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The City and the Writer: In Calgary with Marcello Di Cintio

By Nathalie Handal

If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities


Can you describe the mood of Calgary as you feel/see it?

Because Calgary’s economic fortunes rely heavily on the petroleum industry, Calgary’s mood depends on such banalities as the price of a barrel of oil. When oil is high, Calgary can be brash and boastful. When oil is low, like it is now, the city moans and fumes and looks for someone to blame.  


What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?

The moment after nearly every election when Calgary’s progressives—for all their energy and optimism—realize they are still outnumbered by those who would rather look backwards.


What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?

Like most large Canadian cities, Calgary is the new home for people from around the world. But while diversity of culture is often celebrated, the incredible personal narratives of our newest newcomers are too rarely heard. I don’t think most Calgarians notice the stories that make up this city.


What writer(s) from here should we read?

Joshua Whitehead is one of Canada’s most unique and important Indigenous voices. Ali Bryan writes hilarious and well-crafted novels. Chris Turner’s journalism tackles climate change issues with well-researched pragmatism.   


Is there a place here you return to often?

Attending the annual Calgary Folk Music Festival on Prince’s Island Park remains my most important ritual. 


Is there an iconic literary place we should know?

Calgary’s most iconic literary place is also the city’s newest: the new Central Library. This stunning building proclaims that all Calgarians deserve a beautiful public space. I will write my next book in the top-floor reading room.


Are there hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?

Not long ago, an Indigenous man told me about the natural beauty of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve, which borders Calgary to the west. This area remains off-limits to me, but I am intrigued by the life on the other side of that fence.


Where does passion live here?

Passion lives in the realization, especially among Calgary’s creative class, that everything is permitted here. Calgary is not the center of anything. We owe no one anything. And we are allowed to do anything. 


What is the title of one of your works about Calgary and what inspired it exactly?

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I found myself drawn to the beautiful language of birth. This inspired an essay called “Fatherhood” that examined the complexities of my family’s father-son relationships in Calgary. 


Inspired by Levi, “Outside Calgary does an outside exist?”

Calgary is already on the outskirts, and we are already outsiders. We bring outside wherever we go.


Marcello Di Cintio’s travels have taken him through much of Africa and the Middle East. He is the author of four books, including Poets and Pahlevans: A Journey Into the Heart of Iran and Walls: Travels Along the Barricades. In Walls, Di Cintio visited with people around the world who live in the shadow of walls, fences, and other hard barriers. The book won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing and the W. O. Mitchell City of Calgary Book Prize. Pay No Heed to the Rockets: Palestine in the Present Tense, Di Cintio’s newest book, seeks to reveal life in contemporary Palestine as seen through the lens of Palestine’s rich literary culture. Di Cintio traveled to Palestine and meet with authors, poets, librarians, and booksellers to learn what it means to live in Palestine today. Pay No Heed to the Rockets also won the W. O. Mitchell City of Calgary Book Prize. Di Cintio’s writing has appeared in publications such as the international New York Times, The Walrus, Canadian Geographic, and Afar. Di Cintio has served as a writer-in-residence at the Calgary Public Library, the University of Calgary, and the Palestine Writing Workshop. He also teaches nonfiction writing at the annual WordsWorth youth writing residency. He is currently working on a book about the secret lives of Canadian taxi drivers.

Published Aug 12, 2019   Copyright 2019 Nathalie Handal

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