroach portrays the life of an immigrant who’s struggling with mental illness and living in poverty in Montreal, and last year’s Carnival, a finalist for the Writer’s Trust Award and winner of the Hugh MacLennan Prize, follows a taxi driver who grew up in a circus and drives a cab in a city that holds an annual carnival.
“I always had this need to express things,” said Hage, who was born and raised in Lebanon, moved to New York City in 1984 and relocated to Montreal in 1991.
Hage will spend 25 per cent of his time during his four-month tenure mentoring emerging writers and appearing at library and community events and the rest of the time working on his new collection of short stories.
“I’m exhausted, basically. I mean, three novels in eight years,” he said. “I’m a big fan of Chekhov and I started as a short story writer and maybe it’s my middle age crisis where you go back to things.”
While Hage likes connecting with writers and the public at writers’ festivals and describes himself as gregarious among friends, he says he’s generally more of a solitary figure. “It’s a bit of an issue sometimes,” he said.
“Artists, we’re not social creatures in general but it’s a new trend now where artists are held reliable to everything they say and we have to take certain positions,” he added. “More and more we’re expected to behave like politicians or spokesmen, say the right thing or not say the right thing. An artist has to be careful and protect their inner freedom, that’s the most important thing.”
Hage had just completed a weeklong workshop with 16- to 18-year-olds at the library when he spoke to the Courier Friday morning. It was an age group the university faculty advisor had never taught before.
“I’m facing my fears here. I have to grow up,” the 49-year-old joked.
Hage’s inaugural public reading will happen Sept. 17, at 7 p.m. in the Central Library’s Alice MacKay room. Admission is free.
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