By Dayna Mahannah
VANCOUVER – Novel readers and comic-book skimmers, zine collectors and poetry lovers, writers of all kinds: Word Vancouver is the place to rub shoulders with anyone interested in the written word. Held from September 26-30 around Vancouver, Western Canada’s largest literary festival will coax 25,000 people to its curation of events, workshops, readings, and industry panels – entirely free of charge.
Now in its 24th year, Word is still a burgeoning festival. Bonnie Nish, who first experienced Word in 2001 and has since been involved as a reader, host, volunteer, and collaborator, stepped in as Interim Festival Manager on July 12. It’s been a bustling summer for Nish, coordinating the program after an unexpected resignation from the newly hired executive director at the end of June. Not to be derailed by time constraints, the festival has grown to be ever more inclusive.
“We have community groups bringing in readers so they can get exposure to the public as well,” Nish says.
In the four days leading up to the festival, satellite events will pop up around the city. Workshops on self-publishing, performing your work (with literary vet Hal Wake), writing as therapy, and journal writing all build up to the main event on Sunday — an explosion of Vancouver’s diverse, creative, and word-obsessed. Poet laureates George McWhirter, Brad Cran, and Evelyn Lau grace the opening stage. Dozens of vendors and exhibitors will showcase everything book-related and offer their skills in the literary field, accompanied by a slew of pros covering topics ranging from graphic novel writing to the magazine industry to nuanced topics, like complex women in YA fiction (Eileen Cook). “One panel I’m excited for is about engaging in digital media and how it affects your writing,” Nish adds.
Nish notes the diversity of speakers, including Vikram Vij discussing his latest book and Jianna Faner on her anthology of stories by Canadian immigrant women. Climate change, murder, bees, food, adoption, queer pride, and memoir are just some subjects that the Word festivalgoer will experience. Nish is particularly excited about Stories by Drag Queens for Kids, where Gay Sha, Maiden China, and Tommi Horror will weave storytime on Sunday afternoon.
Though the festival has a diverse draw for the general public, Word Vancouver unites those with synonymous passions.
“We have a lot of writers and a lot of readers in this city,” Nish says. “It’s a great networking opportunity for people who have been around for while, for people who are starting out, for people who are midway. And what fun to see one of your favourite authors on the street reading.”
She emphasizes that the sense of community Word creates is important for people involved in the literary world in any capacity. “As a writer, it can be very isolating. To be able to go out and talk to other people who are doing the same thing, it makes you feel less alone. Other people are doing this! And it’s possible to do it. I think the greatest thing is that we all realize that what we say matters. And it can affect people.”
Word Vancouver runs from September 26-30 at various locations.