Writers Festival – A week of literary festivities

Photos courtesy of the authors

Granville Island will be full of authors and literary enthusiasts for the 31st annual Vancouver Writers Fest. Attendees will be able to experience performances and readings from local artists as well as many from around the country and abroad from Oct. 21–27.

Among the featured writers, poet Vuyo Mgoduka, author Philip Huynh, and author/illustrator Julie Flett will take the stage in various programs throughout the week to share their works, mingle with fellow literary minds, and inspire up-and-coming artists to pursue their own creative ambitions.

Cree-Metis in illustration

Julie Flett is a Cree-Metis illustrator, author, and three-time recipient of the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Award. She has illustrated several books over her career and has written and illustrated her own books along the way, including Wild Berries, Owls See Clearly at Night: a Michif Alphabet, and Birdsong.

Flett’s creative process for her pastel illustrations and writing is derived from closely observing the world around her as well as reflecting on her own memories growing up.

“I really think in terms of film and film stills,” says Flett. “The scenes often stem from my own experiences as a child, or from having watched my son, his friends, my nieces and the children in my life. They’re so much a part of the work that I do. And I would say that Birdsong really honors the makers in my childhood.”

Flett’s Cree heritage is a vital part of her creative process and she hopes to keep the language alive through her work. Her grandparents spoke Cree to her as a child and she made an effort to become more accustomed to her ancestral language as an adult.

“When I was learning about Michif, there was almost a sense of coming home,” says Flett. “And it was tremendously healing. From there I started to learn more Cree, a language that my grandfather had grown up speaking. It’s something I wanted to pass along in the books I worked on. Something that we didn’t have access to in books as children.”

A purple city comes to Vancouver

Canadian author Philip Huynh recently published his first book, The Forbidden Purple City. Huynh’s parents fled Vietnam during the war and Philip was born in Vancouver, but he revisits his parents’ homeland in his work. Huynh, a lifelong storywriter, is a practicing lawyer during the day, but still finds the time to hone his passion for writing. So far, Huynh has been published in the Journey Prize Anthology and was given distinction within The Best American Short Stories.

The Forbidden Purple City is a collection of nine short stories that follow the lives of people who have left Vietnam. The title refers to the former imperial capital of his parent’s home country in Huế, Vietnam. The story’s characters focus on several different types of people, ranging from poets to a young bride, as they make their way to a new home, just as his parents did decades ago.

“My collection is about the lives of the Vietnamese diaspora after the war, many of whom are coping with memories that occupy the strange terrain between trauma and nostalgia,” says Huynh. “The stories explore how the past haunts and events animate the characters’ present lives. Despite this focus, the characters are diverse, and the settings are far-flung, from Vancouver and Winnipeg, to New York, to South Korea, to Vietnam.”

Working in law may appear incongruous with creative literary ambitions, but Huynh finds that his profession benefits his art in unexpected ways.

“Being a lawyer has brought me into contact with people from all walks of life and unusual milieus – whether it is a warehouse in Florida, a courtroom in Toronto, or a hedge fund in Connecticut,” says Huynh, “Although I don’t write literally about the people I’ve met, certain things about certain people inevitably inspire some of my characters.”

Healing in poetry

Poet and vocalist Vuyo Mgoduka lived all over the world before coming to Vancouver. Born in Durban, South Africa, the artist was raised by a single mother along with an older brother. After being bounced from place to place for several years, Mgoduka found writing to be the much-needed outlet in which to unleash the feelings of isolation and abandonment felt in childhood.

Mgoduka first noticed an affinity for the written word in a humorous misunderstanding in grade school and love for poetry only blossomed from there.

“I first discovered that I had a knack for writing in the second grade when my English teacher called me to the front of the class to share a story I had written,” says Mgoduka, “and then later on in high school when I got called to the principal’s office because they thought I had plagiarized a poem in the 8th grade. It was funny, but after that I knew I had something of value.”

Since then, Mgoduka has used a poetic platform to promote equality and social awareness. The artist has been featured on the Wax Poetics radio show, the Vancouver Poetry Slam, and performs regularly at Stew Jams. Mgoduka feels that poetry is unique for its ability to capture feelings and emotions with its economic use of words.

“I think longer narratives definitely have their place, but I really love that poetry is an ongoing conversation between the writer and the audience,” says the poet. “I feel like the length allows it to be revisited so often that even as the writer you discover new, hidden meanings over time. I also really enjoy the fact that poems don’t need witnesses to have an impact. The healing starts as the words are forming.”

For more information on the festival, visit www.writersfest.bc.ca.