OVC Reads

Annual symposium explores animals in literature

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Catherine Bianco and Stanley

Catherine Bianco and Stanley Photo by Barry Gunn

Talk about your human-animal bond: How did a cat end up in the middle of a love triangle described in a 1930s Japanese novella? That’s just one of numerous talks planned for this year’s Veterinary Medicine and Literature Symposium, taking place at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) May 9 to 11.

About 140 people are expected to attend the second of a four-part series of annual conferences that began last year. The final conference will be held during OVC’s 150th anniversary in 2012. The events are being by OVC and the Society for Veterinary Medicine and Literature (SVML).

Delegates to the 2010 symposium will discuss the use of fiction, essays and poetry to enrich relationships among veterinarians, animal owners and animals; to allow reflection in the veterinary curriculum; to discuss difficult topics; and to renew purpose and joy in veterinary practice.

Canadian poet Lorna Crozier will read May 9, at 7 p.m., at the Bookshelf. On May 10, writers Mark Doty and Molly Peacock will read beginning at 7 p.m. in War Memorial Hall. Keynote speakers during the symposium in the OVC Lifetime Learning Centre will be Doty, Peacock, Crozier and Canadian broadcaster and writer Erika Ritter, author of The Dog by the Cradle, the Serpent Beneath, which was published in 2009.

Planning committee member Catherine Bianco hadn’t planned to give a talk during the event, but the OVC communications and marketing manager wound up on the bill among other U of G members after she shared a favourite title from her personal collection of translated Japanese works with OVC dean Elizabeth Stone.

Bianco will speak on “A Cat, a Love Triangle and the Human-Animal Bond in 1930s Japan.” Her talk is based on A Cat, a Man and Two Women, a novella by Junichiro Tanizaki about a tortoiseshell cat caught up among the book’s narrator, his wife and his ex-wife.

The 96-page book was written decades ago, says Bianco, but its theme resonates today. “We talk so much today about the human-animal bond ― how we share our lives with animals, how close we feel they are ― but the feelings we have for these animals were there 70 years ago,” she says. Bianco shares her Guelph condo with three cats and a dog.

The theme also spans disparate parts of the world. “Literature that connects people and animals isn’t confined to western culture,” she adds. “The feelings that we have for animals are not necessarily new today, and a culture that we think of as very different does have some of the same feelings.”

Bianco picked up the novella decades ago along with other translated Japanese works while studying journalism at the University of Hawaii. She learned to speak Japanese there as well, although she says she’s lost much of her facility with the language. “I can order sushi.”

She writes haiku poetry, including a number of pieces written for U of G colleagues about their animals. She wrote many pieces during a course on veterinary medicine and literature formerly taught by Stone at OVC.

Other U of G speakers and panellists at the literature symposium will include Stone; population medicine professors David Waltner-Toews, Andria Jones and Jason Coe; pathobiology professor John Prescott; and OVC graduate Blake Graham.

Besides Bianco and Stone, the planning committee consists of American poet Hilde Weisert, who co-founded SVML with Stone; OVC post-doc Marie-France Boissonneault; and Tara O’Brien, OVC 150th-anniversary project manager.

Visit the OVC website for ticket information and to register for the symposium, or email vetlit@uoguelph.ca.