What do you get when you bring together enthusiastic readers with some of the province’s and country’s best writers, throw in some great music and visual arts, and set it all in one of the province’s prettiest places? The Winterset in Summer Literary Festival of course.
The three-day festival (along with its namesake award, which celebrates excellence in Newfoundland and Labrador writing) takes place every summer on the Eastport Peninsula and was established in 2002 to commemorate Newfoundland-born, award-winning author and journalist Sandra Fraser Gwyn. Over the years, it has since become one of the province’s preeminent literary events, known for uniting readers and writers in an intimate and engaging setting.
Winterset in Summer is celebrating 20 years this month. It takes place from August 13-15 and due to the ongoing pandemic, will combine pre-recorded events online with the opportunity to attend premiere screenings in person at the Beaches Arts & Heritage Centre in Eastport. This year, there are an array of great events and appearances in store, including Margaret Atwood in conversation with Michael Enright (a virtual event); St. Lawrence-born journalist and Scotiabank-Giller winner Linden MacIntyre; renowned local cookbook authors Roger Pickavance (From Rum to Rhubarb: Modern Recipes for Newfoundland Berries, Fruits and Vegetables) and Marian Frances White (Island Vegan) preparing dishes and sharing tips from their own kitchens; a lively conversation with seven Winterset winners from 2010 to 2019; a conversation about songwriting with Kevin Blackmore, Clare Follett, and Jim Payne (live at the Beaches Arts & Heritage Centre); and more.
We had a chat with the Winterset team to learn more about how the festival has grown over the years, how to maintain engagement while connecting online, and some of the highlights to look out for this month.
Business & Arts NL: This summer, the Winterset in Summer Literary Festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary – congratulations! What are some of the ways in which the festival has grown and evolved since its first series of events in 2002?
Winterset in Summer: The WIS board is delighted that we have been able to bring writers and readers together since 2002, and that goal has not changed. We remain a community-based writers’ festival that attracts local and seasonal residents as well as friends from Canada and beyond. Each year, WIS experiences an increase in the number of patrons and friends of the festival and continues to recruit new volunteers. Each year’s program varies but has included all forms of the literary word: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, children’s literature, drama, storytelling, and songwriting, simultaneously increasing cultural awareness, opening new markets, attracting new audiences and collaborating in a currency of creativity. Visual arts have been included as well as dance. In 2019, the festival held its first (and opening) event outside of Eastport at the International Lounge of Gander International Airport. We also normally have readings by and conversations with the writers from here, Canada, and beyond, where audiences are provided with opportunities to become familiar with the works.
Some other elements include songwriters circles; storytelling sessions (first held in 2011 and returned in 2017); book launches; public receptions where the audience can meet writers and publishers (expected to be prohibited in 2021); community suppers (the annual Royal Canadian Legion fish supper has become a regular feature, but it’s also expected to be prohibited in 2021); and outreach and partnering with local groups. The festival is planned in the spirit of resource sharing and the complete integration of participating writers, artisans and patrons into the local peninsula arts setting. Extensive local volunteer help is provided for the festival activities and is much appreciated.
Business & Arts NL: Last year, of course, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the festival moved to a digital format. All in all, how did that go?
WIS: That was certainly a first for Winterset in Summer and we didn’t want the season to go by without offering some modest version of a program. There was a lot to learn with going to a digital festival and a reduced program that we offered free of charge. We were pleased with the videos produced and the opportunity to reach a new audience as the sessions could be viewed from anywhere. We also have this content on our YouTube page and we hope this access will enable us to attract new viewers for future festivals. At the end of each recorded session, we allowed for live questions with viewers so there was a real-time interaction.
Business & Arts NL: One of the things that makes this festival so great is the connections that happen and the opportunity for the audience to to interact with the writers and other artists. This year, with a mix of online and limited in-person events, how will the festival maintain that sort of engagement and intimate feeling?
WIS: The community events and public receptions that have highlighted the festival will not be as full this year and that is a shame. For those who purchase a digital pass, there will also be limited seating available at the Beaches Heritage Centre. We will watch the recorded sessions together and then interact in person with the hosts and authors who will also be present. Most people will view the sessions digitally from their homes or cabins wherever they are anywhere in the world. Again, this is a new feature so we hope people will be happy with how we have tried to make the best of a limited, hybrid situation. Lyrical Voices on Friday evening, August 13, will be an actual live event at the Beaches Centre with a limited audience and following Covid protocols.
Business & Arts NL: There’s so much great stuff on the slate for this year. What are some of the highlights the Winterset team is most looking forward to?
WIS: How can you not be excited about Margaret Atwood and Michael Enright. Whenever these two get together, it is always entertaining. We are so lucky to have them even in virtual form, at least. I am also looking forward to the panel with past Winterset award winners (2010-2019) and the film by Roger Maunder to showcase the winners of the first 10 years (2000-2010). Of course, the Saturday evening event with BMO Winterset Award winner Eva Crocker and the other two finalists is always a treat. Our concluding session is with the internationally acclaimed Linden MacIntyre and his recent book The Wake. Linden was born in St. Lawrence and grew up listening to stories about the 1929 tsunami that destroyed much of the town.
Business & Arts NL: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about?
WIS: We did something unique this year by not only including cookbook authors but also showcasing them talking about and preparing food in their own kitchens. It’s a great bit of fun and anyone who likes food or likes to eat will want to tune in. Those conversations are scheduled for Saturday morning, August 14, with well-known local creative cooks Marian Frances White and Roger Pickavance.