WritersFest connects authors & readers in Kingston

In-person events return after two-year online hiatus

The festival builds community around books.
Credit: 
Supplied by Kingston WritersFest

Kingston WritersFest returned this past weekend, hosting a wide variety of authors and events for the Kingston community. Held in person for the first time the start of the pandemic, it featured author talks, trivia, and writing workshops.

Featured authors included international best-seller Guy Gavriel Kay, who discussed the fusion of history and fantasy in literature, and John Elizabeth Stintzi, the writer in residence at the Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS) this past summer.

WritersFest Artistic Director Aara Macauley, MA ’06, told The Journal there were some nerves heading into the first in-person WritersFest in two years. 

Despite her concern the community might not be as engaged after a two-year in-person hiatus, Macauley said the mood remained positive with the return of onsite audiences.

“The other side of it is an overarching feeling was one of excitement and relief. It is a very different experience to be doing a festival over Zoom and to do one in person.”

The return to in-person events meant fans in the Kingston community got to connect with their favourite authors or discover new ones. Getting authors out to WritersFest, though, is not a short or simple process.

“It starts probably earlier than most people expect,” Macauley said. “We generally start programming in January for the fall.”

The process of getting authors into Kingston is bolstered by WritersFest’s relationship with various publishers. It’s not, however, just about getting big names into the events—selected authors and books are generally organized around central themes.

“It becomes kind of this game of Tetris of finding the pieces that fit together, the themes, the stories, the styles of authors,” Macauley explained.

“The harder thing than finding people, is deciding who to bring, because there’s always so many incredible authors out there.”

Authors and books aside, community is at the heart of WritersFest.

“Kingston, in general, is very intelligent, very engaged, very committed to arts and culture,” Macauley said. 

“We’re very lucky in that way, and I think WritersFest is its own community, people have a real sense of ownership over the festival, and you see the same faces at a lot of events. There is this really lively and engaged conversation that continues for the whole festival.”

Authors have also appreciated the community engagement WritersFest brings; audiences are receptive to their stories and eager to learn more about their work.

“The authors […] know what it’s like to have an audience that if they haven’t read their book, they’re going to,” Macauley said. “We really want the festival to feel like a two-way street.”

Macauley said the audience reception has been wildly positive, as the intimate events at the festival allow them to interact with attending authors. 

“I don’t want it to feel like this elitist event that is, you know, presented to you, I want it to feel like there’s some give and take. We have sort of our big masthead events, but it’s also really wonderful to introduce debut authors to the festival and newer voices.”

“It’s nice to have space in the festival to give voice to talent that people might now have discovered yet.”

Although the WritersFest offseason has just started, the festival is facilitating events across the arts space in Kingston, including a talk with Ann-Marie MacDonald on Oct. 22. However, planning for the 15th annual WritersFest next year has already begun. 

“We’ve already begun scheming and plotting towards that milestone,” Macauley said.

For more information on WritersFest, this year’s events, and offseason events, visit their website.

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