Last week, we lost a good friend over here. You may have read that writer Michael Van Rooy died of a heart attack in Montreal last Thursday. He was 42.
Michael Van Rooy was our second writer-in-residence at Aqua, and I almost instantly liked him. I was a little intimidated by him, because of his imposing stature (6’6”, 20+ stone), and also because of the rumour of his prison time. But although he wrote some dark and wonderful stuff, there was no secret menace he was masking. He was just truly kind and soft-spoken.
I soon realized that we had a lot in common. Like me, he was someone who almost never let an opportunity pass him by. (Most recently, he was Winnipeg’s Arts Ambassador for Lit, Thin Air Winnipeg publicist, Prairie Fire board president, and administrator for the Writers’ Collective and also for CMU’s writing program.) And he seemed tireless. Despite all the extra work he took on to support his family and advance his career goals, he never stopped honing his craft. Most of A Criminal to Remember was written in a studio right above my head. This was while he was here as writer-in-res, and while he was working all of his various jobs, teaching and being a husband and father.
When someone dies at 20, it’s a shame because of the potential that was there. When a person dies at 80, it’s sad because they’ve lived a long life and touched many people. When a friend dies halfway through their life, it’s a tragedy because they’re not finished yet. So many wonderful things done, so many to do. Michael had so many more stories in him. (I had recently pitched a piece to CBC’s The Next Chapter, promoting Michael as Canada’s Stieg Larsson. An unfortunately prescient thought.)
Michael Van Rooy truly belonged to so many of us in the writing community and beyond. Aqua Books will be hosting a Tribute to Michael Van Rooy on Saturday February 12/11 at 7pm. We will have an open mic, food, and drinks. In addition to an opportunity to publicly remember Michael, we will give people a chance to help in a practical way. A writer’s living in Canada is a tenuous one, and we’re setting up a bank account in the name of his three kids. I will also have an announcement about another way we’ll be honouring Michael, long term. So I hope to see all of his friends, students, admirers, readers and fellow writers that evening. Bring your memories, stories, favourite MVR passage, (and your chequebook). See you then.