People Will Always Need Stories

 “ One hundred writers from around the world in 86 events”, was the motto of the 2014 Vancouver Writers Festival.

It kicked off with an author many were looking forward to hearing from: Karl Ove Knausgaard, a literary sensation from Norway, who has published an autobiographical six-book-series called My Struggle. He writes about big issues like death, love, and fear in a very realistic and intense way.

“ While writing, I just throw everything out on the paper, in a manic self-confession,” Knausgaard says.

He has touched a lot of readers, especially men, with his unconventional storytelling. One man in the audience said that he cried a lot while reading Knausgaard’s books, another reader said that Knausgaard reflects his inner world.

From Norway to Iceland: Sjon started his writing career as a poet and songwriter for Bjork before writing novels. Now his novels are translated into English, one of them, a Whispering Muse, tells the tale of a mythical hero aboard a Danish merchant ship in 1949. Unlike the other authors, Sjon did not read from his book, he entertained the audience with stories, like the story of his first visit to Canada, 25 years ago:

He was sent straight to Whitehorse, to represent Iceland at a story-telling festival. Upon his arrival, he realized he had no stories to tell, only poems.

“ They placed me in a tent, and I hoped nobody would come and ask for a story,” he says. “But two men showed up, and luckily I remembered a tale of my childhood.”

It was in Whitehorse where he learned something essential; a First Nations storyteller told him that he had only one story to tell. When Sjon asked him to tell the story , he said that it is divided in two parts, which are each divided into four parts and that it would take days to tell the story. That was when Sjon realized “that every book, every poem, is just a fragment of a bigger story, which the universe has given us”.

Storytelling and mythology are also essential for Thomas King, who has recently published his novel The Back of the Turtle. Thomas King is of Cherokee and Greek ancestry.

His book tells the story of Gabriel Quinn, a scientist who comes back to his reserve to find his community gone. He finds a young girl in the waves of a river, and people who have fallen from the sky. King weaves Christian and First Nations mythology together.

“ When you think about Genesis in the Bible, the world starts as paradise and then chaos arises. In most First Nations stories it is the other way: It starts with chaos and the narrator puts the world together, and that is what I want to do as a writer.”

The Vancouver Writers Festival shows that storytelling in its new and old forms is a tradition that will not become extinct, because people will always need stories.

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