The Helen E. Stubbs Memorial Lecture: From Hobbits to HTML

Last week, I attended the 24th Helen E. Stubbs Memorial Lecture: From Hobbits to HTML, by Arthur Slade.

On October 20th, I followed a couple off the west-bound streetcar at College & Spadina, across the street to the Lillian H. Smith Branch of the Toronto Public Library and paused while as they safely passed the stone griffins and entered the glass doors, into the glowing dome-shaped interior of the library. Griffins are known to guard treasures and priceless possessions and the way the two majestic creatures stare at one another across the entrance always reminds me of the scene of the Sphinx Gate, from The Neverending Story. Once inside, I was greeted by a friendly-looking security guard and directed downstairs, where the lecture was to take place.

The interior of the library, like the griffins and the security guard,  is an eccentric mix of modern comfort and convention with the magic-realism feeling of being in a fantastic medieval castle. The walls of the circular staircase are painted a dark-red, with torch-shaped lights attached to them at intervals provide little light, but a lot of atmosphere. The auditorium has a warm, honey-coloured wood floor and it is equipped with a ceiling-mounted screen, a lectern and several microphones. The architectural and decorative contrasts are consistent throughout the building and they work well together, someone put a lot of thought into the layout, decorative touches and, especially, the way they function together at  this branch.

Leslie McGrath, head of the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Literature, gave the audience a brief biography of Helen E. Stubbs and discussed the founding of the lectures. Leslie was followed by Gillian O’Reilly, the editor of Canadian Children’s Book News, who introduced Arthur Slade: He was born in Moose Jaw, Saskachewan and raised on a ranch in Cypress Hills. His novel, Dust, received the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature in 2001. O’Reilly also told the audience that Slade embraces the future, much like Saskatchewan, as illustrated by the legislative buildings of that province, which were built in the 20th century, but the buildings were created with the coming century in mind and, like Slade, they represent the forward-looking persona of people from the province. Before this turns into a post about architecture, let me get to my impression of the author and his lecture:

My first impression of Arthur Slade, as he approached the lectern, was that he is a tall, fit man in his 40s, who posesses a wholesome kind of handsomeness. His  laid-back air boded well for an entertaining lecture. Yet, I was surprised when he pressed play on an iPod, connect to the projector, which began his PowerPoint presentation with the song,  “Hells Bells,” by AC/DC and a  slide that proclaimed Art Slade a  writer, headbanger and geek. This might have set an unexpected, but not unwelcome tone, and may have even been accomplished in the auditorium, in the basement, where we had assembled for a presentation. But, there were a few issues with sound: much like his later Star Wars clip, the effect was less-than it might have been—and was surely meant to be—because the volume was so low it could barely be heard from where I was sitting, six rows away and it gave the impression that you could not possibly present anything that required proper sound effects in a library. There were a couple of minor sound and lighting issues but Slade was imperturbable and when technology failed him, he was forced to momentarily veer away from the lecture and presentation he had prepared and seemed to be even more engaged with the audience and, somehow, even more relaxed in those moments than he did when things were going as planned.

Slade’s lecture was the story of an author, including his first inspiration: his 4th grade teacher Mr. Fitzgerald, who read The Hobbit aloud and taught students how to play Dungeons and Dragons, “Uncle” Ray Bradbury and “Emily the librarian,” who taught him about inter-library loans.  I was thoroughly jealous; my 4th grade teacher read our class The Little House On the Prairie and taught us to play chess, both of which I enjoyed at the time, but I didn’t know what I was missing!

Like most author biographies, Slade’s career begins with a lot of reading, progresses to a lot of writing, and includes a lot of rejection before graduating to  success. However, Slade does progress to undisputed success  and includes a new element, unique to successful 21st century authors. While he continues to publish approximately one book per year, Slade has also become interested in digital publishing. His latest novels have visual trailers, and he has begun to write and publish e-books, which most people seem to think is either fabulous, or… the end of the publishing industry.

Slade argued that the publishing has been quite good at predicting its own downfall, and has been doing so since Gutenberg went bankrupt publishing the Bible.  He considers the negative reaction to e-books a natural result of change in society and he believes that novels will continue to exist in many forms (with AND without embedded videos, games, and other applications).

Saskatoon, Slade says, likes to think of itself as “the Paris of the Prairies,” but  he acknowledges that, wherever authors are, it has become necessary to reach out to the rest of the world and he does so in many ways: he makes classroom visits via Skype to Canadian, American, and Australian students and he makes his presence known in our virtual society in many ways, including  his website, Facebook page, Twitter account, and  Livejournal.


1 Comment

Filed under Mel Rhodes Gray

One response to “The Helen E. Stubbs Memorial Lecture: From Hobbits to HTML

  1. I enjoyed this, thanks for the imagery. I like the picture you paint of stone Griffins and a security guard protecting the treasured collection. Also, it made me feel young to hear that you were surprised by a forty-something authour playing AC/DC… not much time left on that copyright 🙂

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