People ask you why you live in Ottawa and you say it is because you like it. Ernest Hemingway started off with a similar sentence fifty-seven years ago in one of his dispatches, but the city instead was Cuba. There is no need to tell these people that the weather here is somewhat moderate and the spring season is as lovely as any place in the world.
You do not necessarily tell them about the hundreds of varieties of tulips that are planted annually in vast and wide-ranging plots around the city, the early appearance of crocus blooms, the emerging yellow daffodils along the Rideau Canal’s foot and bike paths. This is a decorative part of what makes Ottawa a distinctly appealing city to live in and visit.
You could tell them about how the opportunities for work are interesting within the government, the high-tech industry, or within its academic and medical institutions.
“There are many other things you do not tell them”, Hemingway continues. However, I propose that you can tell them about the many festivals that make up this city. One of them dear to me : The Ottawa International Writers Festival. In its tenth year, it is such an event to tell those people why you live in Ottawa.
Considering that the festival is not-for-profit event run by Oneness-World Communications, the organizers have set a high standard of quality over the past decade by presenting a stellar group of authors on par with any similar event internationally. In a recent radio interview with Nigel Beale, the director of the Ottawa International Writers Festival, Neil Wilson simply explains why festivals are so good, “they bring people together”. The festival model works well and is only one of the many reasons why they have been attracting top-notch writers.
Chances are if you’re reading this column you want to know what you’re in for this spring. Because this is National Poetry Month in Canada, the festival does not disappoint in this regard. The opener and closer of the events are certainly not to be missed. This simple statement holds some weight when one considers that George Elliott Clarke will cut his Tahiti vacation short just to appear at the festival to meet with another top international poet, Paul Muldoon whom Clarke will sit alongside with fellow writer A.J. Levin.
Opening night features of what promises to be an engaging evening with three outstanding Canadian award winning poets: Nicole Brossard, Kevin Connolly and Ken Babstock. And if you choose to arrive for the earlier 7pm show which features a reading by Tom Harpur where he will explore ‘modern faith and the historical Jesus”.
Indeed, there are many elements that make up this spring edition. Poetry is but one. There is the spiritual dimension to this festival with readings along with Harpur’s, such as Tim Ward, Anne Hines and Paul William Roberts.
The environment is up for discussion too. Earth Day gets a nod at this festival in a big way with a number of related readings devoted to naturalistic themes with authors Tim Flannery, Karsten Heuer, and Fred Pearce, among others.
You may consider attending this Tuesday when Scott Griffin flies into town…literally. He’s arriving at the Rockcliffe Airport in CF-WMJ, his Cessna 180 the morning of his reading. If his name sounds familiar it’s because you may recognize that Mr. Griffin is the namesake of The Griffin Trust which,
founded in 2000, was created to serve and encourage excellence in poetry written in English anywhere in the world. He will be discussing his first book My Heart is Africa: A Flying Adventure of which the royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to the AMREF Flying Doctors Service.
Additionally, the organizers have chosen to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of Samuel Beckett. To that end there will be a mix of live performance, films and discussion of everything Beckettt. As part of the BECKETT 100 series, a new ensemble who call themselves Deasil & Widdershins will present excerpts of Samuel Beckett's short prose from throughout his writing life in BECKETT ALL! The group consists of Ottawa’s John Lavery, Max Middle and Carmel Purkis. This should prove to be an entertaining event.
So, when people ask you why you live in Ottawa you now can say more than “because you like it”. The 2006 Spring Edition runs from April 17th to the 23rd, held at the Library & Archives Canada. The full schedule can be viewed online at http://www.writersfest.com
John W. MacDonald works and buys books in Ottawa and you can read his weblog at blog.johnwmacdonald.com
________________this column appeared in the Ottawa Citizen in a modified form 16 April 2006.