It’s been three long years since Shannon Isaak first experienced the energy and the buzz around New Westminster Secondary School’s inaugural literary festival.
Now, with restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic at last making way for gatherings, Isaak and her colleagues have rolled out their second edition. The Between the Lines NWSS Literary Festival is underway at the school all week, from May 9 to 13.
Each day features presentations and discussions by authors on a different theme.
The festival kicked off today (May 9) with Local Lineup on Day 1, featuring local literary talent; followed by Outside the Lines, featuring literary professionals who flout tradition and challenge norms; Online/Offline, exploring contemporary publishing methods; Drawing the Line, highlighting graphic arts in literature; and Line Break, amplifying poetry in its spoken form.
“The core of this festival is, how does literature serve as a vehicle for social change?” Isaak explains.
That question sent the teachers looking for writers of all kinds whose lives and work would speak to those themes.
“We just started listing names: Who do we know, who can we ask, who could we contact?” Isaak says, noting the organizing team paid particular attention to diversity representation of various ages, genders and racial backgrounds. “We wanted our students to feel reflected in the participants.”
They were elated to discover that nearly everyone they invited was available and ready to commit — and the result is a week of diverse presenters that includes well-known CBC journalist Ian Hanomansing, Métis/Icelandic poet Jónína Kirton, disability advocate and novelist Amanda Leduc, and NWSS alumna Maria Reva.
Presentations and panel discussions are taking place in the school’s theatre and library/learning commons during morning and afternoon class blocks. There’s also an after-school drag queen storytime, plus an evening Slam Night on Thursday, May 12.
Most of the events are for students only, but the Slam Night is open to friends, family and community members who want to support the performers. No tickets or registration are necessary; anyone who wants to attend can just show up for 7 p.m. this Thursday (just enter through the main front door and make your way to the black box theatre).
“What we’re hoping to get out of this festival, and ongoing, is an understanding that literature is not something that is only for the folks who like to sit in a quiet room and read a book,” Isaak said. “That is a great way to be — I’m one of those people — but literature is for everyone. The literary arts are for everyone.”
She’s hoping students will see that the literary arts, including verbal and visual art forms, can be not just areas of personal interest and expression but can also lead to potential vocations and careers — all while asking that initial question, how can literature serve as a vehicle for social change?
“Ultimately we want to try to find that answer, or some of those answers, and help our students take their answers to that question and go and start enacting that social change through whatever media it is that they are inspired,” Isaak said.
She’s grateful to have received an Innovation Grant from School District 40, as well as funding from the school parent advisory council and the New Westminster Teachers’ Union’s social justice fund, to cover the costs of honoraria for the presenters and materials for the festival.
Whether it’s seeing the students encounter a famous face like Hanomansing’s live and in person, or watching them be inspired by the work of young poet Isabella Wang, Isaak can’t wait to experience the buzz again as students find new doors opening for them and discover new paths to their own inspiration.
“As teachers, this is why we do what we do,” she said.
Between the Lines: Who’s who at the NWSS Literary Festival 2022
Monday, May 9: Local Lineup
- Elliott Slinn, City of New Westminster poet laureate, and Alan Hill, former poet laureate
- Maria Reva, NWSS alumna and author of Good Citizens Need Not Apply
Tuesday, May 10: Outside the Lines
- Aisha Kaini, interdisciplinary artist, diversity/equity/inclusion consultant and founder of I Dream Library
- Amanda Leduc, disabled writer and author of the non-fiction book Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability and Making Space and the novels The Miracles of Ordinary Men and The Centaur’s Wife
- David Ly, author of the poetry collection Mythical Man and the chapbook Stubble Burn
- Anjalica Solomon, genderfluid Desi singer, songwriter, lyricist, poet, spoken word artist and multidisciplinary performer
Wednesday, May 11 and Friday, May 13: Online/Offline
- May 11: Ian Hanomansing, co-anchor of CBC’s The National and author of the book Pandemic Spotlight: Canadian Doctors at the Front of the COVID-19 Fight, published in October 2021
- May 13: Jónína Kirton, Red River Metis/Icelandic poet, author and facilitator
Thursday, May 12: Line Break
- Isabella Wang, poet and student at Simon Fraser University, author of the full-length collection Pebble Swing
- Stephen Collis, professor at SFU and author of a dozen books of poetry and prose and recipient of the Latner Writers’ Trust of Canada Poetry Prize in 2019, in recognition of his body of work
- Poetry Slam Night
Friday, May 13: Drawing the Line
- Elaine Chen, illustrator and painter, B.C. Summer Reading Club artist-in-residence for 2022
- Lorne Craig, branding expert and illustrator and speaker on sustainability and design