Linda Leith turns a page in her literary career 

By Barbara Black

Surrounded, no doubt, by friends and admirers, Linda Leith will celebrate the publication of another novel Oct. 11 at Nicholas Hoare Books on Greene Ave., in Westmount.

Magnifying glass

Leith, an adjunct professor of English at Concordia, is best known as the founder of the enormously successful Blue Metropolis literary festival, but she’s also a successful author.

Her previous novels were Birds of Passage, which was written while she lived in Hungary for two years, and The Tragedy Queen, which was set in Pointe Claire.

Both attracted widespread attention. Birds of Passage was reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement, a rare thing for a first Canadian novel, and was read coast-to-coast on CBC Radio on Between the Covers.

The Tragedy Queen drew interest for another reason. The main character, who sets suburban hearts a-flutter, was based on a real-life scam artist who lived in her house while she was out of the country, and used it to store stolen goods. (The criminal, who was known to police, is still at large. She has never met him.)

Leith’s new book is The Desert Lake about a Montreal journalist on a trip to China. Though it’s a serious novel about a 30-something woman struggling with her personal life, it’s leavened with humour. The endearing heroine seems at times like a second cousin of Bridget Jones, dressing inappropriately and making faux pas in a foreign country.

The novel, published by Signature Editions, also has a lot of interesting detail about specific places in China, thanks to copious notes Leith made on a trip there 10 years ago with a group of writers.

“The settings are as true as I could make them,” she said in a phone interview. “Just as I was when I was in Budapest, I was bowled over by what I experienced in China, and I knew I was going to write something.”

It has taken her a while to put those notes to good use, because after she got back from that trip, something happened called the Blue Met. Leith started it with Ann Charney and Mary Soderstrom in 1997. Now, running the international literary festival takes a staff of eight and has become her full-time job.

In 2007, more than 14,000 people showed up at festival events: a record. However, the Blue Met is a year-round phenomenon, with educational programs and literacy projects that reached 2,200 students last year.

The Blue Met is a partner with Concordia’s English Department in the Writers Read at Concordia series, and the first event takes place Oct. 12 when Irish writer Colum McCann reads from his work in the DeSève Cinema, starting at 7:30.

McCann is the author of two collections of short stories and three novels, including This Side of Brightness and Dancer, both of which were international bestsellers. The event is also sponsored by the Centre for Canadian Irish Studies.


Concordia University