When local artist and author Derek McCormack was diagnosed with a rare and potentially deadly form of cancer of the appendix late last fall, his friends wanted to help. “I had people approaching me on the street, asking me how they could contribute,” says Jason McBride, Mr. McCormack (aka Corm)’s close friend and former University of Toronto roommate. Mr. McBride is also a writer, while many of Mr. McCormack’s other pals are musicians, painters, sculptors, photographers, poets and comedians. In that sense, the idea for “Corm-O-Rama” was sort of a no-brainer.
The April 10 fundraiser and concert – featuring performances by Jason Collett, Matthew Barber and Joe Pernice as well as readings by Sheila Heti and Claudia Dey – is being held in conjunction with the already launched Art For Derek, an online art sale that has so far raised more than $30,000 selling donated pieces by artists including David Altmejd, Seth and Shary Boyle. (Most of the work is now spoken for, though there are still a few worthy offerings including a framed photo by OCAD starchitect Will Alsop and a Cher-inspired painting by Margaux Williamson).
The hope is that the two events will raise enough money to cushion Mr. McCormack’s significant medical expenses (including a recent trip to NYC for a second opinion at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center) and also to help recoup wages lost during a six-months-to-a-year recovery period – his career as an experimental and defiantly non-commercial author hasn’t left much in the way of an emergency fund, and Mr. McCormack has neither benefits nor rich parents to fall back on.
Right now he is still at Mount Sinai Hospital following a successful but gruelling 16-hour surgery – one that involved removing his digestive organs to strip off cancer cells. This means that Corm will not actually be at Corm-O-Rama, though he probably prefers it that way: “Derek’s a really social guy, but he’s not big on being the centre of attention. He has been so touched by all of the support, but I think he’s also relieved to be there in spirit only,” says Mr. McBride, who (ever the supportive BFF) says he hopes Tuesday’s festivities “will have the happy side-effect of leading more people to Derek’s brilliant work.”
A fixture of Toronto’s arts community for almost two decades now, Mr. McCormack is known to many local lit lovers as the gregarious, glasses-sporting guy behind the counter at indie book stores like Book City (where he worked for a decade between the mid-nineties and the mid-noughties) and Type Books (where he was working until his recent diagnosis). Professionally he is probably most celebrated for his 2004 short novel The Haunted Hillbilly, which made several year-end “best” lists, and which was later adapted into a musical with songs by Matthew Barber. Like all of Mr. McCormack’s work, that book (about a gay vampire couturier who outfits Hank Williams) demonstrates a unique and just-the-right-amount-of twisted sensibility that has endeared him to a small but extremely dedicated following. More recently he co-founded The Book Bakery, an artisanal printing press project, launched last year at the peak of iPad mania.
Corm-O-Rama will also include a raffle with prizes donated by The Beguiling, Coach House Books, Sam James Coffee and The Walrus. (“Hopefully people get even more generous after a few drinks,” says Mr. McBride). Another friend, Adam Sternbergh, who works as an arts editor at the New York Times, will handle M.C. duties. He says his role should be pretty straightforward: “I just have to introduce all the excellent people that everyone is actually there to see, and talk about how awesome Derek is, which should both be very easy.”
Corm-A-Rama, A Benefit for Derek McCormack, April 10, PWYC or $10, The Garrison, featuring Howard Akler, April Dick (featuring Tony Burgess and Chuck Baker), Matthew Barber, Jason Collett, Joey Comeau, Claudia Dey, The Cast of Haunted Hillbilly, Sheila Heti, Doug Paisley and Joe Pernice.