It has taken them over a decade, but fellow writers Stephanie Domet and Ryan Turner are finally seeing their dream take shape with the inaugural Afterwords Literary Festival, taking place at venues across Halifax in October.
“There hasn’t been a multi-day international writer’s festival locally since the Halifax International Writers Festival in 2008,” says Domet. “Ryan and I started talking about whether we could put something together, but we couldn’t back then for a lot of different reasons.”
Over the years, the two continued talking about the possibility of starting their own literary festival, complaining that no one else had started one.
“Finally, last year one of us said, ‘Why hasn’t somebody started a literary festival?’ And we had that moment of recognition that maybe we’re the ones who are supposed to start it,” she continues.
Not just any festival though as Domet and Ryan were interested in creating a festival that they would want to attend. It appears so do a lot of others, with the duo eventually inundated with more submissions than they could accommodate.
“We are grateful by the level of interest, but not surprised,” says Domet. “There has been a dearth of opportunities like this for local and visiting writers.”
While Domet acknowledges the annual Word on the Street Halifax, which takes place later this month, they were looking beyond local and Atlantic Canada writers that is Word’s mainstay.
“Word on the Street has been great to us,” she says. “They’ve offered us a lot of advice and mentorship over the last year, and we’re just pleased to take our place next to them in Halifax’s literary season.”
Domet and Ryan were also more interested in hearing writers talk about the ideas that compelled them to write, rather than simply hosting them at public readings.
“We’re interested in what happens before and after the word hits the page,” she says.
The two collaborators were also looking for a critical mass with events over multiple days.
“There’s lots of great programming for beginner writers, but there’s not a lot for writers in mid-career and looking for professional development,” she says. “So, we’re really excited to have Caroline Adderson, one of my favorite writers, leading a professional development workshop on writing narrative scenes.”
In addition, the festival will also feature a trio of other writing workshops open to the public. Given the level of interest in AfterWords, it is not surprising to hear that two of the three are now full.
“There’s a poetry workshop, a fiction workshop, and a screenwriting workshop,” she says. “Then we’re also partnering with the Writers’ Union of Canada to offer a free public workshop on getting grants.”
While there is definitely a focus on writers at the festival, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something in it for readers as well.
“On Thursday night, our festival opener is a great lineup of local writers who will read from their works,” she says. “We also have a couple of panel discussions that probably won’t include readings, but our one-on-one author conversations will likely intersperse some short readings with conversations so audiences can get a flavor of what we’re talking about.”
Coinciding with the festival’s Thursday night offerings is a visit to Halifax by Margaret Atwood, in town to promote The Testaments, her sequel to Handmaid’s Tale. It was not something Domet was planning on and it would be Atwood’s star power which would force them to re-think the opening of the festival.
“We rearranged our schedule so we wouldn’t be in direct competition with her event which takes place at the Halifax Central Library,” she says. “We hope people will travel to the north-end from the Central Library following Atwood’s appearance to listen to the next generation of writers.”
She also remains hopeful that they can convince the celebrated Canadian author to drop by the festival.
“We know she’s active on Twitter, so as the festival grows nearer I think we’ll probably intensify our efforts to connect with her,” says Domet. “It would be amazing if she wanted to drop by.”
Other events during the festival’s five days includes a laid-back silent reading at the Good Robot Brewing Company on October 2, plus two panel discussions at the Spatz Theatre on October 4 and 5 covering poetry, short stories, and more.
Sunday, October 6 is a busy day for the festival beginning with a brunch featuring Canadian novelist and short story writer Mona Awad with Anishinaabe and Métis poet and activist Gwen Benaway. The two authors will read from their latest works as attendees chow down at the Agricola Street Brasserie.
That same afternoon, Mary Lynk hosts a conversation with non-fiction writer Kamal Al-Solaylee.
“His new book Brown is about what it means to be brown in the world right now,” says Domet. “He’s a fascinating, amazing, important writer, and that will be a free event at the University of King’s College.”
Sunday evening will wrap with Lynk again, this time hosting a conversation with novelist Lynn Coady and Christy Ann Conlin, whose new book Watermark hits bookshelves this month.
“The Sunday evening event will also feature an opening reading by local hotshot writer Andre Fenton,” says Demet. “We’re really excited to have him at the festival this year.”
As a writer herself, Domet knows the power words has had on her own life, something she wants to share with others through the festival.
“Writing is the lens that helps me understand my experience, and it helps me imagine what other people are going through,” she explains. “And reading really opens the door to empathy. These are troubled times, so it’s great to gather, talk about ideas, and hear and consider other points of view. Whether you’re a reader or a writer, or just someone who likes good discussions and engaging with ideas, there will be something for you at AfterWords.”
The AfterWords Literary Festival takes place at various locations around Halifax October 2-6. Visit afterwordsliteraryfestival.com for tickets and information.