Wednesday, July 14, 2010

salty ink guest blog

my good friends at salty ink asked me to guest blog about the hermit. you can click here to read it on their blog, or read below. and then keep going back - it's a new website in atlantic canada and seems to have really found a niche capturing the best of writing news in the area.

meanwhile, mark the date: i'm making my Live at Five tv debut next tuesday (july 20) to talk about the hermit.

On Halifax Favourite Jon Tattrie’s New Book: The Hermit of Africville: The Life of Eddie Carvery

Jon Tattrie first caught my — and Canada’s — attention with his Christmas at the Airport project. A month later, I was impressed after sharing a venue with him in Halifax, as he read from his 2009 debut novel, Black Snow, a novel that Halifax Public Libraries declared a book of the decade (alongside titles like Lullabies for Little Criminals). It also spend time as #2 on the Chronicle Herald’s bestseller list, and took silver in the Coast’s annual “best of Halifax” poll for a local writer/book.

Tattrie is back, already, with a 2010 release: The Hermit of Africville: The Life of Eddie Carvery.

Who is Eddie Carvery? Eddie Carvery was born in Africville, Nova Scotia, an African-Nova Scotian seaside village bulldozed in the 1960s under the guise of “urban renewal.” Its people were relocated by the city of Halifax, except for Eddie, who returned to Africville in 1970 and pitched a tent in protest, aiming to and to reclaim his people’s land and history. “Forty years, three families, seven heart attacks and numerous attempts on his life later, he remains living on the land where he was born. He’s been shot at, had his residence set on fire and been run off his land countless times. His struggles with his demons of addiction and violence have cost him his families and his entire adult life.”

Salty Ink: This is a pretty amazing story. Tell us about Eddie Carvery and your inspiration to write this story.

Jon Tattrie:

I was covering the Africville summer reunion as a reporter in 2009. The city had just renamed a service road ‘Africville Road’ and I was in search of a quote who could tell me how great the recognition was 40-odd years after the destruction of the black Nova Scotian community. Instead, I got Eddie Carvery. He spoke passionately about Africville, about his protest and about racism for 45 minutes, at which time my digital recorder’s battery ran out. Eddie concluded by saying, ‘But your readers don’t want to hear about that.”

I disagreed. I went home, filed my story (with an abridged version of Eddie’s complaint) and could barely sleep that night. Eddie’s been camped out in the abandoned fields of Africville for 40 years and he started moving into my brain that night. In later months, I had dreams where I could see Eddie sitting in his trailer sitting in my brain.

I came back two days later and proposed collaborating on a book about his life. He agreed on the spot and that started an extraordinary partnership. I had been looking for a story like this all of my adult life and he was ready to talk. I started going to his camp three or four days a week, interviewing him for an hour or two at a time, over four months. I wrote the interviews up every day and the deeper we got into his story, the more astonished I was.

Eddie’s a man like no other I’ve ever met – he’s straight out of the Old Testament and lives a life most of us can’t imagine. Listening to him grow quiet as he re-lived his dark days as a drug addict and violent man took me into my own city’s hidden darkness. Hearing how Africville saved him thrilled me and gave me hope for Halifax.

Africville has become a home of sorts for me. I still visit Eddie most weeks to hear his latest adventures, to ask his opinion on things and to just enjoy his company. When I’m frustrated with work or entering a patch of bad life weather, I go see him. Sitting in plastic chairs, gazing out at the Bedford Basin, talking to whomever stops by – it puts things into perspective. Eddie has walked in the darkest valleys and visited sun-drenched mountain tops. Few people survive such extremes or emerge with such understanding.

As a writer, The Hermit of Africville is a dream project. Eddie’s a gifted story teller with a sensitive mind for natural parables and so for the most part, turning his stories into words was a matter of listening closely. Because of the high-profile battle he and his brother (and co-protester) Victor had with Halifax in the run up to the 1995 G7 meeting here, he is a well-known figure, yet almost nothing is known about him. The same is largely true of the Africville he grew up in.

Eddie’s conviction at the protest, and his inner courage in exposing his soul at the same time he exposes the soul of the city, makes this book magic. I hope it will give people a better understanding of what we all lost when we lost Africville. The love Eddie has for his home has sustained him through 40 winters, 40 summers, 40 springs and 40 falls. He’s slept on frozen fields, risked his life and lost his families, but he’s never lost Africville.

I hope my book can offer even some of that love to others.

Jon will be launching The Hermit of Africville at 2 p.m. on July 24th, at the Africville Summer Reunion in Halifax. The launch will include a reading, words from Carvery, and a performance by jazz singer/judge Linda Carvery.
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