The Kingston WritersFest has arrived and promises to provide a celebratory discussion of literature, performance art, workshops and more held by a wide range of authors.
The festival launched in 2006, but became a professionalized annual event in 2009. It consists of 57 events that began on Wednesday and will occur until this Sunday.
Artistic director Barbara Bell started off as a festival volunteer in 2009 and spent all of last year as associate director, which is a preparatory job for the role of artistic director.
“Basically, the artistic director is the hub of the wheel,” Bell said. “It’s a big job, and [the festival] takes all year to get ready. There’s 57 events and different writers coming and going daily, with each event having its own shape and features.”
The goal of the WritersFest, apart from highlighting the literary works of dozens of respected authors, is to ensure that every person involved in either the organization or viewing of the festival leaves with a feeling of fulfilment.
“One of my main aims is that everybody who’s been involved with the festival in any way, goes away feeling like they’ve been enriched by the experience,” she said. “It has to be a positive experience for everyone.”
This year, projected attendance is 7-8000 people. The positive experiences that come out of the festival have led to its substantial growth over the years, Bell added.
“Things are never going to be 100 per cent perfect, but we never want to send anyone away dissatisfied or unhappy,” Bell said. “That’s why it grows to the size it is and the level of support from the community shows that we’re doing things right, and authors love to attend.” Bell’s responsibilities include negotiating with publishers to get authors to the event and finalizing the financial reports. She also monitors the budget and oversees the portfolios of the production, education and volunteer workers that report back to her.
“It’s basically a global oversight,” Bell said. “There’s pressure there for me to see that everybody else is carrying on the way they’re supposed to, but I have a great team that’s been a huge help.”
One of the best parts of the event, Bell said, is that even though it expands every year there’s still a feeling of intimacy within the festival.
“You meet so many great people, and our festival has grown a lot but it still has a very intimate feeling. I’m getting to know the writers and audience members really well,” she said. “It’s just a family that keeps growing and growing.”
Some of the key events include “The State of a Nation” which incorporates the discussion of politics in literature, “Identity: Either/Or/Neither” with Caribbean-native author Shani Mootoo and an all-new French-based dialogue with Kim Thuy.
Bell spoke of the implementation of the French program and the importance of inclusivity.
“For the first time ever we’ve programmed a French event,” she said. “We definitely want to be as inclusive as we can in our program. We want to try to serve as many constituencies as we can and every age group — that’s our mandate to the community, to provide this literary opportunity to learn, listen and be enriched.” Bell also stressed that Queen’s students are a large part of Kingston’s community, and hopes they’ll participate in the festival, especially as they’re eligible to receive free tickets to onstage events with the presentation of a valid student ID card.
The role of the artistic director is to make the event recognizable, so Bell said she didn’t stray from the usual activities.
“Overall it was part of my personal plan to not change too many things,” she said. “I want to make sure the people who love it recognize it and think it’s the same — we’ve definitely achieved that. The event has an amazing reputation amongst the writer’s community as well. There’s lots of positive buzz about it.”
The Kingston WritersFest occurs at the Holiday Inn Kingston until Sunday. See queensjournal.ca/arts on Tuesday for a recap of the festival.
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