Authors in Schools program expands 

Whistler Writers Festival program to run this spring with local scribes

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Lessons learned Whistler children's author Sara Leach talking to pupils at Myrtle Philip Community School in 2015, as part of the Authors in the Schools program run by the Whistler Writers Festival. Leach visited every elementary school in Whistler, Pemberton and Mount Currie.
  • Photo submitted
  • Lessons learned Whistler children's author Sara Leach talking to pupils at Myrtle Philip Community School in 2015, as part of the Authors in the Schools program run by the Whistler Writers Festival. Leach visited every elementary school in Whistler, Pemberton and Mount Currie.

The Sea to Sky region's secondary school students will soon be able to befriend an author — and with them a multitude of characters, stories and experiences.

Authors in the Schools — a program created by the Whistler Writers Festival — has been expanded to bring writers and their books to high schools from Squamish to Mount Currie.

It will run from January until May, says organizer Rebecca Wood Barrett.

What the program delivers is all in its name.

The authors tell the youngsters what it is like to be a writer, describe the creative process and inspire students to tell their own stories.

"The aim is to show there is value in the students' own lives and in their stories," says Wood Barrett.The project is very hands on, meeting with teachers, giving presentations at times that fit.

The program will depend on the needs and flexibility of the schools, with the festival working around the semester system.

"Then the teachers work with the students as they see fit," says Wood Barrett.

The two local authors selected to take part are Pemberton's Katherine Fawcett and Whistler's Stella Harvey.

The three-year-old program has until now run concurrently with the writers festival, in October. Canadian award-winning authors Richard Wagamese and Joseph Boyden have previously participated.

"We evolved into having two programs," says Wood Barrett. "The first is with our big guest authors who can present at the festival, but also come into the schools. Joseph Boyden... was excited about going into schools and talking to the students.

"It organically grew into having local authors in the schools as well."

They have previously included children's author Sara Leach and non-fiction writer Sue Oakey-Baker.

The impact that mountain guide Oakey-Baker, author of memoir Finding Jim, had on pupils is clear, says Wood Barrett.

"She really connected with some of the young guys in the class who were interested in going into the backcountry. She was able to talk to them about risk... she told them how to assess risk for themselves," Wood Barrett says.

They aim to extend the program to elementary schools in 2017, depending on authors' availability and suitability, and what books are coming out.

"It's a flexible program and partly depends on the funding we get," says Wood Barrett.

The Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and Telus have funded the program.

Harvey, who is also the executive director of the writers festival, will be discussing her newest novel The Brink of Freedom, which looks at how Greece has experienced the refugee crisis.

Telus is funding a pilot project in which Harvey will work with students in one class on the theme of the refugee crisis in Greece. She will discuss her research and how she wrote the book. The students will then write stories based on what they've learned. The stories will then be collected and shared digitally.

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