In the wake of their 25th anniversary, the Vancouver Writers Festival crushed their previous attendance records by hosting more events, selling more tickets, and filling more venues than ever before. Financially, these figures are a festival organizers’ dream.
The ultimate goal, however, is a little more poignant.
Hal Wake, artistic director of the festival, says he and his colleagues simply strive to establish an environment where literary introverts feel comfortable enough to express themselves. Such a place exists within the festival, and Wake believes this is what keeps people coming back year after year.
“We are always trying to create stimulating conversation between writers and readers. Writing is a solitary occupation … and reading is a solitary activity. The opportunity for writers to get together and target their ideas is very attractive,” he told The Link.
When this year’s writers arrived at the festival, they were welcomed by roughly 340 volunteers and over 16,000 attendees. Despite the sheer size of the audience, the coveted atmosphere created within each event was an intimate one, where thoughts flowed, uninhibited, between performer and spectator.
“All of a sudden you (the spectator) are watching an idea being born right in front of your eyes and when that happens, you can literally feel this sort of surge at the wonder of it all,” Wake revealed. “That’s the most important thing – for me – and that’s the goal that we have: to try to create that experience in as many events as possible for as many people as possible.”
Every March, Wake travels to Toronto to invite writers and performers to the upcoming festival. Dozens of publishers come forward on behalf of their clients, not only from Toronto, but also from the rest of Canada, the United States, and even the United Kingdom.
“The more the festival succeeds, the more publishers want to send writers out here and the more writers say to their publishers, ‘Please, can you get me on the list in Vancouver,’” said Wake. “We get that kind of momentum going.”
Not every writer is lucky enough to take part in the festival. Roughly one third of applicants are turned away, simply because there is not enough room on the schedule. Tickets to events can also be difficult to snag, as events often sell out within hours. Those who do make the cut get to take part in creating one of Vancouver’s greatest literary sanctuaries.