A 36-seat plane delivered me to Halifax the next morning. No reception committee was there to meet me. Big city, I thought, setting out to explore on my own. Lonely and hungry by late afternoon, sure no dinner would be in the offing, I treated myself to a giant steak and garlic mashed potatoes. Back at the inn, my phone rang. It was my host, Alexander MacLeod, arranging to take me to the reading. Young, hip, intelligent – it was too much to expect old-world gallantry. But maybe not – he dashed ahead to his car to open the passenger door for me.
The reading took place in St. Mary’s University Art Gallery, a fantastic backdrop, and Alexander’s introduction was superb. When it was over, he and fellow faculty member Stephanie Morley insisted on taking me out for dinner. Alexander regaled us with insider tales about local writers. Romans-à-clef, the pastoral versus the gritty, new “comers” versus the old guard, defections to Upper Canada, writing clans and outsiders, scandals and feuds—this was juicy stuff. The pints of beer were being drained and I felt, for a moment, like an honorary member of the Atlantic tribe.
I gulped down more Shiraz. “Why am I the only one who orders wine?”
“Too snooty,” they told me, grinning. “People here don’t have money for wine. It shows you’re from away, not from here.”
In my head, names of fiction writers were swirling: Wayne Johnston, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Bernice Morgan, Lynn Coady, Michael Winter, Lisa Moore, Joan Clark, Michael Crummey, Ami McKay, Donna Morrissey, Don Hannah, Mark Jarman, Edward Riche, and Alexander himself, son of Alistair MacLeod of Cape Breton Island. Add in the poets Anne Compton, George Elliott Clarke, Brian Bartlett, Anne Simpson, and Ross Leckie’s new ice-house gang. And that’s just the tip of the eastern iceberg. It hit me that the Atlantic is experiencing a boom surpassing anything across the country. A renaissance, if that isn’t too snooty a term for it.
Driving me back to my inn, Alexander detoured to the citadel to show me Halifax at night. Although I’d missed Saint John’s reversing falls, I would journey back to the other ocean buoyed up by Maritimes hospitality and the rising tide of Atlantic literature.