First edition of festival getting the Words out

Illustration by Frank Neufeld

The tapestry of London’s loosely knit creative communities is about to get tighter, thanks to Words, a new literary and creative arts festival.

Set to take place this weekend in the Forest City, the festival aims to use the written and spoken word as a hub for creativity in the region, said Joshua Lambier, a PhD candidate in the Department of English and Writing Studies and founding director of the Public Humanities at Western.

His enthusiasm for Words is palpable – and its timing couldn’t be better.

“The idea was to try and create the first inaugural literary festival to acknowledge the fact we’ve had a lot of Londoners who have been from London, or come from elsewhere to here, who are incredibly talented writers. We don’t have one particular staging ground to bring that creativity to the world, and bring creativity to London,” said Lambier, who sits on the festival’s organizing committee.

Words is comprised of multidisciplinary events and programing including poetry, fiction and nonfiction, children’s literature, new media, spoken word performance, graphic novels, storytelling and much more, taking place Friday-Sunday.

The speaker lineup includes Giller Prize-winning author Vincent Lam, double Governor General’s Award-winner Guy Vanderhaeghe, Western alumnus and former Lt. Gov. James Bartleman, cartoonist and journalist Joe Sacco, London’s Joan Barfoot and more.

While attempts to organize such an event in London in the past bore no fruit, this was “a strike-while-the-iron-is-hot opportunity,” Lambier explained, as the city and Museum London approached Western this past winter with the idea of a literary festival.

“Necessity is the mother of invention – sometimes,” he said.

Interest in the city, coupled with the timing of Western alumna Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize for Literature last year, made the current cultural landscape in the community especially fertile for an event such as Words, Lambier continued.

Creative Cities was the city’s last cultural plan – (creativity) is in the discourse of city politics and arts and culture in the city. London has an existing vibrant festival scene, with Fringe, Nuit Blanche, Home County Festival and Sunfest. But they run in spring and summer, and there’s not much in the fall. Fall is important as well, as is winter, because that’s when the students are here,” he said.

“We can take advantage of the fact students are very creative and are doing creative things.”

And that’s Part Two of the mission attached to Words – forging a connection between creativity on campus and creativity in the city that surrounds it.

“The other great idea of the festival was to create that campus-to-community interaction that is now part of the Strategic Plan, as community engagement. We are still finding better ways to link the university to the city, and a festival is such a friendly way to do it. It showcases the arts and humanities at a time when we are looked at as ‘in crisis.’ And rather than telling about the humanities, it shows the humanities,” he said.

“Probably the best way you can have a public staging ground between the university and the city is over ideas, creativity and cultural diversity.”

Lambier hopes to see the festival forge a convergent space for creative activities in London. Things like Poetry London, London Poetry Slam, creative writing groups, public library groups, the East Village Arts Council, among others, all have distinct identities in the city. Words can bring all these, and more, together.

“With the university climate of the arts and humanities being something that is, nationally and internationally, an embattled ground, I think it’s really important to find opportunities to take what we do to the public, to communities that aren’t traditionally served by academic audiences,” Lambier said.

“Monographs and research articles are very important to academic life and always will be. But there needs to be a turn, a civic turn, toward community engagement for our disciplines to remain vital. This festival is a pilot project to see what we can do with that,” he continued.

“For it to be successful, the university community has to come on board. That means students coming down, faculty coming down to see what’s happening, and looking at the festival for what it has for this year, but also seeing within it the potential for future years.”