In 2012, newly graduated from my MFA program, I left cold Syracuse, New York for colder Montreal. I didn’t have much of a plan, or a clue. I simply knew that, as a dual Canadian-U.S. citizen, who hadn’t ever lived in Canada, I wanted two things: to experience and understand my Canadian roots, and to find a writing community that would inspire, motivate, and teach.
I quickly fell in love with so much about Montreal— the arrondissements, and their unique personalities and busy street festivals. I fell in love with the row houses, and their winding, exposed, staircases, which I couldn’t help imagining as the city’s DNA, shooting up out of the ground. I loved the bagels. I loved the students, banging on pots in protest. I loved the parks, which filled with people all year around. I loved the dogs that donned little boots in winter.
Above all, I loved the city’s artistic pulse. Brilliant murals, seemingly around every corner. Festivals in Place Des Arts. Museums and galleries. I loved the outdoor contests, and the sense that no matter where I found myself, here was someone practicing the violin, sending notes melancholy into the air. There was someone tucked into a studio, carefully stroking paint to a canvas. Dancers were spinning stories with their agile bodies in converted factory spaces. And at their desks, writers and poets were carefully choosing words that rendered and questions the complications of world.
I was lucky enough to find some of my people— the writers— fairly quickly. Classes at Concordia University led me to a passionate, vibrant, endlessly talented, lot of them. We formed our own workshop group, read each others work. We cooked dinners for each other, drank wine, and geeked out over books we were reading. Some of us worked together on a new and exciting literary journal, Cosmonaut’s Avenue. I learned a lot, and quickly, about the Canadian literary identity, and I learned that there were certain Canadian literary figures who were not only living legends, but the glue of the community.
Stuart Ross was one of these larger-than-life figures. Someone whom I’d heard of long before I met. He seemed to be everybody’s friend, and many a young writers’ mentor. Writers sung praises for his poetry, and lauded his work with Proper Tales Press. He seemed to be everywhere at once, a fixture of the Montreal lit scene, but not a resident Montrealer. He reached across the entire Canadian landscape.
It wasn’t until the night of Cosmonaut Avenue’s very first launch party, 2015, that I officially met the legend. We were both scheduled to read that night, and true to form, I was nervous. I doubted my reading selection, while sweating and sipping some overpriced cocktail. I was wasn’t up until the second set, and, thankfully, Stuart Ross was scheduled for the first. What was I expecting? I’m not sure anymore. But what I got was magical.
His words were at once profound and lighthearted, epiphanous and mundane. They told everyday stories with a certain brand of surrealistic flair that got me line by line. The man, himself, was quietly charming. Friendly, magnetic, and humble. Listening to his words calmed and inspired me in the best possible way.
That night, I could tell straight away that Stuart and I shared a certain sensibility. We were both concerned with exploring the alchemic under-workings of reality, the sadly beautiful humor of the absurdity of life. We both liked to get a little weird, a little sentimental. So I suppose it made sense that, years later, after I’d moved back to the states, and Stuart Ross stumbled across one of my published stories, he would reach out and ask to publish a collection of my work through Proper Tales Press. I felt both honored and grateful, and of course I said yes.
In the year following, I came to better understand Stuart Ross, and his mission for Proper Tales Press. I witnessed his unflinching commitment to championing the work Canadian writers. I wondered at history of cultivating a platform, a home, for literary misfits and poetic eccentrics. What he has been doing for the past forty years is truly an ideal, truly a dream. Stuart Ross—Proper Tales Press— has been doing the very best kind of work. Work that is nothing less than vibrant, essential. Work keeps the literary world honest and luminous. Work that is quite simply undeniable.
I’ll drink an overpriced cocktail to that.
Rebecca Fishow is the author of The Trouble with Language (forthcoming from Trnsfr Books), winner of The Holland Prize, and The Opposite of Entropy (Proper Tales Press). She has taught creative writing, English and writing composition classes at the college and high school levels since 2009. She holds an MFA in fiction from Syracuse University. She lives in Maryland with her husband, the linguist, Daniel Goodhue, and her cat, the purrer, Harvey. Find her at rebeccafishow.weebly.com.