In my last column in The Sound I talked about how Canada is changing, and how writers in the country are helping to process and advance these changes. Primarily, the centuries-old forces of colonial oppression designed to crush Indigenous communities have let up just enough that these communities are asserting themselves and their cultural practices. (I mean this oppressive force literally: it was illegal for Indigenous communities to hire lawyers to advocate on their behalf until that racist law was scrapped.) There is a remarkable resurgence underfoot today and it is already changing the face and inflection of the national story.
What I didn’t mention is that Canada’s new obligations are being mapped out in a series of new texts that call upon older texts, treaties, wampums, and stories. Readers and authors are all the more important in making sense of what is changing and how these changes are expressed and digested across the country. On Saturday November 4 at 11:30am at the Niagara Artists Centre, a group of Indigenous leaders and St. Catharines artists are meeting to discuss the foundational texts of the region in relation to these changes – including wampum belts and the Treaties that have only haphazardly been honoured. The discussion is open to the public, totally necessary, and perfectly timely.
It is the first event in the “adult programming” for the second day of the Festival. Prior to that conversation, there is a rich array of free children’s programming at the St. Catharines Public Library. The Rodman Hall Arts Centre is organizing a free interactive arts workshop for kids, while a number of amazing children’s authors — Lisa Dalrymple, Vikki VanSickle, Melanie Florence, and Kevin Sylverster — will read from their works. The idea is to foster a love of reading and stories for all ages, starting at the very beginning. There will be balloons for everyone; it is not just FoR Kids.
Back at the NAC, following the Indigenous-led workshop, three Young Adult novelists will be reading from their works, two of whom are local Indigenous authors Melanie Florence and Sara General. They are joined by bestselling YA and Sci-Fi novelist, Eve Silver, who recently moved to the city. St. Catharines’ literary scene is growing along with the arts scene in general, and this event reflects the growing popularity of cool stories for teenagers.
Stories do more than entertain, however, and this day of the Festival of Readers is really oriented toward getting people involved in the rich cultural moment surrounding us right now. It also highlights how stories help us to re-think and re-imagine the changes afoot. We have invited people from Start Me Up Niagara to offer some “Street Stories” of their experiences with homelessness in the region. They are followed by an theatrical presentation from a diverse group of refugees and newcomers in St. Catharines called We Want to Paint on the Walls of the Cave: Stories from the Contact Zone.
The day is rounded out with two of Canada’s most prominent authors, both of whom are keenly aware of the gritty realities of poverty in this country. Vancouver poet and professor Stephen Collis, who was one of the activist leaders in the Vancouver Occupy Movement, will be joined by Niagara’s bestselling author Craig Davidson, author of Cataract City.
From all of this, we head to a Festival fundraiser dinner (details on the website) and then another round of free evening programming over at the Oddfellow Temple on James Street. Two local Métis women, Lisa and Renée Monchalin, talk about their experiences navigating traditional Indigenous diets and their own veganism. The free evening programming will round out with two Montreal artists: poet and sound artist Kaie Kellough and delightfully weird and fascinating novelist Will McClelland.
Given all the hard work and good work of the day, I anticipate the night will resolve into dancing and drinking and stimulated conversations about all the great writing and thinking at the Festival of Readers. This jam-packed day of smart, serious, and richly entertaining work sets us up perfectly for Sunday afternoon’s performance by Cree master storyteller, musician, and performer Tomson Highway at the Performing Arts Centre.
Canada is changing, and these days of Festival are filled with tales of where we are now. Come see for yourself.
More information about the Festival of Readers can be found at festivalofreaders.com