By Iain Reid
A full 20 minutes before Junot Díaz and Michael Chabon take the stage at the Fleck Dance Theatre, a chatty crowd has formed outside. It’s a sell out.
The evening’s moderator, Siri Agrell, welcomes the audience, joking about the possibility, depending on seating arrangement, of being the insides of a “Pulitzer sandwich.”
Chabon reads first. He explains how pleased he is to be included in an event with one of his favourite writers, saying, “I thought he was awesome before you guys did.”
Díaz stands slightly to the right of the podium, shielding his eyes from the overhead lights to get a better look at the crowd. He calls reading with Chabon, “a profound honour.”
Their mutual respect and admiration seems genuine. They appear comfortable together. Along with both authors and Agrell’s inclusion of humour (handfuls of hilarious one-liners that at times border on stand-up) the discussion touches on a variety of more contemplative topics. Chabon and Díaz express their strategic concerns when starting a new work and how it’s essentially a kind of “world building” while creating the proper language.
Also discussed is the practice of writing from the perspective of a different gender or race; its challenges and its potential worth. “Artists aren’t boosters,” says Díaz.
Chabon explains how our desire for strict originality is a relatively new cultural emphasis. Both authors agree a writer is foremost a reader and that it would be impossible to write anything good without attribution. All writers have debts.
Appropriately, during the Q&A someone asks Díaz about the feeling when reading a perfectly constructed sentence. Díaz acknowledges this feeling and references The English Patient, and a single sentence that has stayed with him since his first reading of the novel. Another audience member calls out that Michael Ondaatje is in the crowd. It’s another moment of a writer expressing sincere gratitude to another. “Well, it’s an honour he’s here,” says Díaz. A fitting end to an excellent evening of readings, insights and discussion.