Denman Island, get ready to host another group of extraordinary Canadian authors in 2016 during our annual summer festival. Expect top quality writing and information on hard-hitting topics of historical importance, political activism and contemporary urgency. Also expect imaginative fiction, creative expression – plus an accordion! Diverse voices, genres and perspectives will mix and mingle to entertain, inspire as well as challenge us all.
The celebrated author Miriam Toews was born into a free-thinking family within a strict Mennonite community in Steinbach, Manitoba. She has written six insightful, critical, and wickedly funny novels, many of which describe aspects of that traditional life as she experienced it. A Complicated Kindness (2004), a coming-of-age story of a rebellious Mennonite teenager, was highly acclaimed internationally and won her the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. Toews’ recent book, All My Puny Sorrows (2014), comes from the tragic story of her real-life sister Marjorie’s violent suicide in 2010. This book manages the extraordinary feat of braiding humour and compassion into the retelling of a devastating family tragedy. The book has appeared on numerous “best book” lists and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize. As Miriam Toews states in an interview, there is a very contemporary and contentious issue touched on in this story, “It’s so complex the idea of assisted suicide. All I can remember is the suffering of my sister, and I think, “Couldn’t there be a way she didn’t have to die so violently and alone?'” Read more about Miriam Toews.
Comedian-author Charles Demers is often heard on CBC Radio’s The Debaters. As a stand-up comic, he has performed for national television and radio audiences and at the Just for Laughs Festival. He is also on faculty at UBC in the Creative Writing Program and has published a collection of humourous essays, Vancouver Special (2009), and a novel, The Prescription Errors (2009). In 2015, he published an alphabet book called The Horrors: An A to Z of Funny Thoughts on Awful Things in which he writes, humourously of course, on an alphabetical list of his own fears or challenges – all of which add up to a very funny and candid self-portrait. More about Charles Demers.
Bev Sellars was chief of the Xat’sull (Soda Creek) First Nation in Williams Lake, B.C. She, as well as her mother and grandmother, were forced to attend St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School (1891-1981) during childhood. Her most recent book/memoir, They Called Me Number One, draws its title from the fact that all the students were identified by number instead of name, and she was labeled Number One. This book was a finalist for the 2014 Burt Award for First Nations, Metis and Inuit Literature and was used by the recent Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission for its archive; it won the George Ryga award (2013) and was also shortlisted for the BC Non-Fiction Award in 2013. Bev Sellars uses her own personal experience along with her skills as an historian and lawyer, to bear witness to the cruelty and inhumanity of the residential school system that was imposed on indigenous children in Canada. Bev Sellars is interviewed on the Sunday Edition.
John Vaillant is returning to our Denman festival, this time with a book of fiction, The Jaguar’s Children, his first novel after a successful pair of non-fiction books that won so much attention and so many prizes: The Golden Spruce (2005) and The Tiger (2010). This new novel is about the terrible dangers of illegally crossing the USA – Mexico border, and the lives of some of the desperate Mexicans who have been forced to try it. The story could be a reflection of newspaper headlines any day of the week in the southern USA, but becomes dramatized by Vaillant’s technique of using one of the migrant’s urgent text messaging to frame his story. John Vaillant has written articles in The New Yorker, The Atlantic and National Geographic and he has received numerous prizes for his work including a Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction.
Vancouver-based author and independent journalist J.B. MacKinnon is well known for co-authoring The 100-Mile Diet with his partner, Alisa Smith. He has won six national magazine awards and the 2006 Charles Taylor Prize for best work of Literary Non-Fiction. He has been working on interactive documentaries and has written four books of non-fiction – The Once and Future World, an exploration of the concept of re-wilding, is his latest. He argues that it is still possible to restore nature if we can re-imagine what the natural world once was. “Each generation grows up believing what it started with is normal rather than one step in a long story of human impact.” MacKinnon argues that we need to remember an unaltered wilderness to understand how to reconnect with that nature and re-wild our earth. “Nature may not be what it was, no, but it isn’t simply gone,” he writes. “It’s waiting.” See review
Cecily Nicholson is the winner of the 2015 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize for her book of poetry From the Poplars published by Talonbooks. This work investigates the historical use and ownership of Poplar Island in the Fraser River in her city of New Westminster. She is a serious poet and activist interested in looking at “…histories of settlement, migration and brutal erasure resulting from colonialism.” She is also interested in the idea of re-sensitizing people who struggle in an urban environment to feel the environmental urgencies and the implicit pleasures in our natural world. Nicholson also works in Vancouver’s downtown eastside as the financial administrator of Gallery Gachet, an outsider art space that works with disenfranchised/displaced women who create art. Her work as a poet is often in collaboration with artists; she is a compelling literary voice who manages to connect the written word with the lives of people. Read more about Cecily Nicholson
Michael Christie was a professional skateboarder and a mental health worker on Vancouver’s downtown eastside before turning his considerable talents to writing. His debut novel, If I Fall, If I Die, was partly inspired by his own upbringing in a loving, artful but confined household with an agoraphobic mother who was terrified to go outside. As in his novel, it was a magical world for just the two of them. This book was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and follows Christie’s award-winning short story collection, The Beggar’s Garden (2011), which explored similar themes of marginal existences and different ways of becoming educated. See review
Barbara Adler is a Vancouver-based poet, spoken word artist, songwriter and musician (plays accordion!). She has produced and performed in many events including the Extravagant Signals series (2013) that brought together dance, visual art, spoken poetry and music in a seven day festival. She was a founding member of the Vancouver Youth Poetry Slam and these days, curates and co-produces the annual Accordion Noir Festival in the city. She recently finished her MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies at SFU and describes herself as “…obsessed with the music of the performed word – whether sung or spoken, whispered to the private ear or spontaneously bantered, lushly harmonized or brashly shoutrocked.” See more
Canadian singer, songwriter and activist Bruce Cockburn – yes THE Bruce Cockburn – is well known to most of us for his hugely successful career and passionate songs about human rights, environmental issues, politics and spirituality. In his long career in the music business, he has written more than 300 songs and sold nearly one million albums in Canada alone. In 2014, Cockburn finished writing a memoir, Rumours of Glory, in which he describes his 40 years of engaging with music and progressive causes on a national and international level. As a Christian, spiritual principles have governed his life and often found a way into his music; he has visited various trouble spots in the world out of humanitarian concern and often found inspiration there for songwriting. Cockburn became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1982 and an Officer in 2002 as well as receiving the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canada’s highest honour in the performing arts. He has also received thirteen Juno Awards and been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Read more about Bruce Cockburn
Steven Price will return this year to conduct The Writing Week (formerly known as the Writer-in-Residence program) for the third time. He is back by popular demand, having sold out the workshop very early last year and likely will do so again this time. In addition to publishing award-winning books of poetry and fiction (Anatomy of Keys, Into That Darkness, Omens in the Year of the Ox), he continues to do sessional teaching at the University of Victoria in the Creative Writing Department. His much anticipated new novel set in19th century London, By Gaslight, will be coming out in 2016 and has already had its rights sold internationally. More about Steven Price
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