Sidney Lit Fest welcomes author of a story through the eyes of a parrot

Giller Prize-nominated author Gary Barwin to speak at this weekend’s Literary Festival in Sidney

Hugo Wong/News staff

From Sept. 22-24, 14 Canadian authors from across the country will descend on the Mary Winspear Centre for the Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival. This is the last of three author profiles.

On his website, Gary Barwin lists 17 books that he has written or edited — mostly poetry and short fiction.

In 2016, his first novel for adults, Yiddish for Pirates, was short-listed for the Giller Prize, and now he has new book of poetry, No TV for Woodpeckers.

His output is remarkable, perhaps due to a rather productive form of procrastination.

“One thing that I do when I’m working on a larger project is I have a cheat project. Some people clean their fridge and I wrote poetry.”

When he was a middle-school music teacher in Hamilton, Ont., author Gary Barwin would do a unit on pirate songs each year. When researching that era, it is impossible to ignore the historical events of that era: war, mercantilism, adventure, colonization. That led him on the road to Yiddish for Pirates, his first novel for adults.

Told through the eyes of a 500-year old Jewish parrot named Aaron, the book was about Moishe, a young Jewish boy who eventually joins Christopher Columbus on his voyage to the Caribbean.

Like any good swashbuckling tale, there are fights, narrow escapes, treasures, and impossible loves, but it is suffused with questions on Jewish identity, colonialism, and much more. It also bursts with puns and Yiddish jokes and phrases.

He approaches his poetry and prose the way he writes his music. “I guess I think about writing very much like music. I’m creating melodies; I’m following the sound of the language and the cultural resonances that the language has. They have a music and a rhythm and a history and a tonality.”

For more information about the Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival, visit www.sidneyliteraryfestival.ca.

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