Why He’s Top 40: He helps construct-and deconstruct-the identity of our growing, dynamic city.
Jason Lee Norman has published words – #yegwords, more precisely – on the sleeves of coffee cups. He’s dispensed them from a short story vending machine at the Edmonton International Airport. And, he’s helped organize fun literary events like WordCrawl. That’s a pub crawl for live readings, by the way, which gives some insight into Norman’s by-any-means-necessary devotion to writing. The Edmonton author wants literature to come out from under the covers and surprise people. “You didn’t even agree to this,” he says, imagining someone reading one of his coffee sleeves, “but now you’re going to read it and reckon with it.”
After returning to Edmonton in 2009 feeling inspired after his MA at the University of Manchester, Norman started a local reading series called Words with Friends. He wrote two short-story collections and released two editions of 40 Below: Edmonton’s Winter Anthology on his own Wufniks Press, all while the coffee sleeves and short story dispenser became a hit. In 2014 he was the Edmonton Public Library Writer In Residence, and the next year he started a publishing house, Monto Books. Monto released three books in 2017, including the ambitious Project Compass, a novel with four authors.
As a young city, Edmonton’s identity is still in flux. That’s what’s exciting for Norman: the idea that Edmonton hasn’t been defined yet, that its identity can still change, and that literature can imagine what that change might look like. “We’re not ready to settle on one idea of ourselves,” he says. “But to have more art created by more people from here, and to have more to say about what it’s like to live here, maybe, eventually we will be.”