Ivan Coyote: Talking across boundaries – WORD Christchurch

Ivan Coyote
Ivan Coyote (Image supplied)

When the WORD blog team put their hand up to cover different sessions at WORD Christchurch, I was fortunately alone in choosing both “The Storyteller” and “Black and Blue Storytelling” with Ivan E. Coyote. As the event continued and audiences enjoyed the stories, people kept coming back for more and more. By Sunday morning, “The Storyteller” session was sold out and WORD volunteers brought more chairs in.

Ivan hails from the Yukon, Canada and their stories are autobiographical, exploring family history and dynamics, gender identity, social justice and equality. At times self-deprecating, but with a good sprinkling of wit and humour so that the messages they are conveying are all the more powerful for being from personal experience. To deliver these messages in any other way, would perhaps come across as a lecture. Ivan has taken pains to point out that that is not their intention. In a Radio New Zealand interview Ivan explained that the medium they use is very traditional, whilst the subject matter is not. They write the story down and craft it before learning it, then once it is learnt, they are able to really tell it and tweak it and ad-lib for the audience. The result is a very natural, polished telling by a gifted raconteur.

Autobiographical storytelling requires a fine balance between truth and privacy. Ivan applies a strict set of criteria to their writing / telling. They ensure that the story is honouring and they thoroughly examine their own motivation in writing the story – for example are they trying to ensure that they have the last word? The essence of this is ensuring that they show compassion and that they “use their powers for good”. Ever since the sessions during WORD, I keep thinking what a great attitude and approach it is to aim to make everyone, even the most challenging person in the room comfortable and included. At the end of the day, why can’t we all just get along?

Ivan uses story to recount interactions with people with absolute attention to detail. “I’m not so much OCD but ATD – that’s attention to detail”. Through “Scars” we learnt a little about the mysterious world of a hand model, the map of childhood accidents and ultimately the effect of top surgery. This was moving for both the teller and the listeners. The humane telling elicits empathy, groans and sighs from the audience. On Sunday morning there was barely a dry eye in the room.

The session ended on a lighter note with Ivan telling a series of “literary doritos” short, bite-sized stories inspired by overheard snippets of conversation and a standing ovation.

Cover of Tomboy survival guideI asked Ivan if they intended readers to read their collections in order, as it seemed that Missed Her was intended that way. Ivan said that it didn’t matter although the Tomboy Survival Guide would probably be better if it was read in order. You read it here first…

Find stories by Ivan Coyote in the library catalogue

More WORD Christchurch

Good things from Canada

Dear LifeMy excitement at Alice Munro winning the Nobel Prize was intense, but before I got around to blogging about it, Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker. Now that there are hundreds of holds on The Luminaries it’s probably time to look for something to read while we’re waiting.

If your next read must be from a prize-winning author you can’t go wrong with Alice Munro. You won’t have to wait because four holds is the highest number on any of her books at the moment and most don’t have any – you can pluck them off the shelves.

Munro has been called the ‘Canadian Chekov’ but I find that vaguely patronising – why isn’t Chekov ‘the Russian Munro’? She is, in the words of the Nobel committee, ” the master of the contemporary short story”; she is only the thirteenth woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature; she is actually readable, unlike many other Nobel literature laureates; she is modest and she shares a nationality with lots of other great writers and musicians.

The Margarets (Atwood and Laurence). Carol Shields.  The McGarrigles. Leonard Cohen (musician and writer – after all he did write Beautiful Losers, “the most revolting book ever written in Canada”). Neil Young. K.D. Lang.

And Joni Mitchell, my personal heroine, 70 on the 7th of November 2013.

Who is your favourite Canadian? Writer, musician or ice hockey player? Or politician? Pierre Trudeau passed for a hottie among the Commonwealth Prime Ministers of my youth; mind you he didn’t have much competition.

Sylvie Simmons – Mr Cohen Revealed

I'm your man at Christchurch City LibrariesSylvie Simmons, rock music writer and biographer, was in conversation with Noelle McCarthy about her latest work, I’m your man- The life of Leonard Cohen.

Simmons was born in London and went to a privileged girls’ school in which she was trained to come out to the Colonies and teach us how to embroider and place the correct cutlery on the dinner table. The thought of this repulsed her so she wrote a long list of all the jobs she could think of and narrowed the list down to three:

  • a spy (she rejected this idea because it would be ‘working for the man’),
  • a BBC Anchorman (until she realised she didn’t have a penis)
  • and a rock journalist.

She chose the latter and has gone on to become a world-renowned music biographer. As Noelle McCarthy said:

Sylvie Simmons’ books blow your mind. She doesn’t just write about people. She effects an introduction.

Leonard Cohen is currently receiving a ‘tsunami of love and attention’. It seems everyone everywhere is talking about him. In fact, throughout the Writer’s Festival we have heard Leonard’s dulcet tones over every loudspeaker in the venue so much so I’m beginning to feel if I hear ‘there’s a crack, a crack in everything’ one more time, I may just crack myself. He is touring, he has found happiness and ‘he wears a grin like an eight year old boy’.

Sylvie SimmonsLife wasn’t always so easy for the poet/singer/songwriter. In his younger years, Cohen suffered bouts of severe depression, shyness and perfectionism. He found performance very, very difficult. He says his depression wasn’t a matter of having the blues, it was ‘what can I do to get me through this day’.

Simmons spoke about Cohen’s love of women ‘horizontally and vertically’, his faith, his deep spirituality which drove him to spend five years in a monastery, his fascination with hypnotism and his love of his grandchild. Even within this short session, she breathed life into the legend of the artist. When she spoke I could see him standing in his kitchen, chewing up bread to feed to a baby bird that had fallen out of a nest in his garden.

Makes me want to go out and buy a blue raincoat.