[Photo: C. Hélie. All rights reserved.]
Small literary festivals are tremendously appealing, both to writers and to the reading public. They are also an expression of the community in which they take place. Nationally and even internationally renowned as individual participating writers may be, the programme of which they are now a part speaks directly and specifically to the community out of which the festival has emerged.
When that community is Knowlton, a small community in the Eastern Townships “known for its Loyalist history and British flavour” as well as being a member of the Association des plus beaux villages du Québec, you might expect a festival that takes place mostly in English, with a large dollop of French. And you would be right.
The Knowlton WordFest got its start two years ago in collaboration with a French-language literary event – the successful Correspondances d’Eastman, which has been running since 2003. Now an independent entity, WordFest has impressively literary programming, thanks to an able committee headed up by Philip Lanthier. This year’s lineup of a dozen writers included literary headliners Kathleen Winter, Sheree Fitch, Anne Fortier and Kim Thuy.
Lanthier and his team did a creditable job of publicity. It helped that they had arranged for Shelagh Rogers to attend, in a collaboration with CBC Radio and the Peter Gzowski International Literacy Gala (for which Fitch is poet laureate).
I checked into the Auberge Knowlton on July 16th in the very heart of downtown Knowlton, if the village of Knowlton can properly be said to have a downtown. Knowlton was decked out in all its summer glory, for this was also peak season, with the Townships’ annual Tour des arts and the second Rencontre des arts contemporains bringing in the public along with WordFest.
So Knowlton was full of summer visitors in pastel-coloured shorts and skimpy tops. Cars were sidling along rue Knowlton with their tops down, the boutiques had their doors wide open, and the village was festooned with petunias.
The wide terrace of the elegant old Auberge Lakeview provided lunch and a view, not of the lake, but of the gallery across the road displaying broad canvases on its lawn; a WordFest marquee set up in the driveway for Raymond Parent’s cartooning workshop scheduled for that afternoon.
My first event, an on-stage conversation on the rebirth of English writing in
Quebec, was at the Hub, the building on Knowlton Road
that houses the local radio station: questions from host Lanthier and from the crowd, followed by a book signing courtesy
of Brome Lake Books.
Most of the crowd then moved up the hill for the next event, Rogers' interview with filmmaker Kevin Tierney at the Old Masonic Hall. The day ended on a terrace overlooking the Mill Pond. Biographer Brian Busby spoke about the late John Glassco, who was a local author. The evening mellowed with musician Stanley Lake and his band, readings by Townships writers, and good cheer until a thunder moon put in a dramatic appearance and we called it a day.
My on-stage conversation the next morning with Kathleen Winter, author of Annabel, attracted another good crowd, which was all the more remarkable at 10 a.m. on a Sunday. More about that conversation next week.
* Blinn's Inn, the building was the original stagecoach stop of the Old Magog Road Stage Coach Line going through Bolton Pass and the village's first public establishment with accommodation, food and beverage. Auberge Knowlton is the oldest continuously operating hotel in the Eastern Townships. At the rear and left of the Auberge (yellow building) still exists the original blacksmith shop used by the stagecoaches on their passage through the Bolton Pass. From Knowlton Historic Walking Tour,
** Courtesy Knowlton, Quebec.
[Photo: C. Hélie. All rights reserved.]
Literary non-fiction from Yoko Morgenstern.
Photo: Danny Stoeker
Aside from necessary funds, restoring a landscape or great garden requires patience, understanding, knowledge, and a good helping of genius. Gardens, unlike pyramids or palaces, can disappear through neglect, financial collapse, or death of original maker. They are often staked to the fortunes of the families.
Eden Project, Cornwall
The more our lives as writers and readers are spent online, the more we appreciate what the literary festival – of whatever size – has to offer: not only personal contact with other writers and readers, but also friendliness, warmth, and the kind of intimacy that conversations about good books bring out in people who love reading. When the festival is small, these priceless qualities are all the more concentrated. And when a superb setting is added to the mix, the small festival becomes irresistible.