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WHEN WE ALL LIVED A LITTLE BIT LIKE IN PARIS Vancouver’s Historic Literary Storefront

Trevor Carolan

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ounded by Mona Fertig, a Vancouver poet, the Literary Storefront thrived in Vancouver from 1978 to 1985. A unique literary centre and cultural institution, it was situated in the historic Gastown area near the Pacific Coast city’s inner harbour waterfront. During its heyday, the Storefront had some 500 members—poets, playwrights, novelists, readers, editors, publishers, journalists, teachers and everything in between—and during its first two years alone drew more than 13,000 people to its diverse events, as well as for its lending library of 2,000 books—often signed—by mainly Canadian authors. People gravitated here for individual reasons—to meet, talk and learn about writing, publishing and the world of books and literature. Some came for comradeship and open-access solidarity; many came simply to see and hear or rub shoulders with an amazing range of established literary personalities. The Literary Storefront’s hundreds of public readings and workshops drew, among other notables, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Dorothy Livesay, Jane Rule, Al Purdy, Earle Birney, bill bissett, Audrey Thomas, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, P.K. Page, Stephen Spender, Edward Albee and Elizabeth Smart. It was a home-port reading base too for the West Coast’s own growing legion of writers: Roy Kiyooka, Susan Musgrave, Keith Maillard, Carolyn Zonailo, Maxine Gadd, Peter Trower and scores of others were familiar headliners. Yet the Literary

Storefront was never about simply readings, performances or any one thing. Canada had seen nothing quite like it previously, nor has it since. During the run of the Literary Storefront, Vancouver was still an old-school seaport town. The World Expo of l986 that would accelerate the demolition of heritage buildings and change the city’s architectural face irrevocably had yet to happen. Downtown, the Hastings Street tenderloin, if rugged, was not the combat zone the provincial and city authorities would allow to fester there. It still housed the city’s best newsagents and a variety of colourful pawnshops, Nearby, Chinatown was still thriving, and the back-alley Green Door and Red Door restaurants were old reliables. The Ho Ho at East Pender remained the city’s unofficial late hours eatery for musicians, and two short blocks away Vie’s Chicken and Steak House on Union Street still had legs until 1979, serving up what locals could relate to as soul food. It wasn’t perfect, but Vancouver was a town of possibility. Architect Arthur Erickson had earned international renown. Bill Reid was associated with the Pacific Northwest Coast’s native art renaissance. Jean Coulthard was a nationally important composer, and B.C. poet Phyllis Webb was an equally respected radio broadcaster. Painter Joe Plaskett, although long a resident of Paris, still called the old capital city of New Westminster, a drive up Kingsway, home, as did novelist Sheila Watson and longtime Perry Page 11 ◆ WordWorks ◆ Fall 2015

Profile for WordWorks Magazine

Wordworks Fall 2015  

WordWorks Fall 2015 issue was devoted to the ideas of retreats and readings, with many thoughtful and engaging articles, and a whole new des...

Wordworks Fall 2015  

WordWorks Fall 2015 issue was devoted to the ideas of retreats and readings, with many thoughtful and engaging articles, and a whole new des...

Profile for fbcw
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