Awe & Inspiration: Coming Full Circle at #FestofAuthors18

Danielle Bourgon

Danielle Bourgon (L) and her mother (R) at Danielle’s 2012 UBC commencement ceremony

In her first stint as a Delegate for the Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA), Danielle Bourgon, frequent contributor to BookRiot, found a second chance to listen to and soak in the teachings of  legendary singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, who was also the key speaker at Danielle’s commencement ceremony years prior.


By Danielle Bourgon

This is me the day of my university graduation. I have a lot of really clear memories from that day: the feel of the discount H&M dress I wore, the sound of my family cheering uproariously when my name was called and the smell of the garlic french fries I ate with my friends after the ceremony. What I can’t ever seem to recall are the exact words of our commencement speaker, Buffy Sainte-Marie. All I remember is her big smile, warm spirit, and beautiful singing voice. I remember being inspired.

I’m sad to say that when it was announced who our speaker was going to be, I had no idea who Buffy was. My sister did, though, and she and the rest of my family were ecstatic when I told them. With my days full enough trying to find employment to stay in the expensive city I’d fallen in love with, I didn’t really give the Buffy reveal a second thought. I didn’t look her up. I didn’t listen to any of her albums. Life just kept moving.

Fast forward to 2018. I’m still busy trying to scrape out a living, but I’ve rekindled my love of research and learning. Part of my extra-curricular/non-academic learning is through listening to podcasts, including Secret Feminist Agenda—one of my favourites. As I walk down the sidewalk, I listen to host and scholar Hannah McGregor talk about how she’s reading the new Buffy Sainte-Marie biography, and how there are so many incredible things she’s learning about this incredible woman. After a quick Google search and a few hours on YouTube, I have that familiar rabbit-hole feeling. I’m full of newfound knowledge and excitement, but also shock and guilt. How could I have known so little for so long?

When I was asked to be a Delegate for this year’s TIFA, my have-to-be-there-come hell-or-high-water event was the Double Interview with Buffy Sainte-Marie and Andrea Warner (the latter of whom I could also easily dedicate an “I wish I had known more about this incredible woman earlier” post to). This time, I was determined to get it right. I would prepare by reading the whole book, and I would do my research on both interviewees. I would pay better attention. In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda: “I’m not throwing away my shot.”

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Buffy Sainte-Marie, (c) Matt Barnes

Well…best laid plans. Once again, life got busy and I didn’t get past my initial rabbit hole. I had to rush to the event after a full day of working elsewhere. I was overly full from the dinner I scarfed down at a local pub minutes before. Mostly though, I was wracked with guilt over once again throwing away an opportunity to learn by not properly preparing for it.

Then something magical happened. The lights in the audience dimmed. I took a deep breath. The interview started and I was transported back in time to my commencement ceremony, when bright-faced, 22-year-old me got to learn from Buffy Sainte-Marie, who was originally an educator by trade.

I still don’t remember the exact words from her speech, nor do I remember all of the incredible words she shared on the TIFA stage. Instead what I’ve been left with is her joy, hope and excitement; the special kind of magic that comes from sharing space with someone who is brimming with passion, excitement and kindness. Her giving spirit filled my cup in 2018 the same way it did in 2012, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

That being said, there were some clear lessons that stuck with me from this interview that I want to share:

  • Beating yourself up about not researching, preparing or knowing enough doesn’t make you a better learner. Sometimes it’s more important that you breathe and are present.
  • If you’re looking at the menu and don’t see what you want, just cook it yourself. (Paraphrased from Buffy Sainte-Marie’s final homework.)
  • Remembering a feeling is just as important as remembering a quote.

Stay tuned for more Delegate-penned pieces on #FestofAuthors18!