A Good Home, Authors, Book Festivals, Books, Famous people, Great books, Poetry

The Introvert at the Party

Photos by Hamlin Grange

What’s an introvert like me doing at a party with famous authors?

Feeling a bit lost among strangers, is what. The room is packed with authors – the very well-known and not-so-well known –  from around the world.  A quick look at the program book for the prestigious International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront in Toronto and you’ll see names like Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden and Margaret Drabble.

Blog - IFOA Reception

I, meanwhile,  am new to this author thing: my book, A Good Home” was only recently released. Hamlin Grange and Leonie McKnight-Copeland, a childhood friend visiting from Connecticut, are with me. As usual, several people recognize Hamlin from his frequent appearances on CBC Television where he was a news anchor and journalist. But none of us knows anyone here.

We join the line for appetizers and drinks.  I use a cane and  can’t manage it plus a plate and a glass, so Leonie and I head to a table in a connecting room while Hamlin  goes back inside for the drinks.

Finally, we return to the party. I once possessed the fine skill of mixing and mingling with strangers and celebrities at cocktail parties.  I’ve been away from that world for such a long time since the accident, I’ve forgotten how;  I’ve become an introvert.  But my eye catches a young woman who looks as shy as me, and I go over to say a warm hello.  Then I realize that there are other people with her,  so I move on.

My companions and I are glad to bump into a relaxed-looking man who greets us warmly.  We spend several minutes chatting with him.

Blog - With Attila

He turns out to be Attila Berki, associate publisher of Quill and Quire magazine. He says that the young woman I  approached was Eleanor Catton, the Canadian-born author whose book, The Luminaries, just won the Man Booker Prize.

Feeling a bit foolish, I return and apologize to Eleanor for not having recognized her.

“And I really should have, because I was very proud to hear that a Canadian-born author won the prize. You live in – is it Australia, or…?”

The moment I say this, I know I’m wrong, and Eleanor corrects me gently. “New Zealand,” she says.

“I know that”, I groan.

But Eleanor smiles warmly at me. We part, with me feeling only slightly idiotic.

And then it occurs to me that there’s a whole roomful of other authors who don’t know anyone else here either.   I force myself to smile brightly and say hello to everyone I come across who looks a little lost. Each person smiles back warmly, almost with relief, it seems.

Blog - Small group

Ironically, the only famous author whom I recognize is wearing someone else’s name tag. Going along with this little deception, I pretend not to notice.

“You have to come say hello to Austin,” Hamlin says, returning to my side. “He’s across the room.” I go off to see Austin Clarke, a huge smile on my face.

Austin’s sitting in a dark corner. The winner of the Giller Prize and several other prestigious honours sits by himself on a black leather bench, looking regal yet removed. “Like a sort of eminence grise?”  I tease him.

“Or the lion of Judah,” he offers, laughing softly. I slip my arm through his and we laugh together companionably. I’ve known him for years.

Blog - Austin and Cynthia

Austin’s new book of poetry, Where the Sun Shines Best, is nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award, and he’s at work on his memoirs. As we sit together, looking at the crowd,  I, the brand-new author, am honoured to be chatting quietly with this famous Canadian man of letters. We laughingly compare the canes we use to walk around, and I have to agree that his brown wooden African cane is much nicer. (See above photo, extreme right of frame)

A man who works at Harbourfront approaches, bringing Austin a more comfortable chair. He almost-kneels, almost-reverently, to shake Austin’s hand. He’s a fan of Austin’s Giller-winning novel, The Polished Hoe, and he greets Austin as if meeting a head of state.

Leonie and Hamlin join us to chat with Austin. No-one else approaches us, and I realize that this roomful of mostly younger or foreign authors probably does not realize that this black man with the shoulder-length grey dreadlocks is Austin Clarke, one of Canada’s greatest.

Hamlin, Leonie and I take turns giving Austin a goodbye hug.  As we leave, we look around for Attila, to say thanks and goodbye. We don’t find him. But it’s been a good evening, and – introvert though I am –  I am grateful to Harbourfront  and the IFOA for  inviting us to take part.