A much-anticipated event for creators and fans alike, the Eden Mills Writers' Festival has taken place in the picturesque hamlet of Eden Mills, Ontario for one weekend every September since its inception in 1989. A unique and much-lauded experience, attendees enjoy outdoor readings and workshops, a main street book market, and the chance to meet their literary heroes up close.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, organizers made the tough-but-smart decision to cancel this year's physical festival. All was not lost, however, as they instead opted to host a series of free online literary events from May to October! Featuring over 40 of Canada's best authors and illustrators, the series is a great opportunity to learn about some of the fantastic Canadian books published over the last year, and for fans and creators to engage with one another from the comfort of home.
With events for both adults and kids, there's something for everyone. Curious minds should head over to the EMWF's website to learn more about their full schedule of events and participating creators. We'll also be featuring more interviews with EMWF authors over the summer, so keep checking back!
Today, we're very excited to have Artistic Director Nicola Dufficy on Open Book, where she discusses how the festival adapted quickly in the face of a pandemic, the special environment of Eden Mills, and what she hopes fans and authors alike will take away.
How did you first become involved with the Eden Mills Writers Festival?
I started working with the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival in January 2019. I have worked as a literary event programmer on and off for the past twelve years for a variety of different events, including The Word On The Street Toronto. I’ve always admired the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival and when I saw they were looking for an Artistic Director, I jumped at the chance to be involved.
What do you think sets the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival apart from other literary festivals?
Eden Mills Writers’ Festival is known for being an author-favourite event. I’ve never seen the same sense of community, hospitality and warmth at another literary festival. The events take place in the ‘backyards’ of Eden Mills residents, the whole community pitches in to help, the green room is in someone’s beautiful home, there is home-cooked food including the famous pies, time to socialize, and it feels like everyone goes home with new friends.
From an audience perspective, Eden Mills is an idyllic, story-book village and readers can spend the day wandering outside in the sunshine, bumping into authors, buying books, and listening to readings on picnic blankets on the grass.
Can you talk a bit about the process that went into making the festival a virtual event this year?
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we made the decision to cancel our physical event quite early – by the end of March. We knew, even then, that hosting a physical event in early September would be risky. Would the authors be able to travel? Would we be placing the villagers at risk by bringing crowds to town? We knew that it wouldn’t be the same event that we love and so, instead of waiting to see what happened and then responding, we decided to be proactive in planning an event that could serve our community of readers while keeping everyone safe.
We worked quickly to pivot to an online series of twenty-one events that will run May through to October. The decision to host the events throughout the year and not only in September was based on our observation of what’s happening in the industry – authors lacking opportunities to promote their books when they are released and booksellers trying to drive sales through phone and online orders while closed. We decided to create a six-month series that celebrates all the great books being published this year and drives interest to new titles closer to their releases.
Our events are usually ticketed but this year they are free because we know that financially, this is a tough time for a lot of people. We want to ensure we are reducing barriers to participation, where possible. Another way we are increasing accessibility is by providing closed captioning for our adult events and ASL interpretation for the children’s events.
Our programming focus has been on maintaining the same high standard in terms of curation and quality of content as guests would ordinarily expect from our regular festival. We’re really proud of the program we have managed to put together this year and we can’t wait to share it with our audience!
What do you hope readers and writers alike will take away from the festival?
During this strange and stressful year, a time of physical distance from loved ones and life as we know it, we recognize that books are an antidote to feelings of isolation and disconnection. Books and stories can carry us out of our homes and reveal worlds and ideas beyond our own experience – which is at the very heart of the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival mandate.
We hope our audience will enjoy the lively discussion generated by our program and discover new authors and great new books to read!