Blue Metropolis celebrates
its 20th anniversary

Festival features over 250 authors from 20 countries in 17 languages

By Byron Toben

Lots of anniversaries this past season of various events and groups based upon the fact we have ten fingers. Not the least is the 20th anniversary of Montréal’s own Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival.

This was the first multilingual literary festival in the world started as a gleam in the eye of teacher/writer Linda Leith in 1999. Originally dealing with French and English works, it has since expanded to include Spanish writings as well as some special sessions on Arabic, Italian and even Yiddish writings.

Vittorio Rossi -

Vittorio Rossi – Image: courtesy of Vittorio Rossi

It has also instituted seven special awards each year. The first and largest of these awards, its Grand Prize, while having a goodly number of Canadian winners – Marie-Claire Blais (2000) and Margaret Atwood (2007) – has included the American, Norman Mailer (2001), the Irish, Colm Toibin (2013) and the Mexican, Carlos Fuentes (2005). Ms. Leith departed in 2011 and now has her own publishing house.

The work continues with the non-profit Blue Metropolis Foundation, which offers some year-round educational and social programs. This year’s annual festival features over 250 authors from 20 countries in 17 languages. Festival Central is again at the Hotel 10 although many events are held elsewhere in the greater area. The official “window” is from May 2 to May 5, with a few in the last days of April.

For me, the highlight is the special Tribute to playwright Vittorio Rossi. Organized by playwright/novelist Marianne Ackerman, it takes place on Wednesday, May 1 at the beautiful Rialto theatre. Snippets of his many plays performed at the Centaur theatre are expected to be shown as well as some musical entertainment. Tickets: $20.

This was the first multilingual literary festival in the world started as a gleam in the eye of teacher/writer Linda Leith in 1999.

Another highlight, back at Hotel 10 on Sunday, May 5 at 1 pm, is Gabriel Safdie’s Jerusalem of the Mind: On Rapprochement, featuring Palestinian pacifist Yousef Bashir. This is a continuation of Mr Safdie’s Jerusalem of the Mind panel discussion at Blue Met 2018. Tickets: $10.

Here is a list of interesting sessions at the Hotel 10 in chronological order. A list of outlying sessions follows.

Yousef Bashir -

Yousef Bashir – Image: courtesy of Yousef Bashir

At Hotel 10


4 pm – Montreal: The Equivocal City
Linda Leith moderates a three-person panel – Patrick Coleman, Kaie Kellough and Catherine Leroux – on how the city has been portrayed in literature. Free.

8:30 pm – This Really Happened
Writers discuss the theme of “Obsessions” on a pre-set strict time limit. Solitary writing meets performance art. Free.


11 am – Memoir: The Melding of Memory and Imagination
Four authors – Mark Abley, Terese Marie Mailhot, Darrel J. McLeod and Lorimber Shenher – discuss writing on this subject. Tickets: $10.

1 pm – Heart Berries
British Columbia author Terese Marie Mailhot, winner of this year’s First People’s prize, discusses her New York Times best seller. Tickets: $10.

8:30 pm – Woodstock Redux: Peace, Love and Music
This year is also the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Toronto lead singer David Clayton Thomas is interviewed as to why his band Blood, Sweat and Tears was a hit there but did not appear on the album. Tickets: $10.


11:30 am – Babel Blue
A ten-writer reading in several languages. Includes Alberto Manguel. Free.

1 pm – Jerusalem of the Mind: On Rapprochement
Discussed in Highlights above. Tickets: $10.

Annie Proulx -

Annie Proulx – Image: courtesy of Annie Proulx

Some Blue Met events elsewhere:


12:30 pm – Joseph E. Stiglitz on inequality
With the former Chief Economist of the World Bank.
Univerity of Montreal amphitheatre. Free.

5:30 pm – Esi Edugoyan
Two-time Giller Prize winner.
McGill University Moyse Hall. May be sold out.


4 pm – Annie Proulx
This year’s Grand Prize winner speaks to CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel
Grande Bibliothèque de Montréal auditorium. Tickets: $15.


12:30 pm – Racism: A White Person’s Problem
Discussed by a four-person panel including U.K.’s Reni Eddo-Lodge.
McCord Museum. Tickets: $8

3:30 pm – Indigenous Literature
With Griffin prize poet Liz Howard.
McCord Museum. Tickets: $10

For more information visit bluemetropolis.orgBouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre –

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Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.

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