Lived experience & learning: Kingston Writersfest

A guffaw, a chuckle and an unaccounted-for smile – they’re the telltale signs of another Kingston WriterFest filled with cultural and philosophical insight.

It’s the powerful moments of experience – while meeting our favourite authors – that continue to inform our understanding of ourselves and the world. To be rapturously involved in text and academic papers is a given for students, an obligatory must, but so often it’s difficult to access the very creators of the works we admire.

The Kingston WriterFest, which took place from Sept. 25 to 29, offered a glimpse, if only temporarily for one fall weekend, of the thoughts of established authors and revealed their navigation of the literary world through the lens of professionals. I take issue in revering celebrity-authors, whether Margaret Atwood or Joseph Boyden – writers are real people with stories to tell, not just personalities.

Emotions often drive works crafted through a personal lens, especially with memoirist Shannon Moroney. Family trauma and a husband convicted of murder serves as the underpinning of Through the Glass, and her writing workshop elucidated the realities of coping and writing.

Support networks, whether organic or formal, are key, she said.

“I wanted to transform my story into something that heals,” Moroney said.

This weekend’s Writerfest also shows growing diversity in welcoming even more indigenous writers.

“What a gift to be able to listen to the resonant baritone of a gifted storyteller like Thomas King, to learn from a theorist, Indigenous rights advocate, and literary activist like Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, to get lost in the word magic of a literary craftsperson like Joseph Boyden,” English department professor Sam McKegney said.

Often the audience’s reception depends on the author’s personality and the host’s questions to keep dialogue and comedic relief in balance.

Yet, King evoked ruptures of laughter with his sound effects and insistence that the audience close their eyes before he commence his witty and dynamic narrative.

King’s gift may not easily be mimicked and his self-deprecating humour, I would argue, is even more difficult to master. His perfected art of storytelling must be witnessed live because these experiences manifest themselves in shaping and broadening youthful perceptions.

“Once you release a story, it’s not yours,” said King, calling stories “the blueprint for the imagination.”

Mobilizing words often holds a real challenge for some, especially in portraying foreign experiences abroad. The place is the impetus, and travel is about looking for the unfamiliar, author Marcello Di Cintio said.

Granted, the unfamiliar and the foreign for me defined the university experience.

I was 16, the first time I met Shyam Selvadurai, author of Funny Boy, at my old high school – it’s the only prior time I had been in the presence of an established author.

Meeting him again after nearly four years reminds me of the value of experiences like WritersFest. They transcend mere reading and flipping paper pages.

It becomes a dialogue about investigating differences and finding moments of connection with others. Experiences, like WritersFest, can dispel self-doubt and provide impetus for further studying or motivation. I’ve come full circle, with a lot of alleviated apprehensions and a grounded certainty in knowing I love the study of literature.

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