Caribbean Canadian author Suzette Mayr never did tell her bookstore audience how she travelled to Windsor to kick-off Black History Month in Canada’s most southern city. One would forgive the recent winner of the $100,000 Giller fiction prize for passing up on a train ticket and flying in to speak at this standing-room only event.
Since winning the prize for her book “The Sleeping Car Porter”, the Calgary-born professor with strong Bahamian roots is now an A-lister in the nation’s book world. Biblioasis, a popular local bookstore and publisher, snagged a coveted spot on Mayer’s very full engagement calendar by booking her even before she won the Giller. “We just loved the book as soon as we read! We knew it would win,” said the store’s spokeswoman at last week’s event.
Standing in at the front of the street level bookstore, Mayr ignored the busy street scene behind her. Buses. Taxis. Curious pedestrians peering in at the hundred people packed into the room and hanging on to every word she said.
She tells everyone that her Sleeping Car Porter, is the story of a queer Black Caribbean Canadian train porter takin a particularly difficult trip out West in 1929. He stays up all night to serve the white passengers on board, as he grapples with sleep-deprivation-induced hallucinations.
He is a man with a goal. He puts up with the racism and the impossible working conditions of the railroad so that he can make enough money to soon go to school in Montreal and become a dentist.
The Windsor audience lapped it up. They were there for the author not the Month!
Just as the evening was wrapping up, a lone voice in the all-white audience shouted out her first Happy Black History Month. Suzette Mayr smiled and clapped back her approval!
“The Sleeping Car Porter” is Mayr’s sixth novel. Her third, “Monoceros,” won the W. O. Mitchell Book Prize. She and her wife live in Calgary where Mayr teaches creative writing at the University of Calgary.