Published on November 30, 2023

Violet Hour: a reading series, a book club, a literary community

by Brooke Lee

Almost a decade ago, Montreal author Christopher DiRaddo began building Violet Hour, a community that fosters discussions of queer literature wherever it goes, be it a bookstore, videoconference, reading room, or even a strip club. Founded during a precarious time for queer literary spaces in Montreal, DiRaddo’s Violet Hour continues to provide underrepresented voices with a platform, a microphone, and an audience.

With a degree in Communications and Journalism from Concordia University, DiRaddo has formerly worked for CBC, been the president of the Quebec Writers’ Federation (QWF), and recently returned from a writing residency at Dentro la Terra in Abruzzo, Italy, an initiative of Espace de la diversité. What originally led him to create Violet Hour was the publication of his first novel, The Geography of Pluto (Véhicule Press, 2014). In the quiet period following his book launch, DiRaddo felt the need for greater visibility – having been published by an independent press, he wasn’t receiving as many invitations to read at events as initially expected, and he observed that other writers in his peer group (many of whom were also queer authors published by independent presses) had been met with a similar fate. At that time, the phenomenon – though not widely talked about – was dubbed by the late writer R.M. Vaughan as the “lavender ceiling,” a callback to the second-wave feminist concept of the “glass ceiling,” where marginalized individuals are limited in how far they can rise in their professional success by barriers that, while intangible themselves, have tangible consequences. Facing this situation, DiRaddo’s response was: “Challenge accepted.”

Over Tim Hortons coffees at Casa d’Italia, DiRaddo tells me about the early days of Violet Hour, the name of which was inspired by the Violet Quill, a queer author group from 1980s New York. Since there was no queer bookstore in Montreal, DiRaddo partnered up with Fierté Montreal for the first Violet Hour reading series, inviting authors on stage at Stock Bar, a gay strip club in The Village, where they would read in front of the dance pole – a perfect backdrop for discussing sex and sexuality. At the bar, he wanted to create the social environment of a literary salon where writers could connect and share their work with other like-minded individuals, in addition to providing a space for them to sell their books. Plus, gathering in The Village made a clear political statement, and in episode 8 of What’s Literacy? by Literacy Quebec (“LGBTQI2+ communities sharing stories and creating community spaces”), DiRaddo explained that holding the series at Stock Bar was a form of “literary outreach,” since it was a place you wouldn’t normally go to hear readings.

Over the years, DiRaddo has had to overcome numerous obstacles, such as limited resources, time constraints, bringing authors to Montreal from out of town, and getting word out to the public. In addition to Fierté Montreal, Violet Hour has collaborated with other festivals, including Blue Metropolis, FringeMTL, and ItalfestMTL, further expanding its platform. Most recently, in November 2023, it took part in the Read Quebec Book Fair, courtesy of the Association of English-language Publishers of Quebec (AELAQ) and QWF. At the fair, Violet Hour was a co-sponsor for a live broadcast of the sixtieth episode of Dr. Linda Morra’s Getting Lit with Linda – The Canadian Literature Podcast, and also teamed up with IMAGE+NATION for a screening of the film adaptation of Catherine Hernandez’s novel, Scarborough.

A live recording of Getting Lit with Linda at the Read Quebec Book Fair, co-sponsored by Violet Hour. Photo by Daniel Haber.

Another recent achievement in the Violet Hour community was the fifth anniversary of the Violet Hour Book Club (VHBC), an endeavour launched by DiRaddo back in November 2018. A broad smile crosses his face as he shares the story of what led to its inception, how in the 1990s, he used to frequent Montreal’s queer bookstore, L’Androgyne, a place where he had found community as a young writer and avid reader. Unfortunately, after almost thirty years of business, L’Androgyne closed down in 2002, and its closest successor would not open until February 2017 – L’Euguélionne, a queer-owned, feminist bookstore located in The Village. With the VHBC, DiRaddo was able to recreate and share the queer bookstore experience with others, and while the loss of L’Androgyne had also partly inspired the reading series, the book club took things one step further by creating an environment that could bring together multiple generations of readers from different walks of life for critically engaged discussions. The monthly meetups persisted online throughout the long and uncertain months of COVID-19; post-pandemic, the club now uses a hybrid model, allowing members to continue to connect online. Currently, the in-person location for the VHBC is the reading room of Les Archives Gaies de Quebec, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving 2SLGBTQIA+ history in Quebec.

In the future, DiRaddo is planning to develop his own literary podcast to reach an even wider audience, inviting more people to listen to the conversations that take place at Violet Hour events. These discussions offer a wealth of knowledge, from interviews with authors and translators at the reading series to a diverse range of perspectives from book club members, with some hailing from different corners of the globe and others having lived through major milestones in 2SLGBTQIA+ history. Furthermore, the VHBC discussions regularly include the expertise of scholars, publishers, psychologists, and educators, providing listeners with a better understanding of critical theories as well as the everyday challenges that surround queer identity. DiRaddo is also set to collaborate more with the Équipe de recherche en études Queer au Québec (ÉRÉQQ), exploring more books for the VHBC selection that are available in both English and French, and in Spring 2024, there will be some Violet Hour events taking place in Sherbrooke, QC, the details of which are still being finalized.

As we finish up our conversation, DiRaddo explains to me that, “seeing the fruits of [this] labour, the connections, friendships, shared learning, and professional opportunities created by Violet Hour has made it all worthwhile.” And, looking at Violet Hour and all of DiRaddo’s accomplishments, it’s clear that his efforts have allowed queer authors’ stories to resonate well beyond the page.

Brooke Lee (she/her) is a writer and freelance editor based in Montreal. She holds an M.A. in Education and Gender & Women’s Studies from McGill University, and writes fiction under the pen name River Lee.

Illustration by Emmanuel Aubert.