Angie Abdou Reflects on the Festival of Words
Angie Abdou was in Moose Jaw as a presenter for 2018's Saskatchewan Festival of Words. She was here in support of her latest novel, 2017s In Case I Go. But this wasn't her first time being involved with the festival; she has been a few times before. Her 2007 book, The Bone Cage was a smash hit; and in 2016 she was here representing Between. She actually knows her way around the city quite well; she was born in it. We got her to talk candidly about controversy surrounding her new novel, growing up in Moose Jaw and her time at this year's event. She also spoke about her hockey connection with Karl Subban, Trivia Night supremacy, the future of news media and the project she's working on next.
What is your latest novel, In Case I Go about? And how has the response to it been so far?
Angie: In Case I Go is about a boy haunted by the mistakes of his great-great-grandfather. He has to acknowledge the truth of his ancestors and find a way to make amends and move forward. Whenever I get talking too much about the political issues in the book, a reader will remind me that it's also a love story. It is that too! The reception has been very...volatile! It generated a loud controversy over whether I have the right to include indigenous characters in my work and whether or not I went through an appropriate consultation process. Most of the people angry about the book, though, seem not to have read the book. I have many kind and enthusiastic emails from readers (indigenous and non-indigenous) who love the book. I believe it's my best - it was certainly the very best I could do at the time.
For a detailed account of the controversy surrounding In Case I Go read "Canada Has Gone Mad": Indigenous Representation and the Hounding of Angie Abdou by Jonathan Kay in Quillette.
What experiences do you most vividly remember from previous years festivals and which memories will you likely remember the most from this year's?
I loved sharing a session with Karl Subban! We ended up getting along very well and realizing that our hockey books worked well in conversation with each other. Mostly, I was surprised by how down-to-earth he was and how kind and supportive of me. We hung out a fair bit over the weekend and he says he's going to come to my Toronto launch for Home Ice: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom. If I told my husband I went for dinner with a Booker Prize winner, I'd get no reaction at all, but when I tell him I went for dinner with P.K.'s dad? Now I've got his attention! That's what I love about this festival - it always surprises me ... who I meet, who I connect with. I've made many life-long friends here, people whose careers I've followed for decades.
As far as past memories go - there have always been memorable parties at the hot springs - with a shocking number of ways that adult writers can break all of the rules!
You won the Trivia Night game at Bobby's Place: how did you do it? How does that feel winning that; I've played countless times and never done better than third.
Oh my goodness! I love that game! It's so much fun: the over-the-top competition (which is sort of in jest but then not really). I especially love it when my team wins. I excel at the obnoxious gloating that goes on for the rest of the year, until the next festival.
I pay very close attention to CanLit news through the year so that helps and I have a Ph.D. in Canadian Literature (Angie is also the associate professor at Athabasca University) so that helps - but this year I was on a very good team, with the Toews sisters. The small-town English school teacher knew all the answers!
You were involved in a panel discussion about the future of news media in the digital age: did anyone mention MJ Independent? Where do you think the future of news media is?
That was a fun panel to moderate because of contrary opinions. One person thought the answer to the news crisis would come with government funding, and another person thought the government should cut all funding to media (even the CBC!). One person thought the future would mean journalist going freelance and figuring out how to brand themselves and thereby increase their value; another person objected to that idea and pointed to the difference between branding on one hand and credentials, portfolio, and truth on the other. One person said it might come to a time when starting journalists pay to have their work printed in order to build a reputation; another person argued that would be advertising, not journalism. All the conflict made it lively. We did talk about new media and media surviving the crisis, including local examples (like Moose Jaw Express), national examples (West End Phoenix), and international (Quillette).
Who are the most memorable people you've met at this festival over the years you've come to it.
I might answer this question differently every time but this year I'm going to answer: the audience. There are so many regulars who support the festival every single year. Since I also tend to return to the festival most years, it's become a kind of reunion. I love seeing Martha Tracy and the Tysdals and Gerald Julian and his wife Glenda and their friend Jean from Manitoba and Diana Humenick and the old mayor Glenn and so many others. It's a big love-in.
You've actually got quite a history in Moose Jaw. Until when did you live here? Have you still got friends and family you visit when you come and do you have any traditions when you do come: like places you go, things you do or restaurants you eat at?
I was born in Moose Jaw in 1969 and lived there until I graduated from Central Collegiate in 1987. Even after that, I came back for summers and lifeguarded at the Nat until 1990. It's home. To be honest, I can't go to close to the Natatorium when I'm there: I spent four hours a day there for most of my childhood. The nostalgia is too strong. It hurts my heart! But I do always drive by my old house on the 800 block of Athabasca and check out my old schools. This time I went with Adam Pottle and Gary Barwin to the Dairy Queen on Caribou. That was very nostalgic!
Some years the festival is too busy to connect too much with old friends, but this year I made time. After my controversial year, I value old friends more than ever - the kind of people who love me and give me the benefit of the doubt and even if I did make a mistake they would love me anyway: "Well that was really stupid, Angie! Now, let's go for dinner." Those are the kinds of friends I have in Moose Javians Robin Pearson, Robyn Gyrlevich, and Mike Livingston - and I shared a meal with them all as well as with my freshman roommate from University of Regina Rolande Burant.
You've got something new coming out shortly: Tell me about Home Ice: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom
This is my first book of nonfiction! It's a candid look into a year in the life of a busy sport family. I like reading those books that feel kind of voyeuristic - I'm really getting deep into another person's life in a way we don't in real conversation - but at the same time the author has done the research and I the reader get it without the effort. In this case, the research is on youth sport, particularly hockey culture but in a way that applies to all sports: how are we doing it versus how should we be doing it. It's been getting great reviews so I'm starting to feel excited.
Keep your eyes peeled for Home Ice.... It looks like this