A Book Launch Under COVID-19? Virtually Moving!
by: Julienne Rousseau
University of Windsor students in Marty Gervais’ Editing and Publishing Practicum courses have done something that’s virtually never been done before. They held a virtual book launch on Zoom.
“Life would be boring without art,” said Dr. Joanna Luft, Head of Windsor’s English Department, setting the tone for the evening in her opening remarks. Indeed, this Zoom was like a first performance of a play. Although students have accommodated virtual learning, knowing how an audience was going to accept a virtual book launch was uncertain. No worries. Gervais’ students developed a framework for the launch that was entertaining and moving.
Each year, at the end of the semester, editing and publishing practicum students hold a launch event. It is the culmination of a year-long process of taking a book from start to finish, from selecting an author through editing, design, layout and, finally, binding and boxing. This year’s book of poetry is Grace of falling Stars by Bruce Meyer. Meyer attended the event from his home in Barrie ON in front of hundreds of viewers from as far away as Thailand.
Other attendees were Michelle Hann, a senior communications consultant of Toronto’s prestigious Enterprise Canada, Robert Hilles, the Governor-General’s Award-winning poet, and Windsor’s own Youth Poet Laureate Samantha Badaoa. According to Hann, “this was one of the best virtual events we’ve attended. Bravo!” Badaoa wrote, “it was truly a delight to watch.” Hilles, who tuned in from Thailand despite difficulties getting in from the other side of the world, caught enough of the event to declare it “a delight.” At its height, 170 participants were online many with webcams on and some even attended with their families. This virtual event may, in fact, turn out to be the biggest launch ever seen by UWindsor students.
Students in this year’s Practicum overcame the challenges of learning in the virtual classroom to successfully edit and design a book of poetry, promoted it, and pulled off a virtual book launch party. “Being a part of the editing and publishing practicum this year has been an unforgettable experience for me,” said 4th-year English student Abby Coutinho, reflecting on the COVID conditions. “I personally have aspirations of finding a career in the publishing industry one day, so having the opportunity to work alongside such incredible figures in the industry like Marty Gervais and Bruce Meyer is something I will cherish forever. This practicum has been especially rewarding during the pandemic as it’s allowed me to feel like I’m doing something that actually matters and will live beyond myself. I feel truly blessed.” The event reached out broadly into the virtual community. Windsor’s Mayor Drew Dilkens, MP Irek Kusmierczyk, MPP Percy Hatfield, and lawyer and poet Peter Hrastovec all participated. Hrastovec comments enthusiastically, “Poetry makes a difference…it does. And so do they, the students!”
The students narrowed down a collection of 160 poems (formerly thought of as “garbage” by Meyer) into a book of poetry that moved an audience, and for a few minutes at a time, swept us back to the days we rode our bikes “No Hands” and felt the simple freedom and joy of life. John B Lee, poet laureate of Brantford, and Canada’s most prolific poet wrote, “I was there for the entire zoom tonight and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire evening. The students did an amazing job. In addition to the reading, a highlight for me was the story Bruce told about the occasion of his daughter’s birth. I also very much enjoyed hearing about Daisy, I’ve met her and she’s one hell of a dog. As a dog lover, a fellow dog lover, a man who has lived a five-dog life, I have a soft spot for dog stories…”
The book launch concluded with a Q & A with the author which proved to be the most powerful performance of the night. Bruce Meyer captured the hearts of the audience with his personal stories, certainly inspiring the next generation of storytellers, as well as the greater Windsor community. The virtual book launch was a night that took a book of poetry and turned it into an event capable of moving a national, if not global audience. Bravo!
Click this link for more information about this year’s Publishing Practicum Students