Assistant News Editor
If somebody said that David Adams Richards, a prominent Canadian novelist from New Brunswick, would have stopped by the smoke stacks of Hamilton to discuss the finer things in life, the appropriate response would be to ask if the individual was taking any illicit materials.
Illicit materials or not, Richards found himself in Hamilton from Nov. 12 to the 14.
His appearance was part of an annual Distinguished Visitor Speaker Program, funded through the Harold and Lilojean Frid Endowment and sponsored by the Westdale United Church.
Richards spoke on a variety of issues regarding topics large and small, from a wine and cheese meet-and-greet to the existence of God.
In addition, there was a secondary event entitled, “Reading, Discussion, and Reception” at the University Club, sponsored by the McMaster Arts and Science Program, English and Cultural Studies, Labour Studies and Economics, and Religious Studies departments.
Known primarily for his novels, such as Mercy Among the Children, which was a co-winner of the Giller Award in 2000, Richards stands as a leading Canadian writer.
Currently, he is one of the only three to have ever won the Governor General’s Award in both fiction and non-fiction.
Richards has also been shortlisted for the Trillium Award, Thomas Raddell award, Canadian Booksellers Association author of the year, countless regional awards for his novels, and the prestigious Canada-Australia Literary Prize in 1992.
To say the least, this literary paragon’s list of accolades is long.
Yet, under the hum of an anxious audience, his eminence consistently preceded him.
At each event, the audience was left with lingering thoughts of ambiguity: could this really be David Adams Richards?
Where superior knowledge of the literary world should have been, there stood unbridled modesty. In place of splendor and extravagance were unkempt hair and a five-o’clock shadow. Instead of impatience and arrogance, there was a friendly smile.
It was such a characterization that, despite expectations otherwise, perhaps fueled Richards’ opening comment at the wine and cheese event.
“I almost never got into university because I almost never got out of high school. I got expelled four times.”
Such a comment began a brief outline of Richards’ early life as a truly gritty struggle.
From his birth in Newcastle, New Brunswick to his original aspirations of being a professor, because “it looked so grand, sitting in a chair all day and smoking a cigarette,” Richards claimed he had difficulty staying afloat.
But it is only because of difficulty that happiness has any meaning.
Richards, despite his overwhelmingly difficult start to his professional life, soon discovered a passion for writing, and more importantly, the happiness that his writing provided.
Richards attributes his success to a written tone that mixes a bitter realization of moral verisimilitude and indelible nostalgia neatly packaged into a Canadian setting.
Much of this comes from the fact that all of his novels centralize on the region of Miramichi, a familiar New Brunswick territory for the author.
It is in this region, one that Richards’ described as “leaving numerous unforgettable impressions,” where the sobering realities of life dominate.
Far away from the stereotypical enchantment of the East, where unforgiving waves lap across a jagged landscape, where quiet serenity is only interrupted by the roaring of the sea, where an ocean gives way to life and life gives way to an ocean, stands reality, and more conspicuously, the struggles life holds.
Such realties were highlighted during the wine and cheese event as Richards read two passages from his book The Friends of Meager Fortune.
Both of the excerpts were centred around the idea that “human greatness does not involve money, power or authority,” said Richards. “It involves character.”
It is this character, one of equality as opposed to superiority, that emanated from Richards as he read.
With an inviting tone, the room became a setting and the audience became characters in his books.
As he concluded the night with the second passage, one could not help but feel that perhaps art was imitating life, for his shaggy, soft-spoken, working-class sort of demeanor echoed the words that he himself had written, and he walked with an uneasy sway that mirrored the sea.
Or, maybe, it was the other way around.