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Radio dramas, novels and more: Ottawa International Writers Festival is back

By Alejandro Bustos on October 24, 2012

For the last 16 years, the Ottawa International Writers Festival has brought some of the world’s best authors to our nation’s capital.

From the late-Nobel Laureate José Saramago of Portugal, to Canadian icons Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, this impressive literary gathering has showcased some outstanding talent.

The celebrity factor, however, is only one small part of this highly popular celebration of books, which has seen its audience grow by 800 per cent since hosting its first event in 1997.

In fact, the festival has been so successful, it now offers semi-annual editions – one in the spring and the other in the fall – as well as scattered events throughout the year.

“Since 2004 there have been two festivals (a year),” explains Sean Wilson, artistic director of the Writers Festival. “It has allowed us to be very responsive about what our community wants.”

The fall 2012 session starts today and runs until Oct. 30, and the next spring session is set to take place in April 2013.

Central to the festival’s success is a capacity to bring together a wide range of novelists, poets, playwrights and non-fiction writers that cover a multitude of subjects.

This session this fall is no different, with events featuring such people as former CTV National News anchor Lloyd Robertson, popular CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi and renowned Canadian Chef Michael Smith.

Another intriguing event is a special panel on Afghanistan and the Middle East with Chris Alexander, former UN deputy special representative in Afghanistan and current Conservative Member of Parliament, Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler, and foreign correspondent Michael Petrou.

With so many wonderful events it is difficult to decide where to begin, so I asked for a suggestion.

“That’s a hard question to answer,” replies Wilson. “However, if you were only to see one event in the festival, I would recommend the Radio Play on Tuesday, October 30.”

This special live performance will bring together four artists for the world premiere of a live radio drama. Starting from the idea of the Mayan calendar which suggests that the world may end this December, the show explores what would happen in a post-apocalyptic world.

While it is not clear if the program will be broadcast on the radio, Wilson tells Apartment613 that there are plans to podcast the show in the future.

For those interested in attending the festival, advanced general tickets are $20 to $15 depending on the talk, $15 to $10 for reduced tickets, and free for festival members. (To become a member one must donate at least $20 per month). Tickets at the door will be slightly more expensive.

Some events, however, are free for everyone, such as the discussion on the natural history of Canadian mammals by renowned biologist Donna Naughton, and the ReLit Awards that celebrate the best in Canadian independent publishing.

Carleton University students, meanwhile, can take advantage of a special offer that allows them to get into all events for free. All you have to do is book online and check the box which asks if you are a Carleton student, and then bring your student card to the event. Carleton students can also get tickets at the door, though there can be no guarantee of getting in if you do not book in advance.

“Carleton has been very proactive about getting their students out in the community because they know that life cannot be limited to the campus,” says Wilson, while explaining that Carleton University has agreed to cover the costs of any of its student who decide to attend the festival.

As for the rest of the community, this literary gathering has become a source of pride in the local arts community, which has become a lot more confident in the last decade-and-a-half.

“Everyone I knew in the arts community had this notion that you had to move out of Ottawa,” says Wilson. “It’s great to see this idea turned on its head over the last 16 years. No one says that anymore. The problem now is that there are not enough venues for all the events.”