Rachel Giese is a Toronto journalist. Her writing has appeared in the Walrus, Toronto Life, Chatelaine and Globe and Mail. She hosts the IFOA round-table discussion Contemporary Contemplations: Topics of New Fiction with authors Kevin Barry, Emma Donoghue and Joshua Ferris on Friday, Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. in Studio Theatre.
Globe and Mail: Can you recall your first hosting gig?
Rachel Giese: My first hosting gig was probably as MC of a grade six production of Tom Sawyer. However, my most memorable gig was doing a Q & A onstage with Liza Minnelli at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006. It followed a screening of her 1970s TV special Liza with a Z, which was being released on DVD. The audience was full of gay men and musical theatre students. Every time Liza opened her mouth, someone nearly passed out with excitement. When she brought out her Halston and Bob Fosse anecdotes, it was mayhem. I didn't have to do a thing but sit back and enjoy.
G&M: What's the trick to staying in the conversation while removing yourself to make room for their responses?
RG: You have to remember that it's not about you. It's not about how smart or edgy or provocative you can be. You're the proxy for the audience who has shown up because they connected really strongly with an author's work - they'd loved, or hated it, or were inspired by it. So it's your job to ask the questions that will reveal something new or significant about the book or the author.
G&M: Friday at 8 p.m. you're hosting the round table "Contemporary Contemplations: Topics of New Fiction" with authors Kevin Barry, Emma Donoghue and Joshua Ferris. Is there one thread that ties them all together?
RG: They're very different authors and very different books. In a way, though, the stories are all about confinement. In Emma Donoghue's Room, the confinement is literal - a young woman has been abducted and lives in a shed with her son and they are at the mercy of their captor. In Joshua Ferris's The Unnamed, a man is trapped by a strange compulsion that has him walking away from the comfortable life that he loves. And many of the characters that populate Kevin Barry's short story collection There are Little Kingdoms are stuck by circumstance in unhappy marriages, or bad jobs, or backwater towns.
G&M: What are the essential ingredients of a thoughtful yet energetic group conversation?
RG: I think for a group conversation to work, there needs to be mutual curiosity and interest in the other people. Fran Lebowitz has a great line in which she jokes that the opposite of talking isn't listening, it's waiting. You need to watch that tendency and actually pay attention to what other people are saying. Because the key to being a great conversationalist is being a great listener.