This year’s International Festival of Authors will include writers who are high up the celebrity food chain: Jonathan Franzen’s conflict with Oprah was patched up this year, suddenly making him America’s most famous wordsmith.
North of the border, our own Yann Martel has recently received fan mail from Barak Obama. But the U.S. president’s appreciation for Martel won’t change the way this Canadian author writes, or thinks.
“It’s very gratifying, but (Obama’s letter) doesn’t make any difference to what I do,” says Martel, on the phone from Saskatoon. “That’s just outside noise. It’s clutter that we leave behind when a writer goes to work. A writer going to work enters a quiet room and shuts the door.”
Martel also denies that his presence at the IFOA will raise the event’s profile.
“This festival is famous already,” says Martel, “plus many people go to hear the lesser known writers. That’s often the most rewarding part of the IFOA. It’s also great to hear poets read live. Poetry can be more aurally gratifying because some prose writers don’t compose in chunks that sit as well on their own.”
Martel will undoubtedly be one of the hottest tickets at the festival this year.
Martel’s fans will no doubt attend the IFOA to hear him read from his latest book, Beatrice and Virgil, for which he was paid the largest cash advance in our nation’s literary history.
The book has generated controversy — it’s about the Holocaust as seen from the perspective of two stuffed animals — but the debate has only fuelled his fame.
Martel insists that the most gratifying part of being a writer is touching people with his words.
“Whether its seven readers or seven million,” he says.
”Writing is about creating a personal philosophy, which requires thought and privacy. Fame can take those things away, if you let it.
“Winning the Booker Prize was good for my confidence, but it also made life more complicated,” says Martel, who lives in the prairies partly to avoid celebrity culture.