NorthWords NWT Festival returns for its 17th annual edition

After two years of online events, NorthWords NWT returns to Yellowknife this week for a festival with writers of comedy, dub poetry and children’s books.

Festival runs Thursday to Sunday in Yellowknife

Tracey Lindberg, author of Birdie, receives applause after speaking to an audience as part of the 2019 NorthWords NWT festival in Yellowknife. The festival returns in person this weekend after a COVID-19 hiatus. (NorthWords NWT)

Whether you're a kid wanting story time, a reader hoping to connect with others or an aspiring author honing your craft, NorthWords NWT offers something for everyone. Most importantly, it helps bring northern stories to light while inspiring others to create more.

"I've heard from lots of writers that the festival is a really good source of inspiration for them. It gets the creative juices going," said executive director Valerie Gamache. 

Gamache began working for NorthWords NWT in 2020 when the festival went online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year will be the first time she's organizing it as a fully in-person event.

The annual Yellowknife writers' festival brings together authors from across the North as well as a few national writers who share their insight and skills with the public. Happening from Thursday, May 26, to Sunday, NorthWords is in its 17th year and will be hosting panel discussions, readings, and workshops. Each year focuses on different genres and themes and this time around it will touch on comedy writing, children's stories and dub poetry. 

To help inspire and teach others on those themes are headliners Lillian Allen and Ryan North, who have made names for themselves as a leading Canadian poet and a New York Times bestseller, respectively.

"From my observations, our literary community is very passionate about poetry in all its forms which would explain why we invited not one poet, but two poets," said Gamache. "Lillian also brings her expertise in performance poetry — dub poetry and spoken word poetry — which is very popular among our literary community."

Allen was named the foremother of Canadian poetry by the League of Canadian Poets and is also a two-time Juno award winner for her albums of dub poetry, Revolutionary Tea Party and Conditions Critical. She's also a long-time professor of Creative Writing at OCAD University.

Aspiring writers can learn about performance poetry from Allen during a Saturday workshop as well as listen to her thoughts on modern poetry through a panel discussion. 

North, on the other hand, is known for a completely different writing style. You may have heard of him as a writer behind the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series for Marvel as well as the comic, Adventure Time. The graphic novelist also writes for video games, TV and for his webcomic Dinosaur Comics. All of that has gained him status as an Eisner-winning writer.

"As a comedy writer and comic book writer, Ryan North brings expertise in a writing genre that isn't often covered at the festival or other events," Gamache said. "Ryan North's visit seems timely and relevant as we see more and more graphic novels published in the N.W.T. and more and more stand-up comedy in our community."

Alongside the headliners, northern writers like Tanya Roach, Amber Henry and Lana de Bastiani will be leading discussion panels. Roach is joining Allen in a talk about poetry and "the role it plays in everyday life and in the political climate."

At the same time on Saturday, Henry is set to discuss the process of writing children's literature. And de Bastiani, author of The Fox and My Boot, will teach participants about the elements of children's storybook writing. 

Other Canadian writers, like B.C. poet and playwright Joseph A. Danduran is hosting a workshop on sharing your writing with others. 

Readings, erotica

Of course, there will be returning favourite events too, starting with Flash: Your 3 Minutes of Fame, hosted by Dëneze Nakehk'o at Sun Dog Trading Post. And Saturday night, the festival's most popular event, Blush, is happening at Yellowknife Elks Club. Starting at 8 p.m., participating writers will get up on stage and read erotica. 

The work showcased has varied drastically in the past, said Henry, who has published her own erotic literature. She said she's seen everything from traditional erotica readings to retellings of embarrassing hookups and a sensual description of eating KFC. 

"It's not always serious. There's lots of laughter and there's stuff that's very touching and very personal," said Henry. "It's always a lot of fun."

It all wraps up Sunday at 1 pm with a talk by Allen, Dandurand, Louise Flaherty of Inhabit Books, North and Niigaan Sinclair, who will talk about how words bring us together.

Find the full schedule of events on the NorthWords NWT website


  • Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Tracey Lindberg in a photo.
    May 27, 2022 2:41 PM CT


Dana Bowen

freelance writer

Dana Bowen is a freelance reporter based in Yellowknife. She focusses on the arts.