In Conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen

2016 Pulitzer Prize winner, Viet Thanh Nguyen interviewed by Giller winner, Dr. Vincent Lam. “Nguyen, born in Vietnam but raised in the United States, brings a distinct perspective to the war and its aftermath. His book fills a void in the literature, giving voice to the previously voiceless while it compels the rest of us to look […]

The many faces of IFOA

How quiet the office seems now, a few weeks post-IFOA—such a contrast from the blur of famous faces and inspiring conversations. The Festival was a huge success thanks to the authors and their publishers, the hardworking staff and volunteers, our partners and sponsors and, of course, all of the book lovers who came down to the Harbourfront Centre to soak it all in.

We’re still sifting through the photos taken during the Festival, but in the meantime here are a few.


Thanks also to our fabulous bloggers and everyone who followed the Festival from afar! We’re on to planning IFOA 2013…

– Nicole

Five Questions with… Robert Rotenberg

Robert Rotenberg will read at IFOA on Tuesday, October 23.

IFOA: Who are you most excited to see at the Festival?

Rotenberg: Vincent Lam.

IFOA: The city of Toronto features prominently in your novels. If you had to describe the city in three words, which words would you choose?

Rotenberg: Disturbed, confused, bewildered. This comes from a Woodrow Wilson quote: “We live in an age disturbed, confused, bewildered, afraid of its own forces, in search not merely of its road but even of its direction.”

IFOA: Tell us about one book that changed your life.

Rotenberg: Old City Hall, my first novel—took twenty years to write. Or Race to the Moon—a picture book I read when I was about four…I think it was the first book I ever read.

IFOA: What’s one thing you wished you’d known 20 years ago?

Rotenberg: That it would take 20 years to get my first book published.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: If someone would just…

Rotenberg: Give me a plane ticket to Fiji.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Rotenberg: True (my 21-year-old son’s favourite word for everything).

For more about Rotenberg’s appearance at IFOA, click here.

Five Questions with… Vincent Lam

Vincent Lam will read at IFOA on Sunday, October 21 and with his fellow Governor General’s Literary Awards finalists on Monday, October 22. He’ll also participate in IFOA Markham.

© Barbara Stoneham

IFOA: Percival Chen, the gambling, womanizing protagonist of The Headmaster’s Wager, was inspired by your grandfather. Do you think this made his character easier or more difficult to write?

Lam: I think that having a protagonist inspired by my grandfather meant I had to understand my subject at various levels. I had to think very hard about why I was interested in my grandfather, and this gave me an emotional access point to the time, place, and story. Meanwhile, I had to free myself of attachment to actual personal history in order to let the character render himself in a way that was truthful to the narrative. So, I wouldn’t think of this issue in terms of making the writing easier or more difficult. Like all relationships between author and character, there were particularities, and in this case my link to my real grandfather was one of these particularities.

IFOA: If you could have lunch with one author, dead or alive, who would you choose?

Lam: J.D. Salinger.

IFOA: We’re always impressed by writers who hold down demanding day jobs, but yours wins the prize. We have to ask—how do you balance writing with working as a physician?

Lam: I’m not sure it’s so special. Most writers do something else, whether that is how they engage with the world, or out of financial necessity. It just happens that my work outside of writing—emergency medicine occupies more cultural prominence than other types of work, and so people notice it. In any case, I won’t disagree that it is very demanding to juggle two types of work. How is it done? It all comes down to scheduling, prioritization, focus, and the long view. Scheduling is key. It’s the only way to get things done. It is very important to prioritize the use of time, and avoid doing things that are unnecessary. If one does two kinds of work, it is absolutely necessary to focus on the immediate task while one is doing it. When I practice medicine, I am focused on it. When I write, that is where my head is. The long view is what keeps a project like a book alive, when day to day work and concerns in a field like emergency medicine have a natural tendency to feel more immediate.

A few logistical thoughts: Time with family is a priority. Groceries should be bought efficiently, and in bulk. Housing should be bought and changed as seldom as possible. Public events must be well publicized and organized, otherwise they are a waste of time for everyone involved. Personal fitness pays dividends. Cycling often saves time, and means keeping fit while getting from point A to point B. Television—forget it (some of it is good – but it is mostly a cultural sinkhole)! Lengthy commuting—no way, I live close to the hospital. Spending less money means having more time. Having less stuff means less tidying up.

IFOA: What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Lam: I am hesitant to prescribe such a thing…because a perfect day usually blooms like a flower. It occurs in the right conditions, but the exact timing and appearance is unpredictable. You have to let it happen. The perfect day starts with a good night’s sleep, probably involves family, books, excellent food though not too much of it, the outdoors, and ends the same way it started.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: If I’d only known that…

Lam: I should have been betting against credit default swaps.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Lam: Indescribable.

For more about Lam and his appearance at IFOA, click here.