The Highlands Sustainable Word Festival

Minden Hills Cultural Centre, August 6, 2012
Review by contributor Victoria Ward, Hotspur Studio

Thankfully the suffocating heat had broken by the Monday of the long weekend making the Sustainable Word Fest which took place outdoors very comfortable. The Cultural Centre in Minden houses a gallery, library, museum and a sustainable building dedicated to the literary arts and most notably the personal collection of the late writer RD Lawrence. RD Lawrence was a man of many talents but he is most well known for his writing on animals and wolves in particular. Since RD Lawrence Place’s opening the centre has vied to make a yearly writer’s festival a must on the summer event calendar. This year in particular, the festival highlighted how viable and worthy a literary fest in a place like Minden is.

The outdoor activities began with calligrapher Judy Bainbridge, instructor at Fleming College and founding member of the Calligraphy Society of Ottawa. Judy is an expert in her field, great at it and also a wonderful teacher. She is a charming presenter and her story as well as the story of written script is extraordinary. “Letters are magic,” she says. Judy impressed upon us how sophisticated medieval scribes were and that “they couldn’t get their tools at a store, and had to use what they could find” and that many of these items are still in use today. Like all great instructors Bainbridge demystified her art while making it also seem really exciting and current.

The next speaker was novelist and potter, Graeme Lottering whose presentation on the history of pigments was amazing. His blend of history and story while keeping a strong through line of how these colours came to aid empires, used for weaponry and pharmaceuticals as well as our sense of aesthetics in daily life kept the audience on the edge of their seats. Using a clever power point presentation with all the latest technology only enhanced his talk as he was able to evoke how monks needed a kind of IT support in order to understand how to use the latest device: a book.

The next section of the festival included three readings by three very different authors. I’ve never been a huge fan of readings because I like to do that in private. But I see how it is needed by authors to jump start a buzz about their books. First up was Writer in Residence Ava Homa with a short story about Iran’s repressive regime. Dorris Heffron was a much lighter reading and her homage to RD Lawrence was really fitting. It seemed a shame at that point the seats were not filled completely. There has been much said about the RD Lawrence Place in recent months regarding its future. Sitting at this festival I believe I saw how the future could be and felt angry that the naysayers didn’t show up to see the potential.

The final reading was by Curve Lake Ojibwa author, playwright and filmmaker Drew Hayden Taylor.  Hayden Taylor is a national figure whose humour and insight on native issues has been acknowledged around the world. He has dozens of books, articles, anthologies, plays published and movies made and is a two-time nominee for the Governor General’s Literary Award. He is as iconic in the native world in Canada as you can get. And he is hilarious. His reading which also bordered on brilliant stand-up brought the tent down. I couldn’t believe that this day including Hayden Taylor was free. What I loved mostly about Hayden Taylor was that he is not afraid to raise eyebrows. His humour pokes fun at the liberal preciousness of how we treat our Native people while sending them up in a dark yet affectionate way.

The day gave way to an evening of lighter entertainment including singer song writers and performers with Brigitte Gall as host.

This was one of the most entertaining and informative days I have ever spent in Haliburton County. They have some organizational issues to iron out and they definitely need to promote it better but I can see a very bright future for something so lively, so enlightened and so sustainable as a day devoted to words.

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