Oak Bay opens new chapter for festival

Event highlights indigenous and youth reading and writing

Leanne Simpson will be the speaker at the Victoria Writers’ Festival running this week in Oak Bay.

The cream of the literary crop, both established and emerging, will converge in Oak Bay as the Victoria Writers’ Festival shifts into our community for its third annual bash.

“We wanted something a little more in the community,” said Roseanne Harvey, publicist for the festival. “(Organizers) just really fell in love with the church and the space itself really works with the flow of the festival.”

The third annual Victoria Writers Festival Nov. 6 to 8 features Canadian authors in a packed schedule of workshops, readings, panel discussions, and book signings at Oak Bay United Church.

The venue offers a central location with the sanctuary for readings and lectures, huge room for book sales, kitchen and garden that they promise will add to the festival, says its artistic director.

“It’s such a great welcoming space; lots of parking, great accessibility for people with disabilities,” said Sara Cassidy, artistic director and co-founder. “It is large and roomy and welcoming and it has everything we need.”

Aboriginal voices and kid-lit additions are just two of the many highlights both women are excited about.

Both agree the Carol Shields Saturday night lecture will be a hit with readers and writers.

“This year’s speaker is Leanne Simpson an indigenous writer and activist from what’s known as Ontario,” Harvey said. “She’s a well-known and well-heard voice in the indigenous activist communities. She was a very eloquent voice during Idle No More.”

The lecture, sponsored by The Carol Shields Literary Trust, will also feature Jarrett Martineau a Cree/Dene scholar, media producer, musician, and community organizer from Frog Lake First Nation in Alberta. Also appearing is Darrell Dennis, the Shuswap comedian, playwright and actor who played Frank Fencepost on The Rez. Dennis is the author of the soon-to-be released collection of humorous, to-the-point essays Peace Pipe Dreams: Truths about Lies about Indians.

“It’s pretty dang exciting. It’s overdue,” Cassidy said. “It creates a much more dynamic conversation, and that’s what we want to provide. Quality of craft or skill is No. 1 for us. There are just so many voices that aren’t regularly heard at writers’ festivals.”

The opening night gala, Thursday’s The Enormous World, features readings for all ages by “rockstars of children’s literature” including Kit Pearson, Polly Horvath, John Wilson, and Morgan Purvis.

“I’ve been wanting to increase programming for youth and teens,” Cassidy said. “We try to get a range of genres. Readers are diverse, we want to reach as many readers as we can. We want to introduce a range of voices.”

Festival highlights include a Friday night gala reading with Griffin Prize-winning essayist Don McKay, New York Times bestselling writer Tilar Mazzeo, and the 2014 B.C. Book Prize-winner Jordan Abel.

“The gala readings are the featured voices of the festival. They’re a mixed bag in terms of gender and voice,” Harvey said. “They’re the cream of the crop presenting in those two evening readings.”

Another new addition is the Saturday master fiction class on yoga and writing.

“They complement each other. It’s a way of opening up creativity and accessing different parts of our body to break through blockages and get through negative self talk and those kinds of things,” Harvey said. “We try to find different ways of expressing … for us literature isn’t something that just happens on the page or in a book.”

Favourite writers making festival appearances include novelist Shani Mootoo, fiction writer Bill Gaston, memoirist Jane Silcott, and Aislinn Hunter, who recently launched the Books Matter Prize for University of Victoria writing students. Other program highlights include a master fiction writing class and the Songs for the Songs of Don McKay video poem contest.

“The festival is a way of bringing words and literature to life. It’s a very dynamic and interactive way to experience literature,” Harvey said. “It’s a way for people to discover new writers. Many of them are award-winning some are emerging and newer voices.”

Tickets for panel discussions and the Carol Shields Lecture are $12; evening gala readings are $15. Early bird passes to all readings are $55.

Tickets are available at Ivy’s Bookshop on Oak Bay Ave.

The non-profit, community-based festival aims to make good writing – and reading – available to all. It runs Nov 6 to 8 at Oak Bay United Church, 1355 Mitchell St. Visit victoriawritersfestival.org for ticket details.

cvanreeuwyk@oakbaynews.com