Sunday, October 21, 2012

Notes on the Vancouver Writers Fest 2012

With a new and shorter name, the Vancouver Writers Fest celebrated its 25th birthday this year. It was just as wonderful to be there as it had been in previous years, when it was called the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival. Artistic Director Hal Wake assured me, when I asked him about the name change, that everything else is the same.

100 authors, six days, and over 75 events. How to choose? I ended up going to 13 events and every one of them was great, so it's hard to even narrow down the highlights for this post.

At the Grand Openings, authors from 8 different countries read excerpts about:

An abbess who kept a ball of yeast alive by stowing it beneath her sweaty breasts on the hot journey from Syria so that the new convent in Italy would have bread... (Simonetta Agnello Hornby; The Nun)
A Dominican immigrant in Jersey who asks her daughter for help, to knead her large breast and feel for the lump there... (Junot Diaz; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)
An elderly Chinese immigrant who wakes in Sydney, Australia, with the thought of Dr. Zhivago's dark head upon her breasts... (Gail Jones; Five Bells)
A grieving French immigrant hears the strange Australian birds outside and is driven almost to madness with longing to hear the voice of her dead son... (Marie Darrieussecq; Tom is Dead)
A boy mixed up with terrorist operatives in Mogadishu hears seabirds but cannot understand their language... (Nuruddin Farah; Crossbones)
A 50-year-old man searching for information about his birth mother is jolted by the tart observances of an 11-year-old girl... (Kyo Maclear; Stray Love)
A boy's birth, thrown out of his acrobat mother to the applause of elephants and seals... (Rawi Hage; Carnival)
Being born with cerebral palsy and the size of a mango, weighing 900 grams, the start of life's long striptease... (Ekiwah Adler-Belendez; he read his poetry from a looseleaf binder, but this piece is possibly included in Love on Wheels)

Best panel is actually a tie between two outstanding discussions: Women in Literature (about the critical response to women's writing) and Beyond Survival (about the place of Canadian literature in this country and abroad).

Most entertaining presentation: Chip Kidd (with his slideshow images from Batman: Death by Design). Douglas Coupland as host hardly needed to get a word in edgewise.

Most dazzling conversation: Cory Doctorow and William Gibson. There was some confusion in the line as we waited to get in; was this a William Gibson event? Or was it about Cory Doctorow? It was very much both. Their topics covered a lot of ground, including gun culture in the USA, 3D printing of working guns, and the positive impact of internet access on low-income families.

Best spoken word: Word! (with Lemn Sissay, Ivan Coyote and C.R. Avery, hosted by Brendan McLeod)

Best poetry event: The Initiation Trilogy, a dramatic performance of the works of three poets. If you're in Vancouver, you can still catch this; the run continues to October 28.

Most laughter: Humour with a Bite. I normally borrow books from the library, but these women were so funny that I got out my wallet after the event so that I wouldn't have to wait to get more from them.

New-to-me authors I'm most excited to have heard about directly as a result of the festival: Gail Jones, Anne Fleming, Miranda Hill and Linda Svendsen.

Vancouver is a beautiful city at any time of the year. The festival is held on Granville Island, a location that's always a treat, with its bustling market, artisan shops, and the seabirds and boats all around. I was hosted by my dear friend Kathy, who enjoys talking about literature as much as I do. In her apartment, I dreamed nightly against a wall of books. Tomorrow I'm back to the real world, back to work. Where there are also plenty of books...
Just a few of Kathy's books. Why ever did I bring my own?

Apples are in season at the
Granville Island market.
Honey Crisps, Pippins,
Ambrosia and lots more.


Shawna Lemay said...

I love the photo of your friend's books. Glad you had a great time, and thanks for sharing!

Lindy said...

Kathy has many treasures among those shelves. When she got Susan Swan to sign her copy of Wives of Bath at the festival this year, Swan asked where she found that edition. It was the original hardback that Kathy has owned since it was first published 19 years ago. According to Swan, it is worth a great deal of money on eBay. Kathy will not part with it - and it's even signed by the author now!