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NorthWords Writers Festival covers a lot of ground

Guest Blog By Cathy Jewison

“I had no idea this festival was so big,” a friend said, as we stood in front of the book table at the NorthWords gala.

My friend is right.  The NorthWords Writers Festival covers a lot of ground in four short days.

Now in its ninth year, NorthWords brings together celebrity authors from across Canada, along with local writers and people who love to read.  The festival provides plenty of opportunity for northerners to mix with visiting authors at lunchtime readings, evening open mikes, the DeBeers gala, workshops and mentoring sessions.

This year’s festival was held mostly in Yellowknife, from June 5 to 8.  The theme was A Brave New North, so there was a focus on science fiction.  Canada’s premier science fiction writer, Robert J. Sawyer, was the headline author.  He wowed the crowds with his readings, as well his insights on a range of topics.  For instance, his lunchtime talk looked at the important role of women in science fiction, and how science fiction lets us examine difficult issues like race relations and social justice.  Rob kept us riveted for 40 minutes – speaking without written notes!

All of the visiting authors were interesting and entertaining, sharing their ideas and reading their work. As always, there was a great cross-section of writers:  science fiction author and publisher (and former Yellowknifer) Hayden Trenholm, science fiction author Liz Westbrook-Trenholm , musician and author Dave Bidini, novelists Todd Babiak and Monique Gray Smith, and poet Billeh Nickerson.

NorthWords is very much about community, and organizers made sure everyone could get involved.  The festival opened with a family barbecue with readings for all ages.  Some of the authors made high school visits to encourage students to read widely and write their own work. To extend the benefits of NorthWords beyond Yellowknife, Monique Gray Smith travelled to Fort Smith for a session that included some of that community’s accomplished writers.  Most of the festival’s events are free, thanks to an impressive list of sponsors.

One of the best things about NorthWords is that it gives local writers – no matter where they are on their writing journey – an opportunity to read their work to an audience.  Two evening open mikes gave anyone who wanted a chance to stand up and read.  A number of people said it was their first time reading in front of a crowd.

NorthWords also strengthens the local writing community through its panel discussions, which help writers (and lots of readers) understand the writing process and the world of publishing. Workshops and one-on-one mentorships help writers improve their skills.

It’s always a little sad when such a great event ends for another year.  Like most NorthWords fans, I’ve come away with a huge reading list.  I better get moving – all those books mean I have a lot of ground to cover before next year’s festival!

We welcome guest blogs.  If you’re interested, email communications@nwtliteracy.ca


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