‘Intellectual icebreaker’ joins the literary with the un-literary


The public is invited to join the literary world at The Malahat Review’s first annual spring symposium, WordsThaw. Filling up the day-long event are three daytime panels and a literary reading in the evening, featuring 19 authors from B.C. and Alberta.

WordsThaw is a change for the publication, which in previous years had events limited to four issue launches and two seminars throughout the year. “We decided if we did a larger event, it would create a bit more buzz around the magazine and be a bit more useful to the reading and writing community,” says John Barton, editor of The Malahat Review, in an interview with the Martlet .

“We wanted to reposition the Malahat and have a very strong local link with the local community.”

The seemingly un-literary topics of food and poverty be covered in the panel discussions, along with a talk on the relevance of fiction. Barton says they want to connect literature with relevant issues in our culture, noting B.C.’s high poverty rate.

“I suppose we wanted to break out of the idea that the Malahat is  about purely literary things, university ‘ivory tower’ things, which it has never been, but there’s a perception of that.”

Barton, an award-winning writer himself, calls the event an “intellectual icebreaker” and hopes to see students and people from off-campus attend. “For people who are interested in writing, like taking a course at UVic, they’ll have an opportunity to hear some of the people who teach here and some who have gone through the program as well,” he says of writers like Yasuko Thanh, recently named a B.C. Book Prize finalist, who graduated from UVic’s MFA writing program.

The panel on fiction will discuss what makes fiction relevant — does a story have to have social or historical context, or can it also be significant by revealing a character’s inner world?

“I think if we look at any fiction through history, inevitably, the social context is part of the personal context,” says Barton.

“I personally think people read for two reasons: to see yourself reflected back — to have your experience affirmed or interrogated — and then you read about things you don’t know about,” Barton further lays out. “The assumption is people read non-fiction because it’s fact and it’s relevant to them. But they don’t consider that fictional inquiries into the same issues are equally valid.”

Focus magazine is the sponsor for this panel, which takes place from 10:00 a.m. to noon. Focus writer Amy Reiswig is moderating. Panelists include local writers Thanh, John Gould, who teaches writing workshops at UVic, and Daniel Griffin.

From 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., a new type of food writing will be discussed in a panel moderated by B.C. food and travel journalist Don Genova. Panelists include Rhona McAdam, a local poet and food writer, and UVic student Kimberley Veness, who is editor-in-chief of Concrete Garden, an environmental magazine that started on campus.

“It’s not typical food writing in the sense of writing reviews of restaurants, recipes or the cooking of the First Nations or something like that. It’s looking at sustainable agriculture and the role of writing to advocate for local food,” says Barton.

The third panel, moderated by Victoria city councillor Lisa Helps, aims to shake existing narratives on poverty and give rise to ones that can contribute to progress. Patrick Lane, Madeline Sonik and Sylvia Olsen are panelists in this discussion, held between 3:45 and 5:45 p.m.

The evening portion of the event, called Words on Ice, will include readings of fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction by writers Marilyn Bowering, C.P. Boyko (who was also named a B.C. Book Prize finalist), Lorna Crozier (who recently retired as a UVic writing professor after 21 years), Katherin Edwards, Bill Gaston (chair of the UVic writing department and yet another Book Prize finalist), Lee Henderson, Laura Kraemer and Pamela Porter. Words on Ice takes place from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m.

The entire event is held at UVic’s Human and Social Development building in Room A240, where there will also be a used book sale throughout the day. During the evening reading, the UVic Bookstore will be selling books by the featured readers.

Barton says the idea for WordsThaw came suddenly, and planning only began in December. With more time to plan for next year, the symposium in 2014 could be bigger, he says, depending on how this one turns out.

“I think we’ll all collapse [by the end of the day],” says Barton. “We want people to buy all the books so we don’t have to pack them up again.”

Regular tickets are $50; student and members $40. This buys a one-year subscription to The Malahat Review.

If people want to only go to the evening event, they can pay a separate admission (regular: $10; students: $5) at the door and also receive a free copy of the current issue, #181 Winter 2012.