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First Festival of Words noon-hour author readings draws viewers from across Canada

Tuesday's Lunch is Lit author readings featured guests Joshua Whitehead and Bernadette Wagner
FoW Whitehead Wagner
Author and poet Joshua Whitehead (L) and author and poet Bernadette Wagner (R) during a Lunch is Lit live reading at the 2020 Festival of Words.

The Festival of Words began its Lunch is Lit series over the noon hour today, featuring two guest authors offering readings of their selected work followed by a live question-and-answer session from viewers. 

Novelist and poet Joshua Whitehead joined the session from his childhood home in Manitoba, and shared two sections from his 2018 novel Jonny Appleseed, by request from his Instagram followers in preparation for the live session.

Regina author and poet Bernadette Wagner shared a selection of poems from both of her published collections, This Hot Place and the recently-published The Dry Valley, as well as a portion of a long-form poem she wrote during one iteration of the Sage Hill Writing Experience.

Viewers tuned in from as far away as Nova Scotia for the event, and despite the new virtual format, the audience was still able to express their appreciation for the words shared by both guest authors, and pose a few interesting questions through the live chat feature — which both Wagner and Whitehead were happy to answer. 

Whitehead, a two-spirit member of the Peguis First Nation, shared that his most recent project will be releasing in the fall is a collection of speculative fiction writing by two-spirit, queer, and trans Indigenous writers, called Love After the End. 

He also shared that he is working on a third manuscript of his own, a collection of non-fiction writing that discusses Indigeneity, queerness, and mental health. 

“I think it’s really timely and important for me, having worked with a lot of Indigenous youth at friendship centres here in Manitoba, [seeing] just the lack of access to mental health and discussions about anxiety, depression, and suicidal inclinations,” said Whitehead. “This book will hopefully open up that topic by demonstrating my own vulnerability in those topics.”

Wagner also shared that she is in the middle of a daily writing challenge from a colleague, as well as a manuscript about uranium and its effects in five locations that is currently her focus of passion. 

“A lot of my writing is imbued with passion and I’ve had to learn to kind of temper my politics [so] it’s been a bit of a learning experience,” said Wagner. 

The chat questions also turned to how each author approached their writing routine, which both Whitehead and Wagner shared required very circumstantial answers.

“Poetry is a little more complicated for me, as I find I need to have some sort of sensorial experience and also be angry enough to write. Poetry for me is like my purging of anger, and prose is more about the practice of love,” said Whitehead. “With non-fiction, which I’m just learning to do now, my writing practice is very erratic. One would think it’d be easy to mine one’s own memories and experiences [but] for me, it’s exhaustive on the body.”

Wagner agreed that her writing practice tends to change with her daily life, as well as which project she’s deep into at the time.

“I’ve never really had a regular practice. I started writing as a stay at home mom, so it was whenever I had a minute or two to jot down a note [and] at one point, I was getting up at four a.m. to write before they got up,” said Wagner. “And interestingly, I find myself in that pattern again now.”

The Lunch is Lit series will continue through the rest of the week, featuring a new duo of authors each day. 

The Festival of Words continues until July 19, with a full schedule of events available here

Stay tuned for coverage of the festival as it progresses through the coming week.