LitFest makes non-fiction funny and sexy
Annual festival hosts 35 authors
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 12, 2013 06:00 am
Edmonton is the home of many award-winning authors, playwrights, poets, journalists and magazine writers.
What better way to salute this rich literary culture than with LitFest, Edmonton’s annual non-fiction festival? This year’s provocative theme is Let [X] Be Why.
Starting next week from Oct. 16 to 27, LitFest will host 35 writers whose genres cover travel, war, history, art, sex, murder, poetry, the trades and positive global change.
Internationally-syndicated sex-advice columnist Dan Savage headlines at the Winspear Centre on Monday, Oct. 21. The no-nonsense author and columnist will deliver the keynote address.
Savage shot to celebrity status in 2010 with his participation in the Emmy Award-winning It Gets Better Project, a campaign designed to inspire bullied LGBT youth. Savage and his partner Terry Miller created a YouTube video for adolescents facing harassment.
In May, the straight-talking author released American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love and Politics. During the keynote address, the outspoken activist will combine his talk on sex, love and marriage with issues such as gun control and health.
At times blunt in his assessment of situations, Savage has encountered his fair share of detractors. However, festival producer David Cheoros sees a different side.
“He has this fantastic ability to cut through the silliness we put up and cut right to the heart of an issue. He’s blunt but not mean-spirited. He has a great deal of empathy for people trying to make relationships work and dealing with the politics.”
The festival’s opening salvo on Wednesday, Oct. 16 is Me Me Me, a satire on contemporary society’s self-absorption. Five authors along with host Bridget Ryan interview patrons, take celebrity photos and feed social media throughout the evening.
“It’s meant to make patrons the subject of literature instead of the recipients,” explains Cheoros.
The festival also includes the launch of a student-produced anthology entitled The PROWLers, a send-off to MacEwan University’s now-defunct professional writing program. The book title is a nickname borrowed from the writing program’s code letters PROW.
Written and edited by the program’s last 30 students, the work contains a story by former St. Albert Gazette contributor Nicole Starker. She contributed a magazine piece entitled Canadians in Afghanistan: Why Some Soldiers Go the Distance.
“The idea came out of the news. I wanted to look at soldiers who deploy and want to make a difference and help children,” Starker said. “It’s a look at their motivations, but that’s not completely what the story is about.”
She is particularly excited about the high literary standards of the anthology.
“This is LitFest and it’s a huge marquee event. For a group of students, it’s a big deal and it shows the calibre and energy of the writers in this city,” Starker said.
The book’s launch event runs Thursday, Oct. 24, 7 p.m. at the Stanley Milner Library. Proceeds will support Edmonton’s Project Literacy Society.
Cheoros, producer of the festival for the last six years, has one goal – for patrons to dive further into a work by bringing the author closer.
With Kate Braid’s Trading Up, a look at the lives of women who have fought to earn a place in the construction industry, Cheoros is hoping to fill in a few gaps of his own.
“It’s a hands on demystification of the trades. For us working at a desk for a living, there’s almost a disconnect. We feel it’s outside of our lives, but in past generations, most people had some knowledge of the trades. Today everything is more disconnected,” Cheoros said.
In a story of extraordinary survival, Amanda Lindhout presents her memoir A House in the Sky. As a freelance journalist Lindhout travelled to dangerous countries, but in Somalia she was held captive for 15 months.
Upon her return to Canada, Lindhout founded the Global Enrichment Foundation, a non-profit that supports development, aid and education for women in Somalia and Kenya.
“She’s changed the focus of her life. She’s become the change rather than the person who describes the change,” Cheoros said.
Another writer, Carol Shaben, reflects on Into the Abyss, a true story of her father’s deadly commuter plane crash in northern Alberta. The tragic event became a catalyst for transformation and led to increased safety regulations in the airline industry.
Looking at a different page in history, art historian Ross King delivers a lecture on his Governor General’s Award-winning book Leonardo and the Last Supper.
“Ross King is an Edmonton-born art historian that teaches at Oxford. If you’re not familiar with his books, he writes in a specific way. His books are vivid and they’re passionate. He has an amazing way of conveying the visual,” Cheoros said.
Armchair detectives can ponder the implications of Charlotte Gray’s The Massey Murder. This true story was a scandalous crime with a sensational trial that ensued after Carrie Davis, a maid, shot her employer Charles Massey on his front porch in 1915.
On a more practical level, Edmonton writer-rapper Omar Mouallem brings out digital tools to show writers how to use social media to promote their stories and attract readers.
And on the lighter side, writers can check out a food-making workshop, a wine-tasting event, a writers’ cabaret, a brunch and a story slam.
Ultimately, Cheoros believes that reading a book is not the end product.
“It’s the jumping off point for conversation and that makes it much more exciting,” he said.
“I’m constantly amazed at how people make non-fiction funny and sexy. To take it to the next step is inspiring to me.”
A complete downloadable guide is available at www.litfestalbera.com.