Resurgent Writers Festival to help authors go viral 

The Whistler Writers Festival is back and this year it's helping authors go viral.

The festival, now celebrating its ninth year after initially being cancelled in late 2009, will host a diverse group of writers from Oct. 14 to 16. Front and centre for participants are the ways they can promote themselves through new media and old.

The event is the baby of Stella Harvey, who left a career in administration to move to Whistler in 2000. The year after she arrived she started Whistler Writers' Group, also known as the Vicious Circle. She put an ad in a newspaper to bring local writers together.

"I thought it would be neat to do some sort of development of writers here in Whistler," she said, "and have something as well to showcase local writers as well as national, other Canadian writers."

The first festival was held at her house in 2001. It has grown since then to host major authors such as Mel Hurtig, Maude Barlow and Joseph Boyden.

It's a story of its own that this year's festival is even taking place. Festival organizers announced in December 2009 that the event would not be returning, citing a limited number of grants to cover costs such as advertising, travel, administration and operations. There was also low enrolment in some of the festival's sessions.

The announcement brought an outcry from Whistler's literary community, with a slew of e-mails asking Harvey what could be done to save the festival. The outcry reached important ears in the city and Hal Wake, director of the Vancouver International Writers Festival (VIWF), phoned her to ask what happened.

The two talked and formed a partnership that would see VIWF cover the costs of bringing writers to Vancouver. The Whistler festival would only have to pay to bring writers to the resort.

The arrangement has helped the Whistler Writers Festival attract authors such as Governor General's Award-winner Kate Pullinger and Newfoundland author Russell Wangersky.

"My cost becomes the cost of bringing them up from Vancouver as opposed to bringing them from somewhere else," Harvey said. "Kate Pullinger lives in England, so there was no way our group could ever afford to bring her here."

The festival itself will offer a series of sessions aimed at familiarizing attendants with great titles and the minds that have borne them. One of the most-anticipated sessions is titled, Where Traditional and Digital Media Collide and it's a chance for established and emerging writers to learn how to podcast, Twitter and blog to promote their book or business.

Local social media enthusiasts such as Mike Berard, Allie Jenkinson, Paula Shackleton and Lisa Richardson will lead the session. There will also be panel sessions touching on new ways to tell stories featuring Pulllinger and Wangersky, as well as Kathy Page, Jenn Farrell, Wayne Grady and Merilyn Simmonds.

Also featured at the festival is Pecha Kucha (pronounced Pa-chah Koo-chah), hosted by Maxx Fish on Oct. 15. Now in its third year in Whistler, Pecha Kucha Night began in Tokyo as an event for young designers to meet, network and show their work to the public.

The Whistler edition will see poet C.R. Avery performing for what Harvey hopes will be a younger crowd attracted to the festival. Avery's been described as "Bob Dylan in the body of Iggy Pop."

Whistler resident Aki Kaltenbach is organizing Pecha Kucha in partnership with the Writers Festival. She decided to bring it home after witnessing it in Vancouver.

"I like the idea of bringing different genres together," she said in an interview. "I think this does this very well, although in Vancouver it's slightly more design-focused. The format is loose enough that it allows people of all backgrounds to share their stories."

Tickets to the festival are now on sale at All sessions taking place in the Whistler Library are free. Seminars are $25.




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