A glimpse into Ottawa’s International Writers Festival with a focus on fiction

We read and mull over newspaper columns written by Ottawa’s journalists. We discuss local bands and their triumphs and tribulations. However, to my dismay, I feel not the least exposed to Ottawa’s fiction and poetry scene. Fortunately, I’ve taken matters into my own hands and I’ve set out to learn more about the craft and its presence in this city.

In mid-January, I spoke with Sean Wilson, the artistic director of Ottawa’s International Writers Festival, as a start in gathering perspectives. Wilson said he was reading as many books as he possibly could, preparing for the spring festival, set to run from April 25th until April 30th.

Wonderfully, this celebration drew an audience of 22,893 in 2011, according to their official website (provided at the end of this post). It’s a celebration of song writing, science writing and writing for television, among many other forms of it. However, for the purpose of this blog, I’ll focus my attention on fiction writing, as well as poetry but to a lesser extent.

“[It’s] dynamic, friendly, very welcoming. You hear stories from people in other communities and it’s very cliquey,” said Wilson, describing the fiction writing and poetry scene overall in Ottawa.

“Ottawa is a real non-fiction town,” Wilson continued. Therefore, including fiction at the festival is partly to please the audience but it also allows them to reach their own target: “Our goal is to have a healthy mix of everything, [to have] a wide variety of things being talked about, discussed, shared,” he said, regarding the range of perspectives that result, showcasing both fiction and non-fiction work.

Personally, I can’t help but agree with Wilson when he says Ottawa is a non-fiction town, given the amount of political coverage and international dealings all over the city.  I find having the chance to squeeze in a fiction read in between studies and news-reading is absolutely refreshing. It allows me to unwind and escape into a story that, though may reflect real life, is not real life but a story I can enjoy by way of imagination.

“One of the things fiction is really great at is opening us up to different world views and cultural experience,” said Wilson. “In a novel, [discussing] an issue can be far more effective at inspiring change and awareness.”

As for an issue tugging at my heart strings, resonating in my mind or better able to get under my skin with a fiction novel? Truthfully, this had not crossed my mind until now but I can certainly understand this being the case. Perhaps if  the author lacks real-life experience or facts to drive a point home, he or she can illustrate it another way, constructing another circumstance or a new character.

I also talked to Wilson just before the Oct.28, 2012, festival, for a profile I was doing on short stories and poetry author Nadine McInnis, for the Algonquin Times. You’ll certainly see her name again in an entry to come. Wilson spoke then of how beneficial it can be for students to attend the festival. Often students have this presumption that it’s strictly an academic outing, but it’s an opportunity for students to come together with people who have the same interests as themselves – an opportunity to network and even establish friendships, he said.

Furthermore, for anyone already interested in fiction and poetry or anyone writing it, attending is an opportunity to not only be surrounded by but listen to some of the most accomplished authors in the industry read their own work and partake in a Q&A session.

Now that I’ve (fingers crossed) captured your attention and stirred enthusiasm over just one event Ottawa has to offer fiction and poetry lovers, I do hope you’ll continue reading entries to come.

For now, I’ll offer some food for thought: What are your favourite fiction novels and/or authors? Why are they your favourite? Have these novels inspired you to make changes in your own life? More so than a non-fiction novel has?

the mix

The purpose of this photo is to contrast some fiction and non-fiction material I’ve collected over the years (a photo I consider relevant to this entry). I do recognize these books and magazines are neither all Canadian nor authored by Ottawa men and women. Do remember I’m just beginning to explore the scene at this point! 🙂

Note: If you’re interested in learning more, please take a gander at the Ottawa International Writers Festival official website at: http://www.writersfestival.org/about

– Lucy

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