AfterWords Literary Festival goes virtual from Sept. 30-Oct. 4
From onsite to online, festival finds a silver lining in a year like no other
With a theme of 'Writing Into An Uncertain Future', the festival will offer a mix of readings, conversations, workshops, and the launch of Conundrum Press's Nova Graphica: A Comic Anthology of Nova Scotia History.
All events will be webcast through Zoom.
We asked Co-Director Stephanie Domet a few questions about the festival:
In the year like no other, going from onsite to online, what was it like re-imaging the festival in its second year?
"Year one for AfterWords Literary Festival was all about teaching ourselves how to run every aspect of a literary festival. We are a small but mighty team of two (Stephanie Domet and Ryan Turner), and there's no real play book for this kind of thing.
"So we learned, and made mistakes, and course corrected, researched, consulted others who've done similar work, made more mistakes, used our creativity and our dogged determination, and pulled it off — a four-day festival featuring writers from around the Maritimes, across Canada, and beyond. And we often would turn to each other and say: 'Next year will be so much easier. We'll know how to do all of this.'
"Then there was a global pandemic, and we had to make some decisions. It didn't feel right to put such a new festival on hold for a year. We knew it would be foolhardy to go ahead as if gathering in person — let alone flying across country — was going to be safe, comfortable, or even allowed. For a while, we flirted with the idea of planning parallel festivals — a virtual one featuring writers from away, and in person one featuring local writers."
How does the AfterWords Literary Festival stand out among other literary, author, writer festivals in the region?
"We are really fortunate, in this region, to have access to incredible literary festivals — Fog Lit in Saint John, Read by the Sea in River John, Lunenburg Lit, the Cabot Trail Writers Festival, Wild Threads in PEI, and of course the Frye Festival in Moncton, not to mention Word on the Street.
"And that's exactly what AfterWords brings to the party.
"Our focus is on fascinating conversations about the ideas that push writers and readers to the page, books that can tell us something about how to be human right now, stories that allow us to imagine our future. We do our best to make AfterWords a welcoming place for the writers and readers who join us.
"And we are committed to using our festival as an equity-seeking device. We program always with panel parity in mind — one of our main goals is to bring a diversity of voices to our stage, and to grow an audience that's equally diverse.
"So, we work with local organizations like LOVE, ISANS, The Delmore "Buddy" Daye Learning Institute, Halifax Humanities and others, to distribute free tickets to folks. And we set aside half the seats in our public workshops for BIPOC writers to attend free of charge. We want AfterWords to be for everyone, and we take the responsibility of that seriously."
Why did you and co-director Ryan Turner want to start this festival?
"We wanted to make the kind of festival we were longing to attend. That's it, honestly, that's the whole reason. Once we started, of course, other goals and aims came into play, and now we want to make a festival that Halifax will embrace, and be excited about, and proud of. But we are guided by our own curiosity as writers and readers."
What author / authors are creating that buzz already?
"We first approached her in 2018, as we were planning the inaugural festival, but she was out of reach for us for a variety of reasons. When we made the decision this spring to pivot to a virtual festival, we thought, you know what, let's go back to Roxane Gay and see what we can make happen.
"She was available, and happy to join us, and we are thrilled to be presenting her in conversation with Mary Lynk of CBC Radio's IDEAS. That's going to be a terrific conversation, and there's lots of buzz about it.
"We also struck it lucky this year with our fiction panel: All three of our authors are longlisted for the Giller Prize! Michelle Good, Shani Mootoo, and Halifax's own Francesca Ekwuyasi are longlisted for the Giller together, and they'll be at AfterWords together on a panel called Reading Deeply, moderated by Evelyn C. White. Lots of buzz around that panel!"
In curating this year's festival, is there one author that you acquired that you just had to have on the lineup?
'We are definitely not going to declare that we have a favourite child!
"Every writer we booked, we booked because we want to hear what they have to say about how we're living now — and because their work blows us away.
"Cory Doctorow, Thea Lim, Catherine Hernandez — I spent the summer reading their latest work in preparation for our panel discussion Writing Into An Uncertain Future. I'm so excited to present them and their ideas to our audiences.
"And Vivek Shraya and Cicely Belle Blain, talking about mentorship and what we can learn from each other.
"And our poets!
"Oh, and Keith Barker, Dora-award-winning playwright, in conversation with the phenomenal Colleen Murphy.
"Plus, the launch of Nova Graphica, a graphic anthology of Nova Scotia, published by Conundrum Press — we'll have a handful of the artists and writers who made that book presenting cabaret-style on our opening night. Oh gosh, not to mention our workshop leaders Carol Bruneau, Randy Boyagoda, JJ Steeves —I can't imagine our festival without each and every one of these writers."