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Cabot Trail Writers Festival to mark 11th year

Heard in the Highlands was one of the popular events during the 2018 Cabot Trail Writers' Festival. Contributed
Heard in the Highlands was one of the popular events during the 2018 Cabot Trail Writers' Festival. Contributed - Corey LeBlanc

Celebration to take center stage Oct. 4-6 in St. Ann’s

The seeds for a nationally-acclaimed annual celebration of the written word were planted more than a decade ago in a Cape Breton living room.    

Described by organizers as “a three-day celebration of reading, writing and community,” the Cabot Trail Writers’ Festival started in the home of founders Jeannette MacDonald and Gary Walsh.    

“They packed the house,” festival director Rebecca Silver Slayter said of that book club meeting, which featured a reading from renowned African Nova Scotian poet George Elliott Clarke. 

“They were astonished by the crowd that showed up.”    

She noted that gathering illustrated a desire in that part of the world to come together to hear writers read and talk about their work.    

The rest, as they say, is history.    

One evening has become three days, while the venue has moved from a living room to the world famous Gaelic College in St. Ann’s.    

This year, from Oct. 4 to 6, the festival will not only feature Clarke, but also 2013 Giller Prize winner Lynn Coady, Cape Breton writers Tom Ryan and Lesley Crewe, Antigonish poets Joshua Mensch (2018 Governor General’s Award nominee) and Sara Peters, fiction writer Jessica Westhead and debut essayist Alicia Elliott.    

Mark Medley, deputy opinion editor and former books editor for The Globe & Mail, along with Eleanor Wachtel, host of CBC Radio’s Writers & Company, will host the festival.    

They will also deliver a talk – The Lives of Writers – which will explore the way literary biography, deepens and enriches our experience as readers; drawing on stories from Wachtel’s nearly three decades of experience interviewing authors from all over the world.    

“We are thrilled to welcome such a vibrant and exciting lineup of literary talent from around the island and across the country to our stage,” Slayter said in a press release.    

“It’s always our hope to offer our audience the chance to hear their favourite writers read their own work and also the chance to discover new voices and make new favourites.    

“We feel this year’s festival will provide an abundance of opportunities to do both,” she added.    

When asked about putting together the eclectic line-up of writers each year, whether they approach organizers, or vice-versa, Slayter said “a little bit of both.”    

As time has passed, she noted, the festival has established a “growing reputation,” one that has more and more publishers – and their clients – inquiring about participating.    

Slayter explained she takes a “wish list” to the festival board of directors for consideration.    

“We continue to tweak it,” she said, as the process goes on in preparation for each year.    

The goal, as always, is to bring together “many different voices.”    

Slayter explained the festival not only provides “an exciting program of book talks and workshops for bookworms and writers (both amateur and experienced),” but also celebrates Cape  Breton culture.    

This year, there will be a Gaelic-English event and musical performances that include Gaelic singing, fiddling and Mi’kmaw drumming.    

The festival has broadened its focus, including family and youth participation; those 18-and-under (must register for numbers) are admitted free.    

There are also free workshops for teenagers and children.    

“There are the bookworms,” she said, with a laugh, when asked who attends the festival.    

As for those who ask if it is a gathering only for them and professional authors, Slayter stressed it is a “festival for everyone.”    

“Even if you never crack the covers of a novel you might find yourself riveted by our authors’ confessions about what moves them to write, or laughing out loud at their tall tales,” she said.    

Slayter said organizers often hear ‘I am not a writer,’ when it comes to people’s apprehension about taking part, including her parents, who will be coming for the first time in 2019.    

“It doesn’t matter,” she noted of anyone’s background, adding "people really become drawn into the process.”    

When it comes to attendees, Slayter said “we have quite a mix,” adding visitors come from across the province and beyond.    

“Every year, we meet people who are passing through,” she said of the timing of the festival, which takes advantage of the “wave or tourism” on the island.    

“They tell us they are really delighted they found us.”    

Slayter, in her second year as director, said she and the board are excited about what the next decade will offer for the festival.    

“It is a really good time and we are going to continue to grow,” she added.    

Festival tickets (including early bird weekend passes and festival packages) are now available for purchase on-line or over the phone.    

“It is always great to speak to people about the festival,” she said.    

For more information, call (902) 224-5231 or visit cabottrailwritersfestival.com, which provides the full weekend program.

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