By Prachi Kamble
VANCOUVER — Every year, Hal Wake and his hard-working, literature-loving team bring the crème de la crème of the publishing world to the Vancouver Writers Fest. This Autumnal culture staple has nourished the city’s literary community for 29 wonderful years. This year, from October 17 to the 23, on Granville Island and at the Playhouse, prepare to attend a scintillating series of events that will curate some of the most creative names in the industry including M.G. Vassanji, Sharon Olds, Yann Martel and Yaa Gyasi. “There is something for everybody this year,” artistic director Wake assures. “There is politics, humour, non-fiction, fiction, poetry and graphic novels!”
The Writers Fest is getting quite the reputation among writers around the world, as is evident in its list of participating authors, which gets increasingly more glamorous and longer with every year. “When I talk to writers from other countries about why they decide to come to our festival, it’s often because they talked to other writers who had participated earlier, and who told them that ‘if you’re going somewhere, you should go to Vancouver!’” says Wake. “It could be because of our volunteers who look after every need the writers have. Or because of our audiences who have so much enthusiasm and energy. Who read the books and ask smart questions. That means an incredible lot to writers who have put their heart and soul into their books.” It’s no secret — writers love Vancouver and not just for its mountains and ocean.
Wake’s team spends a good year getting amazing writers to attend through via busy publicists. They then plan events and readings around the writers’ availabilities which finally precipitates into rich and topical themes for discussion. This year, there happens to be a lot of dystopian novels that look at how our present social systems might not serve us well into the near future. “The six Giller Prize shortlisted writers will open the festival on October the 17th, which will be a big event,” reveals Wake. “One of those writers will walk away with a prize that will change their writing career forever.” Among them is Madeleine Thien who is also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Carnegie Medal in the US for her book, Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Another interesting participant is University of Victoria professor Genevieve von Petzinger, who will discuss her studies on consistent symbols she found at cave painting sites in the remotest parts of the world.
Another Canadian writer who has been creating immense buzz, especially in the Australian and New Zealand literary circuit, is Ivan Coyote. His new work, Tomboy Survival Guide, deals with struggling with questions of identity whilst growing up in the Yukon. Coyote will be performing with a live band to keep things interesting, as will all the writers performing at the Literary Cabaret (all sold out, not surprisingly). More musical performances are on the menu after the festival is over, including none other than Elvis Costello himself, and The Band songwriter and guitarist, Robbie Robertson.
With so much gorgeous literary goodness at the Writers Fest, how are we to make our decisions about which events to attend? Well, Wake has some smart tips for the savvy festival-goer. “I would recommend consulting the program guide which is physically available all over town, as well as online,” he says. “Look at the issues and subjects you’re interested in. Don’t be afraid if you don’t recognize any names. All the writers are going to be thoughtful, articulate, and entertaining. Go with the ideas that interest you and you won’t go wrong!”
The Vancouver Writers Fest runs from October 17 – 23 at various locations.BC, book festival, books, British Columbia, Hal Wake, Ivan Coyote, M.G. Vassanji, Madeleine Thien, Sharon Olds, Vancouver Writers Fest, Yaa Gyasi, Yann Martel