Words in the Woods at the Dunedin Literary Festival

by Richard-Yves Sitoski
September 9, 2016

Autumn is a special time for bibliophiles.  It’s the book industry’s busiest season: new releases hit the market after the doldrums of summer, as people rise from their beach chairs and get cozy in their recliners, intent on more sedate indoor pursuits.  It’s also the season for much anticipated literary festivals and authors’ book tours.  This year, on Saturday, Sept. 17, book lovers can flock to Dunedin as it takes its place on the circuit with the inaugural Dunedin Literary Festival, which takes as its theme “Words in the Woods”.

Organized by Rina Barone, co-owner of Curiosity House Books and Gallery in Creemore, Jennifer Hubbs, book buyer, librarian and book blogger, and author and business consultant Simon Heath, the Dunedin Literary Festival has been a year in the preparation.  The initial idea for a festival arose organically from the organizers’ mutual love of books and desire to put together an event.  The location, Dunedin, just west of Creemore, seemed a given.  “This area is very beautiful,” says Barone, “and Dunedin especially. It’s this tucked away little corner and we thought something outside in the woods suited [a festival] . . . .  It’s a nice travel spot, with the fall and the colours.”

But why a literary festival, especially in the era of e-readers?  Barone is clear on the issue: books, and the festivals which celebrate them, are and will always be relevant.  “I think downloaded books have their place as well but there’s nothing that beats having a book in your hand – just turning the pages and smelling the book and feeling [it], especially a really loved book that kind of gets worn and dog-eared. . . . In terms of a festival there will be books available for sale there and after an author’s reading . . . you can interact with the author and have the author sign your book – you’re not going to . . . have them sign your Kobo reader!”

The roster is impressive.  Headlining is Governor General’s Award nominee Anne Michaels, current Poet Laureate of Toronto and author of the celebrated novel Fugitive Pieces.  Also featured will be Giller Prize finalist Michael Helm, reading in advance of the release of his new novel, After James, and Joseph Kertes, who will be reading from his most recent novel, The Afterlife of Stars.

As with all such events, the Dunedin Literary Festival offers readers a chance to interact with authors.  “Meeting the author, especially of a really great book that you really enjoyed, and having that author come out and speak to the book, is wonderful. . . .  You get a little bit more than what’s on the page.  You get the story behind it, their inspiration, how it all started.  You get more context to the book.”

But unique to Dunedin is the “Words in the Woods” theme.  The events are largely outside, under a tent, with the exception of Anne Michaels’ evening reading at Dunedin Hall.  One of the highlights of the day is the guided 2km hike on the Bruce Trail conducted by expert hiker and author Nicola Ross.  It ends with a nature writing workshop on the banks of the Noisy River.

Something else which sets the Dunedin Literary Festival apart is the fact that local and regional talent will be well in evidence. Local mystery writer John Brooke will be reading; internationally best-selling illustrator and Dunedin’s own Steve McDonald will provide large-format colouring pages; Jim Leithead of Cedarfox Sculptures will adorn the grounds with life-sized wire horse sculptures; and the indefatigable David Sereda will provide music.

The festival is a family event.  Children will be entertained at Storybook Park, where Jennifer Hubbs will read the celebrated children’s book, The SheepOver, and where there will be sheep to pet.  There will also be an artisan vendors’ area, gourmet food trucks, and a pop-up shop set up by Curiosity House Books and Gallery.

For more information, and to obtain tickets for Anne Michaels or the nature walk, visit the festival website at http://www.wordsinthewoods.com/

Contact Richard-Yves Sitoski at r_sitoski@yahoo.ca