Festival brings all lovers of words together

Illustration by Frank Neufeld

Joshua Lambier wants you to see for yourself that words – whether spoken, written or performed with music – are not exclusive to those who write them.

Literature and poetry don’t just belong to those who are published. They don’t belong to those who read or write at the highest level. They should not be walled within the Ivory Tower. Words are an invitation to engage; they belong to anyone who wants to do so, Lambier said.

This is why he wants to see you at Words: London’s Literary and Creative Arts Festival.

“We’re trying to engage unlikely suspects; we’re looking for authors that cross boundaries. There’s still this pocketing in London. You have groups that don’t typically come out or interact (with others who read and write),” said Lambier, Words Artistic Director and the Director of The Public Humanities at Western.

“There’s always a desire to have engaged, rigorous cultural programing – but it’s important to find the book clubs, the groups who like literature but wouldn’t necessarily be looking for a literary festival. We’re looking at finding new ways to grow the festival, and make it more sustainable, and reach audiences we might not otherwise reach.”

In its third iteration this year, Words is still looking to carve out an identity in the city. Its central programming has, for the past two years, primarily focused on bringing in authors with connections to southwestern Ontario. Organizers have also invited a handful of larger literary figures from across Canada.

The festival has been successful in that it has brought out and engaged London’s wordsmiths with readings, performances and book fairs, among other events. But more needs to be done to engage the general public, to bring in those ‘unusual suspects’ and connect them with the literary and creative arts scene in London, Lambier said.

It’s why Words is doing a few things differently this year.

Organizers placed a greater focus on robust programing for locals this time around, hosting the local authors book fair on both weekend days of the festival (Nov. 5-6), instead of just one. This is to encourage writers in the community and give them more space and time to interact with others and showcase their work, whether published or self-published, Lambier explained.

“We’re also trying to start something we’re calling Poetry Live! – to bring together the three largest poetry groups in the city, Poetry Slam, Poetry London and Open Mic Poetry, which all have their own distinct audiences and their own distinct formats,” he said.

“We thought it would be great to drive the premise of the festival that one day a year, all those groups come together.”

And while he’s excited for festival events with Andre Alexis, Emma Donoghue and George Elliott Clarke – among others on a long and diverse list of authors – Lambier is particularly excited to see the convergence of differing voices and perspectives in some of the events this year.

“Steve Paikin from The Agenda is coming to talk about his new book on Bill Davis. Anne Marie DeCicco-Best is doing the interview on that. I’m really interested to see what it’s going to look like to have a former politician interview an interviewer of politicians, writing on a politician,” he said.

“And that’s something we’re trying to think of too, of creative partnerships where you’re going to put together two authors that might not usually speak to each other, with an interviewer that would be an interesting person in that mix.”

But filling those pockets in London and engaging a broader community base for the festival will take more than programming, Lambier added. The university needs to step up its game, too.

“We need to work at community engagement – not just at Western, but at the postsecondary level. We’re trying to find a more widespread culture at the university, to show (the literary arts) aren’t ephemeral or peripheral of what we do. (The arts) should be an integral part of university life and engage the broader community. There’s no better illustration to do that than a festival,” he noted, adding a lot of the festival volunteers are students from the School for Advanced Studies in Arts and Humanities at Western.

“The new Strategic Plan has a sprinkling of community engagement mentioned, but we don’t have a stated policy and we don’t have sustainable programs. We still have this one-way model of doing community engagement. So we go out, we do a lecture, but it’s a one-way street. There’s very rarely someone from the community bringing in a question that’s going to change the research or the reading,” Lambier continued.

“We need more of a two-way dialogue approach. We need to get past Town and Gown because even the phrasing suggests it’s two different worlds. That’s an outmoded way of doing things. Engagement is much more about that co-creational activity.”

Going forward, Words hopes to engage more youth in the local community, including both high school students and university students, regardless of the disciplines they study. As most London festivals, like Sunfest, Home County Folk Festival and the Dundas Street Festival, take place during the summer months when students are away, Words is a perfect opportunity to engage the student body and show them what creativity in London is all about, Lambier said.