On Monday, after the workshops were finished, the authors gone home and the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival officially wrapped up for another year, one last event unfolded at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.
Grade 12 students from Whistler, Mt. Currie, Squamish and Pemberton were bussed to the SLCC to meet with First Nations novelist Richard Wagamese. "The event was magical," Stella Harvey, founder of the festival, says in an email. "It made me teary eyed. Of all the events this weekend, this was the one I was proudest of."
The festival received a $1,000 grant from the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation to purchase Wagamese's book
Indian Horse for students in the area. The project, which seemed simple at first, turned out to be a lot more work, money and logistical planning than organizers expected.
"The original idea was we were going to buy every Grade 12 kid a book," says Pat MacKenzie, a school board trustee, former principal and friend of Harvey's who helped launch the student initiative. "What we didn't realize was how many Grade 12 students we have in our school district."
In the end, they used the money to buy a handful of Wagamese's books, including 2011's Runaway Dreams, a poetry anthology and Indian Horse, and arranged to have him stick around after official festival events wrapped up to have a discussion with the students about his work and writing. "I think the benefit is there's a real connection between the book and a human being," MacKenzie says. "We read books and forget there's a person behind the book. To really meet the person and hear the nuance of their answers and see their body language, I think it makes for a deeper understanding. I think the kids get an understanding that maybe they too have something to say and they can write a book or poem... People who have something to say can write it and people are interested in what they say. That's a big thing, looking to the future and seeing life has many possibilities."
The topic of his book, Indian Horse, was important too, Harvey adds. "It looks at what happened with our First Nations and residential schools," she says. "It raises awareness of that. It's a book of fiction, but it's based on reality. Then to meet him (is valuable). These kids could have an author in the mix. The chance for them to meet him and see themselves in him, I think it's really exciting."
Readers and Writers Festival sees huge growth
The numbers are in and the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival saw a total of over 1,200 participants last weekend, up from 400 people last year.
Most of the workshops and all of the reading events sold out. Participant evaluations, meanwhile, cited the festival's strong points as its organization, friendliness, location, helpful volunteers and Fairmont Chateau Whistler hotel staff. "The guest authors were all impressed," says Harvey. "Everyone said they would recommend the festival to others and would likely or very likely come back."
Jian Ghomeshi, the CBC personality and author who was featured in conversation with writers at two events, also mentioned the festival on his Q program on both Friday and Tuesday. "He said he'd discovered a community in Whistler, a literary community with lots of support for each other," Harvey says.
Tourism Whistler is currently tallying up information on room nights in Whistler during the festival.