Celebrating words

Winnipeg’s writers festival Thin Air launches its 19th season

Words surround us everywhere, everyday.

This year, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival, Thin Air, celebrates words and the stories they tell.

In its 19th year, the festival – full of literature exploration with over 50 writers being featured at venues all over the city – is stronger than ever, running over the course of nine days from Sept. 18 to 26.

Expect to see author Lawrence Hill presenting a new novel at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, or go to McNally Robinson Booksellers for the Afternoon Book Chat with Elizabeth Hay and Mike Steeves. 

For something more adventurous, there’s ForeWords, which includes the Haiku Death Match, giving audience members the chance to decide their favourite 17-syllable poem-spewing champion. 

Charlene Diehl, the director of Thin Air 2015, says there’ll be something for everyone. Writers hosted at the festival are from all around, including local talent like University of Winnipeg professors Catherine Hunter and Per Brask. 

“We spent the winter months hand-picking this year’s writers, so we’re keen to welcome them all,” Diehl says.

The relationship between writer and reader is not always one that can be acknowledged face-to-face. Diehl says festivals like Thin Air offer literature communities the unique opportunity to connect with one another.

“Winnipeg has a thriving community of writers, including people with national and international reputations,” Diehl says. “What we often don’t think about is that we have a thriving community of readers too – all those wonderful stories need a landing place.”

Winnipeg brings a specific kind of attention to written word and it’s being noticed.

“Writers on our stages often comment on how alive and engaged the audiences are here,” Diehl says. “That’s because we love to receive stories and we appreciate what writers are actually doing with their time and creative energy.”

But what about the world and its faster and faster moving parts? Is there time for books anymore? Diehl says it’s all about craving a good story.

“There’s a lot of doomsday talk about how people don’t read any more, about the collapse of the book and the end of attention spans,” Diehl says. “I think all of us are more challenged to create the space and time to really engage with long-form writing, but our attraction to stories – factual, fictional, fantastic – is built right into us.”

The festival revolves around exactly that, the art of reading and writing stories and demonstrating a deep appreciation.  

The various events and workshops offered by the festival provide the supportive environment to re-ignite the passion behind writer’s block.

“I meet a lot of people during the festival who feel restored and energized by being up close and personal with writers – it gives them new ideas and inspires them to seek out new books,” Diehl says. “A few of them will buckle down and work on writing projects of their own.”

Published in Volume 70, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 17, 2015)

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