Saturday Night with Commas

As soon as Comma Queen coming to Victoria Literary Festival appeared in my river of news, I knew this was a place I had to be.

The “Comma Queen” is Mary Norris, a query proofreader at The New Yorker. You may know her from hits like Whichcraft: That vs. Which, and Pronouns for Pets—“That” and “Who”.

If, like me, you pray at the church of The New Yorker, when someone from 1 World Trade Center comes to your remote outpost, you go.

The Victoria Literary Festival, it turns out, is a low-key late-summer event that the intelligentsia of the tiny seaside village stage mostly for themselves. Although, as organizer Linda Gilbert said in a CBC Mainstreet interview, “we’ll let other people come… it’s for anyone who happens to be around.” A Victoria kind of thing to say.

Mary Norris was part of a triple bill that started with tea expert Linda Gaylard, ruminating on tea and grammar, and continued with a performance piece by choreographer Julia Sauvé. Each act was punctuated by an intermission, with cocktail, sandwiches and chocolate.

All of this shoehorned into Island Chocolates’ space on Main Street.

It was, in other words, about the best possible event you can imagine, in about the best possible location you can imagine.

The crowd was an enthusiastic bunch of high society types and earthy locals; a pleasant bunch to be among.

Norris held court, complete with the comma crown and the comma shaker. She’s a compelling speaker, a skilled explainer, and was willing to entertain my fanboyish questions about the magazine.

How did tiny Victoria manage to attract someone of such import, someone whose upcoming gigs include the Italian Consulate in Dublin and Shakespeare & Co. in Paris? According to Linda Gilbert, and confirmed by Norris herself, they simply asked. And she said yes.

As the night drew to a close, I bought, and had signed, a copy of Norris’s book Between You & Me, grabbed a chocolate R for the road, and headed out into the dark streets of Victoria to find my car.