Not stiff, or stuffy, but very vibrant

Winnipeg’s Thin Air Writing Festival to explore modern times – and men

Amy Jo Ehman, author of the blog Prairie Feast: A Writer’s Journey Home for Dinner, will appear at the 2010 Thin Air Winnipeg International Writers Festival. Courtesy Thin Air

Winnipeg’s international writers festival, Thin Air, is returning and will be sprawling out across Winnipeg bookstores, libraries and campuses once again.

One of the themes of this year’s festival – which starts Sunday, Sept. 19 and ends Sunday, Sept. 26 – is a tragic cross between Mel Gibson’s filmography and home-life: What Men Want.

“One thing about the festival this year is that there are a lot of stories about men,” said Charlene Diehl, executive director of Thin Air.

Some of the featured writers that will be taking part in the festival include Lawrence Scanlan, a journalist for nearly 40 years, Winnipeg’s Margaret Buffie, and the highly respected David Bergen.

“We, at the University of Winnipeg are especially excited about David Bergen, who was our writer-in-residence last year,” said Catherine Hunter, chair of the University of Winnipeg’s English department.

Making an appearance at the U of W as part of the festival’s Campus Program will be former soldier, freelance photographer and writer AJ Somerset.

Somerset won the Metcalf-Rooke Award for his novel, Combat Camera, which is about being a warzone photojournalist suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to Diehl, the festival is important because it explores our contemporary issues, questions today’s problems and makes us think about what’s around us.

“One of the (important) things is how our artists tell us collectively what we’re thinking about,” Diehl said.

“What I’ve gathered from my travels over the years is that people are intimidated by (writing festivals), or they think it will be bookish. Most of us really haven’t been read to since we were little kids, but even people who come with suspicion leave with delight because it’s not stuffy, it’s not stiff. It’s very vibrant.”

Thin Air is an opportunity to get acquainted with the writing world and the writers themselves.

“It’s your chance to be the first to see the new work that’s being written, and hear the product of the several years that it takes to write a novel,” said Hunter.

“At this point, I’m just excited,” Diehl said of this year’s lineup of writers.

“I really want to meet the people that we have coming this year … it’s interesting to read someone, then meet them (because) you kind of intuit certain things about people (from their writing).”

Aside from telling us what men want, Thin Air this year will also explore more local and contemporary issues, such as Amy Jo Ehman, who writes the blog Prairie Feast: A Writer’s Journey Home for Dinner.

For one year, Ehman ate locally. She will share her experience at the Millenium Library.

Another contemporary issue new to the festival will be a panel of “literary bloggers with a high level of online presence,” according to Diehl, discussing the use of new media as part of a Friday afternoon panel discussion.

“It’s not a place to test your wings,” said Diehl. “It’s a festival for established, high-level writers.”

The structure of the festival hasn’t changed. The Thin Air guide is available for pick-up at McNally Robinson Booksellers, Winnipeg libraries and college campuses across Winnipeg.

The main stage will be at The Forks’ Manitoba Theatre for Young People (MTYP), with a variety of other venues across Winnipeg.


Published in Volume 65, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 16, 2010)

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