Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Voice of Canada - Being 60 (week 48 - by Margaret Ullrich)

Last week I was in Bemidji, Minnesota, to read my story Easter Bread at the launch of Dust & Fire, Writing & Art by Women 2011.

The launch had been organized by the Women's Studies Department of Bemidji State University.  It took place on March 25 at the American Indian Resource Center, a fairly new building on campus.

This was the fifth time in my life that one of my stories had been published in a book, rather than in a newspaper or online.
This was my third attendance at the public launch of a book which had one of my stories.
This was my second chance to read one of my stories to an audience.

I'd like to say I was cool as a cucumber.

I'd like to, but I'd be lying.

I wasn't worried about the book.
They'd been printing these anthologies for 15 years.
They knew what they were doing.

I wasn't worried about the reading.
I'd read my stories on the radio for almost a decade.
I'd read as a Lector at Mass for twice as long.
Facing an audience didn't scare me.
They didn't have bags of fruit to toss (not at today's prices), so I wasn't worried about having to duck my head while at the podium.

But, I had received funding to attend the launch.
The Manitoba Arts Council and the Winnipeg Arts Council had footed the bill for my trip.
I was honored to receive the grants.
I felt like Sally Fields at the Oscars a few years ago.
As I'd posted on facebook, "You like me.  You really like me!"

With government funding come a few responsibilities.

During this year's Oscars, did you see the folks from the film The King's Speech?
Remember how they thanked the British government agencies who had funded the film?
Well, I had to do that, too.
No problem.
I was, and am, grateful.

But, I was worried about any questions the American writers might have.
Geography never was my best subject.
History was even worse.
When I was quized for my Canadian citizenship, the judge asked, "How many people live in Canada?"
I stared at her, like a deer staring at headlights, and said, "A lot."
And this was after I had studied the book they'd given me.

What would the Americans ask me?

Before the launch, Paul and I had walked to the University to stretch our legs and get the lay of the campus.
We met a lovely woman at the American Indian Resource Center.
After I introduced myself, she smiled and said, "Oh, YOU'RE the CANADIAN writer.  We received hundreds of submissions from Canada, but you're the only one we picked."

I was hoping other Canadian women could answer the tough questions.
I was all alone. 
It was too late to turn back.
They knew we were in Bemidji.
I had to answer for Canada.

The readings, in alphabetical order, went well.
Finally, the U's.
I started by thanking the government agencies for their financial support.
Heads - lots of heads - snapped to attention.
After the last reading, about a dozen writers approached me.
With a name like Ullrich, I, the lone Canuck, was fresh in their memory.

First off, they were impressed that our government supports artists.
Yah, Canada!
Then we chatted about everything from Folklorama to the weather.

That night I was the Voice of Canada.
I answered all their questions.
Not bad for someone born in Malta and raised in New York.

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