Searching for the Yukon at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Where is the Yukon? This question followed me throughout the Book Fair in Frankfurt. Canada was the guest of honour this year, and represented with an exhibit, readings, events and performances at the Book Fair and all over Frankfurt. The Frankfurt Book Fair is the biggest in the world, every year the festival chooses a different country as a guest of honour.

Canada was represented under the motto “Singular Plurality.” Entering the pavilion, the visitor learned about the five natural elements of Canada: mountains, water, minerals, horizon and plants. A wall of mirrors stood for the Canadian horizon, in front of it was a viewpoint where one could look over the whole Canadian pavilion which represented the Canadian landscape: mountains, hills and water. Water was created as an installation of light and sound.

On huge flat screens, Canadian writers were introducing themselves to the visitor. Margaret Atwood discussed literature on a screen. She attended the book fair virtually.

“Canada is a book with many pages,” said his Excellency Whit Grant Fraser during an event at the stage of the Canadian pavilion. “As any good book, it should be read twice,” he said regarding the pandemic and the fact that Canada was represented in a digital format virtually at the Book Fair last year. Whit Grant Fraser was part of the Canadian delegation along with the Governor General, Her Excellency Mary May Simon to represent Canada in Frankfurt. Canada was guest of honour again this year, due to the pandemic, interfering with original plans from 2020.

This year some Canadian writers finally made it to Frankfurt, but no one from the Yukon. Which is a pity, because a group of Yukon writers were discussing, planning and plotting their attendance already in as early as 2016.

Yukon poet Kathy Munro, who was part of the Yukon Planning Committee said, “No one can predict these curveballs in life – having attended the Book Fair in person in the past, it is sad for me to think that Canada, as Guest of Honour country this year, won’t be celebrated the same way… & it is disappointing that our plans for a Yukon celebration have fallen though – but Yukon author Elisabeth Weigand and I still hope to honour Jessica’s memory in person in some way at a future Book Fair!”

Jessica Simon, who passed away in 2017, was also part of the planning and wanted to attend the Book Fair. She started the discussion and was very engaged in bringing a group of Yukon writers together who would have attended the Book Fair.

In 2018, Munro and Elisabeth Weigand travelled to Frankfurt to explore the book fair. Back then they were optimistic but, in 2020 the pandemic hit. So what is left?  Visitors got a full variety of Canada, including Canadian authors like Kim Thúy, Michel Jean, and Michael Crummey and Paul Seesequasis.

A scene from the 2021 Frankfurt Book Fair

Canadian Books were on display at the pavilion. And finally: browsing through books about Canada, there it was: A Yukon story about the famous Tagish elder Angela Sidney. The story is part of a collection of northern stories in a book written by Paul Seesequasis called “Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun”. The author is also curator of a social media project where he collected photos of everyday life of First Nations in Canada. 

But as everyone who ever lived or travelled in Canada knows: that this was just a glimpse of Canada and Canadian literature, which is indeed a book with many  pages, some still unread.

When I lived in the Yukon from 2013-2015 I became friends with author Jessica Simon. She inspired and motivated me to become a writer. She had great plans to attend the Book Fair when Canada was guest of honour. Her dream was to get her book translated into German. It never happened. She passed away suddenly in 2017. When I was visiting the Book Fair in October I did it with her in mind. And I am sure, her spirit was also there. Thank you, Jessica, this article is dedicated to you.

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