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Whistler writers festival wins reprieve

Teaming with Vancouver International Writers Festival allowed ninth annual Whistler festival



At the tail end of 2009, organizers of the annual Whistler Readers & Writers Festival announced that despite growing attendance rates they would be canceling the event. Not only was it not making money, it wasn't breaking even.

"I always thought that there would be a magic number that we could sustain ourselves at without having to go for grants. Even at 150 people or whatever, you still don't have the money that it takes (to cover the costs)," festival founder, Stella Harvey, said in an interview Monday.

But shortly after announcing the cancellation, Harvey started receiving e-mails from disappointed members of the local literary community, many of whom were asking what they could do to save the festival.

"After that announcement came through and was in the papers, I had a lot of calls and e-mails and that sort of thing from different people saying, 'it's just too bad, it's such a great festival.'"

The outpouring of concern came not only from within the community but further abroad, with the director of the Vancouver International Writers Festival (VIWF), Hal Wake, reaching out to find out what had happened.

"We had a long talk and we decided that what we would try to do this year was to try to partner and have our festival run the weekend before the Vancouver festival," Harvey explained. "...The idea with this first year (of the partnership) was that we would continue as two separate entities, but we would have a cost savings from using some of the writers that Vancouver was bringing in."

The VIWF is covering the cost of bringing writers to Vancouver. Harvey will just have to arrange to bring them to Whistler - a far less costly proposition - from Oct. 14 to 16.

"It makes a lot of sense and October might be a better timeframe for us, as well," Harvey added, pointing out that the festival used to be held in early September.

Now, thanks to funding support from the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the Writers Union of Canada and an exciting new partnership with the Vancouver International Writers Festival, Whistler's literary fest is back. And some might say, better than ever, with an "all-star lineup" of guest authors, poets, short-story writers, digital media content creators and journalists.

That lineup includes Brian Brett, winner of the Writers Trust of Canada Non-Fiction prize and B.C. Booksellers' Choice Award; Kate Pullinger, who won the 2009 Governor General's Award for Fiction; Kathy Page, author of The Find; Whistler's own Leslie Anthony, who will be unveiling his newest novel, White Planet; Jenn Farrell, author of the short story collection, The Devil You Know; Russell Wangersky, whose 2008 non-fiction book earned three major awards; Patricia Young, who unveils her new collection of poetry, An Autoerotic History of Swings; Vancouver Island poet, Terence Young; and the return of Whistler's 2009 Writers in Residence, Wayne Grady and Merilyn Simonds.

And though the Whistler Writers Group was "highly recommended" to receive grant support from the Canada Council for the Arts, there was no money available. They are also still awaiting word on a $3,000 grant from the B.C. Arts Council.

Return participants can expect to see a similar format to previous festivals - a combination of workshops, panels and presentations - with the addition of evening social events, a workshop geared towards young writers and full-day workshop options for Saturday.

"It's open to everybody: it's open to the reader, its open to the wannabe writer person who's interested in writing, even the person who's interested in finding out what writing's about," Harvey said.

The full schedule and prices for the 2010 festival will be released in August.



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