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Smashing the gender binary


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Stand first: In a stellar double-bill of pioneering contemporary authors, Byron Writers Festival presents Susan Faludi and Ivan Coyote at Byron Theatre on 31 May. Emily Brugman previews this special event.


In what promises to be an unforgettable evening of conversation, Byron Writers Festival presents two events in one evening, with Pulitzer Prize winning author Susan Faludi followed by acclaimed author and storyteller Ivan Coyote.


The first event of the evening will see Susan Faludi in conversation with Zacherey Jane about her astonishing memoir, In The Darkroom, which was named New York Times Book of the Year and won the prestigious Kirkus Prize for memoir in 2016.


In the Darkroom traverses Faludi’s journey of re-acquaintance with her estranged father, who, at 76 years old, had sex-realignment surgery, notifying her in a surprise email, titled ‘Changes’. Already a well-known feminist writer, this is Faludi’s most personal foray into the riddle of identity. In her quest to understand the enigma of her father—somebody she remembers as a macho-aggressive man, “a simultaneously inscrutable and volatile presence, a black box and a detonator”—Faludi comes head on with one of the biggest questions of our time: Is identity something we choose, or is it the very thing we can’t escape?


The Kirkus Prize judges’ statement said of Faludi’s book, ‘More than memoir, or biography, it’s a detective story with two unforgettable characters at its center: an authoritarian Hungarian refugee who escapes the Holocaust; and Faludi herself, a feminist icon grappling with an unexpected family revelation. In the Darkroom is a landmark achievement in which Faludi uses her well-honed journalistic talents to tell the most intimate story she could possibly tell, her father’s journey into womanhood.’



For the evening’s second session Ivan Coyote will take to the stage unaccompanied. A ‘natural born storyteller’, Ivan comfortably straddles the part of both writer and performer, and in recent years has become a crowd favourite at storytelling, writer’s, film, poetry, and music events around the world. Ivan is the award-winning author of eleven books, the creator of four short films, and has released three albums that combine storytelling with music.


A seasoned road dog, Ivan’s career took off in 1996, when they co-founded Taste This, a four-person performance troupe that combined live music, storytelling and performance poetry to create ‘a text-driven genre-busting collaborative exchange,’ tackling issues surrounding gender identity and sexuality. Ivan’s latest work, Tomboy Survival Guide, is a memoir/stage show made up of stories from their own youth growing up as a tomboy in small town Canada. Ivan often grapples with the complex and intensely personal issues of gender identity, as well as topics such as family, class, social justice and queer liberation.


Defying boxes of all kinds, Ivan’s work resonates with a remarkably varied audience. Their work challenges the traditional gender constructs that many of us live within, perhaps pushing us to question the society we take for granted. Ivan suggests that wider audiences may be surprised at how much of the material and stories they can actually relate to, ‘because that is what a good story can do.’


‘I love the emails and notes I get from women in their 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s,’ says Ivan, ‘women who also challenged the gender norms of their times, by you know, wearing pants or having a job or being good at sports, or not getting married or wanting sex or whatever else women did that was seen as unnatural or unladylike at the time.’


Their work is a pursuit for acceptance for “all gender warriors of every stripe”, and we may be surprised at the ghosts Ivan managers to shake within each of us during this unmissable event.


Ottawa Xpress once said that “Coyote is to Canadian literature what KD Lang is to country music: a beautifully odd fixture.” Good humoured, intelligent and provocative, Ivan is a performer you’ll remember.


Event Information:

When: Wednesday 31 May, 6.00 – 9.00PM

Where: Byron Theatre

Tickets: Click here.