Monday, June 04, 2007



Last Friday I left the house at six-thirty in the morning and drove to the Junction where the highway to Nelson from Castlegar meets Highway 6 to the Slocan Valley and headed north past Crescent Valley, Vallican, Winlaw, Slocan City, Silverton, and New Denver, destination Nakusp. Collected Heather and Rita along the way so it was a proper road trip with a stop at the general store in Silverton for coffee and a sausage roll protein hit. We saw several deer and a couple of elk driving up (Nakusp is about two and a half hours from my house) and a coyote on the way back.

It was the first of June and we were off to the Spirit of Writing Festival 2007.

Anne Strachan is the hard working rep for the Federation of BC Writers in the South East Region. With assistance from many people and organizations she and Barb MacPherson have been planning Fed-sponsored Spirit of Writing for several months.

Shuswap writer Deanna Kawatski catches up with Vallican writer Rita Moir.

Rita and I had collected a bunch of things our dear friend and long time Fed member, Vi Plotnikoff, would have liked (wine, homemade jam, Meowie Wowie catnip—honest, it's for felines and they love it!—journals courtesy of Sono Nis Press, a couple of books donated by local writers and a copy of Vi's book, of course) and raffled it off. We plan to do something, as yet undecided, in her memory, and are raising money for the purpose.

Talks and workshops were well-attended.

Susan Andrews Grace gave a poetry workshop, "Acts of Courage". Got the germ of a new poem out of it, can't say finer than that.

Deanna Kawatski's "Writing on the Wild Side" workshop included a variety of brain-bending exercises. Minds are just so intersting, especially if you've a pen in your hand when you let them loose. I suppose there are people who do this sort of thing every day. I don't. That's one reason why I enjoy these events.

The prolific and indefatigable force known as Harold Rhenish gave one workshop that stressed the importance of beginnings, "Opening the Work", another on how to present your writing, "Say the Word", AND did Blue Pencil sessions. Friday night he treated us to a reading from some of his many books.

New Denver writer, Stephen Lones, read an exciting excerpt from his young adult novella, Yung Chigi. The readings were held at the Seniors' Centre, a beautiful old log building. Isn't the dart board a nice touch?

There was time for leisurely breakfasts outside the Pink Pig Restaurant. Its real name is the Broadway Deli Bistro, but the sandwich board outside is a pink pig. It does a great breakfast, has an amazing collection of pinecones and old photos on display inside, and we've been eating breakfasts there since the first time a writing event was held in Nakusp. This time the weather was nothing but summer so we could eat outside. Bonus!

There was time for cool drinks on the deck of the Leland Hotel.

Alan Twigg, the force behind BC Book World, swooped into town and gave a spirited overview of the world of publishing these days. Here he is, flanked by Festival organizers Anne Strachan and Barbara MacPherson.

Halfway through his talk he coaxed the audience of around thirty out onto the main street for a group picture. He's got that one, and here's one of him about to take it. A motorcycle rumbled by at one point, but the solitary car obligingly turned off before it reached us.

Alan with Anne DeGrace, author of Treading Water, a novel of woven stories set in Bear Creek, a fictitious town in the West Kootenays that was flooded thanks to a dam project in the Sixties. The story is based on what happened to the real-life town of Renata that was, you guessed it, flooded in the Sixties when the Hugh Keenleyside Dam was built on the Columbia River five or six miles upstream from Castlegar.

Alan, New Denver writer Arthur Joyce, and workshop presenters Harold Rhenish and Deanna Kawatski.

Yours truly and Heather Haake got behind books at the Roving Book Table. The RBT evolved out of necessity. In 2000 the late, lamented BC Festival of the Arts, an event that showcased and mentored artists in several disiplines and moved to a different location each year, was held in Nelson. Heather and I were in charge of selling the presenters' books, and not having the good sense to know we'd be busy enough with them, we thought it would be great if we could show off some of the region's talent by selling, or at least displaying, books by local writers. By the time we collected all the local books we could think of we had enough to fill about six tables, and as there were two or three major venues for writing we had to move the books around.

We began to refer to the whole operation as the Roving Book Table. We've since taken it to Langley for a Fed AGM, to Kaslo, to Nelson, and to Grand Forks. We resurrect it whenever it's appropriate to do so, and Spirit of Writing was one of those times. Presenters and participants alike enjoy browsing the eclectic mix of books that represent our writers.

In Nakusp we sold $525 worth of books, with all the proceeds going to the authors.

On Saturday night Anne cut the Fed's birthday cake. In the mysterious way of writers' organizations, we're not exactly sure just how old the Fed is, but it's something like thirty or thirty-one.

For two days a disparate group of thirty-odd people who ranged in age from their twenties to eighties got together and talked writing. The value of writing festivals like Spirit of Writing can't be over-estimated. Many of us read our work in public for the first time at such events. New writers who've been hiding in garrets since forever and are finally ready to take those first scary steps out are made welcome. The more experienced try out new work at open mics. They bring chapbooks, cassettes, CDs, and spineys to trade, sell or give—you never know what treasures you're going to find. You get to meet new people, reconnect with old friends and generally immerse yourself in the wacky and wonderful world of words. Local businesses benefit from a little cash infusion. Workshop presenters make some money and get to give back to the community of like-minded souls that birthed them. You trade words, learn a little about the world of writing and get to escape your own world for a little while. Which only makes you appreciate it all the more when you get back.

It's all good.



Razovsky said...

Wow, this looks like it was a fantastic time! Harold Rhenisch's talk on "openings" sounds real cool. What strikes me is the amazing variety of activities at this festival.

Thank you for taking the time to document a tour of the event.

And I got very teary-eyed with nostalgia seeing the sausage table from the Silverton general store!

I hope your summer is going well.

Your friend in Toronto,


OpenChannel said...

You guys look hot (as in temperature). Hot poets! Woo-hoo!

Looks like a beautiful place to have a literary festival. Perhaps I'll stop by next year...

You tagged me on facebook so I cruised in here to check it out. Did you write 3:15's last year? I don't see your name on the 2006 list.

I STILL haven't finished typing up mine. I better do it in the next few weeks because the next round is about to begin!