Writer’s Fest Women

The Ottawa XPress | April 13, 2006

Festival fluke puts femmes first this spring

Every event tends to have its show-stealers, and the all-women Writing Life series at this year’s Ottawa International Writers Festival is looking like a serious contender. The series consists of three interactive evenings with authors in conversation about their craft and their books.

“It was not a conscious curatorial decision,” says Sean Wilson, organizer of the Writers Fest, about the all-female lineup. “There was great stuff by men, but what really grabbed our interest and imagination was many of the books by women. It was a pleasant surprise.”

Also interesting is that seven of the nine women in the series are first-time novelists. “They all emerged at the top of their game,” says Wilson. “These are highly accomplished and readable books.”

The Writing Life series kicks off with Madeleine Thien, Anar Ali and Ami McKay on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.

“We come alive when we share our opinions,” says Thien, author of the short story collection Simple Recipes, which throws the reader into the wild winds of changing relationships and gut-wrenching, love-drenched worlds. “It’s exhilarating to meet people who have read the book. Sharing mental landscape is magical.”

In her new novel, Certainty (launching April 22 during the festival), Thien uses history to tell of two memorable love stories. “I approached writing short stories by centring around dramatic moments that were charged and intense,” she says from her home in Quebec City. The difference with the new format is “there’s now greater room for nuance and to develop characters.”

On the all-woman Writing Life series, Thien suggests that shoptalk can be universal in its appeal. “This is because the process of shaping a story asks the writer to go beyond gender and step across boundaries for characters.” What you have then are “blurred lines, so it’s not clear where gender fits into that.”

Writing Life continues on Thursday April 20 with Linda Holeman, Susan Glickman and Martha Baillie, then Alayna Munce, Alison Pick and Leah McLaren take over Sunday April 23.

If anything, the spring edition is proof we’re seeing a whole new generation of women writers on the Canadian scene. “It points to the fact that perhaps women are able to recognize fiction as necessary where men tend to pick up more non-fiction,” Wilson says.

Author Tim Ward, who on April 18 asks “Is God a man?” during the first Big Idea event with Anne Hines and The Pagan Christ author Tom Harpur, will pick up the woman theme Wednesday evening when he reads from his non-fiction novel Savage Breast.

Ward writes a daring and frank interpretation of the goddess movement and offers a thoughtful and personal account of one man’s guess as to why some men are afraid of the feminine divine. Ward describes the new book as a “real-life Da Vinci Code type quest,” claiming it’s the first exploration of the feminine face of God from an explicitly male point of view, and of how goddess archetypes affect men’s relationships with women.

In addition to all the first fictions, many of the authors will be featuring releases so new the ink will hardly have had time to dry. “The dual festival format (in spring and fall) is really paying off,” Wilson says, because it responds to a trend in the publishing industry where the book world is launching books year-round instead of waiting until the fall. “We’re getting authors whose books are a bit older, but also the ones that are hot off the press.”

All readings at the Library and Archives of Canada, 395 Wellington Street, $15, $12 student or senior, $8 festival member or $60/$40 for passes, www.writersfest.com.

– Sylvie Hill