A few years ago, Ian Ferrier of the Quebec Writers’ Federation, Simon Dardick of the Association of English-language Publishers of Quebec, and writer Peter McFarlane went to Ottawa to propose a project to the Department of Canadian Heritage. It seemed to the trio that when the media in the rest of Canada wanted some Quebec talent to talk about, the talent was always francophone. When they gave a thought to the anglos, it was Mordecai Richler and Leonard Cohen. Trouble was, Mordecai was no longer with us, and Leonard (at least at the time) didn’t have a new book out.
Canadian Heritage decided that they had a point, and provided funding for research that proved conclusively that, yes, the rest of Canada basically knew two English-language Quebec writers: Mordecai and Leonard. So the Raise the Profile Project was born, funded by QWF, AELAQ, (and from the Canada Council via ELAN), with matching funds from Canadian Heritage.
How to raise the profile of English-language writing with a brand that could become a household word? Committees don’t usually come up with fun, sexy, playful proposals, but the QWF/AELAQ committee was an exception. The “Love, Ms. Julie” campaign was the brainchild of committee deliberation, and was brought to fruition by project co-ordinator Maria Francesca LoDico with the help of Sherwin Tjia. Ms. Julie, a cross between Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert, is a pert librarian who “truly, madly, deeply loves” English-language writing from Quebec, so much so that she rates books on the Kiss Curve, stamping the covers with lipstick kisses, awards the QueBooker Prizes, and photoshops herself into images of the authors, her “best friends.”
Ms. Julie, played by writer/translator/reviewer Adriana Palanca, took part in BookExpo Canada in Toronto, based at the AELAQ booth, but spending much of her time talking to publishers, authors, and media people. She gave out her saucy poster and her snazzy 16-page full-colour scrapbook featuring over 40 Quebec authors. She also hung around with Mélanie Watt, Nino Ricci, Monique Polack, Terry Byrnes, Claude Lalumière, and others. She was a hit. Ms. Julie has just launched her blog, where more writers will have their day in the sun. At this moment the Raise the Profile campaign is promoting authors with new or upcoming books, but the future is wide open. Ms. Julie is expected to attend several of the fall literary festivals and some local Montreal events as well.
Everywhere she appears, Ms. Julie sparks interest in Quebec’s English-language authors and their books. QWF and AELAQ now feel like proud parents of a prodigy. mRb