At the end of September for nearly the past 20 years, lit lovers and word nerds from all backgrounds gather at Library Square for a free book and magazine festival. Streets are blocked off, large tents emerge, and a stage is erected at the corner of Robson and Homer.
Publishers, booksellers, authors, illustrators, literacy advocates, and performers of all kinds flock to the festival formerly known as The Word On The Street Vancouver.
This year, celebrating its renewal as Word Vancouver, the festival is better than ever. Best known among local literati as a one-day event on the last Sunday in September, the Vancouver team lengthened the festival in 2011 to span the weekend coinciding with Culture Days.
This year, the festival has five days of programming from Sept. 25 to 29, at various locations around Vancouver. Also, with only two episodes of unfavourable weather in 19 years, Word Vancouver has an excellent track record with the weather gods.
Wednesday, Sept. 25 features the kickoff event for the Automated Poetry Project at the recently opened secondhand bookstore, The Paper Hound. Word Vancouver just wrapped up a month-long crowdfunding campaign to convert old vending machines into poetry dispensers. They managed to raise more than half their intended goal and will be going ahead with the project, although it may be slightly modified due to budget.
Mariner Janes, poet
Festival attendees may be conflicted between multiple programs on Thursday: in addition to programming at the Carnegie, the Twisted Poets Literary Salon will be at the Cottage Bistro, and a cooking demo and book signing will be at Banyen Books & Sound.
Friday features a talk about stage and screenwriting at the Historic Joy Kogawa House, and Saturday has professional development workshops for writers at the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library on W Georgia St.
Wanda John-Kehewin, a 2011 graduate of The Writers’ Studio at SFU, says the poetry vending machines are something she’s personally looking forward to — she will be reading from her first book of poetry at the festival on Sunday in the Poetry Tent.
Her poetry is influenced by the lives of people. To say she finds inspiration in other people’s pain sounds callous, but she finds it is a “way to make a connection. Pain is universal; it doesn’t discriminate [between] those in a war torn country [or] people on a Reservation.”
John-Kehewin began writing seriously in 2008 after the Indian residential schools apology. She found herself drawn to global politics and social issues, drawing on events such as the earthquake in Japan or conflicts in the Gaza Strip. Her collection of poetry, In the Dog House, was published with Talonbooks this spring.
The sheer number of events may seem overwhelming, but that is exactly what poet Mariner Janes appreciates about the festival, “The setting is different from a formal reading, it’s literally words on the street with nothing but a tent and a mic. [Word Vancouver] showcases a lot of different authors.” Janes, who earned his BA and MA in English at SFU, will be reading from his first book of poetry, The Monument Cycles, on Sunday in the Poetry Tent.
The festival, being in various neighbourhoods around the city, gives attendees a chance to see different sides of Vancouver. Janes witnesses this daily while managing a mobile harm reduction unit in the downtown eastside.
“Moving around the city all day — walking, driving — allowed me to think about space and the people within the city.” Janes’ observations resulted in a collection of poetry framed around these themes, stemming from ideas about the role of monuments from a course at SFU.
Poetry seems to be a recurring theme at this year’s Word Vancouver, but there is something for everyone including children’s literature and storytelling, magazine talks, writing workshops, booths for local arts organizations, displays for literacy associations, and even musical performances. Of the festival, John-Kehewin says: “it’s free and all class statuses are welcome, it doesn’t matter your income level.”