Annual Words festival to capture our stories

Adela Talbot // Western News

Cherie Dimaline, author of The Marrow Thieves, is the 2018-19 Writer-In-Residence at Western.

Cherie Dimaline’s earliest memories are of being with her grandmother and her grandmother’s sisters. The women would tell Dimaline stories; she would have to reciprocate, tell a story in return. It wasn’t long before she saw it as her calling.

“When I was about 5, I realized a book was just like a jail for a story – the pages, you can capture the story, and keep it there and read it whenever you want. You don’t have to wait for someone to tell it to you. I was fascinated. Before I could physically, truly, write, I wanted to be a writer,” said Dimaline, an award-winning a writer and editor from Ontario’s Georgian Bay Métis community.

But Dimaline,whose latest book, The Marrow Thieves, won the 2017 Governor General’s Award and the prestigious Kirkus Prize for Young Readers – in addition to being a finalist for the White Pine Award and a selection for CBC’s 2018 Canada Reads – never saw writing as a viable career option. Not until she attended a literary festival.

“I remember when I was younger, we didn’t have access to authors. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know anyone who does that – it’s what people in New York do, it’s not for me. It wasn’t until I went to local literary events that I realized it’s an industry and a community and it’s for anyone,” she said.

This Friday, you will find Dimaline, the 2018-19 Writer-In-Residence at Western, at the opening reception of Words: London’s Literary and Creative Arts Festival, taking place Nov. 2-4 at Museum London. In its fifth year, the festival is an annual event, organized in partnership with The Public Humanities at Western, bringing together Canadian authors of local, regional and national acclaim, for a celebration of creative ideas, artistic expression, and cultural diversity.

“I love regional literary festivals. When I’m in a town or a city, and there is one happening, I will go. I went before I was publishing. There are two things – it’s great for the community because you have all of these new voices, and books and ideas coming in. And two, the rest of us who aren’t from the area can see the local talent,” Dimaline said.

This year, Words will feature more than 30 artists and writers, both new and established, revolving around the idea of community as a prevailing theme­, added Joshua Lambier, Director of The Public Humanities at Western and Artistic Director for Words.

“For the first four years of the festival, we aspired to host an annual forum that brings the southwestern Ontario region together,” he noted.

“With the theme of ‘community’ front of mind this year, our fifth anniversary, we are also trying to highlight the fact that the literary imagination has an important role to play not only in the arts, but also in the promotion of social justice and responsible citizenship.”

Four clusters of events at the festival will showcase the idea of community, Lambier explained.

  • Back to the River: Situated at the fork of the Thames River, Museum London offers the ideal location to re-imagine London’s relationship to the river as a site of regional identity, environmental awareness, Indigenous history, and creativity. London’s poet laureate Tom Cull will mobilize local writers and artists to host his final Poet Laureate Presents, “River of Words.”
  • Sport, Health & Community: Words is hosting a cast of writers to address the place of sport in Canadian culture and literature, including Canadian sports journalist Stephen Brunt (BA’81, MA’82) and Randall Maggs. Western Philosophy professor Tracy Isaacs and Samantha Brennan, who have written a book on feminism and fitness, will also be in attendance.
  • Inequality & The Literary Imagination: Words will tackle issues related to growing levels of inequality in Canadian society by way of talks with writers and artists whose work addresses issues of local and global inequality.
  • The 200thAnniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Monsters of Our Own Making: Words is challenging Londoners to re-read the iconic novel and come prepared for a series of interdisciplinary events by Western faculty on the legacies of Frankenstein in film, theatre, literature, science, and digital media. English professor Steven Bruhm will deliver a lecture and the WordsFest instant zine will become “FrankenZine” this year.

A final theme, linked with the exhibition at Museum London, is the comic and graphic arts, Lambier added. The festival is looking to explore the rich community of cartoonists, graphic novelists, and the creators of comics in the southwestern Ontario region.

The 2018 Words lineup includes Emma Donoghue (who will be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award), Nino Ricci (Western’s Alice Munro Chair in Creativity), Cherie Dimaline (Writer-In-Residence), Julie Bruck (Governor General’s Award winner), Jane Urquhart, Lisa Moore (long-listed for the Giller this year), Paige Cooper (also long-listed for the Giller), Joe Ollmann (Doug Wright award winner for cartoonists), Lee Maracle, Judy Rebick (on the Rogers Writers’ Trust shortlist), Brian Goldman (ER doctor and CBC radio host), Stephen Brunt (sport journalist), Russell Smith and many more.

Dimaline, who has been touring and is soon heading to Peru for the Hay Festival – one of the most anticipated annual literary eventsin the world– feels the importance of gathering diverse authors and artists to bring new ideas and new life to a community.

“I realized (after I wrote my first book) that when you write, it’s not just about you, sitting in a room by yourself writing. It’s readership, too, and I started to travel all over,” she said.

“There’s something about travelling and meeting other artists and writers that’s so incredible. You meet local writers, and you connect through story, and if you connect through story, then it’s a deep connection, and it becomes more about the land and the history – and, to this day, it’s my favourite thing to do.”

WORD UP

Words: London’s Literary and Creative Arts Festival, with events and programming scheduled across London from Nov. 2-4, is a celebration of “all things wordy,” including books, poetry, song, children’s literature, writing for the screen and stage, new media, spoken-word performances and much more. To purchase tickets, visit wordsfest.ca.