“As long as people are coming out, I’ll continue to still do it.” : An interview with Chris DiRaddo
Chris DiRaddo is a writer and organizer from Montreal. He is the author of the novel The Geography of Pluto and the founder of The Violet Hour, a reading series featuring local and visiting LBGT writers. Since 2017, he has been the LBGT programming associate for Blue Metropolis and helped to found the Violet Prize, awarded annually to an established LGBT writer to honour their entire body of work. I spoke with Chris about his life as a writer, the importance of fostering community, and what readers can expect from this year’s LGBT program at Blue Metropolis.
Brennan McCracken: Tell me a bit about how you got here—what brings you to literature generally, and to promoting and organizing queer literature events?
Chris DiRaddo: I always wanted to be a writer growing up—I knew that I had a story in me but I didn’t really know how to tell it or what that story was. I wanted to be published by the time I was 25, and it turned out I got published at 40. It took me 14 years to write my first book, and in that time I learned a lot… on the backburner, I would always have my novel churning away. I started doing freelance work in PR and publicity in the arts in Montreal—I worked for a number of organizations, among them Blue Metropolis, the Quebec Writers’ Federation, mainly as their publicist. I was promoting other writers, not my own work, because I didn’t really have any work to show.
I’ve always been a community-minded person. Although those were jobs and I did have a paycheque, I still liked working in those communities… It’s much more rewarding because you’re actually building community.
Then, in 2014, I turned 40 and I published my first book, which was really amazing to me. It was the best experience of my life. I was very proud of that and so although I was a writer throughout that entire process, I finally felt as though I could call myself one because I’d actually written something. I was finding that there were fewer and fewer opportunities for me to bring my book to places. I was looking around, and I was seeing there were a lot of queer people publishing literature in Canada… we have a very robust group of people who are creating works that are really important and very interesting. With the death of the LGBT bookstore, there weren’t really many opportunities for queer writers to come through town. There were fewer and fewer opportunities for writers to find readers and readers to find books that they really liked. Montreal used to have an LGBT bookstore, called L’Androgyne, and it closed in 2002. It was just such an important place for me—it’s where I found community, it’s where I found the writers that I really enjoyed and that I wanted to model myself after. That was a hub where if a new book came out, they would do an event or you could go in and discover it. I just felt that that was missing, and also the homosocial element of going to events in bookstores where you meet other like-minded people, maybe you’ll meet somebody that you’ll go on a date with … it was just a sense of finding people who had similar shared interests.
So I just decided—this is crazy, I have a book, all of my friends have books, why don’t we just get together and have a reading. I did a couple of events—it wasn’t really called the Violet Hour at the time—and I was doing it at Stock Bar, because I also like this idea of doing literary events in non-traditional spaces. I find bookstores can be … I love bookstores, but I find that they’re not necessarily lively. And I think that there are certain people who will never go see a poetry reading at a bookstore, but at a bar they’ll go, buy a beer, and they’ll sit and they’ll listen.
It just kind of blew up from there—I felt like I would do it as long as people wanted to come out, as long as people were still publishing books, so I’ve been doing [the Violet Hour] now for about five or six years. I think I learned a lot in that time, because I realized—instead of waiting for someone else to do the event that I want to go to, why don’t I just do the event? It doesn’t really take much—get on the phone, call a couple people, make an event—and if 20 people come, that’s fine, if 60 people come, that’s great, of 100 people come, holy cow.
Now, working with Blue Met allows me to bring together people around issues that I feel are important to queer literature in Montreal and beyond.
I feel like you’re speaking to how this sort of scrappy, community-oriented feeling can still exist within these larger venues or events.
I feel like, in the last little while, culture is kind of like that. People are coming together in a way that it’s not just about capitalism or making money. If you’re an artist, this is vital, you need this. But at the same time, if you believe in the event that you’re a part of… It is something that I do think about a lot. Because ultimately, I just want writers to be celebrated for their work, paid for their work, and I want people to buy their books.
That’s the thing too—how do you get the books into the hands of readers? If you don’t have an LGBT bookstore in Montreal, how do you know that someone has a new book out? Through events like The Violet Hour, people discover new writers all the time and the book is right there. That’s what I want—I just want people to read. I’m happy to do that and I’m happy that it continues to thrive.
What can you tell me about this year’s program and the Violet Prize?
It’s a bigger program this year! We got a generous donation from a person who wanted to allocate some money particularly to the LGBT program—with that, I was able to double the amount of events that we would normally do.
We started the Violet Prize a few years ago, and this will be the third year we’re giving it out. That prize has been really fun to develop… There is already an emerging LGBT prize in Canada, so I thought ‘why don’t we just do one that complements that’ and actually go for someone who really made an impact. That’s been really wonderful.
Where do you see this work going in the future?
I have a lot of aspirations for this program, and also for where I see The Violet Hour going outside of Blue Metropolis. Like I said, Montreal has a very vibrant queer literary culture and I think there are ways we could celebrate it more. I’m not entirely sure how yet. I’d love to bring The Violet Hour on tour for example, bring it to a bunch of Canadian cities with local writers in the region. I’d love to create a podcast… I have tons of ideas. But this is all… I’m still writing my next book, I have a job. But there was something that happened when I turned 40, just like a mid-life crisis. Now that I’m getting older—what do I want to go to? What would I like to be a part of? And instead of waiting for somebody else to create that, I just felt ‘well, let’s just create it.’ As long as people are coming out, I’ll continue to still do it.
The next Violet Hour event, an evening of storytelling hosted and curated by Montreal writer Lukas Rowland, takes place Thursday, February 20 at Stock Bar. More information is available on The Violet Hour Facebook page.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
– Brennan McCracken