The theme of the Wakefield Writers Festival this year is “Truth in Our Time” — four
words carefully chosen to reflect differing perspectives and contemporary issues to be discussed during the May event.
“First of all, truth — there can be different truths depending on our perspectives,” explains festival director, Hélène Giroux. “What this festival is able to offer is a safe space to listen to writers’ own lived experiences…to understand other people’s truths.”
Giroux and her fellow organizers, Chris Corcoran and Peter Gillies, recently sat down
with the Low Down to discuss the intentions behind this year’s installment of the Wakefield Writers Festival, May 24-28, which the three of them have been organizing together since 2014.
“And ‘our time’…this is about the fact that we want to address contemporary issues,” Giroux says. She explains that a major focus of the festival is initiating provocative conversations around “social and environmental upheavals over the past years.”
Giroux, Corcoran, and Gillies all credit one of these recent upheavals – namely, the pandemic – with helping them become more intentional about their vision for the festival.
“During the pandemic, we had time to reflect,” says Giroux. “We were struggling
with the reality of changes in our world…we said: ‘Ok, is there something our festival can do to create meaningful change?’ We became much more conscious in our mandate of addressing social issues.”
Gillies adds, “Another thing that the pandemic did was, by forcing us to go online… we accessed a lot more diverse voices.” Reaching out to a greater variety of writers, he says, “yielded a lot of interesting conversations.”
Giroux says she hopes the line-up of events this year will “push the dialogue to an even more thoughtful level.” The festival kicks off at the Wakefield community centre on May 24 with a conversation between celebrated Canadian authors Ann-Marie MacDonald and Elizabeth Hay, who will each be discussing their latest novels. The event is already sold out, but online streaming is available through the festival’s website. (“It’s the livest stream you’ll ever see,” promises Gillies.)
Local voices play a prominent role in the festival. An Evening of Verbatim Theatre will feature the work of six, Hills-based playwrights, who have developed scripts based on interviews with people of varying ages and experiences. Gillies says he believes this event in particular, with its focus on a range of social issues, will foster “real intergenerational dialogue.”
On May 26, Motel Chelsea will host a celebration to mark the Low Down’s 50th anniversary, featuring a conversation between Chelsea journalist Sean Silcoff, Ottawa Citizen writer Gary Dimmock, and Low Down publisher Nikki Mantell about the importance of local journalism.
Ottawa journalist Adrian Harwood will host a tête-à-tête between distinguished Indigenous playwright and musician Tomson Highway and emerging Indigenous writer and activist T’áncháy Redvers. Corcoran explains that this is an “intentional pairing of people who have different perspectives.” She hopes that the resulting discussion will be eye-opening for audiences. “People want things that are challenging, and we are giving them that opportunity with these authors.”
Finally, there will be a tribute to the late Steven Heighton at Motel Chelsea on the afternoon of Sunday, May 28, hosted by some of the prolific author’s friends. Heighton, who passed away last year, hailed from Kingston and was well-known in the Hills. The event will include live performances of his music. “It’s going to bring him alive,” promises Corcoran, “the music, especially, because his energy will be there in the room.”
The organizers say they hope their festival will introduce readers to new voices and fresh perspectives. Works of featured writers are for sale in the Wakefeld Library leading up to, and for a short time after the festival.
All three organizers are clearly passionate readers themselves. “We are a readers festival that calls itself a writers festival,” quips Gillies. “Sometimes people think this is a festival just for writers,” explains Corcoran, “but it’s really for the readers.”
Tickets for all events are available on the festival’s website while supplies last.