Writerly camaraderie, charming views and well-prepared French audiences: Goldie Goldbloom, author of The Paperbark Shoe and You Lose These + Other Stories, writes about her time in Lyon, France, at the extraordinary International Forum on the Novel.
I almost missed the invitation to attend the International Forum on the Novel (Assises Internationales du Roman). It landed in my spam box, which I automatically delete, but fortunately the words ‘International Forum’ caught my attention. Co-sponsored annually by Villa Gillet and Le Monde, the forum is held in Lyon, France, at the incredibly beautiful Les Subsistances, a former convent on the SaÃ´ne River. Writers such as Richard Powers, Martin Amis and A.S. Byatt descended on Lyon beginning in late May, for cross-genre public forums as well as library and bookshop events.
I was asked if I could speak on the topic of Portraits and Faces: Appearance and Disfigurement. Well, yes. I could. It’s a subject that fascinates me and animates much of my fiction. Each writer was also asked to choose a word that exemplifies their work and write a page-long exploration of that word, for inclusion in a lexicon published by Christian Bourgois (my French publisher). I chose ‘Absence’ and wrote about my grandmother and vacuum cleaners and tarantulas.
The French are well known for their respect for and knowledge of literature. I’ll be honest. I was terrified to speak in front of such a large and intellectual crowd! Despite the abnormally cold spring, the events were all sold out, even though the discussions were held under the stars, in a courtyard of Les Subsistances. Earlier, blankets and translation headphones were handed to me when I went to hear my friend, Keith Scribner, speak about conflict. It was like being at the United Nations, listening to Hoda Barakat speak in French, but hearing a translation into English in the other ear.
When it came time for my panel, I was introduced to Paul Ardenne, a professor of history and a well-known modern art critic, and Jakuta Alikavazovic, an award-winning writer and now, a friend. The moderator, Florent Georgesco, a publisher, was generous with each of us. He led a fascinating analysis of beauty and distortion in the arts, and allayed many of my fears about speaking at such a prestigious event.
Even in the smaller events I was invited to attend, such as a reading and discussion at La Maison Jaune bookshop in Neuville-sur-SaÃ´ne, or at the public library in Caluire-et-Cuire, the people who attended had come prepared with very challenging questions about literature in general, and about my novel, The Paperbark Shoe, in particular. At the library, I noticed a well-dressed man in the front row, smiling and smiling at me, something I always appreciate, because I’m very shy. He seemed familiar. I smiled back. He was the chef from Les Subsistances. I love the people of France.
In the charming breakfast room of the CollÃ¨ge HÃ´tel, which looks out on the Vieux Lyon, writers clustered to ‘talk shop’. A jazz band played just outside the glass doors and, for the first time that week, the sun was shining. A man with thimbles on all his fingers beat a rhythm on a series of ridged metal sheets. I sat at a table with writers David Vann, Keith Scribner and Ray Daniels. The International Forum is an extraordinary event, we all agreed.