Building Bridges – Mentorship Opportunity

Today, I am writing a special post – addressed to my female family members, friends and professional colleagues to let you know about a wonderful event that is taking place on Thursday, March 31st, in Toronto. This event was brought to my attention by Kirsti Stephenson, Director of Special Events & PR with The Mint Agency.

Building Bridges is a non-profit organization that is “committed to promoting inclusion and diversity within society”. The working mandate of this Toronto-based organization is to “connect people, create opportunities and achieve positive results through innovative events and activities.” Building Bridges is supported by the Opportunities Fund for Persons With Disabilities (Human Resources Skills Development Canada (HRSDC)).

This Thursday, March 31st, Building Bridges will be hosting their 2nd annual networking event for women with disabilities (click on the image above for a larger view of the invitation). This year, the event funding was very late in arriving from the HRSDC. As such, planners are now scrambling to find professional women to attend this event and act as a mentor for a few hours. Mentorship involves sharing one table with attendees, at either the breakfast or lunchtime session. You will be required to offer support and advice to women who are either recent graduates or in a career transition. The women attending will have various disabilities, ranging from mild to moderate, and would greatly benefit from receiving help as they navigate their professional aspirations. Building Bridges hopes to have women mentors from a variety of industries – whether from the corporate world, the non-profit sector, self-employed professionals or retired women. Women helping women creates opportunities for empowerment and results in dreams being realized.

If you are able to dedicate a few hours to give your support to this event, in the role of a mentor, I would be greatly appreciative. On Thursday, there are two sessions running – breakfast (beginning at 8:00am) and lunch (beginning at 12:30pm). Each session will have a wonderful group of mentors and attendees along with speakers, activities and an excellent catered meal. Certificates will be issued to each mentor, in appreciation of their support. (If you work in a corporate environment that might be a bit sticky about you taking a few hours away from your work day, the certificate could be made out to the organization, rather than to an individual.)

Should you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me. Also, if you are aware of a professional woman who would be a great fit for this event, please feel free to contact them with the details. (Just remember to let me know, so I can keep event organizers up-to-date with information.)

If you are able to attend, please e-mail me (dawson(dot)oakes(at)gmail(dot)com) with the following details:

Your Full Name
Your Company & Position
Full Contact (Mailing) Information
Which Session You Will Attend

I recognize this is a very last-minute request but I certainly appreciate you taking the time to read about this opportunity and consider whether you are able to become involved in this wonderful and fulfilling event.

Book Lover’s Ball 2011 – Part Two

I had a great feed-back to part one of my Book Lover’s Ball post; thanks to everyone for reading about the wonderful evening. I received quite a few questions by email, so in part two of my coverage, I will try to answer all of your questions, while sharing some more pictures and details of the evening.

Question #1:

What was served during the cocktail reception?


Celebrity Chef, Marc Thuet orchestrated the luscious cocktail reception. Guests were treated to several different hors d’oeurves, including: savoury crepe with smoked salmon and creme fraiche, steak tartare on a potato gaufrette and an amuse-bouche risotto with wild mushroom and aged parmesan . Everything was delicious and looked gorgeous too.

Question #2:

What did you have for dinner?


Dinner was created by the Royal York Hotel‘s executive chef David Garcelon. Our menu for the evening began with a twice-baked goat cheese souffle with wild and cultivated greens, cilantro chutney in an herb buttermilk dressing. Next, we were treated to some amazingly tender, melt-in-your-mouth roasted Alberta beef loin with maple sweet potato Charlotte and tart huckleberry jus. This was served along side olive oil glazed, roasted winter vegetables that were really lovely. For dessert, our sweet spots were tamed by espresso chocolate truffle almond dacquoise pine nut crunch with amaretto anglaise and tiramisu espresso crepe zabaglione mascarpone cream with espresso soaked lady fingers and dark sweet cherry compote. Garcelon managed to create a meal that was wonderful while eschewing typical banquet fare. It is also impressive to note that Garcelon, as Executive Chef at the prestigious Royal York Hotel, juggles 6 restaurants, massive banquets and room service. Complete with a walkie talkie, he oversees 12 sous chefs and in the course of a typical day, he walks 8 kms. Garcelon manages a budget of $30-million, and a staff of 200. He earned his first gig as an executive chef at the age of 28. At the Royal York, he’s also become an advocate for local produce – even keeping an herb garden and 10,000 bees on the roof so that the hotel can take advantage of fresh herbs. At 42, David Garcelon is a decade younger than most chefs in such a high-profile position.

Question #3:

How does a fashion show tie in with a book event?


This is a question I was asked, not only by readers of Literal Life, but also by people I was talking with, in person, following The Book Lover’s Ball. The fashion show was a great way for guests to be entertained after dinner. Staged in six scenes, one book was paired with one or two fashion designers. The creations presented brought the designer’s feel for the story they were representing to life in a way that was appreciated by the audience. The books that were used for inspiration were: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert; Mystify by Artist Arthur; Midnight at the Dragon Cafe by Judy Fong Bates; Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda; 007 Carte Blanche : The New James Bond Novel by Jeffrey Deaver; and The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg. The fashions ranged from fun and playful to elegant and ethereal. In particular, the designs of Romona Kaveza, paired with Läckberg’s winter-y novel were stunning. Introducing the fashion show was Lisa Tant, editor-in-chief of Flare magazine. Designers showcasing their fashions included: Nadya Toto, Shan, 2 Second, Samuel Dong, Yves Jean Lacasse, and Hugo Boss.

Question #4:

Where are the pictures of you, Jennifer??


Fair enough! Since I attended the event on a media pass, I was flying solo for the night. I didn’t want to appear like a total goofball by doing the classic “don’t mind me, I’m taking a picture of myself” manoeuver. You know the one: you shoot your hand way, way out, holding your camera, and stretching your arm as long as it will go then hope you are in the viewfinder and snap off a photo of yourself. Somehow, trying that while one is unaccompanied seems mucho el-lame-o. I was snapped, with two lovely ladies by another media photographer but as of yet I have not been able to track that picture down. I did do something oddly fun, in an attempt to capture one photo of me dressed up all girly-like. Hello Magazine had a “cover shoot” opportunity set-up for guests. I stood, gamely, for their photographer in front of a green screen. He was great about helping me pose and took a couple of different shots. Then, his assistant would do her computer magic and…voila! I was on the cover of the magazine. “Voila!” took about 15 minutes to process and be ready for pick-up and, in that time, I became distracted by all of the beautiful people, the happy bartenders and, oh yeah!!, talking with some of the best writers in Canada. By the time dinner began, the memory of my cover shoot was distant and, unfortunately, forgotten at the end of the night. So, note to self: next time, don’t be a doofus! Ask someone to take a picture of you with your own camera, would you??

Question #5:

Who else did you meet?


Who else did I meet?? Well, I thought I had done very well showing you some of the great authors I had a chance to chat with but, apparently, you want more!! Heck, I don’t blame you, really. I was so thrilled with how open and gracious the writers I had a chance to speak with were with their time. I tried to be respectful and not take up too much of any one author’s time but, truth be told, there were several writers I was lucky enough to meet with whom I could have chatted for hours. Okay, so along with the terrific novelists I told you about in my previous blog posting, here are some great photos of additional authors (a singer and a CBC radio host too) I also had the chance to meet (even if just ever so briefly): Greg Levey, Gill Deacon, Cathy Marie Buchanan, Terry Fallis (standing with the CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi), Kate Taylor, Tish Cohen, James Bartleman, Betsy Powell and Matt Dusk (again with Jian Ghomeshi). Here they are:

Question #6:

Was there anyone you didn’t get to meet that you wish you could have?


Absolutely!! I would have loved to have had the opportunity to meet Zoe Whittall and Micah Toub. I recently read Toub’s memoir Growing Up Jung and thought it would be cool to meet the man behind the interesting upbringing. Whittall has been a Toronto writer I have long admired. As well as being a gifted novelist and poet, Whittall has been a strong voice for furthering and promoting gay rights. That her day-job is with Quill & Quire magazine, makes me ever so slightly envious, I will admit.

So, clearly, the idea I am left with is this: I must ensure to be on the media list for next year so I can pester even more writers with my, with hope, less than inane questions.

Question #7:

How much did it cost for you to attend?


Well, I was very fortunate to receive an invitation (as a member of the media) from Kirsti Stephenson, the Director of Special Events & PR, at The Mint Agency. Kirsti and her team were responsible for creating the PR strategy and promoting this event for the Toronto Public Library Foundation. If I factor in the haircut, manicure, pedicure and other necessities to get ready for The Ball, it came to a grand total of…none of your business!! 😀 It was for a good cause: the libraries of Toronto!

I can tell you that tickets to the 2011 event were $600 each. Yes, this is very pricey but if you are a book lover I would really urge you to start saving some money, today, for the 2012 Ball. It is such a tremendous opportunity to mingle with so many talented authors in such a posh setting. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be gorgeous for an evening while hanging with some of Canada’s finest literati! I will remind you again that money from the event goes to help Toronto’s public library system.

Question #8:

What the heck is the Toronto Public Library Foundation??


From the library website: Toronto Public Library Foundation believes in the social benefits of a strong and healthy public library system. As a registered charity, we foster relationships with people of vision to enhance the impact Toronto’s Library can have on individual lives, above and beyond the core services that municipal funding provides.

Through its fundraising efforts, the Foundation provides enhanced support to the Library in three broad areas:

* Improved and expanded collections
* Enhanced programs and services
* Revitalized community spaces

[Toronto Public Library] believes that the character and quality of a city depends on the resources available to its people. We believe that a great library is a fundamental requirement for any city to achieve its full social and economic potential. Toronto’s Libraries are vital to the city, and vital to support.

For more information on the Toronto Public Library Foundation, you can visit their web site.

Question #9:

How many books do you read in a year, anyway?


A lot! Oh, wait, is that not specific enough?? Okay, in 2010 I read 92 books. Some were for work, some were to share on this blog and some were just because I am a total bibliophile and can get a little twitchy if my TBR (to be read) pile gets too low. I will also admit a slight addiction to the web site, Bookshelf Porn. Check it out; you know you wanna!

So, this completes my coverage of The Book Lover’s Ball, 2011 edition. I hope you have enjoyed reading about this event. I have really loved sharing my experience with you!

Look for an upcoming post about Midnight at the Dragon Cafe by Judy Fong Bates.

Book Lover’s Ball 2011 – Part One

Today, I finally have time away from work-work, so I can finally write my post about the amazing book event I attended on February 10th. The Book Lover’s Ball celebrated its 6th year in grand style. The event helps benefit the Toronto Public Library Foundation and it is a wonderful and unique experience. There was a healthy roster of Canadian authors present at this black-tie gala and each table of guests enjoyed the company of one author, during dinner. But…I am getting a bit ahead of myself here. I guess I should start at the beginning so you can have a full appreciation for how special this evening truly was.

The night before the event, February 9th, I made contact with Kirsti Stephenson, director of special events for The Mint Agency (responsible for the outstanding P.R. for the Ball). At the last minute, a member of the media was unable to attend so a vacancy had been created. Serendipity was smiling down and Kirsti extended a welcomed invitation to me which I very happily accepted. All of this occurred at about 7pm, giving me less than 24-hours to get prepared for the Ball. And yes, I did have a moment of feeling like Cinderella looking forward to attending the biggest party of the year (princesses aren’t usually my thing, though I will make an exception, at this time, for the coal-smudged, overworked Cinderella) . Along with being on deadline with a writing project, due the next day, I was looking like a regular ragamuffin! I was going to need more than a flock of chipper bluebirds and a mischief of mice to get me ready for the Ball!

My first priority was completing my writing assignment. Thankfully, I was nearly finished and had just a couple of hours of revisions and editing to get the piece to submittable status. By the time I finished, though, it was too late to call my hairdresser to see if she had an opening so I did what any other book-loving reviewer would do, I took to the internet to learn more about the authors I was not as familiar with who would be in attendance at the next evening’s event. Kirsti explained to me that there would be a cocktail reception from 6pm until 7pm. During this time, all of the authors would be mingling about, open to meeting and chatting with the guests. I wanted to ensure I had good familiarity with each writer (60 of them, in total), should I have an opportunity to meet with a writer who was outside of my reading and reviewing experience.

Thursday dawned and I was on the go! My hairdresser was booked up but one of her colleagues had an opening so I was able to get an appointment. Yippee!! First though, I was off for a mani-pedi. By the time I returned home at 3pm, I was coiffed, buffed and polished and ready for the party – except – I still had to figure out what to wear. In a lucky coincidence, I had two dresses, borrowed from my friend Cindy, as options for another special event that I ended up not attending. I chose a floor-length gown of Cindy’s that was beautiful. It was a flowing, black, sleeveless number, very Grecian in style, with beautiful beading around the waist. The theme for The Book Lover’s Ball was “Black and White and Read All Over” so the gown would be perfect. I make-up-ified and accessorized and was then ready to head downtown.

I arrived at the poshly adorned Royal York Hotel, an historical gem in downtown Toronto. As luck would have it, I arrived at the exact same time as writer, Graeme Gibson. An accomplished author, Gibson has also become known for being the partner of fellow author, Margaret Atwood. Ms. Atwood was away in England, so Gibson was without a date. He was looking very dapper in his tuxedo and tartan vest! We had a lovely chat as we made our way to the cocktail reception. Before I could ask some relevant book-related questions, Gibson was welcomed by several friends and my time with him ended as we neared the registration table. He was so kind and lovely! I presented myself at the media check-in and was greeted by some helpful volunteers. My name badge and table number secured, it was time to walk the red carpet! No, really! It was.

A red carpet was set up for guests to walk, in order to reach the cocktail lounge. This red carpet even came with some paparazzi – photographers and interviewers – ready to snap each guest’s arrival and ask questions of the many noted authors and local celebrities. Former Toronto comedienne, radio and television host Carla Collins was doing a great job promoting her new book. Then I noticed this, ummm, other lovely lady who had arrived dressed as Alice in Wonderland. Apparently, when The Book Lover’s Ball first launched, guests were encouraged to dress as literary characters, but this hasn’t been the case for a few years now. I would see Alice milling about, talking with an author every now and then and feel a weird disconnect from the reality of being at this amazing event. Perhaps I needed more wine?? The cocktail reception was beautiful. Held in two annex lounges off of the main ballroom, the intricate woodwork and marble that adorned the rooms was stunning. Coupled with the ornate ceilings, there was a certain period flair added to the ambiance of the evening. H’ors d’oeuvres were created by bad-boy chef, Marc Thuet. During the evening, a silent auction was running, with items to be bid upon ranging from books (of course) to trips, guest appearances by authors to sports memorabilia. Mostly, I was drooly over the bundles of books up for auction, courtesy of various Toronto publishers, but here was definitely something for everyone. People were spending a lot of time checking out the various items up for auction during the swish happy hour! While mingling before dinner, I had the opportunity to meet many writers, all of whom were gracious and interesting. My most in-depth chat was with poet, biographer and university professor, Richard Greene. “Rick”, as he introduced himself to me, won the 2010 Governor General’s Award for English-Language poetry. Greene has an upcoming biography on the life of Edith Sitwell due for release in Canada later this spring.

Here is a gallery of other authors I was lucky enough to meet during the cocktail hour:

From right to left are: Linwood Barclay with Lawrence Hill; Shilpi Somaya Gowda; Vincent Lam; and Claudia Dey.

Dinner began just after 7pm and, from the sounds within the room, everyone was having a great time. There was much laughter and a palpable buzz as we all enjoyed our meals. Following dinner was a fashion show that used themes from various books, such as Eat, Pray, Love and James Bond novels, to showcase some great designs from some amazing Toronto designers.

The biggest highlight for me came towards the end of the evening. I approached the bar and found myself standing next to Camilla Gibb (on the right, in photo). Now, Gibb is someone I have long admired. Her novels, such as Sweetness in the Belly, The Petty Details of So-and-So’s Life and her most recent releaseThe Beauty of Humanity Movement are evocative and richly detailed stories that transport the reader (or at least this reader) to another world. That Gibb is a brainiac (B.A., M.A., PhD (Oxford)) with a potential geek-factor makes her all the more awesome. So, here I was standing side-by-side with Gibb wondering how to introduce myself. I need not have worried. Due to a creepy skulker at the left side of the bar, I was drawn into the chat Gibb was having with a friend. “Did you see that?” I was asked, as they indicated off to the left. Yep, I had noticed the fellow in question. I think he had succeeded in giving at least three other women the heebie-jeebies in the few minutes I had been at the bar. Gibb, her friend and I, now in consort together over the gross-factor of the leech-man, ended up having a terrific conversation. I properly introduced myself and spent a very quick moment as a fawning fan, then quickly reverted to journalist-mode. Gibb gracefully accepted my praise for her writing and we spent nearly ten minutes chatting about the event, in general, and the internet as a tool for publishers and writers. I admit it, I developed a bit of a girl-crush after meeting Gibb, but excused myself so as to not overstay my welcome.

I had a wonderful time and hope to attend again next year! During dinner, I was seated with Anne Marie Aikins, manager of community relations with the Toronto Public Library. A few days after the event, I got in touch with Anne Marie to request some numbers for The Book Lover’s Ball. I wanted to be able to share the success of this annual event with you in a way that indicates just how important this event is for the library’s Foundation, as well as giving you an idea about where some of the money raised will be directed. Here is the message Anne Marie sent to me:

In its sixth year, The Book Lover’s Ball – Black and White and Read All Over – was once again a huge success raising $470,000 in support of Toronto’s Library and its 99 branches. This past February 10, 2011, almost 600 literary and library lovers gathered on February at the Fairmont Royal York and mingled with 57
celebrity authors including the likes of Brian Goldman, Camilla Gibb, Carla Collins, Kate Taylor, Lawrence Hill, Linwood Barclay, Robert Herjavec, Shilpi Somaya Gowda and Stuart McLean.

Guests enjoyed the delicious, French inspired hors d’oevres dished out by Chef Marc Thuet and showed their support of Toronto’s Library through a silent auction, raffle and a new fundraising initiative – Adopt a Branch raising an additional $22,000 in support library priority needs including collections, programs, and services and community spaces.

Wrapping up the evening was a stunning fashion show inspired by our city’s cultural diversity and its international – and internationally read – authors. Show designers included Nadya Toto, Second, Envers, Samuel Song, and Romona Keveza.

Toronto Public Library Foundation is grateful for the support of Presenting sponsor Sun Life Financial and other major sponsors including Toronto Star, TD Bank, Whitehots Inc., OSSTF, BMO Capital Markets, Harlequin, Rogers, Citytv, Hello Canada, Air Canada Vacations and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.

I shall leave you with a few more photos of Canadian authors I was lucky enough to meet during the event:

From left to right, Stuart McLean; Annabel Lyon; Robert Herjavec with his Dragon’s Den co-star Arlene Dickinson; and Giles Blunt.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. I will add a new post, part two of the Ball, in a couple of days as there are many more wonderful photos to share with you! In the meantime, if you are in a position to help the Toronto Public Library Foundation, with a financial contribution, I know they would be greatly appreciative. Like many library systems in municipalities across North America, the Toronto Public Library will definitely be facing shortfalls for fiscal 2011. A new municipal government just took over the reigns of the city in November, 2010 and it has been made known that funding for our library system is not a priority. That so many citizens rely upon the services offered by the Toronto Public Library does not seem to matter, unfortunately. Please visit the TPL donation page if you are able to help a great cause. Thanks!! I’ll get off my soapbox now. 😀

Credit for all photographs to George Pimentel. Used by permission from The Mint Agency, with thanks!