Make them laugh, make them cry. These are the elements of a successful presentation, especially during the 31st annual Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt last weekend.
The laughter and tears appeared back-to-back on Saturday during two readings, one from Lee Maracle and one from Sally Armstrong.
Award-winning novelist, poet and activist, Maracle made the full house laugh over her reminiscences of how she became a storyteller by making up stories for her grandfather, Chief Dan George. Some of them were whoppers, she admits, but her grandfather encouraged her to write them down.
Maracle’s talk ranged freely on her people’s struggles: how NDP Tommy Douglas fought for the vote for the Indians, as they were then called, and how her family has always embraced peace.
“No one in my family will kill for anyone,” she said.
She received the first standing ovation of the festival.
Her reading was followed by Armstrong, whose stories of oppression and hope brought tears to the eyes of many of the audience. As a journalist, Armstrong has visited many of the world’s combat zones. She described the situation of women in Afghanistan who suffer taunts and worse for the act of walking down a street or who can be killed for being a rape victim. Another story described women in Kenya who have been raped with impunity and who finally tackled the unfairness of the legal system. They won their case.
“They’ve created a precedent for the rights of girls and women in Kenya,” Armstrong said.
She sketched some hope by describing the small victories and the birth of movements such as the Stephen Lewis Foundation, inspired by grandmothers.
She closed with, “Fasten your seat belts. Change is on its way.”
After 20 years as festival board president, Wendy Hunt has passed the reins to Cathie Roy, and Roy presided over this year’s events with the gracious assistance of Hunt, who remains on the board.
“All the authors had good delivery this year,” Roy said. “It’s interesting to see what they’re comfortable with on stage.”
C.C. Humphreys was hilarious, she said, dressed in pantaloons and displaying his acting talents. Linwood Barclay kept the audience in stitches describing his excruciatingly slow rise to fame as a writer.
Alastair MacLeod set the tone on opening night, Roy noted. He was not ponderous or preachy, as one might expect from a man of letters, but a good speaker with much to say about the nature of writing.
Roy also had praise for Globe & Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson who delivered the annual Bruce Hutchison lecture with its focus on the spirit of Canada. Simpson was one of the few speakers who had known Hutchison while he was alive and had received feedback from the late journalist and political commentator.
Other highlights for festival fans included Bill Terry and Rosemary Bates of Sechelt who presented their gorgeous book, Beauty by Design, on Sunday morning to a pavilion full of gardeners. It showed how 11 different gardens have been elevated to an art form. The couple was introduced by poet Lorna Crozier, whose Vancouver Island garden is featured in the book.
Rikia Saddy, marketing strategist, was born in Edmonton of a Muslim, Catholic, Jewish family — in other words, a typical Canadian. She spoke in tones of wide-eyed discovery about how the history we learned in school was often riddled with untruths or re-invented to suit the rulers. She urged Canadians to get crystal clear about what we stand for.
“Canada has much to teach the world,” she concluded.
Producer Jane Davidson was thanked profusely by the authors for running a well-organized festival.
Roy said they will concentrate on building audience for future festivals and reaching more into the community. Several events have taken place in local schools already and the festival co-operated with the Sechelt First Nation last May to bring about a successful Aboriginal Storytelling Festival.
News of forthcoming events can be found on www.writersfestival.ca.