Canadian literature takes root in Whistler 

Eighth annual Literary Leanings event sells out early, draws big writers

click to enlarge Giller Winner Joseph Boyden is just one of the authors coming to Whistler in mid-February to take part in Literary Leanings.
  • Giller Winner Joseph Boyden is just one of the authors coming to Whistler in mid-February to take part in Literary Leanings.

What: Literary Leanings
When: Wednesday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Squamish Lil'Wat Cultural Centre

Whistler's word nerds unite next week, as they gather to get an inside track on some of the latest Canadian literary talents. They'll come out of the woodwork (the library, bookstores, and cafes, more specifically) in droves to attend one of the biggest literary events of the year.

The Whistler Writer's Group, better known around town as the Vicious Circle, is again organizing the literary component of the Whistler Winter Arts Festival, which is part of the 2009 Cultural Olympiad. Dubbed Literary Leanings, the event aims to promote Canadian literary arts through a variety of reading events, like poetry slams and contests.

Stella Harvey founded the Vicious Circle almost eight years ago.

"At the core of it was always a reading event that showcased Canadian authors and in the past we've also showcased local authors," she said.

The Vicious Circle has hosted authors like Noah Richler, Warren MacDonald and Nancy Lee in past years. This year, they've taken the event to a whole new level, organizing "Between the Sheets," an up close and personal chat with three well-known writers - Joseph Boyden, author of the Giller Prize-winning Through Black Spruce, Amanda Boyden, author of Babylon Rolling, and Steven Galloway, author of the acclaimed The Cellist of Sarajevo.

"I'm just ecstatic. I love their books and I think to hear them read and talk about... their own writing processes, how they come to story and that kind of thing, is going to be really interesting," Harvey said.

"...I think people who read are always interested in how authors come to a story, and so they'll get a chance to hear that and also then hear the person read those words."

One of the central purposes of Literary Leanings is to raise the profile of Canadian literary offerings within the general public, which is a goal the Vicious Circle seems to be fulfilling. This year, the event quickly sold out, with half of the 125 tickets selling before Christmas.

"I don't know if the calibre has changed as much as the awareness has changed," Harvey said. "... Both between the (Writer's) Festival and Literary Leanings, we've always showcased Canadian authors, so I think we've raised the profile of these people."

The group has even managed to snag Shelagh Rogers, a well-known CBC radio host, to moderate the discussion. Rogers, the former host of the popular Sounds Like Canada show, began hosting the new weekly literary program, The Next Chapter, last fall.

"It's a hard scene to keep on top of because the publishing industry is so strong right now, and our writers really punch above their weight," Rogers said in a recent interview. "I think we really have as many great writers as they do in the United States with a population 10 times as large as ours."

Because of this, Rogers is inundated with stacks of books, many of which she has yet to be read. She also hosts literary events around the country on a regular basis, but when she received the invitation from Harvey to be part of Literary Leanings, it was an opportunity she couldn't pass up.

"I was absolutely delighted, first of all," she said, adding that she has hosted events for the Whistler Writers Festival in past years. "I love Stella and I think she has done amazing work in Whistler with writers, really sharing their knowledge of the craft, and it's been phenomenal."

Rogers is also quite familiar with Joseph Boyden and his work, and is looking forward to having an opportunity to interview him alongside the other two authors, all of whom she considers to be "courageous storytellers" who have crafted "bold" books.

"They have a lot in common, these books. They're ultimately books about how we get to be who we are, and they're involved in families, they're all involved in race relations in one way or another, so there is quite a bit of crossover there," Rogers said.

The first part of Literary Leanings will feature an informal interview and discussion between Rogers and the authors, including questions from the audience, while the authors read selections from their new books during the second half of the evening.

Rogers won't be asking the authors to discuss the how-to's of their craft. Rather, she will be looking for the authors' inspirations.

"I just think the stories behind the books are very interesting," she said. "...It's the whats and the whys opposed to the hows."

While reading all of the authors' recent books may seem like an obvious step before attending Literary Leanings, Rogers said is definitely isn't necessary.

"I often find when I hear a writer in conversation... it's that conversation that will get me interested in their writing."

Don't be too disappointed if you missed out on buying tickets, either. CBC will also be taping the event, and portions will be featured on Rogers's show, which airs each Saturday at 3 p.m., so stay tuned in the weeks following Literary Leanings.

Note: There are no physical tickets for this event. People who purchased tickets through PayPal can simply bring their receipts to the door, and their name will be on a list.

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