Regional News Release
July 06, 2022
The little festival that could: how authors come from near and far for the Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival
Contributions from BC Ferries’ community investment program are integral to the success of annual celebration of writing on Denman Island
VICTORIA – The Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival runs from July 15 to 17, and that’s something to get excited about.
Measuring just 51 square miles, skinny little Denman Island sits in the Strait of Georgia wedged between even tinier Hornby Island and the east coast of Vancouver Island. The 1,300 people who call Denman (Sla-dai-aich) home regularly welcome visitors to a variety of events. There’s the biannual Denman Island Home and Garden tour (“long been considered one of BC’s top horticultural events”), the yearly Denman Island Pottery Studio tour (“1 island. 2 days. 10 studios.”) and even a baroque music festival and workshop.
In the summer, BC Ferries increases the number of hours it sails between Vancouver Island and Denman Island seven days a week. Extra weekend service is also added between Denman Island and Hornby Island to get residents and visitors to where they want to go.
But one annual happening, perhaps, shows better than all of them how the island punches above its weight in celebrating art and community.
Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival is a festival with a difference: eclectic and intimate, hosting and showcasing authors of different genres and statures from Canada and beyond, and promoting Indigenous writers, both established and emerging, all while attracting myriad readers and writers who come for entertainment and enlightenment.
“I borrow the phrase that [broadcaster and humourist] Stuart McLean used when he described [his CBC Radio show] The Vinyl Cafe. He said, ‘We may not be big, but we’re small,’” says Stewart Goodings, co-chair, with Cindy Critchley, of the organizing committee for what he calls “an intimate and informal festival.”
An avid reader and a retired federal government official, Goodings says at large festivals, the authors fly in, stay in a hotel, give a talk, go back to the hotel and fly home or to the next promotional stop.
At the Denman festival, being held this year from July 15 to 17, the authors arrive on a Thursday evening and stay for almost three days, billeted in someone’s home. Each gives one solo performance and participates in a panel discussion with other writers. And throughout, authors take bike tours and circulate in the community, enjoying meals, coffee and drinks with locals.
“They get to know a local community — a community of readers, a community of writers — and they love it,” Goodings says, noting authors often agree to participate because they’ve heard from other authors who had good experiences on Denman.
A repeat visitor to the Denman Readers and Writers Festival, Michael Christie says: “Small but mighty literary festivals like the Denman festival are the lifeblood of literature in British Columbia. Where else can you listen to writers give insights into their work while rubbing elbows with fellow book lovers, all while visiting one of the gorgeous and peaceful Gulf Islands?
“Writing is a solitary pursuit,” adds the resident of Galiano Island and Victoria, “but attending the Denman festival is a perfect reminder that there are kind, thoughtful people out there reading the fruits of my lonely labours.”
He lauds the festival’s intimacy and notes, “At the Denman Festival, there’s a healthy chance of actually meeting your favourite author in a relaxed setting, maybe even with a glass of a nice BC wine in your hand.”
For Jonina Kirton, who teaches at the University of British Columbia, 2022 will mark her first visit to the Denman festival.
“I am so looking forward to immersing myself in this event and island life,” she says. “Adding to this, I always enjoy meeting other writers and those interested in the written word. As a poet, I think of my readings and workshop offerings as ceremony and always hope that participants leave feeling more connected to themselves and each other.”
She’s also supportive of the Denman festival’s commitment to Indigenous writers, saying, “One thing I bring to all events I participate in is the willingness to take risks, to decolonize the writing world. As a Métis writer, I bring the Métis kitchen party and talking circle energies of my people. I am a weaver of words and of ways to gather so that together we can bring change and heal.
“I am one who feels called to operate on a smaller scale in hopes that it can reverberate outwards,” she says.
Critical to the Denman Writers and Readers Festival is getting authors from far afield to Denman Island. Support from BC Ferries’ Community Investment program, which provides grants for travel expenses to invited authors, are essential to the success of this passionate but tightly-budgeted event, Goodings says.
Running for 15 years and created to engage and support BC coastal communities and the employees who live in those areas, the program “identifies social investments that make a difference in the communities in which we operate,” with a focus on aiding and promoting sporting and cultural events. The Community Investment program supports approximately 500 requests for support annually.
That’s not all BC Ferries does. It also adds extra sailings on a variety of routes during the summer to accommodate greater traffic and special events. For more information, go to BC Ferries’ schedule page.
For more information on the Denman Island Writers and Readers Festival, July 15 to 17, 2022, go to the website. To sign up for the event, go to its registration page.
“[The authors] get to know a local community — a community or readers, a community of writers — and they love it.”
“As a Métis writer, I bring the Métis kitchen party and talking circle energies of my people… I am one who feels called to operate on a smaller scale in hopes that it can reverberate outwards.”
“At the Denman Festival, there’s a healthy chance of actually meeting your favourite author in a relaxed setting, maybe even with a glass of a nice BC wine in your hand.”
The roster of writers at this year’s festival — the first one in-person since 2019 — is impressive and includes:
- Cedar Bowers, whose debut novel, Astra, was nominated for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize;
- Brian Goldman, an ER doctor in Toronto who wrote the bestseller The Power of Kindness: Why Empathy is Essential in Everyday Life;
- Michael Christie, author of the novel If I Fall, If I Die, which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Kirkus Prize, and whose most recent novel, Greenwood, is an international bestseller; and
- Jónína Kirton, a Red River Métis/Icelandic poet whose third book, Standing in a River of Time, merges poetry and lyrical memoir on a journey exposing the intergenerational effects of colonization on a Metis family.
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