The first time I saw author Esi Edyugan was memorable. It was July 2011, it was early, and I needed coffee.
It wasn’t entirely Esi’s literary brilliance radiating that day. She’d just been longlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, but that wasn’t it. No, Esi was glowing because she was due to have a baby in a little more than month. As she approached the lectern at the Western Book Fair breakfast meeting, it seemed everybody in the place was grinning.
The room was full of book sales reps listening with half an ear to a handful of authors talk about their just-published or forthcoming books. They clattered coffee cups and mangled croissants, a captive audience.
And then they really were captivated. Esi was as charming, intelligent, and engaging a speaker as she was—well, huge. Her novel, about black jazz musicians in a tense Berlin in the late 1930s, sounded deep and rich and compelling. I wanted to read it, and I’m certain everyone else there did, too.
By August the book was shortlisted for four major literary prizes and there was a brand new baby in the nursery. By fall, Half-Blood Blues had won the Giller. More accolades would follow.
Esi Edyugan and her husband, poet and novelist Steven Price, join the 2018 Elephant Mountain Literary Festival (July 12 – 15 in Nelson) as a “literary couple”, a theme through which we hope to explore just exactly how these things work. When there are two writers in the family and both are on a roll, who takes out the garbage? Or who, for that matter, changes the diapers?
Steven Price has taken home the hardware, too, winning the Gerald Lampert and Re-Lit awards for poetry. His 2016 novel By Gaslight was longlisted for the Giller and became quite the buzz-book in readers’ circles. He’s published three collections of poetry and two novels; when he’s not busy being a brilliant wordsmith as well as husband and father, he teaches poetry and fiction at the University of Victoria.
Esi’s works also include the 2004 novel The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, and Dreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home, published in 2014. Now, there are two small people in their lives, and a new novel is about to be born: Esi’s third, Washington Black (Knopf) is due in September.
Let me just say that I never looked as good as Esi when I was pregnant—or with two toddlers in the house—never mind trying to write a coherent sentence. Kids take up a lot of space, and they do it 24/7: how did Steven complete a 752-page novel of Victorian noir that manages, according to Quill & Quire, to “immerse us a world of sights and smells so precisely rendered they are nearly tangible”?
I hope to find out—and so can you— at the Saturday Night Live! event on Saturday, July 14 at 7:30pm at the Hume Hotel. There, Esi and Steven will read from their works, along with Susan Musgrave (whose husband, author and former bank robber Steven Reid, sadly passed away earlier this month). Marsha Lederman, western arts correspondent for the Globe and Mail, will interview them all live on stage to explore the dynamics of creative coupledom.
You can also catch them all—along with local couple Antonia Banyard and Clinton Swanson—at the Creative Couples panel discussion on Saturday at 10:45 am at the Chamber of Commerce.
Radiance isn’t just the domain of pregnant women; all of the writers appearing at the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival radiate their own special brilliance, which I suppose happens naturally when you’ve given birth to such literary luminescence. And when those cultural creations toddle out into the world, we are all the richer.
Festival Tales is a five-part column series. The 2018 line-up also features beer pairings with local writers at the 100-Mile Opening Gala, panel discussions, and more. For information and tickets go to www.emlfestival.com.