Transcending Literature in More Ways Than One

Concordia Literature Festival Subverts Conventions of the Unconventional

  • There are five panelists in “A Queer is a Queer is a Queer;” here are superlatives for them. Graphic Sadie Laett-Babcock

What comes to mind when you imagine a literature festival? Books galore? Poems abounding across walls? Authors coming to life in a place where students can talk about the past, present, and future of literature? Did you think of a library?

The answer is Off the Page, an underground literature student convention organized by students from the English and Creative Writing department.

The Off the Page festival hosts three days of literary insanity bringing in famous Canadian authors like Ben Lerner, Jordan Abel, Anne Boyer and Sonnet L’Abbé to read their work. Students will have the chance to discuss literature related to current issues.

“The panels we’ve created all speak to different aspects of literature and writing, and are based on the interests of students in the class and the responses we received from the literary community,” said organizer Kailey Havelock, Vice-President of Publications at the Concordia Association for Students in English, a student association focused on creating a community for literature and creative writing students.

“Each panel seeks to challenge dominant discourses about its subject and invite new perspectives, beyond those printed on the page,” said Havelock.

One such panel, “A Queer is a Queer is a Queer: Breaking Standard Narratives in Queer Poetics and Prose,” takes this challenge by the horns. As the name implies, the panel on Saturday centres on trans and queer literature from trans-identifying writers that deviate from mainstream narratives about the queer body and queer space.

It creates a dialogue, not only about literature, but also issues that students hold dear and which might not be discussed in classes.

“I don’t give a shit about impacting ideas or whatever. I feel like that’s a real ‘cis’ goal—the idea that my art is going to educate cisgenders on what it’s like, and what is or is not problematic. I want a trans person to read something I’ve written and feel better.” – Laett-Babcock

“I think stuff like Off the Page, that forces the university to open up to people that it generally doesn’t enshrine, is super important,” panelist Sadie Laett-Babcock said.  

Believe it or not, this idea is actually a huge crux in Off the Page, even if it isn’t explicitly stated anywhere on their site or posters.

“There’s a dominant discourse that often prevails in academic settings where the canon of literary works is very white, very male, and very straight,” said Alex Custodio, VP Academic at CASE. She cuts right to the heart of the issue.

Off the Page’s panel is hosted in an academic building, Custodio said, which is important because the festival challenges the university’s literary canon in a way that isn’t normally possible.

The festival’s subversion of normative discourse—bringing marginalized themes into the foreground—all while further subverting normative notions of those themes, is remarkable. It’s not about changing ideas, or impacting people, but instead about completely putting things on their heads.

“I don’t give a shit about impacting ideas or whatever. I feel like that’s a real ‘cis’ goal—the idea that my art is going to educate cisgenders on what it’s like, and what is or is not problematic,” Laett-Babcock said. “I want a trans person to read something I’ve written and feel better.”

The panel “A Queer is a Queer is a Queer” strikes a chord with the project of the festival, since it focuses on subverting normative narratives, even in trans literature, which one would imagine to be anything but normative.

“We’re taught that trans art can only have one goal: being about gender in this gender-y 21st century,” Laett-Babcock continued. “That’s the only checkbox that you can apply to it, and quality of writing or imagination not only doesn’t, but can’t, matter.”

Off the Page // 6th floor of the LB building (1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.) // March 17 to 19 // Free

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