Writers Festival celebrates 15 storied years

October 12, 2023

On the weekend of September 22-24, lovers of music, stories, and words will gather at an extra festive Cabot Trail Writers Festival, celebrating this highlight cultural event’s 15th anniversary and the more than 150 artists that have visited the festival stage since it launched in 2009.

“We made it through two pandemic years and a hurricane year!” artistic director Rebecca Silver Slayter says of the festival, which was hosted mostly online (with some radio and outdoor programming) in 2020, limited to half-capacity by public-health restrictions in 2021, and cancelled last minute due to the arrival of Hurricane Fiona on the scheduled weekend in 2022 (though the organizers were able to quickly put together a new series of late-fall literary events after the storm).

“Since 2020, we’ve constantly sought out new ways to come together and connect, whatever the challenges,” Slayter adds. “But this year is going to be a really special one, as we finally gather again at full capacity, just in time to celebrate our first decade and a half.”

The festival’s lineup includes both new, emerging writers to be discovered and familiar, favourite authors to be savoured:

Kate Beaton | Cape Breton author of the 2023 Canada Reads-winning graphic memoir Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Shelagh Rogers | Recently retired host of CBC’s revered literary program The Next Chapter

Omar El Akkad | Author of American War and 2021 Giller Prize winner What Strange Paradise

Amanda Peters | 2021 Indigenous Voices Award winner, 2021 Writers’ Trust Rising Star, 2023 Publishers Weekly’s Writer to Watch and Nova Scotian author of new and acclaimed debut novel, The Berry Pickers

Darren Calabrese | Halifax-based award-winning photojournalist and author of Leaving Good Things Behind: Photographs of Atlantic Canada

Nicholas Herring | PEI author who won the 2022 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for his debut novel, Some Hellish

shalan joudry | Mi’kmaw mother, poet, playwright, oral storyteller and ecologist, whose most recent book is the poetry collection Waking Ground

William Ping | Newfoundland author whose first novel, Hollow Bamboo, has been shortlisted for the 2023 Amazon First Novel Award

Habiba Cooper Diallo | Halifax author of the powerful debut #BlackInSchool

The festival will also host a rich and diverse lineup of musical artists, as a toe-tapping accompaniment to an engaging literary program.

“Our festival has always been, by design, a lively, welcoming, and unpretentious celebration of all
the ways that story and words enter and change our lives,” Slayter says. “We want to bring words off the page and into a conversation that everyone can be part of, finding inspiration, laughter, and joy in this vivid shared experience.”

The festival weekend will include a full and exciting program of events (several of which are offered for free): from writing workshops and in- depth conversations with renowned authors (like interviews with Omar El Akkad and Kate Beaton) to a meal with Shelagh Rogers, as she shares her unique perspective on literature in this country from 15 years of talking to writers and readers on The Next Chapter.

Stroll through the autumn forest, enjoying readings and music at outdoor event Heard in the Highlands; take in a presentation of Darren Calabrese’s breathtaking photographs; or listen in as four Atlantic writers discuss the unique hold this part of the world has on the imagination of all who live, love, or leave here, at a panel called The Myth of the Maritimes.

The majority of the programming will take place at the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s, with the final events (like Medicine Stories: Indigenous Women Writers Share Writings, Teachings, Dreams and Shelagh Rogers’s interview with Kate Beaton) taking a detour off the Cabot Trail to the Wagmatcook Culture & Heritage Centre and the Inverness County Centre for the Arts.

“I’ve always said that what, to me, is so special about this festival is the way every year we create what feels like a community out of readers, writers, locals, visitors, and everyone who finds themselves in the room… all listening with open hearts and ears, all sharing whatever story they have to tell,” Slayter notes. “These last few years have been challenging and sometimes isolating, and so coming together to gather again like this feels more powerful and more precious than ever. I for one can’t wait.”

Kate Beaton is one of the featured authors at this year’s festival

Photos courtesy Morgan Murray and Cabot Trail Writers Festival.