Stripping down mall culture at Blue Met 

By Russ Cooper

He's modest. He's got a self-effacing sense of humour. He's a wannabe writer from Winnipeg.

There are many similarities between part-time English Instructor Jon Paul Fiorentino and the main character in his new semi-autobiographical book Stripmalling. 'Wannabe' isn't one of them.

Fiorentino will be officially launching his book at the 11th annual Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival (, being held April 22 to 26. He'll be rolling the book out April 23 at 7 p.m. at the Hotel Delta Centre-Ville, as well as participating in the student literary program, giving young writers the chance to rub elbows with established authors on April 22 at 9 a.m.

Magnifying glass

Part-text and part-graphic novel (illustrations by Evan Munday), Stripmalling is the tale of an aspiring writer, Jonny, who works in a strip mall in suburban Winnipeg. He's got everything going for him including a supportive girlfriend, an active imagination and plenty of subject matter, but there's one obstacle: his own stupidity.

The book received significant media coverage prior to its soft-release date of April 1, garnering favourable reviews in the Globe and Mail, Quill and Quire, the Toronto Star and Fiorentino himself recently graced the cover of Montreal's Hour. He, Munday and fellow author Zoe Whittall even produced a short mockumentary about the making of the book, entitled Way of the Smock (available in its entirety on YouTube).

This will be Fiorentino's fourth time participating in the festival—he's served on panels, launched poetry collections and facilitated workshops. This time, though, Fiorentino senses he may be feeling his literary clock ticking.

"They've always been foolish enough to ask me back," he laughs, "but it kind of feels like it's time for me to grow up," he says. "[The festival] can be a rigorous exercise in pretention, but what better place to grow up than Blue Met?"

"It's always an interesting observational space because there's a mix of first-time writers with their high expectations and the seasoned veterans who're generally relaxed."

Now the author of six books (among which are his poetry collections The Theory of the Loser Class and Hello Serotonin, and the humour book Asthmatica), where does he see himself mingling in that observational space?

"I suppose I am kind of a veteran writer at this point, but I still get quite excited about festivals and readings and so forth," he says. "I see them as kind of a reward for the hard, lonely work of writing."

Stripmalling marks his first attempt at writing a novel and a slight departure from poetry and formal literary prose. Seeking out Munday (Fiorentino is a long-time fan), he found incorporating the graphic element didn't drastically change his approach, yet added much.

Fiorentino has been a part-time instructor in the English department since completing his MA in English and Creative Writing in 2003, teaching the introductory writing class Creative Process as well as "whatever else they let me teach." He also serves as editor-in-chief of Matrix magazine, the literary journal housed in the English Department. For every one of its 33 years, its mandate has been to publish the most interesting contemporary writing they can find from Canada and around the world.

"Concordia is a really good home base, and running Matrix is just an added bonus," he says. "It's a great environment in general, but specifically for me because I have a community of really talented writers and faculty around me that I find quite renewing."

However semi-biographical the bumbling main character from Stripmalling may be, Fiorentino has shed Jonny's oafish ineptitude and established himself among Canada's literary best with this book. And to all who have been procrastinating moulding that great idea into that next great novel, Fiorentino offers a word of advice.

"You probably need to write on a daily basis, and should always have your ear open for potential dialogue. If you're sitting on the bus, you should be shameless about your eavesdropping."

Visit his website, There, you'll find a small picture to recognize him by. He takes the 160 bus.


Concordia University