Kingston WritersFest returns for 15th edition

The 2023 Kingston WritersFest features dozens of authors, writers, journalists, and commentators across a myriad of subjects and genres,
as well as some special “offseason” events. Pictured here (L to R) are authors Heather O’Neill (photo via WritersFest website), Waubgeshig Rice (photo via Waubgeshig Rice official website), and Emma Donoghue (photo via WritersFest website).

For the 15th edition of Kingston WritersFest (KWF) — which runs Wednesday, Sep. 27 to Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023 — organizers have put together a mix of familiar events as well as some exciting new opportunities, all of which fall under this year’s theme, “unbound.” 

“‘Unbound’ shines a spotlight on written work that challenges the reader and the literary art form with trail-blazing ideas, creative presentations, and playful structures,” KWF Artistic Director Aara Macauley explained in a press release issued ahead of this year’s festival. “In addition to the great fiction, nonfiction, culinary, and poetry events you know and love, we’ve curated a series on graphic novels, spoken word, storytelling, hybrid forms and experimental work.” 

Among the more than 50 writers taking part in this year’s festival are some Canadian literary icons, including Michael Crummey, Patrick DeWitt, Heather O’Neill, and Wayne Grady, as KWF 2023 offers something for every reader. In Macauley’s words, “This is a year to acknowledge the milestones and the authors that helped get us to 15 and explore what more we can be doing as a literary organization to serve our community and artists.”

In total, KWF 2023 features more than 30 events spread out over five days, with most of the author talks and workshops taking place at the Holiday Inn Kingston-Waterfront, located at 2 Princess Street. The festival kicks off on Wednesday, September 27 with ‘Hot off the Presses,’ as Canadian novelist Heather O’Neill sits down with Kingston’s own Merilyn Simonds to discuss O’Neill’s new book Mystery in the Metro. 

Since publishing her first novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, in 2006, O’Neill has gone on to become one of Canada’s most influential female voices, penning nine literary works. Mystery in the Metro marks an exciting new venture for the Montreal native, as O’Neill wrote the “serialized novel” over 30 weeks as a regular contributor to the Montreal Gazette, often inviting readers to decide what happens next.

Opening night festivities continue at 8 p.m. with ‘Deep and Dangerous Love’: Emma Donoghue, author of the best-selling novel Room, presents her latest work Learned by Heart, a novel based on the life of English diarist Anne Lister. 

Author talks take place all day Thursday through Sunday, with presentations from writers including Laurence Beaudoin-Masse, Craig Shreve, Janika Oza, Catherine Hernandez, JD Derbyshire, and Vincent Lam. During the talks, festival-goers will have the opportunity to hear the authors read excerpts from their books and answer audience questions. 

Besides author talks, KWF 2023 features other familiar events made possible through past editions of the festival, including the Writers Retreat Workshops which have become a KWF staple. This year, organizers have put together 12 workshops covering topics such as travel writing, word art, and spoken word. Workshop highlights include ‘Writing Memoir’ with Wayne Grady, ‘Screenwriting’ with Adonay Guerrero Cortes, and ‘Writing About Food’ with Kingston’s own culinary writer Lindy Mechefske. 

It should be noted that Writers Retreat Workshops often have limited enrolment, with some expected to sell out prior to the actual event date. While the majority of workshops will take place at the Holiday Inn, select events will be held at alternative venues. A complete list of workshops can be found on the festival website. 

Other events that are back for 2023 include ‘Literary Trivia Night’ with Canadian comedian Ali Hassan; ‘Art After Dark,’ a Friday evening celebration of art and artists occurring in tandem with KWF; ‘The Book Lover’s Lunch’; and special programming for youth. 

Besides the returning events festival-goers have come to expect and enjoy, organizers have also put together some special events to celebrate the festival’s 15th anniversary. On Friday, September 29 at 6 p.m., KWF, in partnership with the Dan School of Drama and Music at Queen’s University, will present the ‘Voaden Prize Stage Reading,’ as 2023 Voaden Prize national playwriting competition winner Brandon Zang debuts his new play Ah Wing and the Automaton Eagle, with a world-premiere staged reading. 

The festival program notes, “Ah Wing, a genius kid inventor living in 1877 San Francisco Chinatown, has built a sentient automaton eagle and the whole world wants it for their own. Together with his ambitious older sister, they must figure out a way to protect their invention before it falls into the wrong hands. In a metropolis forged from steel, nothing is quite as it seems.” 

On Saturday, September 30 at 4 p.m., local band The Gertrudes will perform as part of a special ‘Musical Matinee,’ featuring a conversation with Kingston’s poet laureate Sadiqa de Meijer. Tickets for the Matinee are free of charge. During the performance, the group is expected to play songs from their latest album Just to Please You, with a talk on the process of songwriting to follow.

With this year’s edition of KWF coinciding with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Saturday, September 30, the festival has partnered with Terri-Lynn Brennan and LodgePole Arts Alliance to organize a series of events to mark the occasion. ‘Saturday Stories’ features a wide range of author talks pertaining to topics including identity and history. September 30 is also Orange Shirt Day: festival attendees are encouraged to wear orange in an effort to raise awareness of the victims and survivors of the residential school system. 

KWF 2023 comes to a close on Sunday, October 1, with events featuring Patrick deWitt and Diane Borsato. At 9:30 a.m., bestselling author Patrick deWitt kickstarts the morning as he chats with Mark Sinnett about his latest novel The Librarianist. Then, at 11 a.m. Diane Borsato discusses the “strange world of mushrooms,” during ‘Last Chapter Brunch: Foraged Flavours.’

Later this fall, KWF presents a special “offseason” event at The Screening Room with ‘Apocalypse, Later: Matinee with Waubgeshig Rice,’ on Sunday, Oct. 22 at 4 p.m. Rice sits down with Aric McBay to discuss his latest release, Moon of the Turning Leaves, a follow-up to his bestselling post-apocalyptic thriller, 2018’s Moon of the Crusted Snow.

A complete list of all WritersFest events, as well as ticket information, the festival program, and the KWF reading list can be found on the festival’s website

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