The late Irving Layton, LLD 76, is an icon in Canadian literature. He won a Governor General’s Literary Award in 1959 for his book of poetry, A Red Carpet for the Sun.
His sexually frank verse and outsized public persona rankled many within the literary establishment of the 1950s and ’60s, yet raised the profile of Canadian poetry and won Layton numerous admirers and acolytes, including Leonard Cohen.
On March 11, a day prior to the 100th anniversary of his birth, Concordia will host Irving Layton’s Centenary at 6:30 p.m. in the J.A. DeSève Cinema, Room LB-125 of the J.W. McConnell Library Building (1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.), Sir George Williams Campus.
The event is being presented by Poetry Quebec and Concordia’s Department of English. It will feature readings by, among others: Jason Camlot, BA 90, associate professor and chair of the Department of English; Anne Cimon, BA 93; English Professor Mary di Michele; Catherine Kidd, BA 94, MA 98; part-time English instructor Steve Luxton; Carolyn Marie Souaid, MA 95; and Gillian Sze, BA 06, MA 08.
Concordia has strong ties to Layton and his legacy. He taught English part-time at Sir George Williams University, one of Concordia’s founding institutions, from 1950 to 1964. The university presented him with an honorary degree in 1976.
The Department of English inaugurated the Irving Layton Award for Creative Writing in 1988, and the following year he served as Concordia’s writer-in-residence. Today, the Vanier Library on the Loyola Campus houses the largest collection of Layton’s published and archival materials.
Endre Farkas, BA 70, MA 72, co-founder and co-editor with Souaid of the online publication Poetry Quebec, isn’t surprised by Layton’s continued importance to Canadian literature. “He was a pioneer of modernism who challenged Canadians to be conscious of themselves, and a darned good poet – one of the best we’ve had,” Farkas says.
The centenary event is more than a traditional poetry reading, with reminiscences, musical and theatrical interpretations, rarely seen archival footage, and other presentations. “Given his role as a public figure, Layton would have appreciated its multimedia aspect,” Farkas says.
The Concordia event is one of a series that will be held across Canada to mark the Layton’s 100th birthday.
• Irving Layton’s Centenary:
• Concordia Department of English
• Poetry Quebec
• Concordia University Libraries unique collections
• Irving Layton Centenary HUB on Facebook