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Democracy, poetry, life after death, bloggers: The Ottawa Writers Festival is back

By Alejandro Bustos on April 14, 2014

The Ottawa International Writers Festival is among the best literary events in Canada.  Each spring and fall, as well as individual events in between, some of the best writers from Canada and around the world come to the National Capital Region.  The result is a fascinating series of discussions on numerous topics.

This year’s spring festival takes place from April 24-29, and brings together, among others, political thinkers, poets, a journalist writing about life and death, a New York Times bestselling doctor speaking about genes, and bloggers from Ottawa-Gatineau.

Below are some events that caught our attention. For the full schedule of events go to the Writers Festival website.

Note: If you donate $35 to Apartment613’s Indiegogo campaign, you can receive a pair of tickers to a regular prized event of your choice.  Act fast, however, as only 10 pair of tickets are being offered.

Politics

Canada is one of the most successful democracies in the world, write Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan in their book Tragedy in the Commons.  Yet despite our sterling reputation as a democracy, there is a growing feeling that our democratic institutions are failing.

Photo of Alison Loat courtesy of Wayne Chu

Photo of Alison Loat courtesy of Wayne Chu

To understand this sense of detachment that many people feel towards our political process, Loat and MacMillan interviewed 80 former Members of Parliament to learn how politics in Canada is practised today, and how it can be improved.

The two authors will present their findings on Sunday, April 27, in what promises to be a fascinating talk.  Later that same day Joseph Heath , director of the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto, will discuss his new new book Enlightenment 2.0, which offers suggestions for a second Enlightenment based on what he calls “slow politics.”

“There is a danger that we have become so cynical (about politics) that we have stopped looking for answers,”  says Sean Wilson, artistic director of the Ottawa Writers Festival.  “What I like about these events is that they are looking for solutions.”

Poetry

Lovers of poetry have three events to choose from: A bash; a cabaret and – if you want to attend a free event at the The Manx Pub on Elgin Street – a second cabaret.

“People talk about poetry the way they talk about books: ‘we are seeing the end of the era of books,'” says Wilson, when asked how popular poetry events are.  “But each year we have larger audiences and we sell more books.”

The Writers Festival has been organising successful talks and readings since 1997, and in that time they have learned that there is a healthy audience for poetry.

Life after death / Genes

Photo of Patricia Pearson courtesy of Russell Monk

Is there life after death?  This question sparks intense feelings among many people.  For some, merely raising this topic raises red flags, as it conjures up images of religious fundamentalism and anti-science bias.  For others, it is something that we have to ask, as it is a question that is central to our human experience.

In her new book Opening Heaven’s Door, award-wining journalist and novelist Patricia Pearson uses her wonderful writing and astute observations to study the boundary between life and death.

Inspired by her own experiences when her father and sister died, the book contains interviews with scientists, palliative care workers and theologians.

“What I find refreshing about her work is that she takes her life experience, and then engages in analytical reasoning while leaving preconceived notions at the door,” says Wilson.

People who adhere to the values of science must follow the evidence wherever it takes them, adds Wilson.  What one should not do, however, is assume that you have an answer before you even explore an issue.

“The first thing is to listen with an open mind,” says Wilson, when asked about audience members who may instinctively push back on the the book’s subject matter.  Pearson will speak on Saturday, April 26, in a talk that promises to offer a captivating discussion.

Another noteworthy event is Sharon Moalem’s talk on Thursday, April 24, that looks at how recent genetic breakthroughs are transforming how we understand ourselves.

Bloggers

The last day of the festival offers a special free event that will highlight the work of local bloggers. Held in partnership with Blog Out Loud, it will showcase the work of such bloggers/writers as Ross Brown, Catherine Brunelle, Claire Fowles of Foodieprints and Brenda Labelle.

“From the very beginning (of the festival) we worked to make sure that we captured all forms of writing,” says Wilson, when asked why they organised a bloggers night.  “The bottom line is that there is great writing that is not meant to be in a book.”

The Ottawa International Writers Festival takes place from April 24 to 29.  Tickets can be bought online or at the door.