Spring in the air? Must be time for Ottawa’s Writers Festival!

Participants in the 2010 OIWF sign books (Photo Credit: Pearl Pirie, via Flickr)

Kathryn Hunt  is a displaced Maritimer who first arrived in Ottawa 15 years ago. A published poet and freelance writer, Kate blogs, performs and talks the city’s budding literary scene at every opportunity! She also enjoys cycling and rock-climbing in her spare time.

Steve Heighton at the 2010 Fest

The literary calendar of Ottawa has rolled back around, and it’s that time of year again . . . Festival time! The Ottawa International Writers Festival’s Spring Edition kicks off on Thursday. (Although, I hope you didn’t miss local writer Michael Blouin’s book launch Wednesday night, either. If you’ve been following the reviews, this book – Wore Down Trust – is going to be very big.)

I’m not sure what the literary scene in Ottawa would look like without the Writers Festival. It certainly would be poorer. The Festival’s been running since 1997, and by now it’s firmly established as a place for the literary community to get together and celebrate – and for others who might not be as involved throughout the year to get their dose of books and ideas.

Local Tourist Kathryn Hunt

For anyone who’s never been, it might be a surprise that these readings are, really, fun; it’s not like going to a class or lecture just because it’s somehow good for you. If you like the feeling of having your brain turned on – that set of sparks that happens when you make new connections, see things differently, when you learn something fascinating – then the Festival is like a big playground. Curious about quantum mechanics? Foreign countries? Other cultures? Political possibilities? Predicting the future? How our brains work? Understanding other people? Want to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, see how far you could be pushed, or just to play with words and sounds? If you’ve ever tuned in to one of those excerpts from the TED lectures online, watched a documentary, or enjoyed a story, there’s probably something you’ll like at the Festival.

Neil Wilson (left) interviews Harvey Cashore on Mulroney, Schreiber and the Airbus Scandal

This season . . . well, I’m reluctant to make recommendations, because everyone’s taste is different, although I ran down the stuff that I was excited about a while back, in my lit blog. Along with getting in on a bunch of the literary events, I’ll be trying to catch as much poetry as possible, and sneaking into the back to sit in on the science lectures. (One of my first ever Writers Festival experiences was years ago, when I crept in to a talk on string theory physics in a room that was so packed I had to sit on the floor with my legs stretched out over the carpet. At the end, a 10-year-old boy asked a question that not only astonished the speaker, but had the audience applauding.) But you pick what you want to go to: There will be speakers talking about fiction, poetry, music, science, politics, human rights, philosophy, religion, science fiction, graphic novels, psychology … and if you want to work on your own writing skills there are Masterclass sessions on short story writing and poetry. (Plus everything you can learn from onstage interviews, panel talks, and Q & A sessions.)

Audience member asks a question at the 2010 Fest

I will let you know that alongside the national and international luminaries there is a pretty stellar collection of writers from here in Ottawa: local superstar Elizabeth Hay for one, but there is also the aforementioned Michael Blouin, the Ottawa Citizen’s Dan Gardner, children’s writer JC Sulzenko, the sound poetry group Messagio Galore, headed up and curated by local avant-garde writer jwcurry,  and rising local poets Pearl Pirie and Sandra Ridley.

But, as I said, everyone’s interested in different things. The good thing is, if having new ideas, feeling your world get a little bigger, or seeing things differently is as exhilarating a feeling for you as it is for me. . . you’ve got nearly a full week full of chances to feel like that.

Thanks for the primer, Kate! Check it out all the details at www.writersfestival.org.