The Fraser Valley Literary Festival was held at UFV this weekend, Sept. 21 and 22, in the Student Union Building. Up until this year, the festival, previously known as the Mission Writers and Readers Festival, was an annual event run by the Lifetime Learning Centre in Mission. It featured readings from published local authors, writing workshops, and networking opportunities for Fraser Valley writers and readers alike. This year, Lifetime Learning approached UFV’s English department about taking over the festival, which the creative writing department saw as a chance to expand the event and revamp the festival itself. Andrea MacPherson, associate professor in the English department at UFV, agreed to chair the event.
“The planning was exhaustive and complicated,” MacPherson said “The festival could not have been put together without the help of the 2018 Kuldip Gill Fellowship Writer in Residence, Billeh Nickerson.” During the winter semester of 2018, Nickerson was a wonderful addition to the UFV English scene, giving several readings and workshops on topics such as writing development and publishing, and also making himself available as a resource to any students looking to strengthen their writing.
“He created extraordinary connections with the students,” MacPherson said. “His work uses humour and irony so perfectly, and the students really responded to that.”
Nickerson was not only instrumental in the organizing of the literary festival, he was also featured as a keynote speaker, alongside Carleigh Baker and Renée Saklikar. The three keynote speakers each gave a talk at the evening reception on Friday, Sept. 21. Their individual styles of presenting were different from each other, yet distinctly true to each of their own writing styles. Nickerson gave a reading that had the audience humming their appreciation one moment and giggling the next. Baker talked about the burning question of non-Indigenous writers writing Indigenous characters, insisting that she could not conclusively answer these questions because, as she put it, “Indigenous peoples are not a hive mind,” but still giving the audience plenty to think about.
“Carleigh Baker writes just beautifully,” MacPherson said, “I was a big fan of Bad Endings, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.” Bad Endings, Baker’s collection of short stories, is a recommended read to anyone who wishes to delve deeper into the question of non-Indigenous writers writing Indigenous characters.
Saklikar’s presentation was an intoxicating blend of lecture and poetry, and was given in a way that was just performative enough to leave the listener hanging on her every word, waiting for some concrete conclusion but left with something that somehow felt much greater than that. “Saklikar tackles huge projects and topics,” MacPherson said, “and her poetry is lovely.”
The literary festival hosted a dynamic variety of local writers, giving workshops and panel discussions on Saturday, Sept. 22.
“We were careful to include writers who work in multiple genres,” MacPherson noted, “from poetry to children’s literature to fiction to creative non-fiction. We’re very excited and proud of the lineup for the festival.”
This kind of writerly diversity helped make the event beneficial to writers of any genre, and gave students the chance to meet and connect with many different sorts of authors. There was something for anyone and everyone to benefit from.
The English department of UFV is hopeful that the Fraser Valley Literary Festival will become an annual event, and that UFV will continue to be a good space for hosting the festival. As MacPherson shared, “I think it’s important for the Fraser Valley itself to have a literary festival. The closest festivals are in Vancouver, and there are a lot of amazing artists in the Valley.”
Hopefully this event will plant a seed here in the Lower Mainland and inspire more communities in the Valley to celebrate local artists and writers in the future.
For anyone who attended the literary festival this weekend and is looking for other chances to grow in their writing, MacPherson would like to draw attention to the upcoming 2019 edition of the annual Louden Singletree, UFV’s literary magazine. As always, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with the publication, whether through submitting original works or joining the Louden board to put together the magazine and to organize special events.
Image: Cat Friesen/The Cascade