Tuesday, September 14, 2004

A lazy afternoon of literature

The absolute highlight of my weekend arrived on Sunday, with the annual Eden Mills Writers Festival. For those of you who have never heard of this delightful event, I shall set the scene. Eden Mills, located just north of Guelph, is a quaint little hamlet that boasts of one main street, a small hotel that resembles a cottage, and an old mill located on the small river that runs through the town. In my opinion, this town could very easily be likened to a small British town. In 1989, Canadian Author Leon Rooke launched his book in a public reading outside the General Store, and invited others, such as Michael Ondaatje, to share in the event. Thus was the festival born. Every year, it is held on the first Sunday after Labour Day, and has been, for the past four years, an exclusively out door event. Over a thousand visitors crowd the streets of Eden Mills on the festival day every year, to hear readings by prominent children's authors, adult authors, aboriginal authors and fresh talent. These readings take place in venues ranging from meadows to back yards to riverside property, and the environment is genuinely relaxed and informal, as the reader has little more than a small podium and microphone, and the audience has nothing but a square of grass on which to get comfortable. Between reading segments, visitors are encouraged to walk the few streets in town and browse through the tables set up by individual authors, publishing companies, and fundraisers selling newly published books, older books, and books to be signed by the authors.
On my first Eden Mills experience last September, I had the pleasure of hearing George Elliot Clark, Robert Munsch, and Alister McLeod, among others, read some of their new and older works.
This year, I arrived twenty minutes too late to hear my favourite childhood author, Jean Little, read, but I decided to visit "The Fringe," a site where new prospective authors were receiving their first chance to read their material for a larger audience. Much of what they read seemed to be dedicated to the events of 9/11, which was appropriate, being the day after the third anniversary of "the Fall Events."
Leon Rooke read a narrative poem/short story of his in the most interesting manner: to me, it almost seemed as if he was singing it in a way that Anglican Priests sing their liturgy. Was he meaning to make that connotation? I'm not sure, and it would help quite a bit if I could remember the title of his poem in order to read it myself.
Stephen Heighton, a poet who visited Redeemer this past year for a poetry reading, read eight selections out of his new publication "Address Book," all based around people that he came across while transferring contacts from an old phone book to a new one, and reflecting on those that had drifted away, died, or vanished from his world altogether. (Just as a side note, when he was reading his voice sounded so similar to Keanu Reeves that it almost coloured my view of him, but he sounded intelligent enough to redeem himself.)
Finally, one of the highlight authors to appear was Anne-Marie MacDonald. Not only has she written two full length novels that have been nominated for and won awards, but she has the title playwrite [Goodnight Desdemona (Goodmorning Juliet)] and actress [Where the Spirit Lives] on her resume. She read--or almost acted--several selections of "Where the Crow Flies," to the delight of the entire audience. I think that shall be the next book on my "to read" list.
It is such an excellent way to spend an afternoon, and for those of you in the Hamilton area next fall, I highly encourage attending this experience. It might seem as if this event will only be enjoyed by "the literary type," but if you enjoy listening to people tell stories, check it out. I promise that you won't be disappointed.

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