The Book

Imagining Toronto book cover

Imagining Toronto (Mansfield Press, fall 2010) is available at most bookstores and online through Mansfield Press, Amazon or Chapters.

Imagining Toronto was shortlisted for the 2010 Gabrielle Roy Prize in Canadian literary criticism and won the Award of Merit, the highest honour given to a book at the 2011 Heritage Toronto Awards.

Upcoming Events

25-26 February 2012: "Going Native: Reclaiming Aboriginal Identity in Toronto Literature," “Landscapes of Difference, Espaces de Difference, Raume der Differenz” conference (Session: The Politcs of Place: Urban Sites of Contestation), Canadian Studies Association in German-speaking countries (GKS). Grainau, Germany.

Thursday 15 March 2012: Guest lecture, "The Imagined City," ARC 120, Contemporary Architecture. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, University of Toronto; Isabel Bader Theatre, 9:45-11:00 am.

Wednesday 4 April 2012: "Representing Toronto: Mapping the Role of the Artist in the Contemporary City. Panel discussion. Presented by Koffler Gallery in partnership with Diaspora Dialogues. 80 Spadina Ave., Suite 503; 7:00 pm.

Sunday 22 April 2012: Reading from Acts of Salvage at the Draft Reading Series. Details TBA.

Thursday 3 May 2012: "Literary Bodies." Panel discussion as part of Bodies in the City, a symposium of the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto.

Thursday 17 May 2012: "Imagining Toronto the Wild" at the Toronto Botanical Garden. Inaugural lecture of the TBG's new HortiCULTURE salon series.

Recent Events

Tuesday 18 October 2011, 7:00-8:30 pm: Will the Real Cabbagetown Please Stand Up?: Regent Park, St. Jamestown and Cabbagetown in the Literary Imagination. Parliament Branch (269 Gerrard St. E.)

Saturday 1 October 2011, 2:00-3:30 pm: The Masseys and the Masses: Social and Spatial Ascendency in Rosedale and Forest Hill. Forest Hill Branch (700 Eglinton Ave. W.)

Tuesday 27 September 2011, 7:00-8:30 pm: From Streetcar Suburb to Multicultural Community: Riverdale in the Literary Imagination. Riverdale Branch, Toronto Public Library (370 Broadview Ave.)

Click here for past events.

The Tip of the Tel

I read somewhere recently that pop-artist Andy Warhol’s filing system consisted of a series of cardboard boxes into which he would periodically pitch the complete contents of his desk. After his death, these Time Capsules (as he called them) became important archives of Warhol’s life and work. An ongoing project to inventory the 600+ boxes (each containing hundreds of documents — letters, magazines, ideas-in-progress — as well as characteristically idiosyncratic objects, reportedly including a pair of Clark Gable’s shoes) is ongoing at the Andy Warhol Museum, a task conducted with all the rigour and cost of any other archaeological dig.

Warhol’s Time Capsules have been on my mind lately because I have spent many stolen moments in recent weeks sorting, purging and archiving nearly four years’ worth of accumulated paperwork, research notes and other documents that have grown into middens in my office, bedroom and attic workspace. Although I am by nature a highly organized person, events that have defined this period — the birth of my daughter, the decline and death of my father and the time it took to complete the Imagining Toronto book (a simply massive research project) — have overwhelmed even my preference for order and my own filing system has gradually been reduced to roughly chronological piles of papers consigned to boxes, and a tel on my desk so deep that new projects took place on a hazardous mound of paper that threatened avalanche every time I added anything to it.

Clutter of this sort is, of course, not only claustrophobia-inducing but stifling to new projects, and since I am currently working on a novel (among whose protagonists is, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, a hoarder) and several new scholarly projects, I resolved to restore order to the pile.

And oh, what things have appeared, jutting out of the strata like limnological deposits laden with memory.

A hand-written note from my father. A parking ticket issued by the City of Kingston during one of our regular trips to visit him in hospital. His obituary, and one of his poems.

The bracelet I wore in hospital while giving birth to my daughter. A medical file describing all the effort it took to conceive her, then two ultrasound pictures, a garbled record of her days in the NICU and a sheet of paper detailing her growth from the lowest possible percentile toward the highest.

A pile, nearly two feet thick, of print-outs tracing the progress of the Imagining Toronto book from its inception to the final proofs. Correspondence with writers and literary scholars. Conference papers, talk texts and newspaper clippings. Notes for further work, and drafts of sections that never made it into the final version of the book.

Scraps of poetry, telephone numbers, paper clips, a dozen missing pens. An autographed, 1993 Word Series baseball. CDs. Dennis Lee’s Civil Elegies. A nearly complete ream of legal-sized printer paper. A pile of micropress chapbooks. A pen whose top is a blinking eyeball. A plastic unicorn bequeathed by my daughter. Little stones I have carried around for many years.

I remember the period that preceded this accumulation of debris. I remember who I was, then. I remember spending whole mornings researching forgotten writers and obscure books, laying out chapters, dabbling with words, before biking all over the city visiting second-hand bookstores on a perennial search for forgotten Toronto novels. My files were always neat then. I remember the November day in 2006 when I moved my desk so it would face toward the window and I could look out into the cedars and peer at the houses beyond them. A cat — another cat whose ashes have since enriched the front garden — would lie in the window and watch the little birds, and together we would talk about the weather and the shifting angle of the light.

My desk is clear, now, except for three files, a cat, those precious stones and my daughter’s plastic unicorn.

It is November, again, and my desk faces the window. My files are orderly. The neighbours’ houses have reappeared, and every morning I watch their lights come on. I rise nearly every night to write, at two, or four, or five o’clock, and work until dawn. I relish these hours, the house utterly silent behind me.

And every idea that lay patiently in those piles of papers until its recent excavation, every thought that has survived birth and death and the long marathon of the last book, everything else that has waited and longed to find expression and room to breathe: they are all gathered together now at the very tip of the tel, and I can feel them poise to leap.

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