The last event in this year’s Festival of Words was, appropriately, a panel with four authors discussing the rich Saskatchewan literature scene and the community of prairie writers and publishers.
To begin the event, moderator, author, and former Moose Javian Angie Abdou introduced the three panelists who call Saskatchewan home and feature the Saskatchewan perspective in their work: current Saskatchewan Poet Laureate Bruce Rice, Regina author and poet Bernadette Wagner, and Saskatoon writer and journalist Paul Seesequasis.
Each writer shared a reading to begin the session, before diving into what the term “Saskatchewan literature culture” means to them.
Many adjectives popped up during the discussion, all of them tinged with a feeling of fondness in the way each author spoke about the Saskatchewan writing scene.
All four authors agreed that the literature scene in Saskatchewan is a very tight-knit community with a very supportive perspective, as prairie writers have historically had to work very hard to build the community up to what it is now.
“On the ground here, there is just a terrific network [I think because] we were isolated and if you wanted to be a writer or a publisher was to do it yourself,” said Rice. “[Now,] we all know each other so we have these personal connections not just with writers but with artists across the different disciplines [and] we’ve got this core of things happening here that I don’t think is happening in bigger places where everything is so fragmented.”
Abdou and Wagner agreed, noting that the circle of Saskatchewan writers tend to be a very supportive community, that cheers each other on in their successes.
Seesequasis spoke about how welcome Indigenous voices have been within the Saskatchewan community as well, and how instrumental smaller provincial literary scenes have been in helping to promote that diversity and vibrancy.
“I think Saskatchewan is a changing landscape. Especially in my time, both here in Saskatchewan and when I’ve travelled abroad, the number of Indigenous writers has really grown from when I was young,” said Seesequasis. “There’s been a shift in dynamic, where I think you're seeing more of a cross of respect, recognition, acceptance in the general writing community and the non-Indigenous community.”
The four writers also spoke about some of the well-respected literary institutions that have helped the Saskatchewan scene thrive over the years, including the organizations like the Saskatchewan Writers Guild and the Saskatoon Indigenous Poets Society and spaces like the Festival of Words, St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Sask., and the Sage Hill Writing Experience.
The group also spoke about the importance of the publishers who helped build the Saskatchewan literary scene, including the iconic Coteau Books which recently closed its doors after playing an instrumental role in the prairie publishing world for decades.
The panel, full of thoughtful questions from viewers in the live chat, was dedicated to Festival founder, the late Gary Hyland and concluded this year’s schedule of events.