In celebration of books

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dominike Thomas, University of Ottawa Press

Every year in elementary school,  my classmates and I would hop on a yellow school bus and travel what seemed so far—all the way across the river!—to attend the Salon du livre de l’Outaouais. It was special, not because we couldn’t find French books in Ottawa—quite the contrary—but because this was an annual celebration both of books and of French culture.  We could forget, for a moment, our identity as a minority French community. We didn’t have to search for the French section, or the French shelf, of the library; all the books are in French at the SLO. You could get lost in the SLO, but you could also lose yourself in all these stories, all these possible worlds to explore, speaking to you in your own tongue.

As an adult, I still make the commute to the Palais des congrès, but my bus is red and white and doesn’t stop at the drop-off platform. Though I now work in publishing, I’m still impressed to see the stands, the authors signing books, and the many readers buzzing around the floor. No matter your age, it’s a very powerful feeling to be surrounded by kindred spirits. It’s also empowering to meet other francophones hors-Québec and minority francophone publishers. The Regroupement des éditeurs canadiens-français (RECF) has a prominent booth at the SLO, showcasing French books from outside Québec from various publishers. The Centre franco-ontarien des ressources pédagogiques (CFORP) has a booth with their educational material geared towards francophone students. And of course, the University of Ottawa Press is also represented in conjunction with our French distributor, Prologue.

As the only fully bilingual university press in North America, our bilingualism is worn on our sleeves. Beyond our mandate as the publishing arm of the University of Ottawa, bilingualism is also something that profoundly defines us. However, we also want to be known and renowned for the quality of our books and not just for the language in which they’re published.

The Salon is the perfect venue for this. At the SLO, people focus on the books themselves, and not the language in which they are published. No one questions our (or anybody else’s) linguistic choice, no one questions the existence or survival of French in Canada. Rather, we simply celebrate French books and authors who write in the French language. The provincial boundaries, which often serve to divide our communities, cease to matter. Beyond all else, only the books remain.