Exploring literary pathways at Kingston WritersFest

Annual festival returns for another year

Adam Gopnik.
Photo by Bernard Clark

Running from September 27 to October 1, Kingston WritersFest returned for its ninth consecutive year. With a roster of some 60 different authors, the annual festival aims to promote various forms of the written word within the Kingston community.

This year, Kingston Writersfest offered readings, conversations with creators, writing workshops and as many novel signings as your inner bookworm and tote bag could handle.

Presentations and appearances by festival notables Adam Gopnik, Michael Chabon and Elan Mastai highlighted last week’s event series.

Adam Gopnik, a long-time staff writer for the New Yorker, kicked off the first night of the festival on Wednesday with a talk about his new memoir, At the Stranger’s Gate.

The book describes the true story of Gopnik moving to New York City in 1980 with his "painfully polite wife" Martha. Living in a cockroach-infested 9 x 11 foot basement apartment in New York is more than the majority of our generation can financially hope for, but Gopnik gives his readers a glimpse into a humorous retelling of the young hopefuls’ first steps in the city.

Gopnik’s frequent use of humour in his writing and personal memoirs is often used to undercut the heavier aspects of his work.

“Comedy is the great sentimentality-cutter,” Gopnik said of his unique tone.

The self-confessed melodramatic author offered more gems of advice for writing and relationships alike, as he painted a time-travelling snapshot into the way it felt to be young and ambitious in the 80s.

The following night, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon was met with a raucous crowd at The Grand Theatre. His semi-autobiographical faux-memoir, Moonglow, written from the perspective of a male narrator with the same name, follows the story of a man taking the time to listen to the fascinating, conspiracy-filled, slightly sexy and very dangerous life of his grandfather.

Chabon tackles the hard-hitting subject of exploring life during wartime and the less-than-kosher means America may have used to achieve space travel.

For Chabon, the evening held many surprises. Following a reading of his book and a short interview, an impatient audience member insisted on skipping the required written question portion of the Q&A to comment on Chabon’s essays, and his thoughts on Israel-Palestine. The audience member called Chabon a “cop-out” after the writer didn’t immediately answer.

Elan Mastai had a considerably less heated discussion.

Now a Queen’s alumni, Mastai, spoke on a Saturday afternoon about his experience transitioning from a screenwriter to a novelist. The writer’s decision to write a novel came fresh after having several of his scripts adapted into movies starring a plethora of A-listers, ranging from Daniel Radcliffe to Adam Driver.

When asked for advice he’d give to those interested in breaking into the writing scene, the successful author described how to create a market for your work:

“Write in the way that only you can,” Mastai said.

He was also able to give insight into the research that went into his semi-dystopian time-travel novel, All Our Wrong Todays. Mastai’s version of time travel dynamics take into consideration the orbital mechanics of the universe, and is already receiving support from famous astrophysicists, including Neil Degrasse Tyson.

The audience was in stitches from Mastai’s stories of his prank-filled time as a film major at Queen’s and as a Queen’s Journal contributor, which included distributing an entire Journal filled with fake articles while the rest of the staff was away. The humble author even admitted to his belief as a younger man that writing for mainstream Hollywood films would always be out of his grasp.

It’s not every day you get the chance to hear from successful authors, discover new ones and ask them questions, all while rubbing shoulders with your fellow bibliophiles. With student-specific rush tickets available for every event, this is the place to be for anyone hoping for a peek into the big wide world of literature when it returns next year.

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