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A Taxi to Kampot with Author Rawi Hage

4th November 2017 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Author Rawi Hage is the Vancouver Public Library’s new writer in residence. He’s the author of three novels, De Niro’s Game, Cockroach, and most recently, Carnival, which touches on both taxi drivers and the circus. Hage, who is also a photographer, lives in Montreal but has moved to Vancouver for the residency. He will spend time mentoring emerging writers, appearing at library and community events, and conducting workshops. The Sun sat down with him to talk about his career. This interview has been condensed and edited for length.

Q. You grew up in Lebanon, immigrating to first the U.S. and then Canada. Why did you choose Canada in the end?

A. I left Lebanon in 1984, when the war was on. Then I lived in New York for about eight years and worked in various jobs. It was a cultural shock more than anything. At one point, it was getting complicated to get my papers in the United States. I had to leave and come back. So I applied to Canada and I was accepted. Somebody said to me, that because I was a francophone, I should apply to Quebec. There was a big wave of Lebanese immigrants at that time, because of the war. I arrived in the winter in the suburbs of Montreal and it was a bit of a shock. It seemed a very remote place and it was a big transition from New York. When I went to school, things got better.

Q. Were you writing at that time?

A. No — my closest approach to art at that time was as an assistant to a photographer. I was working in the darkroom for a photographer and that’s when I decided to become a photographer. The most magical thing was when I saw the image surface in the fix. My duties were to prepare chemicals and clean the dark room afterward. I loved the idea of being in the dark alone.

Later in about 2001, I was participating in a photography/art show at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and they asked me to write something for the catalogue. It was a mix of a personal story and literature. The curator asked me if I was a writer and I said no. She said maybe you should try writing short stories.

I decided to try it and then some of my short stories were published in magazines. Then I applied for a grant from the Quebec council. I got the grant to write a book of short stories and then I took myself a bit more seriously. It wasn’t just the money as much as the acknowledgment. One of the short stories turned into my novel De Niro’s Game.

Q. Why have you chosen Vancouver right now?

A. My girlfriend is from Vancouver, she decided to come back here and she loves Vancouver. I must confess that my first love will always be Montreal. It is home to me. I’m a true Montrealer, but I love Vancouver, for sure. With every book I was invited to the Vancouver Writers Festival, and I like the festival and the location. Through my girlfriend, I was introduced to many writers so that when I arrived, I already had many friends here — there is a ready community of artists. I always thought there was great work coming from Vancouver — especially in the visual arts.

Q. I read that you were a taxi driver in the past. What was that like?

A. It’s a wealth of little encounters — I won’t say stories — you have to develop these encounters into stories. A taxi could become kind of a chamber for intimacies, lies, tension. There’s this confinement of many emotions and lives. They are never direct encounters — it’s an encounter through reflection, you’re always talking through a mirror. The physical intimacy is never there. For a few months, I was driving a taxi with my book De Niro’s Game in the car. I always promised myself I would never write about driving a taxi, but then I decided to use the taxi as a metaphor, dividing the taxi drivers into two types: those who wait at taxi stands and those who drive their cars searching for fares.

Q. Do you have any personal experience with the circus?

A. No, but when I was writing Carnival, I visited two circuses and stayed with them for a few days. My book is more about the traditional travelling circus — it was a way of life, while now they’re just performances. After I had written the first draft of Carnival, I did have a circus encounter with a gracious man named Giovani Luliani, who was in the circus for a long time. We had conversation and he told me some interesting things about the circus.

But the book is almost like a carnival — it has many stories and about 50 characters. The book is theatrical, people come and go and there is constant movement. It’s not a linear type of work, though there are threads that go through. People who want a story that goes from A to B won’t be satisfied, but it’s very exuberant and poetic. It’s all based on the esthetic of what a carnival represents — a contained pocket of total freedom.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish while you are the writer in residence at VPL?

A. I hope to meet as many people as I can while I’m here. It’s also my first encounter with teaching, so in a way, it’s also a learning experience for me. I will be presenting a couple of lectures and I will have the space and time to write. I am fiddling with some short stories — maybe one of them becomes a novel, I don’t know.

Note: Hage’s inaugural public reading in Cambodia is at The Lotus Pond Villa, 2-4pm, Friday November 4



4th November 2017
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm


Lotus Pond Villa
Lotus Pond Villa & Art Hotel Kampot, Pondside Lane
Kampot, Cambodia
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