Writers’ festival offers wisdom to aspiring authors

In a writers’ workshop, young scribes will invariably move beyond staid domestic issues cherished by so many Canadian authors.

In a writers’ workshop, young scribes will invariably move beyond staid domestic issues cherished by so many Canadian authors.

“The age group is more excited about fantastical things rather than the straight narratives and common everyday things,” said local author Jerome Stueart, who’s sharing his knowledge at this weekend’s Young Authors Conference.

“Kids are much more open to talking animals or lasers, or talking animals with lasers.”

The conference is part of the 17th annual Yukon Writers’ Festival, which features public readings from Stueart, Giller Prize-winning novelist Elizabeth Hay and local product Ivan E. Coyote.

The authors will read tonight at the Beringia Centre along with poet Robert Priest, author Kevin Chong and adventure writer Jon Turk.

Stueart is humbled he gets to share the stage with established talent.

“They chose incredible writers this time around,” he said.

“Everybody has a lot of good work. I’m not as published as some, so I’m kind of learning from them and I’m hoping to talk to them while they’re here.”

But more than talking shop with fellow writers, he’s eager to work with the kids — selected from Grades 8 to 12 across the Yukon — at the Young Authors’ Conference on Thursday and Friday.

Stueart, a science fiction writer who’s published in numerous journals, magazines and newspapers, has earned creative writing post-graduate degrees from two universities.

He wants to impart some of his writerly wisdom onto the kids, as he did several years ago at the same conference.

“The kids have endless imagination and they’re open to being taught,” he said.

Stueart will introduce some memoir writing exercises and provide plenty of feedback on stories already submitted by the students who’ve been pre-chosen to participate.

All authors reading Wednesday night will be working with the students.

Following the conference, the authors will stage another reading in Haines Junction at the St. Elias Convention Centre on Saturday.

This year’s line up is especially diverse, said Lori Schroeder, Whitehorse Public Library librarian and festival organizer.

From a storyteller and performer, to sci-fi and award-winning novelist, there’s something for everybody, she said.

“It covers this lovely, broad spectrum of writing so things are kept fresh and different,” said Schroeder.

She’s organizing the festival along with teacher Joyce Sward from FH Collins.

The festival is a chance to hear new authors or enjoy old favourites, she added.

“If you’re a writer, you probably know most people writing in town and this is a chance to hear something new,” said Schroeder.

“And hearing an author read from a book you’ve read could be a learning experience.”

Festival organizers lucked out when they booked Hay before she won the Giller Prize for her novel, Late Nights On Air.

“She’s a great writer whether she won or not and we’re fortunate that her award might bring out more people,” said Schroeder.

Hay spent some of her early 20s in Yellowknife, but hasn’t yet been to the Yukon.

She’s eager to explore the territory on her five-town reading tour, which stops in Tagish, Mayo, Dawson, Carmacks and Teslin.

Writers’ festivals tend to be in big cities and it’s unusual to have one in a place that isn’t a huge urban centre, said Hay.

“When I was invited to come months ago, I leapt at the chance,” she said.

“I don’t always leap at the chance, mind you. I’m old enough now that travelling has lost its luster. But I leapt to the Yukon.”

Writer festivals can prove useful for a writer, said Hay.

“You’re guaranteed an audience,” she said.

“It’s an efficient way of fulfilling the public function of being a writer. It’d be far less efficient to visit one book club after another.”

The most important time Hay has is when she’s alone writing, but that can become too isolated, she said.

“It’s a nice break to get out and read to people who love books, and you do meet other writers, which can be pleasurable,” she said.

Tonight’s reading starts at 7 p.m. and is free. The reading in Haines Junction starts at 7 p.m. and costs $10 or free for seniors and children under 12.

The festival has been helped by support from the Canada Council for the Arts, Junction Arts and Music, the Yukon government, the Yukon Science Institute, Mac’s Fireweed, the Writers’ Union of Canada and the Yukon News.