Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Playing in the Midnight Sun

Barbara here, sitting at Starbucks in the Edmonton Airport with Vicki Delany. The first leg of our "Mounties, Miners and Madams" northern book tour is over, and we have bid a bittersweet goodbye to Yellowknife and to all the wonderful book people we met at the Northwords Writers' Festival.

Northwords is the premiere literary event in the Northwest Territories, and the organizers worked hard for months to create the perfect mix of playful open mic events, readings by established and emerging writers, workshops and mentoring. Authors and book lovers came from far and wide, with a special emphasis on northern culture.

Vicki and I participated in several formal events and enjoyed many more as spectators. We combined forces with fellow crime writer Giles Blunt and local naturalist/author Jamie Bastedo to talk about writing to an auditorium full of enthusiastic, insightful high school students. Giles, Vicki and I also had a lively, informal exchange of book chat and readings at the festival's Whodunit panel. Vicki and I finished off the festival with a presentation and reading at the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre, during which we chatted about how we wove research and northern history in our stories.

For me, the highlights of the festival were the open mic events, where writers at all levels of experience were given equal treatment and time at the mic to read a brief piece. Some were funny, some angry, some poignant, some lyrical, all heartfelt. It is a spontaneous, participatory format that respects all writers, and I would love to see it duplicated in literary festivals in the south.

The first open mic evening focussed on more serious literary pieces, while the second was dedicated to sensuality and erotica, which took many forms from hilarious to intensely moving. I wrote a funny piece for this event while on the plane to Yellowknife, much to the consternation of the young man seated next to me. I named it "A Touch or Two of Gray" and wore a red feather boa and red patent shoes for the reading, which brought down the house.

Nurturing northern and aboriginal writers is an important focus of the festival and I loved the opportunity to listen to aboriginal poets, storytellers and performance artists, getting my first inside glimpse into the concerns and passions of the people of the north. In my last blog, I said I thought I would take away far more than I gave. This is one example.

At a radio interview Monday afternoon at CBC North, we were asked to describe the highlight of our Yellowknife experience. We touched on our Arctic char dinner at Bullock's Bistro in Old Town, which is proudly "frontier" but serves possibly the best fish in the country. We touched on our chance to meet and mingle with poets, performance artists and authors of all stripes, especially from the north. But perhaps the greatest highlight was the "feel" of the festival. There was an optimism, enthusiasm and appreciation of all written works, whether by beginners or old, that is sometimes missing in festivals to the south. There is a lot we can learn from this city.

Now on to our next adventure - the Yukon!


Donis Casey said...

Oh, how I wish I were there. Great pics, BTW

litlmisscaffeine said...

Truly glad and honored to have you here with us. Thank you for letting the world know how wonderful your time was here in Yellowknife ^_^

Charlotte Hinger said...

Wow. Just wish I were there to observe.