By Cheri Hanson
It’s 7:30 a.m. and Evan Solomon can’t believe I’m awake, let alone conducting an interview. In his words, it’s either impressive or sad.
I understand this is not a normal hour for me, but it’s two hours later in Toronto, and he still doesn’t sound too chipper. But before you peg him as a lazy writer (despite his recent appearance on a magazine of the same name), think again. This man is busy.
At 31, he has already founded a highly successful magazine (Shift), hosted not one, but two television shows on cbc Newsworld (Hot Type and FutureWorld), and written a well-received novel, Crossing the Distance, published by McClelland and Stewart. In case you haven’t heard of the publisher, you may have heard of some of their writers. Do the names Atwood and Ondaatje ring a bell? Oh yeah, Solomon also has a double ba in English and Religious Studies and a Master’s degree from McGill University. But wait, he’s also worked in Asia as a journalist and written for publications across Canada and the u.s. Even if he’s in a bathrobe watching Regis and Kathie Lee until noon, he’s earned that right.
Most of the interviews Solomon has given lately have focused on his novel. As most writers and rock bands do, he recently went on tour to promote his product.
Book tours are purported to be endurance tests for authors, but Solomon has a refreshing perspective.
"The book tour was something I was really looking forward to beforehand, because every writer writes a piece about how horrible the book tour is," he says.
"It’s horrible and grueling, full of strange people and it’s lonely. I always thought that was just whining. The positive part of the tour is you’re actually meeting people who are interested in literature."
Although he has made a name for himself as a journalist, fiction is Solomon’s first love. Even Shift began as a literary magazine. But if his love of fiction isn’t proven by the fact he actually wrote a novel, it comes through his description of meeting and talking to people who have read it.
"It’s amazing that there are still people out there who want to see the world through the lens of a book. That is so gratifying and makes me so optimistic and makes me feel like I’m not the only one out there who thinks books are relevant. In fact, there are thousands of people.
"When people come out and they’re excited about it, and your characters come to life and they own them, it’s honestly the greatest feeling an author can have. It’s fabulous."
Even though he’s enjoying the limelight now, it has been a long road, and Solomon is no stranger to poverty and struggle.
Solomon aptly describes the predicament of a young writer.
"When you write a novel for the first time in your 20’s, it’s as much about finding out if you can write a novel. Not in the sense physically, but if you can dare to call yourself a writer. It’s like T.S. Eliot said, do you dare to eat that peach? Then once you realize, ‘Shit, this is what I’m actually doing — I’m a writer,’ you say it in a whispering tone. You murmur it almost like it’s a magic potion, ‘I’m a writer, I’m a writer’, and if you say it enough times it will be true."
But the battle doesn’t end with those words. Solomon is incredibly refreshing to talk to because he understands. He’s been there.
"When you’re 23 and 24 and you’re out of school and poor and you decide you want to be a writer, all your friends are like, ‘You wanna be a writer? You loser! You’re going to be poor,’" he laughs. "And your parents are like, ‘Oh my God, don’t do that. You’re going to suffer.’ And you realize ‘You’re right! I am going to suffer. No one’s going to buy it, I’ll never be able to do it, how do you get an agent, how do you get a publisher, how do you eat?’ And then somehow you do it."
Once you figure out how to afford to eat on a writer’s salary, there are still hurdles. Anyone who has ever both read and tried to write fiction understands the looming presence of great writers and those who have gone before you.
"You take mentors," Solomon explains. "These people don’t know they’re your mentors, but they’re people who you read and you love and you copy. You don’t copy them because you want to, you think ‘Oh my God. I happen to be the next Don DeLillo. It’s so weird that I just read White Noise and I just happen to be writing exactly like it. What a fluke!’ Then you realize, ‘Oh, wild! I’m actually copying him.’ But it’s okay. These are the people who are grooming you in that invisible connection. By copying them you’re stretching out, and you eventually write through these people."
Solomon’s days of ‘copying’ aren’t far behind him. It’s easy to forget how young he is, relatively speaking. To have accomplished so much and done the things he only dreamed about while drinking at McGill is impressive. As expected, Solomon has an interesting take on the university experience.
"I looked forward to it so much," he says. "The great scam of youth is university, because you get four free years, and your parents think whatever you do has got to be good. Society condones it.
“To me it was this great thing, because any question I ever had in the world, someone was there to answer me. In exchange for the answer, all I had to do was answer their questions in return about the questions I had asked in the first place, i.e. a test. I ask the question, they give the answer, and then they test me on the answer — as if I wouldn’t be interested in the answer when it was me who asked the question! I never really got why people would say, ‘Fuck! I really hate university; I don’t want to go to school.’ Then don’t go! There’s no gun to your head.”
Solomon continues to surprise when he adds that he was on the McGill rowing team, and both wrote and performed plays on campus.
“I was in Montréal, for Christsake,” he explains. “I loved Montréal. It’s a beautiful, romantic city. Things were very passionate and I really enjoyed it. I remember I used to buy books at a used bookstore every single day on Milton street. They used to put them out on this little ledge outside the bookstore and they were 50 cents a book. As a student, that was like crack lined up on the street.”
No matter what aspect of Solomon’s career you consider, his focus has been storytelling. Solomon seems obsessed with stories and the people behind them. He also as a strong interest in technology — how it’s developing and where it fits in our lives.
In fact, Solomon has a strong interest in nearly everything one can think of.
As an undergrad, he was interested in anatomy, so he wanted to take a course with human dissection. But he admits, “I was in English and Religious Studies. They were like, ‘Why do you want to be in anatomy? We have real people who want to be there.’”
It’s his blinding curiosity that has driven Solomon’s writing and his experience as a journalist. It is difficult to imagine where that curiosity will take him in the next 10 years.
But one thing’s for certain: whatever he does will be filtered through writing. His love of the written word has been there all along, from 50 cent crack on Milton Street to recent cross-country book tours.
In his own words, “I gotta write. It’s all bullshit unless I come up with the goods. I just have to write.”
Evan Solomon will be on campus Thurs. Sept. 30 for the official opening of the Information Commons.