The little festival that could 

The Whistler Readers & Writers Festival books up the weekend

click to flip through (4) Panel discussion during the 2011 Whistler Readers and writers festival
  • Panel discussion during the 2011 Whistler Readers and writers festival

Usually, a preface at the start of a book discusses the unfolding tale a reader is about to tuck into: chit-chat, facts, thank-yous are all laid out like an aperitif that comes before the main-course content of the story.

But when explaining the story of the Whistler Readers & Writers Festival, which takes place at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler and other venues from Oct. 12 to 14, the beginning must start with the festival's recent near ending.

For two months last winter there was no Whistler Readers & Writers Festival.

It was done, gone after 10 intense and productive years; its organizer and driving force Stella Harvey was exhausted and felt she needed to shelve it. It wasn't failing, it constantly grew, but it was wearing her out.

"The run-up to it had to do with all the work that goes into putting it on. It's a three-day event, we have very little money," she says, recalling the moment with a frustrated laugh.

"Through grants and other fundraisers to put the event on, at the end of the day you never know if people are going to come. People always do come and last year we had increased our attendance again, every year we do. It's just the idea of all this effort and, you know, we hope to break even."

Harvey has, in past years, even reached into her own bank account to help run the festival.

"The other part of it, apart from the work, is that the festival's longevity is really based on very few people. Trying to get some funding, so that we could hire someone, as opposed to me doing it, proves elusive. There just isn't that pocket of funding available to hire a director, for example."

So Harvey, whose first published novel Nicolai's Daughter has just been released, told the board charged with overseeing the Readers & Writers Festival last November during her evaluation of the 2011 event that she wouldn't be able to take it on in 2012.

"The feeling was it's a lot of work. Yes, we've met a lot of great writers and created something great in this community, and a number of writers have come out of this community as a result of the festival and our writer-in-residence program. But how long could you continue without sufficient funding and based on a few volunteers to make it happen every year," she says.

But it turned out it was too soon for any eulogies. Because like so many selfless volunteers who pour time and energy into events in Whistler, Harvey — who also runs the Whistler Writers Group, The Vicious Circle — decided she couldn't let it go without a fight.


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