Winnipeg International Writers Festival turning the page in 2021 to new hybrid fest
The Winnipeg International Writers Festival has begun a new chapter with this year’s iteration - its second event in the pandemic era.
While 2020 brought an all-virtual event, this year’s Thin Air Festival, running Sept. 20 to Oct. 18, offers a hybrid model. Executive Director Charlene Diehl said attendees can expect a combination of virtual programming and readings, paired with a number of in-person events at McNally Robinson Booksellers.
“If there’s anything we’ve learned in the last year and a half, it’s that it’s very hard to predict what’s around the corner,” Diehl mused. “We’ve kind of learned to lean back a bit on the schedule, which this hybrid model helps us do.”
The in-person events hosted by McNally Robinson include book launches by Scotiabank Giller Prize winner David Bergen, Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew, and food-writer and influencer Primrose Madayag Knazan, who is launching her debut YA novel.
Diehl noted these in-person events will adhere to current public health restrictions.
“Folks will be able to attend in-person with audience restrictions around size and health protocols,” Diehl explained, noting that folks must be double-vaccinated and masked to attend.
Those in-person events will also be screened online, making the festival accessible to a global audience.
As for the online component, Diehl said they’re keeping the ‘destination’ website from 2020, a digital space that features writers sharing their work with readings and conversations.
“We get to meet the writer in a way that is very personal. Many of them relish getting the chance to make something that we could never have done in a festival setting,” she said, noting one writer who submitted a video of himself interviewing his family on what they think he does for a living.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said.
Diehl also said the virtual component makes scheduling less of a challenge and allows more writers from different parts of the country with demanding schedules to be a lot more accessible.
“In some ways, the pool is larger. There’s a bit of flexibility in the way we curate,” Diehl explained.
She predicts the festival will continue with an element of virtual programming even in post-pandemic times.
Also new this year, the festival is offering a number of bilingual readings, plus a free, multilingual slam hosted in partnership by the festival, Alliance française du Manitoba and La Maison Gabrielle-Roy. The event is open to French, English and speakers of other languages, and is dedicated to slam, declamation performances, and living poetry, among other styles.
“Those French readings will really bring a new appreciation for Franco-Canadian works,” Diehl said.
Diehl noted while programming a festival during the pandemic has felt a little bit more draining the second time around, she knows Thin Air is a vital place for folks living through these trying times.
“It’s important for artists to keep making art, and it’s important for the public to be able to receive it,” she said.