Holding a sheet of paper with a single-spaced typed note on it, author William Weintraub read aloud from a letter Richler wrote to him in January 1954 while living and working in London.
"The book has slowed down on me," Weintraub read to dozens of people crammed into Ziggy's bar and eating Schwartz's smoked-meat sandwiches "These things happen. I know they happen, but each day to sit vacantly at the typewriter writing nothing, but still a prisoner of that typewriter. Each day like that is a special kind of hell."
Weintraub spoke at a "literary pub crawl" organized to raise money for McGill University's new Mordecai Richler Writer-in-Residence program. Starting next fall, McGill will have two writers-in-residence who will teach, give public lectures and readings, advise students and organize writing workshops. The program will eventually fund eight fellowships for graduate students as well.
Richler's son Noah said he was pleased McGill will split the writers-in-residence positions between fiction and non-fiction writers in a way that reflects modern Canada.
"You might have a novelist such as Rawi Haj, a wonderful Lebanese-Canadian novelist living here in Montreal, at the same time as perhaps a South Asian-Canadian political essayist," Richler said.
"So you don't to have that stubborn French-English thing going on. You can recognize Canada in all it's panoply, which is very exciting."
Last night's pub crawl revisited some of Richler's favourite places, beginning at Winnie's bar on CrescentSt. withthescreeningof part of a new documentary on Richler by Quebec journalist Francine Pelletier.
The crawl wound up at Le Mas des Oliviers, the Bishop St. restaurant where Richler was a customer for nearly 30 years.
Gazette columnist Bill Brownstein and editorial cartoonist Terry (Aislin) Mosher, as well as Toronto businessman and Giller Prize founder Jack Rabinovitch, were among those who remembered Richler last night.
"He had a very deep and passionate love for Montreal," said Rabinovitch, who recalled going to an event at Baron Byng High School with Richler, who was heckled by people in the crowd who called him an anti-Semite who made them look ridiculous.
"He told them, 'You're all wrong,' and he got down from the podium and sat at the table and he wouldn't move. He said, 'Nobody is going to kick me out of my school.' "
So far, $750,000 has been raised for the $2.5-million endowment fund. Last night's pub crawl and dinner were expected to collect $15,000, a university spokesman said