Barry Callaghan a powerful presence at Canadian writers series


On Thursday, Jan. 29, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course and reading series presented award-winning author Barry Callaghan, recently-retired York professor of English with the Atkinson School of Arts & Letters. Series organizer John Unrau, Atkinson professor of English, sent the following report to YFile.

Left: Barry Callaghan

Barry Callaghan was the eighth reader showcased in the 2003-2004 Canadian Writers in Person series. He was accompanied throughout his reading by well-known Toronto musician Doug Richardson, with his artfully appropriate and often dramatic improvisations on the saxaphone and flute. In addition, Callaghan ran two striking videos during the evening.

In exploring the theme of violence, Callaghan read poems from Hogg Poems (1978); an extract from his novel When Things Get Worst (1993); and an entire story, “Everyone Wants to Go to Heaven” from his collection, A Kiss is Still a Kiss (1995).

One of the videos was an extract from the award-winning film adaptation of Callaghan’s poem, “Medusa Among the Moochers”, made by Aaron Woodley. The more powerful of the videos was an eight-minute segment of a CBC broadcast made by Callaghan from (literally) the midst of some of the heaviest fighting that took place in Amman, Jordan, during the 1970 Black September uprising against King Hussein, led by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The powerful presentation by Callaghan and Richardson provided a convincing, often appalling, survey of military violence, brutal animal violence (in the detailed description of an illegal dogfight in rural Ontario), emotional and physical violence combined in a domestic setting that ends in murder, and fantasies of violence.

A book-signing session, during which a number of Callaghan’s former Atkinson students and other guests joined the class in animated conversation with the author, followed the reading.

More about the author

Barry Callaghan has received several honours, including the following: Inaugural W.O. Mitchell Literary Prize, 1998; Philips Computer Systems Literary Award (shared with Margaret Atwood), 1986; CBC Literary Competition, fiction, 1985; Canadian Periodical Publishers Award for Fiction, 1985; President’s Medal for Excellence in Journalism, University of Western Ontario, 1979; and National Magazine Awards, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1985.

In addition to those mentioned above, his books include Walkie-Talkie (1980), The Black Queen Stories (1982), How the Angel Spreads Her Wings (1989), Stone Blind Love (1989), Barrel House Kings: A Memoir (1997), and Hogg: The Last Seven Words (2001).

The Canadian Writers in Person series of public readings at York, which is free and open to the public, is also part of an introductory course on Canadian literature.