A Celebration Of Words: Writer’s Festival

A woman sitting outside with a pencil and notebook
Writing is a lonely task: sitting at home and putting words on paper is the main part of an author’s life. Photo: Pixabay

Writing is a lonely task: sitting at home and putting words on paper is the main part of an author’s life. The pandemic made it even lonelier, with no readings, festivals or gatherings to go to and connect with other writers and like-minded people.

Yukon Words is now hosting their first Yukon Words Festival from November 25–27. The festival will be at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre and Yukonstruct, except for Friday’s opening mixer at Arts Underground. Yukon authors and storytellers will mix it up with guests from Outside.

“Yukon Words aims to support all word artists, regardless of their media—writing, storytelling, journalism, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting or songwriting. We are finding it very tough to present all media and all forms of word artistry in two days and an evening, but we are trying,” said Ellen Bielawski, a board member of Yukon Words.

The not-for-profit cultural organization was founded in 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic. They are representing and supporting Yukon writers, storytellers and word artists, at all levels. Their aim is to build a community of readers and audiences. In addition to that, their goal is to foster wide public access and participation in Yukon writing and storytelling in all forms.

“We are thrilled to anticipate gathering in real life, in person, for the first time since Yukon Words began. At the same time, given the evolution of virus variants, we are planning our line-up with “Covid understudies”—that is, all presenters have backup from someone who can step in, in case of infections, travel restrictions, lockdowns or quarantines. It is complicated, but we so want to deliver an interesting and diverse program,” Bielawski said.

Readings, panels, workshops and free events will take place over the weekend from November 25–27.

Yukon Word artists confirmed for panels, readings or storytelling, at this time, are Eva Holland, Joanna Lilley, Tara Borin, Ellen Bielawski, Luke Campbell, Dan Dowhal, Lillian Nakamura Maguire and K.J. Munro.

Guests from Outside include Megan Cole, Ahmad Danny Ramadan and Andromeda Romano-Lax. “Our budget only allowed us to fly people in from western Canada,” Bielawski said.

Danny Ramadan is a Syrian-Canadian author, public speaker and advocate for the LGBTQIA2S community and for refugees. His debut novel, The Clothesline Swing, was shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Awards (“Lammys”), longlisted for Canada Reads and named a Best Book of the Year by the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. Ramadan will hold a workshop about the First Sentence: Starting at the Beginning. The author will also host an event on behalf of The Writers’ Union of Canada (he is the B.C. and Yukon representative for the union).

Another workshop will be hosted by Yukon author Eva Holland: Building Blocks—From Essays to a Book. Holland is a freelance writer based in the territory and has published Nerve: A Personal Journey Through the Science of Fear. She has also published numerous essays, stories and articles.

Writers who have already written one or more books can participate in the Advanced Artists workshop, with host Andromeda Romano-Lax. She is a resident of Vancouver Island. Her first book, The Spanish Bow, was translated into 11 languages. Her next three novels—The Detour, Behave, and Plum Rains—reflect her diverse interest in the arts, history, science and technology, as well as her love of travel and her time spent living abroad, as it says on her website. Romano-Lax works as a freelance book coach and has co-founded 49 Writers, a non-profit organization of Alaskan writers.

Building our Artists’ Communities is the topic of the panel that Bielawski will chair. Cole will host a panel discussion of Borealis Prize winners. One of the festival highlights is a two-hour storytelling extravaganza that will take place on Saturday evening.

Bielawski stresses that all events are open to the public. A festival pass or individual tickets will be available. “Some events will be pay-what-you-can [events].”

Yukon Words is working very hard to engage communities across the Yukon. Funding is available for people to travel from communities to Whitehorse for the festival. All they have to do is apply, until November 10, at the Yukon Words website. Recipients will be chosen by lottery.

“We are also trying hard to include audiences—readers, listeners, watchers. We have a particular interest in connecting with community librarians across the Yukon, because they work face to face with people [who are] seeking books, stories, movies, music and so on,” Bielawski said.

The full schedule will go live on yukonwords.ca.

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