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Photo by Riverbed Reading Series

Riverbed aims to be Ottawa’s first multidisciplinary performance reading series

By Jamie MacPherson on April 28, 2020

Poetry in Ottawa is constantly evolving, and with new innovators and new projects cropping up all the time. Ellen Chang-Richardson and nina jane drystek are two of the new poetry innovators in the city, and the Riverbed Reading Series is their new project. They surveyed the city they love for a way to add to the 613’s cultural landscape. Their addition comes in the creation of a new space linking literature, music and performance, Riverbed, launching May 20, 2020 via Zoom. Their project will add new sounds, new voices and more art to Ottawa.

The Inventors

Chang-Richardson and drystek met in August 2019 thanks to fellow poet Chuqiao Yang and clicked. They began editing each other’s poems and looked forward to seeing each other at literary events around the city. The pair moved at the same speed. In addition to being two members of the poetry collective VII, Ellen and nina jane both have their own poetic practices.

Riverbed co-founder and local poet Ellen Chang-Richardson. Photo: Provided.

Chang-Richardson is new-ish to Ottawa but making waves early. She is the founder of Little Birds Poetry and an award-winning poet, writer and editor whose debut chapbook Unlucky Fours was recently published by Anstruther Press.

Riverbed co-founder, sound poet, and arts administrator nina jane drystek. Photo: Provided.

Drystek has a long artistic resume in Ottawa. works in marketing with a focus on building community and previously managed social media and marketing at The Ottawa International Writers Festival. A successful page poet and sound poet. She’s a talented storyteller with a knack for community organizing.

The Inspiration

In drystek and Chang-Richardson’s words, “the name Riverbed is emblematic of what we are hoping to create with our series. Rivers are representative of this city; they are meeting places at the centre of ecosystems. Ottawa is a city rich with talent across its artistic communities, but we don’t always combine our strengths to plan events that bridge these creative communities. That’s why we’re launching Riverbed — to foster community and strengthen creative ties, and to reinvigorate arts programming across Ottawa-Gatineau.”

The Ottawa River is one of the inspirations behind the new reading series. Photo: Conyer Clayton.

Although other projects kept getting in the way before, once drystek and Chang-Richardson committed to launching a new reading series, they worked fast. The pair found a venue partner for their first season in Club SAW and secured financial support for their first event thanks to the League of Canadian Poets and the Writers’ Union of Canada. Running an event is a process, and with changes related to COVID-19, they are still working out revenue streams to cover base costs and pay their future performers.

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“It is important to us that artists are paid for their work. Both ticket sales and any extra donations we get will go towards our operating costs and paying our feature poets,” said Chang-Richardson. When their series moves into its physical space, entry will be pay-what-you-can.

The experience

Running quarterly, each iteration of Riverbed will differ in its offerings of poetry, prose, music, performance, experimentation and more. A mystery to make people curious. Due to COVID-19, events for the foreseeable future will be via Zoom. Regardless of the format, Riverbed still runs on artistic merit, collaboration and intersectionality.

Rivers are representative of this city; they are meeting places at the centre of ecosystems. Ottawa is a city rich with talent across its artistic communities, but we don’t always combine our strengths to plan events that bridge these creative communities. That’s why we’re launching Riverbed.

The inspiration for this unique model came from two main influences. The first, reaching back to the First World War, is the Zurich-based Cabaret Voltaire, the nightclub at the heart of the Dada art movement. Dada was a movement fuelled by performance, experimentation, and resistance,  and it’s where sound poetry first got its start. Their second influence is Ottawa’s own Café le Hibou, 1960s-70s counterculture hub that bridged music and poetry. Taking these influences, Chang-Richardson and drystek are adding their own ingredients, creating something fresh and invigorating.

The Riverbed Reading Series logo. Provided.

When Riverbed can move into Club SAW, attendees will get interactive nights of performance, music, and literature in a newly renovated, centrally-located, fully accessible venue close to major transit routes. This mix of visual and performative art, literature and poetry, is a new approach in Ottawa’s reading series landscape.

For Ottawa

The Riverbed Reading Series is for Ottawa. Its goal is to bring different creative communities together for cooperation and collaboration. It will be a space for diverse artists to meet, connect, and make new discoveries, and a channel where different artistic sensibilities and backgrounds can create something new.


Riverbed Reading Series launched their new website and the lineup of Riverbed’s “iteration one” will feature poets Conyer Clayton, David Ly and prose writer Emily Kellogg, plus music from Ottawa-based Linsey Wellman. You can learn more by following Riverbed’s posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram or visiting their website in the lead up to the launch.