Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Blue Metropolis and the Evolution of Quebec Literature

Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Blue Metropolis and the Evolution of Quebec Literature

Article excerpt

The Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival, which is unique in the world in its use of language, could probably never have emerged elsewhere than in Montreal. Those of us involved in the creation of Blue Metropolis--all anglophone Montrealers--were inspired by a wish to cross linguistic barriers, and we hoped to work in collaboration with the Union des ecrivaines et ecrivains quebecois (UNEQ). (1) This was not to be, and our troubled relations with UNEQ have been the subject of discussion in Quebec's francophone literary milieu more than once since the fall of 1998. It is a story that sheds light on the contemporary Quebec literary milieu during a period of transition.

The identity of the Blue Metropolis Foundation, the non-profit organization that organizes the Festival, is a significant factor here. While its origins are clearly anglophone--it emerged out of the anglophone literary milieu of the late 1990s--its programming has from the start been more in French than in English. Both the Festival itself and extra-Festival programming have had a larger francophone than anglophone public over the past three years. Blue Metropolis has not been an anglophone organization since 2000; I am currently the only Anglophone on staff and one of only two on the board. Blue Metropolis is not dedicated to serving a specific linguistic community; it is dedicated rather to creating bridges between and among people of different backgrounds: its mission is "to bring people of different cultures together to share the pleasures of reading and writing." Most of this is well known, well understood and widely accepted, and the work of Blue Metropolis is treated with respect and enthusiasm in most quarters.

Blue Metropolis is, however, still widely perceived as an anglophone organization. Paradoxical as this may seem, there are some understandable reasons for this. One is the name itself, which has always been more readily accepted in English than in French. It prompts questions in both languages--what does it mean? why blue? etc.--but Francophones have some difficulty with the name and often get it wrong (renaming the organization "Metropolis" or "Metropolis blues" or "Montreal Metropolis bleu" or some other variation); they often add an accent aigu to Metropolis in an attempt to make more French what we view as a Greek word that has no accent. In addition, perceptions are not quickly or easily changed, and my own continuing presence as the visible face of Blue Metropolis would encourage the view that it continues to be an anglophone organization. Blue Metropolis remains, moreover, far more anglophone than most other Quebec literary organizations, which are as a rule led and staffed wholly or principally by Francophones; the only other exceptions to this rule are organizations that serve specific linguistic communities. In spite of considerable efforts, in different ways--programming, leadership, communications, etc.--to change the perception in order to gain wider acceptance in the francophone milieu, it is not uncommon to find Francophones, even literary Francophones, who believe that the Blue Metropolis Festival takes place in English only.

This persistent perception of Blue Metropolis as an anglophone organization sometimes translates into what seems to be an unreasonable insistence that Blue Metropolis is an anglophone organization and one that serves anglophone Quebecers primarily. This has sometimes had a negative impact on funding. It has sometimes also had a negative impact on public relations to the extent that anglophone involvement in Quebec literature is treated skeptically. It may in some ways have more positive effects, which will be touched on later in this essay. In any event, the persistence of the perception of Blue Metropolis as an anglophone organization casts some light on what is viewed as the appropriate role of Anglophones and especially of anglophone writers and writing in Quebec. …

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