Lambier: Words turns the page on misconceptions of region

Illustration by Frank Neufeld

Words, a London literary and creative arts festival, returns next month for its second year of activities at Museum London. The festival offers a unique opportunity to focus our attention on the creative hubs of London, while experiencing the works of some of our most original and dynamic authors.

Southwestern Ontario – or ‘Sowesto’ to invoke the name painter Greg Curnoe gave to the region – has a long history of nurturing its fair share of Canada’s brightest writers. This legacy is alive and well in our own community at Western, bolstered recently by the success of one of our celebrated alumni and former writers-in-residence, Alice Munro, whose distinguished career has galvanized the university’s support for the creation of a new endowed Chair in Creativity.

In London, too, there is a lively literary scene of activity, with regular, well-attended meetings of the London Poetry Slam at the London Music Club, Poetry London at the Landon Library in Wortley Village and Open Mic Poetry Night at Mykonos Restaurant, to name only a few. Unbeknownst to many – too many, in fact – we have a vibrant, engaged community of writers, poets and thinkers who move fluidly between the campus and the city.

The organizers of Words are motivated by the belief we, as a community, should bring more visibility to our outstanding achievements. We also need to create a forum to highlight the creativity of a new generation of aspiring writers and artists.

Despite the resilient view of our region as a quiet, homely periphery to the dynamic centres of the province, Sowesto, as Margaret Atwood pointed out, is also an area “of considerable psychic murkiness and oddity” – unhomely qualities that pervade the Gothic atmospherics of Munro’s short stories.

Sowesto is the region infamously known for the Donnelly Massacre in 1880, a traumatic case of a small town’s mob violence that inspired the great trilogy of London’s James Reaney. It is home to the mysterious story of the disappearance of millionaire theatre owner Ambrose Small, a haunting and beguiling figure who plays a feature role in Michael Ondaatje’s novel, In the Skin of a Lion. Indeed, the seemingly ordinary spaces and places of southwestern Ontario have long been a source of extraordinary fascination, curiosity and intrigue.

Given the stunning cast of internationally recognized writers and thinkers who have made London their home over the years, it’s time we recognized the integral role of literature and the arts to public and academic life in the city.

Words offers just such an opportunity.

This year’s festival will kick off with the opening reception on Friday, Nov. 6, featuring a conversation between London journalist Janice Zolf and Giller Prize-winning author and former CBC Fifth Estate host Linden MacIntyre. We will also hear from an all-star panel on creativity and big ideas, including the award-winning authors Miriam Toews, Terry Fallis and Emil Sher.

Over the course of the weekend, festivalgoers will hear from a host of stellar authors, such as Don Gillmor, Russell Smith, Michelle Orange, Tanis Rideout, Allan Stratton, Laurie Graham and Andy McGuire. We will meet cartoonist and author Phoebe Gloeckner, whose graphic novel Diary of a Teenage Girl has recently been adapted into a feature film starring Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, and Kristen Wiig. And we will welcome one of Western’s honorary doctorate holders, Tomson Highway, who was named by Maclean’s Magazine as one of the most important people in Canadian history.

We hope Words brings London’s creativity to the world, while introducing our community to new ideas and artistic forms in an accessible atmosphere of learning and discovery. Like literature and poetry, the festival is for everyone, whether you’re in the humanities or STEM disciplines, education or the social sciences, business or music.

We look forward to seeing you there in November at Museum London.

Joshua D. Lambier is the Director of The Public Humanities at Western and Artistic Director for Words: London’s Literary and Creative Arts Festival.