One of Canada’s longest-running literary festivals is under way in Sechelt this weekend. It includes a keynote lecture by veteran CBC broadcaster Shelagh Rogers and appearances by two dozen award-winning novelists, storytellers and poets.
The Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts marks its 40th anniversary this year. It was founded in 1983 by Betty Keller and members of the SunCoast Writers Forge. Although attendance is capped to allow for social distancing, past festivals have attracted more than 8,500 unique registrants.
Book readings, interviews, and author receptions take place by admission at the Rockwood Pavilion and grounds in Sechelt.
Reflecting on the upcoming event, artistic and executive director Jane Davidson said, “I’m looking forward to sitting in the Pavilion and listening to the stories and words, the insights and thoughts that will be shared by Festival writers. Mostly I am looking forward to the magic that happens when writers and readers gather in this beautiful space in the heart of ch’atlich. For me, it’s bittersweet, of course.”
Davidson will retire from her position in October. The festival’s incoming artistic and executive director, Marissa Alps, began serving in her new role on Aug. 1. The non-profit society that runs the annual event is supported by a 10-member board of directors and more than 150 seasonal volunteers.
The 2022 festival opened with a Thursday evening reading by storyteller and musician Ivan Coyote. Coyote recently earned a second Governor General’s Nonfiction Literary Award nomination for their latest book, Care Of: Letters, Connections, and Cures. The book contains a collection of heartfelt replies composed during the pandemic lockdown in answer to correspondence from readers inspired by Coyote’s art and activism.
The lineup of writers includes authors who illuminate the perspective of Indigenous people in Canada. Toronto-born Jesse Wente, a longtime CBC Radio film columnist, is Anishinaabe from the Serpent River First Nation. His 2021 release Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance was named the Globe and Mail’s book of the year.
Joshua Whitehead, an Oji-nêhiyaw member of the Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1), explores Indigeneity and queerness through poetry and his Giller Prize-nominated novel Jonny Appleseed. The novel, by turns rough-edged and tender, depicts a two-spirited protagonist who carries wounds from life on a rural reserve into a hardscrabble existence in urban Winnipeg.
Inuk poet and scholar Dr. Norma Dunning won the the Governor General’s Award for Fiction for her book of short stories, Tainna: The Unseen Ones. The book portrays the rich interplay of mythology with accounts of six contemporary Inuk characters.
During an event on Saturday evening, singers and storytellers will pay tribute to Sto:lo writer Lee Maracle. Born in North Vancouver and granddaughter of Tsleil-Waututh Chief Dan George, Maracle earned international attention through her 1975 autobiography Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel. She died last November after a writing career that produced nearly 20 acclaimed books and delivery of the 2021 Margaret Laurence Lecture.
CBC broadcast journalist and author Shelagh Rogers will deliver the annual Rockwood Lecture. As well as being a candid advocate for mental health wellness, Rogers has co-edited books that explore the experience of residential school survivors and reconciliation.
The festival will close on Sunday night with a performance by songwriters and guitarists Brendan McLeod and Adrian Glynn, banjoist Chris Suen, and violinist Carly Frey, who together compose the folk ensemble The Fugitives.
A full list of writers and the festival schedule are available at writersfestival.ca.