Birth of a Festival
Writers have long written in Powell River’s serene surroundings. From the beginning of the town built by a mill and grown by culture, writers have been abundant. Whether writing about nature, recreation, arts, fantasy, families or personal growth, Powell Riverites have covered it all.
Many writers groups have grown over the years; Malaspina Writer’s Association being the oldest group. In the early 80’s several writers joined forces with founding member Hilary Bruhn to gain exposure for their work. From that sprang a couple of literary magazines and since then regular meetings. Allan Brown has guided many aspiring Malaspina Writers to publication over the years.
Barb Rees birthed Sassyscribes in 2001 after conducting a writer’s workshop and hearing the need for her participants to continue to encourage each other. Starting from humble beginnings of 3 writers, it has grown both locally and with an online presence. They meet once a month at homes for a potluck meeting, having worked on an exercise to share with the group. From this group, several books have been published.
A festival of writers had long been talked about, but hadn’t come to fruition. From a chance meeting in the fall of 2003 between Allan Brown, Roger Whittaker and Barb Rees, a dream of birthing a writer’s festival during Powell River’s Cultural Capital Year 2004 came about. In a short period of time, with nothing but a dream and sheer determination, the first annual Festival of Writers came to pass May 10-12, 2004.
It was nothing short of miraculous that the opening ceremonies and the rest of the weekend went off without a hitch. It went so smoothly some commented that it felt like this event had been going on for years. With attendance numbering from 35-55, everyone had a good time, going away inspired and motivated.
The presenters for the first annual festival were: Fred Stenson, Hiro Boga, Barbara Pelman, Mavis Jones, and Luanne Armstrong.
The 2005 second annual event was held once again at Malaspina College. Writers kept on registering long after the deadline bringing our numbers up from 2004. Those who had other commitments and couldn’t carve out a whole weekend for the event came for one day.
We raised the bar by starting a tradition of taking the Festival to the schools on Friday. Oceanview Middle School was chosen to hold their own version of the festival Friday morning. Harold Rhenisch, Dennis Reid, and Karleen Bradford spent time with them sharing their books and tips on writing. Kathy Rothwell, the principal had all 400+ students enter the writing contest. After the teachers narrowed them down to 39, three of our board members chose the winners. We were amazed at the high quality of writing these 14, 15 year old students submitted, saying a lot for the school’s Literacy program.
Jay Ruzesky and the four authors visited other schools and the library through out the day. Our surprise addition was Sandy Townsend dressed in Dalmatian costume, with his Dalmatian dog Sprinkler and his antique fire engine. They treated the children on Texada Island and at Grief Point Elementary to a visit.
We had an international visitor, photo journalist Richard McLaren from Brisbane, Australia. He made his dream come true by using creative means to finance his trip with a stop in Taiwan. If ever you want to attend an event such as this and funds don’t seem to be readily accessible, email email@example.com and we just might be able to brainstorm some creative ways to make a dream come true.
In 2006 the festival moved to the beautiful heritage Dwight Hall. We had an open house Friday afternoon with readings, then opening ceremonies that night. But the big excitement was having Mike McCardell, Global TV reporter/author as the key note speaker. The students at Oceanview Middle School spent a fun morning with him before he spoke at the library. He evened visited a hockey game.
Our speakers that year were: Richard Scarsbrook, Rachna Gilmore, Steven Heighton, Judith Bowen, and two publishers for a full weekend.
In 2005 we started a quickie one day fall fest which has been very successful. Keeping the price down and with only one or two speakers, it has appealed to many. 2007 was our third Fall Fest.
April 20-22, 2007 in Dwight Hall we celebrated our 4th Festival by inviting two big stars; national best selling author Joy Fielding and LA director, author and entertainer Peter Elbling. Along with them Editor Deborah Wright and Kim Denman rounded out the program.
What’s next? Our 5th Annual is booked and ready to go April 11, 12, 2008 with a smaller format but filled with exciting information from top authors. “Build it and they will come” is how this dream was started. It continues to build a reputation among other writer’s festivals as being a small but dynamically encouraging event.