Vivek Shraya and Derritt Mason launch new works in Edmonton

Joint Launch for Death Threat and Queer as Camp
Peter Robertson Gallery; Thursday, May 30 (7 p.m.); books will be sold by Glass Bookshop.

By Charlie Crittenden

Two Alberta wordsmiths are in town for a double-headliner book launch. Writer, professor, and musician Vivek Shraya will release Death Threat, a graphic novel illustrated by Ness Lee that relates Shraya’s experience receiving a series of menacing and strangely personal emails. Writer and professor Derritt Mason will also appear to release Queer as Camp: Essays on Summer, Style, and Sexuality, an anthology co-edited by Mason and Kenneth Kidd on queer experiences in summer camps and other campy situations.

Mason and Shraya work together at the University of Calgary, but they met long before they became colleagues.

“I’ve been a huge admirer of Vivek’s work for almost a decade now,” Mason says. “The first time I met Vivek was, in fact, in Edmonton back in 2010—I was in the first year of my English PhD at the University of Alberta, and she was launching God Loves Hair, her first book. I attended the launch and was completely captivated by Vivek and her work … Now we’re colleagues and friends, and this Edmonton launch—for me, at least—feels like an amazing full circle moment.”

Queer as Camp explores how camping foments both repressive and liberating experiences.

Derritt Mason. // Supplied

“Summer camp—especially traditional, single-sex summer camp—is something of a paradox,” Mason says. “[It] is a place that typically has a very limited, conservative, and often oppressive view of what gender and sexuality should look like. These gender and sexual norms are often imposed violently, through bullying, or in more subtle ways through day-to-day camp culture.”

However, as Mason says, camp and its freedoms lead towards possibilities for same-sex intimacy and exploration.

The contributors to Queer as Camp examine this formative time outside the ‘normal’ world.

“Summer camp might offer some relief from regular life and potentially help us imagine non-normative options for life and love, but it doesn’t necessarily succeed in doing so, nor does it typically seem to offer any kind of sustained radical transformation,” Mason says. “After all, at the end of the summer, you always have to go back home.”

Death Threat occurs along the boundaries between the dreaming and waking life of Vivek Shraya, as well as the mysterious depths of the internet. It begins with Shraya preparing for a normal day by singing along to Ariana Grande after waking up from dreams of raging fires and mouse cursors. An email from a stranger arrives, and its first line reads, “Your name was shouted at my place as someone who has to die.”

Vivek Shraya. // Supplied

The harasser maintains a one-sided correspondence to express his hateful opposition to Shraya’s identity as a transgendered woman and his religious beliefs about the traditional boundaries of gender. Lee’s sinuous artwork delves into the pervasiveness of glowing screens as the emails arrive on Shraya’s phone and disrupt her world by provoking questions about the stranger’s identity and motives.

An evening featuring both writers promises to be full of diverse talent.

“I won’t give too much away, but since Vivek is so multi-talented, you can probably expect a bit of music,” Mason says. “I promise that I will not be singing, since that would send audiences running.”

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