Turn the page at Vancouver Writers Fest

By Yasmine Shemesh

“A good book can change your life,” says Hal Wake, artistic director of the Vancouver Writers Fest. “It can change the way you look at the world.” The art of storytelling and all its wonderful capacities has been celebrated annually at the festival since 1988. Held at Granville Island over six days in late October, the renowned fair is at its largest yet, featuring 100 writers in 86 varied forms of presentation.

New events are created each year to accommodate different wordsmiths and different ideas, with intimate author-led discussions amongst this season’s programming. There are few mainstays, however, like the Literary Cabaret — a fixture at the festival since its early days where writers read to live music.

Wake curates the lineup from authors on the cusp of a new release and the near 300 pitched to him by publishers. Ensuring a well-rounded experience is the primary focus. “We’re looking for different genres,” he explains. “We have a significant program for young people. We like to have representation from across Canada, [so] we want to make sure we’re getting writers from different provinces. We obviously want cultural diversity — the writers who come to the festival should reflect, in some way, the people who live in those countries.”

With authors ranging from Pakistan to South Africa, there is a comprehensive international presence this year. “One of the people that I’m absolutely delighted about is an Icelandic writer, Sjón,” Wake says. Sjón’s work has been translated into 30 languages and has received many prestigious accolades, including the Nordic Council’s Literary Prize (equivalent of the Man Booker Prize). A prominent figure in Reykjavik’s cultural scene, he’s published numerous poetry collections and written songs for fellow countrywoman, Björk. Sjón’s latest novel, Moonstone–The Boy Who Never Was, was awarded the 2013 Icelandic Literary Prize.

“We’ve got a lot of familiar names,” Wake continues, “And also some people you might consider at the breakout stage.” In the latter category falls Victoria’s Eliza Robertson, whose debut,Wallflowers, has garnered wide praise. Robertson has long been lauded, acquiring both a Man Booker Scholarship and the Curtis Brown Prize for best writer while studying for her MA in fiction. Her piece, “We Walked On Water,” won the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

“Discovery is a great pleasure,” Wake says and the Writers Fest’s stimulating landscape is ripe for exploration that’s sure to leave readers inspired, enriched and, perhaps, with a book that just might change their life.

The Vancouver Writers Fest runs from October 21-26 at Granville Island.

Published in print and online at www.beatroute.ca, October 2014

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