This year my friends Angie and Gordon got their beautiful baby girl. For the last two or three years they’ve been working hard at presenting themselves as the great parents they would be in the effort to adopt a child, and this year it paid off. But Angie, at least, has had a second baby “arrive” this year; quite a different sort of baby, and a different arrival.
Last year was the first year for Stories in the North, the Thessalon literary festival. This was Angie’s brainchild. With some seed money from some generous donors, and a bit of fundraising, we managed our first event.
Many literary festivals are weekend events with multiple guests. We weren’t ready for that, and we invited just one author, Charlie Wilkins of Thunder Bay, to give a couple of workshops during the day and a reading in the evening. We thought of this as a start, a way to ease into the weekend-long format. What we didn’t realize was that we had found our modus operandi.
Charlie had a great time. He told us afterwards that at most literary festivals you get your fifteen minutes on stage, and the rest of the time you’re just – there. At ours, he was the big attraction, the only attraction. People wanted to talk to him. People wanted books. People attended his workshops and hung on his every word. There was home baking. There was as much attention as anyone could want, and Charlie loved it. He talked about Stories in the North to his writer friends, and as a result of that we have this weekend’s guest author, Jake MacDonald.
Thessalon loved it, too. Angie worried that the reading would be only sparsely attended, but we had about sixty people there, which, for a small town like Thessalon, is pretty good. Many of those attending had no idea what to expect. Men who had been dragged along by their wives (“There’s a cash bar, you can have a beer, okay?”) left saying, “Who can we bring with us next time?”
“Next time” was Charlie Smith, the Massey area farmer and poet, whose reading was a huge hit. We’ve also run an open mike, which was a fun evening and a great success.
On Saturday Pauline Clark, another member of the committee, did a feature in the Sault Star on the weekend coming, on the grant that has helped us with this year’s events, and on the other grants awarded in this area. She quoted John Degen from the Ontario Arts Council:
“It’s inspiring to see how a small community like Thessalon can come together to become such an important centre for writing and literary culture in Northern Ontario…I predict the addition of the new Stories in the North festival will make Thessalon a regular destination for readers and writers.”
This is exactly what Angie had in mind when she started saying, in 2008, “We should have a literary festival here in Thessalon.”
Her baby has arrived.