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Scaachi Koul. Photo by Barbora Simkova.

2017 Writersfest lineup showcases 40+ acclaimed Canadian and international authors

By Greggory Clark on April 22, 2017

Comedian-turned-novelist Mary Walsh, Governor General Award Winner Karen Connelly, and three time Booker Prize nominee Anita Desai are joined by many more for the 20th Ottawa International Writers Festival.

In what is being touted as its most eclectic edition to date, the 20th Writersfest celebrates writers, books and ideas “against a backdrop of rising world populism, Islamophobia, and a growing democratic deficit,” says Artistic Director Sean Wilson. “Writers from across Canada and around the world will engage in conversations about our cultural differences and similarities, our politic and artistic leanings, and most of all our personal histories and public personas.”

“The personal has never been this political.”

On opening night, April 27, a trifecta of inspiring panellists will join host Rachel Vincent from the Nobel Women’s Initiative. Student activist Raiyah Patel is a youth education advocate from Attawapiskat First Nation who demanded the federal government provide better, safer schools for students living on reserves. Patel will be joined by Sandra Perron, Canada’s first female infantry officer, and Ottawa author Mona Mazigh to talk about the important role women play in advocating for change and human rights.

“This spring we are dedicating opening night to outspoken women who know what it is like to live and work in the changing landscape of our country. The personal has never been more political,” says Wilson.

Writer and cultural critic Scaachi Koul will follow the opening night panel, talking with CBC’s Lucy van Oldenbarneveld about her witty and moving book, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, a collection of personal essays that cover everything from social anxiety to family squabbles, body shaming and racism.

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Mary Walsh. Photo courtesy of Writersfest.

Comedian and social activist Mary Walsh will make her first Writersfest appearance since Harper Collins published her funny and poignant debut novel, Crying for the Moon. On April 28, Walsh will participate in a conversation with the Canada Reads winner and two-time Giller Prize shortlisted author, Heather O’Neill.

The work of two scientists stands out in the Writersfest lineup. Saturday April 29, an internationally acclaimed theoretical physicist, Sean Carroll, explores the complexities of how the world functions at the quantum, cosmic and human level. Acclaimed science writer and broadcaster Jay Ingram shares his favourite head-scratchers and mind-benders in an event billed as The Science of Why being hosted by Stephen Brockwell at noon on Sunday April 30.

Later Sunday afternoon, the festival will shine a light on the Jewish and Palestinian diaspora when playwrights Samah Sabawi and Stephen Orlov sit down with award-winning Ottawa playwright Arthur Milner to discuss their groundbreaking anthology Double Exposure, the first English-language anthology in any genre of prose, poetry or drama by Jewish and Palestinian writers worldwide; with select scene readings by actors. In the evening, Governor General’s History Award winner Lawrence Hill and CBC’s Joanne Chianello look at how fiction can build understanding around refugees in his acclaimed novel The Illegal. The novel won Canada Reads 2016 and is being adapted into an eight-part television series.

Anita Desai. Photo by Jerry Bauer.

Anita Desai. Photo by Jerry Bauer.

The following day, three time Booker Prize nominee Anita Desai will discuss her long career and what it means for her fiction to resonate from India across the globe. Desai is the author of 17 novels, novellas and children’s books. Her book The Village by the Sea won The Guardian’s Children’s Fiction Award.

Before the festival ends, Governor General’s Award winner Karen Connelly will participate in What You Want, a panel discussion hosted by Rhonda Douglas along with Elise Levine and Lori McNulty.

Writersfest will close on Tuesday May 2 after The Only Journey, a conversation with Andrew Westoll, winner of the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction, Susan Perly, a journalist, war correspondent and radio producer, as well as Governor General’s Award winner Steven Heighton, author of The Waking Comes Late and The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep.


Visit www.writersfestival.org for the full festival lineup and schedule. The 20th Ottawa International Writers Festival runs from April 22 to May 2 with most events taking place at Christ Church Cathedral (414 Sparks St). Follow @Writersfest on Twitter or like the Writersfest Facebook page for announcements. Books are available for purchase at every event with proceeds supporting free children’s literacy programs.