Anthony De Sa brings some Barnacle Love to York

On Sept. 29, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course and lecture series presented author Anthony De Sa reading from his book Barnacle Love. York teaching assistant Chris Cornish sent the following report to YFile.

The Portuguese call it saudade: a longing for something so indefinite as to be indefinable. Love affairs, miseries of life, the way things were, people already dead, those who left and the ocean that tossed them on the shores of a different land – all things born of the soul that can only be felt.

from Barnacle Love
by Anthony De Sa

Shortly after being introduced as the first author in this year’s Canadian Writers in Person series, Anthony De Sa (right) described the "writer’s life." He wakes up at 5:30am to walk the dog and then gets his three sons ready for school. After seeing his wife off to work, he gets ready to go to school where he teaches English to high-school students all day. Returning home with a pile of essays to mark, he then takes his kids to soccer practice. Around 11pm, as his wife lies in bed with a book, he goes to his computer and begins to write without stopping until 3:30am. When his head finally hits the pillow, his mind is still thinking about writing until he wakes up again at 5:30am. "That’s the writer’s life…at least for me."

Before this daily routine, De Sa’s writing career got a jump-start when he took a sabbatical from teaching. His wife encouraged him to take a writing course at Toronto’s Humber College, and after finally publishing a short story despite 27 rejections, his writing career began to take off. When his short story collection, Barnacle Love, was shortlisted for the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize, he felt humbled by the experience and is still getting used to the idea of calling himself a writer: "I’m a husband, a father and a teacher first."

His high-school students were likewise reluctant to give De Sa credit for his writing accomplishment, even after stunning reviews in The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. This slowly began to change when they began to see his book in more familiar places: “Sir, I saw your book at Costco! Sir, you were in The Metro!” When he returned to his classroom the day after the televised Giller ceremony, all of his students stood up and clapped.   

The stories in Barnacle Love also mean something deeply personal to the author. They are a revisiting of his heritage, reflecting the immigration experience of his parents and his own memories of growing up in the Toronto Portuguese community. Like the fado, the song of longing that weaves them together, the stories are evocative of a time and place that are now gone. Drawing on his sensory memories of vegetable gardens, pig slaughtering and wine-making that occurred in the community’s garages and laneways, De Sa recreates that version of Toronto as its own character. As the area in which he grew up is increasingly lost to gentrification, his stories keep it alive for future generations. 

Despite their autobiographical influence, De Sa also insists that these are works of fiction. "You need to draw a line between yourself and your characters,” he said. “We all have stories and you can write them down all you want but its not going to be interesting. The characters demand things of you and you are brought places. The more time you spend with them, the more you’re pulled along.” 

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. It is sponsored in part by the Canada Council for the Arts. On Tuesday, Oct. 27, in 206 Accolade West Building, Lola Lemire Tostevin will read from her novel The Other Sister.