This is an underdog story. One where a small dedicated group rallies for the greater good of their community. One where substance is regarded more highly than spectacle and, I know it’s hard to believe, a festival thrives without a single energy drink sponsor but this year the Whistler Writers Festival is celebrating its 15 th year as both the creator and anchor of Whistler’s literary scene.
“I’m excited we are still here,” says festival founder and local author Stella Harvey. “It has been a long road but I think, if you are passionate about something you have to just continue doing it, see it grow, enjoy the successes and learn from the failures.”
Those words could act as advice for young writers as well, and Stella has published a couple of novels since she hatched the idea of a local writers festival in her living room writing group 15 years ago.
Left: From living room to ballroom – festival evolution at its finest. Right: Author Feet Banks speaks on words PHOTO JOERN RHODE
The festival has come a long way since that day, with over 60 authors and hundreds of readers converging for a long weekend of readings, workshops and intelligent conversations in the
Fairmont Chateau Whistler this October 13-16, 2016. One thing Stella is proud of is the fact that almost all the authors are Canadian.
“One of the goals has always been to shine a light on Canadian and emerging authors,” Stella admits. “It’s amazing to have big name authors to bring people up here but often you end up discovering other authors along the way. That’s one of the best things about a festival.”
Another benefit to growing the festival slowly and from the heart is the reputation it has garnered as an intimate, grassroots and very enjoyable festival. And the local scenery only helps.
Intimate, grassroots and about more than just books – sessions get lively at the Whistler Writers Festival.
“Part of it is Whistler,” Stella says, “People want to come here. But the festival is pretty intimate and I think that is one of its strengths. The audience is never that far removed from the authors, there is an opportunity to socialize but it’s never overwhelming.”
Stella adds that she herself is quite excited to meet 2016 attending authors Emma Donoghue and Madeleine Thein, both shortlisted for Canada’s prestigious Giller Prize.
Stars of the line up. L – R: Emma Donoghue, Nick Bantock, Jane Urquhart PHOTO MARK RAYNES and festival founder Stella Harvey.
“I’m also looking forward to the new ‘fiction vs non-fiction’ event on Sunday she says. “How do authors choose to tell a story? It’s always hard for me to pinpoint any one thing I look forward to the most, but that will be interesting.”
One aspect of the Writers Festival that often gets overlooked is how it nurtures the local writing scene. Authors, both established and new to town, have a homegrown place to learn skills, get inspired and make connections within the industry. Local writers also help organize the festival and host readings and workshops over the course of the weekend.
Festival readings and workshops offer a unique opportunity to see words leap off the page and into life.
“We’ve created it together, an event for readers and writers right here at home. And of course the bookstore [Armchair Books in the Village Square] is hugely important. We are lucky to have a local bookstore to work with–they are one of us, a community member. That’s what I like about the whole thing, a grassroots fest that has been built because of a community.”
The underdog wins again! But so does everyone else.
At this fall festival curling up with a new book or socialising are equally acceptable.