Vancouver Writers Fest dives into narratives about sex work, mental illness, belonging, and economic disparity

Award-winning authors will moderate and participate in panels at various venues around Vancouver this month

Vancouver Writers Fest runs October 21 to 27 this year. Image courtesy of Vancouver Writers Fest.

By: Amneet Mann, Peak Associate

For the past 30 years, the Vancouver Writers Fest has been organizing award-winning storytellers, both local and international, to lead discussions on the world around us and the stories within us. This year, the festival will be occurring from October 21–27, with 120 authors speaking in various panels and discussing their written works.

The following five authors will be speaking at different venues during the festival about their areas of work, their diverse backgrounds, and their experiences as writers. 

Tash Aw

Image courtesy of Andrew Whittuck / 4th Estate.

Appearing at:

International Showcase: October 22 @ 8 p.m. (The Revue Stage). Tickets: $20.00/$15.00 (youth under 30).

Tash Aw in Conversation with Eleanor Wachtel: October 23 @ 7:30 p.m. (Waterfront Theatre). Tickets: $26.00/$15.00 (youth under 30).

Tash Aw writes novels to cut through the cultural perception of “rich Asians,” bringing to light the true nature of changing Asian societies and the disparity between economic classes. 

In his writing, which explores generational and economic gaps in Asia, Aw aims to center Asian voices in the narrative, rather than structuring his stories either in service of, or in reaction to, Western narratives. It’s a perspective that Aw has found missing in English literature, and one that resonates with his own life experiences.

Aw’s parents were both raised in rural Malaysia, and he recalls feeling a sense of isolation and non-belonging when he moved from the country to study law in Cambridge, and then again when he returned home later. 

Billy-Ray Belcourt

Image courtesy of Vancouver Writers Fest.

Appearing at:

The Poetry Bash: October 25 @ 8 p.m. (Performance Works). Tickets: $26.00/$15.00 (youth under 30).

Best Canadian Poetry: October 26 @ 2 p.m. (Waterfront Theatre). Tickets: free/pay what you can.

Poets Talking: October 27 @ 2 p.m. (Waterfront Centre). Tickets: $20.00/$15.00 (youth under 30).

“Not only am I a weird-looking writer, I am also a writer who is queer and NDN [Native Indian]. What could be queerer and more NDN right now than the act of writing a novel?” asks Billy-Ray Belcourt in his fiction piece What If I Never Write a Novel?

While the Cree academic has yet to write a novel, he has received numerous awards for his books of poetry The Wound is a World and NDN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field.

Informed by “a desire for native freedom,” Belcourt works at the edge of language and genres to explore Indigeneity, Indigenous bodies, queerness, violence, grief, and colonialism in his work.

Cassandra Blanchard

Image courtesy of Vancouver Writers Fest.

Appearing at:

On Belonging: Indigenous Strength and Hope in the Wake of Genocide: October 26 @ 4 p.m. (Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema, SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts). Tickets: free/pay what you can.

“On Hastings there’s a black market of sorts,” begins Cassandra Blanchard’s poem “Market and Metal.” The poem, written in a stream of consciousness form, is part of Blanchard’s debut collection Fresh Pack of Smokes. From Blanchard: “For Fresh Pack of Smokes I wrote down the poems in exactly the way I thought of them, from sentence to sentence.”

Blanchard, a member of the Selkirk Nation, writes about her time spent living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and her experiences with drug addiction, sex work, jail, and rehab. She also includes seven different iterations of a poem called “Love” in her collection.

Anosh Irani

Image courtesy of Boman Irani.

Appearing at:

Buzzworthy Books: October 25 @ 10:15 a.m. (Performance Works). Tickets: $20.00/$15.00 (youth under 30).

Big Stories, Small Packages: October 25 @ 1 p.m. (Performance Works). Tickets: $20.00/$15.00 (youth under 30).

Novelist and playwright Anosh Irani has published four best-selling novels and currently teaches creative writing at SFU, where he is the writer in residence for the World Literature program.

Irani was born in Bombay and moved to Vancouver 20 years ago, vowing not to return until he was a successful artist. Much like Irani himself, his protagonists struggle with finding home and a sense of belonging. While Irani doesn’t quite call Vancouver “home,” he notes that the city gave him the perspective to write stories set in Bombay in a unique light. 

Anna Mehler Paperny

Image courtesy of Vancouver Writers Fest.

Appearing at:

Truth-Telling: October 22 @ 6 p.m. (Waterfront Centre). Tickets: $20.00/$15.00 (youth under 30).

Anna Mehler Paperny is a powerhouse reporter for Reuters, tackling topics ranging from Guantanamo Bay to the opioid crisis. The same courage and willingness to dig for hard truths that makes Paperny an award-winning journalist shows up in her debut book, Hello I Want To Die Please Fix Me

In her frankly-titled work, Paperny outlines the stigma and mishandling of mental illness in society today. She also includes her personal struggles with debilitating depression and her experience navigating the healthcare system with her diagnosis. “Why does the pain of crazy people carry less weight than the pain of those who are not?” she asks at one point in her book.

Tickets for individual events during the festival can be purchased separately on TheatreWire.