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New STARFest director relaunches St. Albert book festival

Julie Ruel brings in Kate Black, author of Big Mall, and David Berry, author of On Nostalgia

Book lovers in St. Albert will be pleased to know STARFest is back on track. Hosted by St. Albert Public Library, the book fest was temporarily absent until a new director was selected after Michelle Steinhusen's departure. 

Julie Ruel, a librarian with 10 years of experience arrived directly from Edmonton Public Library. Her previous experience at St. Albert Public Library consisted of a temporary contract while a city librarian was on maternity leave. 

“When I first worked here, I helped with STARFest. I helped to coordinate and find authors, and I felt I had a good understanding of the role. Michelle Steinhusen offered a lot of support in applying for the position,” said Ruel. 

She plans to keep the same conversational format of previous years with a main literary festival celebrating national fiction and non-fiction authors in October. In addition, smaller fireside chats throughout the year will feature local writers. 

In her first presentation, Ruel has invited Kate Black, author of Big Mall: Shopping for Meaning, and David Berry, author of On Nostalgia to discuss their books. The one-on-one conversation takes place Saturday, May 25 at 7 p.m. at St. Albert’s downtown library. 

Black is a former St. Albert resident and Paul Kane High graduate who now lives in Vancouver. She was published in the Globe and Mail, The Walrus and Maisonneuve. In 2020, the RBC Taylor Prize and the National Magazine Awards named her one of Canada’s top emerging non-fiction voices. 

Printed by Coach House Books, this non-fiction is part history, part memoir and part cultural critique. Having grown up in St. Albert, Black's experiences at West Edmonton Mall are a major focus. However, she also delves into the history of malls, tracing their practice from the Second World War to their current roles as massive consumerist outlets. 

“I selected Kate because she was raised in St. Albert, and I wanted a local connection,” Ruel said. “Early on in the book, she writes about the mall in a funny way. The book is funny, smart, insightful and relatable. West Edmonton Mall is a place people love and hate, but she avoids a lot of the cynicism and leads straight into a critique and celebration,” said Ruel.  

On the other hand, cultural critic David Berry’s On Nostalgia, examines our relentless search to discover our true self, and the overwhelming presence of mass media that stokes the fires of nostalgia through pop culture, politics, science and psychology. 

“On Nostalgia is an intercultural examination of nostalgia and how, as a force, it plays into our lives. He doesn’t allow the material to get too dense. He uses things like Star Wars and politics, and he made me think how nostalgia plays into our own lives.” 

Ruel notes that while Berry connects nostalgia mainly through identity, Black pulls her own nostalgia apart and recognizes how formative it is. 

“I think it could be a very fruitful conversation.” 

The after-hours event takes place at St. Albert Place, 5 St. Anne Street. It is free, however due to limited seating, registration is required. Register online at 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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