Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

A Day at Kingston WritersFest 2012

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Linda Spalding, Tanis Rideout, Pasha Malla at Kingston WritersFest

The sixth floor of the Holiday Inn is a little crowded. A long line stretches from the closed doors of the Islandview Room. It’s a tight squeeze, but manageable. There’s almost a continual chorus of “excuse me,” “pardon me” and the occasional “I’m so sorry,” when a foot is accidentally stepped on.

Just as the chatter reaches a new decibel, black-clad volunteers festooned in autumn-orange scarves remind the line that another event is happening just around the corner. Since these volunteers are granting access to the featured authors in the Islandview Room, the volume lowers to the hush of library voices.

It pays to be at the back of the line, near the doors of the festival bookstore where Oscar Malan, the owner of Novel Idea, stands guard, keeping an eye on what stacks of books need replenishing.

The scent of Margaret Atwood lingers, and not for the reason one might expect. She’s not even on the festival roster this year. It’s the shade grown, certified bird-friendly Atwood blend from Balzac’s Coffee Roasters swirling from the café, wafting under the nose of tardy festival goers privy to such end-of-the-line perks.

Before taking a sip, the imagination is at play. What would a cup of Atwood coffee taste like, I wonder. Dystopic, with hints of social science fiction? Certainly a cup of Kingston poet Jason Heroux would be surreal. A blend of Vincent Lam would have enough vavoom to keep any emergency room physician awake for hours. And a mug of Naomi Wolf would be bold; redefining what coffee is all about by challenging its myths.

From the back of the line, the crowdedness doesn’t look irritable, but intimate. A healthy, reassuring sign that yes, despite this epoch of dismal forecasts circling the publishing industry, writers can still draw an enthusiastic crowd.

In any given line, readers are amidst writers. From a birds eye view I spot memoirist Iain Reid, author Laurie Lewis, Carolyn Smart, Diane Schoemperlen and CBC Poetry Prize winner Sadiqa de Meijer. As the line grows longer, it’s evident that the Kingston WritersFest has done it again. The crowd is a reflection of its success. There are smiles, plenty of smiles. A true marker of a festival living up to its reputation as one of Canada’s best.

The doors to the Islandview Room are open. On to the events!


Playwrights Without Borders

When Judith Thompson and Christopher Morris took to the stage, they did so without a moderator. The conversation was intriguing and insightful, focusing on the impact of real-life merging with theatre and the consequences that follow. They posed questions to each other, improvising. The conversation carried like a phone call and the audience was listening in on the other line.

“Theatre’s only interesting for me when there’s a real ethical struggle,” said Thompson.

It shows in her work. The Crackwalker, Lion in the Streets and Perfect Pie are examples of it.

For Morris, he tries to find a Canadian connection to the stories he tells. Through his theatre company, Human Cargo, he narrows in on pressing social and political issues.

They also explored the source of funding for artistic projects. Making note that every artist needs to know their line and recognize where they stand when it comes to accepting grants.

“If artists are eating out of the hand of multinationals, how much can they bite that hand,” said Thompson.

Author! Author!

There was a little bit of an over share and a lot of laughs between the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist Will Ferguson and CBC radio personality, Shelagh Rogers.

“I almost don’t recognize Shelagh with her clothes on,” said Ferguson.

The comment pertained to an on-air interview the two did together while getting a spa treatment in Saskatchewan. Ferguson was promoting his book Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw at the time. 

This segment of the Kingston WritersFest was recorded for Rogers’ show, The Next Chapter. The two discussed the kind of characters Ferguson tends to write.

“I like to reveal people by what they do, not what they think,” he said.

Novel Attractions

When Tanis Rideout, Pasha Malla and 2012 Governor General Award finalists Linda Spalding and Vincent Lam, read from their novels, it was quite obvious how talented and well travelled these writers are. The importance of place is exemplified in their work. 

“I got a sense of how the day unfolded,” said Lam, about his time in Vietnam. “What a morning felt like.”

Rideout wandered around Cambridge and had the opportunity to pour over the letters between mountaineer George Mallory and his wife, Ruth, when doing research for her book Above All Things. And Malla spent time in Dawson City, Yukon, when he was living at the Berton House Writers’ Retreat. He was expecting peace and the quiet tethered to isolation. He was met with the vibrant energy Dawson has. A town, he described, as being every North American city, but on a much smaller scale.

Like all good things, the Kingston WritersFest must come to an end. But like a hardy perennial, it hints and teases in the spring, comes to full bloom in the summer and is enjoyed by audiences in the fall.


Ashliegh Gehl is a freelance writer and multimedia journalist.

She has written for the Women's Post, Montreal Gazette, Quill & Quire, OurKingston.ca, Northumberland Today and The Intelligencer newspapers.

Between countless cups of oolong tea, Ashliegh has been busy working on two books. Visit her website for more information.

Click on a thumbnail to start the image gallery. Photos by Bernard Clark.

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