This past weekend, I attended the Ontario Writers’ Conference at Deer Creek Golf & Banquet Facility in Ajax, Ontario. The theme this year was WRITER AS WITNESS. Oddly, this was a subject I covered in my most recent (and upcoming) WCDR Wordweaver newsletter article. I am feeling a heavy weight of late. That weight being the responsibility the writer has to bear witness to the life around them…to echo it forward for others to examine. It could not have been a more fitting and timely theme for me.
My first experience with the theme came Friday afternoon when I arrived at Deer Creek for the Masterclass with Richard Scarsbrook. It was subtle at first. I suppose it was simply in the act of showing up. One cannot bear witness if one does not show up. I felt this overwhelming spirit within me, growing as the day went on. I was in the place I knew I needed to be. I had surrounded myself with the people I knew I needed to surround myself with. My people.
After the Masterclass, and a quick meal, came the Friday evening FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS event. I was immediately reunited with my friend and mentor, Wayson Choy. As we embraced and began to talk, I realized something. I had been keeping Wayson at arms length throughout the years. For no other reason than because I had put him on a pedestal. He is a beacon in the Canadian literary landscape. So in admiring him, I had not allowed us to connect on a deeper level.
When Wayson said, “I’m sitting with you! Come on, where should we sit?” I knew the pedestal between us was unnecessary. This lovely man who had always presented himself with a heart wide open wanted to chat with me. And, of course, I wanted to chat with him. He’s a fascinating and interesting man. And, like nobody else…he listens. He is a writer who fully understands and embraces this year’s OWC theme. Mr. Choy bears witness every day.
After a lovely evening of authors at the festival, I was eager with anticipation for Saturday to arrive. The full day conference! And it began with a bang for me. I was a Manuscript Mentor this year. I had meetings with three different writers, where they presented me with three pages from their works in progress and I offered feedback and advice. And each piece had a unique and exciting voice. I was well pleased to be able to bear witness to their words. It must be an incredibly difficult thing to do…to present yourself to a stranger and entrust your work to them at a vulnerable time when you’re in a new and unfamiliar setting. It was an absolute pleasure to read their words.
From there, I went on to a workshop with Andrew Borkowski. I first met Andrew when he and I were both doing a reading at McLaughlin Literary Festival at McLaughlin House in Oshawa, Ontario…way back in 2011. I was taken with his reading…not only were the words amazing, but the delivery of them was flawless. I was on the Board of Directors for the Ontario Writers’ Conference at the time…and I struck up a conversation with Andrew about the possibility of him doing a workshop at the conference. All the board members had their antennae up back in those days…scouting talent for our beautiful new baby. Andrew fit the bill flawlessly.
Andrew has been with the OWC ever since. He consistently delivers amazing workshops for the organization. He has become a favourite of the conference attendees, myself included. This year, he wowed us with a workshop on DIALOGUE. It was informative and hands-on. I even got to read aloud a piece I wrote during the class, with Andrew taking on one of the two roles in the conversation. The workshop truly ignited the writer in me. I felt ready to bear witness…
I attended two other workshops… a short-story workshop by another conference favourite– Gwynn Scheltema. I left that one ready to submit my shorts! Gwynn is one of the writing instructors with WRITESCAPE.CA The other, from the lecture series, was with literary agent Olga Filina of The Rights Factory. I really loved her talk on all things YA and MG markets. I found it both informative and entertaining. Three for three!
Add in the amazing buffet lunch (the best meal yet out of all the years I attended the conference), a great luncheon speaker in Linden MacIntyre and an equally wonderful closing speaker in Paula Todd…and it was an out-of-the-park success this year. Both Linden and Paula were edgy, hard-hitting and thematically on-course. Add in the prizes, the always fantastic emcee DOROTHEA HELMS, and, of course, the annual message of hope, love, praise, and inspiration by the Honorary Patron himself, Wayson Choy, and you have a perfect celebration of words.
And if all those things were not enough to make my day a magical one, I also had the company of friends. Old ones, new ones, close ones…some from near, some from far. Every year I find myself saying, “This was the best year yet!” But it was, it really was. I was open to this one so much, so ready to bear witness. Thanks to the organizing committee of the OWC for making this year so incredibly special. And thank you for allowing me to be a small part of it by taking me on as Manuscript Mentor…it was an honour and a joy.
See you next year!