Limestone literature

South African author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature J.M. Coetzee is part of this year’s Kingston WritersFest

Merilyn Simonds is the artistic director of Kingston WritersFest and has been with the festival since its start six years ago.
Image by: Jeff Peters
Merilyn Simonds is the artistic director of Kingston WritersFest and has been with the festival since its start six years ago.

Kingston is home to the first novel printed and published in Canada. Julia Catherine Beckwith Hart visited an aunt in Kingston in 1820 and stayed in the city after marrying a bookbinder who printed her novel St. Ursula’s Convent in 1824. This year’s sixth annual Kingston WritersFest is set on continuing the city’s literary tradition.

The festival’s artistic director, Merilyn Simonds, has been working on the festival since its inception in 2005.

“We don’t have an overall theme, we just try to bring in writers who write books in all the different genres,” Simonds said. “We try to be as embracing as possible.”

South African reclusive author J.M. Coetzee leads the international event with fellow author Paul Auster, giving a reading of their upcoming book of correspondence between each other. Coetzee has won two Booker Prizes for Life & Times of Michael K in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999 and the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature.

“It’s an amazing coup to have him here,” Simonds said.

Coetzee will appear at Queen’s on Sept. 23 and 24 for a conference developed by Rosemary Jolly for her South African studies group. Jolly is a Queen’s English professor specializing in South African literature and culture. She is also a friend of Coetzee.

“His coming here is having an amazing effect, not only on the community of readers, but also on the community of academics and writers,” Simonds said.

Another WritersFest event, Hot Art, will feature a talk from author Joshua Knelman who traced the path of a stolen art piece by following thieves and detectives.

WritersFest has a deal with Queen’s to trade funding from the University for free admission for Queen’s students. This includes access to all on-stage events, provided they’re not already sold out.

Multi-instrumentalist David Gossage, from the musical group David Gossage and the Celtic Mindwarp, will be playing the flute and whistle while accompanying author Trevor Ferguson (writing as John Farrow) as he depicts his latest crime thriller River City.

The quickest selling event is Canadian senator and retired general Roméo Dallaire speaking with South African journalist and poet Antjie Krog.

“They’re going to talk about human rights and violent societies and how we get back on the path of being humane,” Simonds said.

The numbers for this year’s festivities already seem to be larger than last year, Simonds said.

“Last year we had around 3,800 bums in seats,” she said. “By the looks of it, we will definitely be over 4,000 this year. Anybody who thinks the book is dead should come to the festival.”

The festival has 43 events planned and 60 writers lined up.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to see literature in action and see people talking about the ideas that are shaping our society,” Simonds said.

Kingston WritersFest runs from Sept. 22 to 25. For more information visit


Festival Preview, J.M. Coetzee, Kingston WritersFest, Merilyn Simonds, Romeo Dallaire

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