Ottawa Writers Festival reveals a diverse spring lineup

German author Cornelia Funke will be at the writers festival in May. Photo: Thorsten Wulff

The lineup for the spring edition of the Ottawa International Writers festival is out and it features writers from close to home and from as far away as you can get. 

There is the usual mix of writers offering challenging and thoughtful non-fiction to new voices in fiction. The diversity of this lineup always amazes.

For artistic director Sean Wilson, “it’s always interesting to put together a festival — the same basic impulse and pressure is there every time. We want to be sure we are including as many different kinds of books as is possible, to make sure we are focusing on what people are interested in at a given moment in time and to be sure it is somehow broadly representative of the publishing season.

“So that impulse and that mandate leads to some very different iterations of what a writers festival,” he said in an email interview with ARTSFILE.

“It’s always different and that can make me nervous, but it also keeps me interested in the process. I find myself second-guessing decisions and going back through the bookshelves and catalogues over and over again just to be sure we are getting the mix right. Now that the schedule has been announced, we’ll find out what people think.

“This spring feels like the most personal festival we’ve ever presented. It’s brimming wth all the things that pre-occupy me: unique and innovative books on democracy and culture, cutting-edge science and a suite of deeply human and humane perspectives asking hugely important questions about agency, about diversity and human rights and about who gets to write the history that defines us.”

There are local authors: Kate Heartfield (Alice Payne Rides) and S.J. (Stephen) Maher (Social Misconduct) will be on hand. 

“We could certainly claim the Heymans (Bruce and Vicki) as locals. I certainly think they worked hard to be part of the community here and not just part of the political scene.” Wilson said. Bruce and Vicki Heyman were a very popular U.S. ambassadorial team in Ottawa under the Obama administration. The diplomatic couple will launch The Art of Diplomacy just before the festival begins. The book is part memoir and part look at the Canada-U.S. relationship. 

And we won’t forget other local writers David Moscrop, Matthew Walsh, Whit Fraser and Missy Marston, along with Alan Cumyn and Tim Wynne-Jones who are helping launch Jan Andrews’ posthumous novel To See the Stars. “That whole event is local and important for the literary and the storytelling communities here,” Wilson said.

Wilson says Germany’s Cornelia Funke, the author of Inkheart and many other books of fantasy is a coup for the festival.

“We have tried to get her here before so it’s great that it is working out. Her session is “on creativity” because she has such an important body of work that we can’t just focus on one book while she is here.

“Also, we wanted her to address a topic that kids would enjoy as much as general audiences. I think when you have access to an imagination like hers, its natural to want to get her insight into tapping into creativity. She’ll be host by an amazing local author, Rich Larson, who is also blowing minds with speculative fiction. She was a huge inspiration to him as a writer and a reader so I’m really looking forward to their conversation,” said Wilson.

The Australian Indigenous writer Bruce Pascoe will make his first appearance at the festival, someone Wilson is also excited about. 

“I think it’s important that we include indigenous voices from other parts of the world as we try to come to terms with the long shadow of colonial culture.

“I am also grateful to have the chance to welcome back an old friend like Richard van Camp while celebrating authors we have not yet had a chance to host including Terese Marie Malhot after winning the Blue Met Prize in Montreal.”

For Wilson, the festival offers a chance to talk about one of the things “that has become clear – especially in the context of things like mosque shootings and the rise of white nationalism–is that we can’t ignore the fact that we all in this together.

“I feel that … the back cover of Douglas Rushkoff’s book, Team Human, sums it all up perfectly. ‘Find the others.’ That’s really all we have ever been doing at the festival —  learning from hugely talented authors and creating a space where community can come together to try to make sense of the world.”

The festival gets started May 2 and runs to May 7. As usual, events will take place in Christ Church Cathedral unless otherwise indicated.

May 2

The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society with Nicholas A, Christakis (6:30 p.m.)

Defending Democracy with Michael Adams and David Moscrop (8:30 p.m.)

May 3

The Words of My Father with Yousef Bashir (6 p.m.)

Secrets from My Vietnamese Kitchen with Kim Thuy (7:30 p.m.)

Crime and Punishment with S.J. Maher and Ausma Zehanat Khan (9 p.m.:)

May 4

The Art of Diplomacy: Strengthening the Canada-U.S. Relationship in Times of Uncertainty with Bruce and Vicki Heyman (1 p.m.)

Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution with Lee Smolin (3 p.m.)

The Reality Bubble with Ziya Tong (4:30 p.m.)

Plan 99 Poetry with Arielle Twist, Matthew Walsh and Cassidy McFadzean (5 p.m. at the Manx Pub)

Imagined Worlds with Kate Heartfield and S. A . Chakraborty (6 p.m. Hosted by Amal El-Mohtar)

Radicalized with Cory Doctorow (7:30 p.m.)

Team Human with Douglas Rushkoff (9 p.m.)

May 5 

True North Rising with Whit Fraser (1:30 p.m. Hosted by Elizabeth Hay)

Book Launch: To See the Stars by Jan Andrews (3 p.m.)

A Brightness Long Ago with Guy Gavriel Kay (4:30 p.m.)

Plan 99 Prose with Missy Marston and Nancy Jo Cullen (5 p.m. Manx)

The River of Life with Yasuko Thanh and Samra Zafar (6:30 p.m.)

Beyond Binaries with Lorimer Shenher, Kristen Worley and Joshua M Ferguson (8:30 p.m.)

May 6

On Creativity: One on One with Cornelia Funke (Noon)

Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture with Bruce Pascoe (5:30 p.m.)

Truth in Fiction with Karen Lee White and Richard Van Camp (7 p.m.)

Living History with Alicia Elliott and Terese Marie Mailhot (8:30 p.m.)

May 7

No Place Like Home with Nilofar Shidmehr, Pierre Jarawan and David Bezmozgis (6:30 p.m.)

On Short Stories, Comics and Mentorship with Téa Mutonji and Vivek Shraya (8:30 p.m.)

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.