Last night saw a different sort of literary event. This public event saw two highly intelligent authors in conversation – Nancy Lee interviewing Karen Connelly. Lee is the current Writer-in-Residence at the Historic Joy Kogawa House and the questions she posed made for a lively exchange.
Connelly’s a writer whose life got shaken up at 17 when, thanks to a Rotary Club exchange program, she lived and went to school in Thailand for a year. Two books that resulted from that experience were The Small Words in My Body which won for its then-21-year-old author the Pat Lowther Award for Poetry and Touch the Dragon which also earned prizes, notably the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction.
The focus last night was Connelly’s newest book, Burmese Lessons, but moved well beyond the words on the page. Lee guided the conversation so Connelly could also talk about The Lizard Cage, her novel about life in a Burmese prison. Both books were inspired by her experiences in Burma and by the many people she interviewed both in Burma and along the Thai-Burmese border.
Among comments she made, Connelly challenged writers (specifically Canadian ones, though I'm sure she'd include all artists) to "Be daring" and to follow the advice of June Callwood who said, "If you see injustice, act."
She reminded us that this Saturday, June 19th, will be the 65th birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese activist and Nobel Prize Laureate who remains under house arrest. Perhaps a good day to be daring, to act against injustice, even if that action might initially seem small.