Shooting Sparks

Tara Bradbury
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Festival brings audience and writers together

A literary festival held in St. John’s for the first time last year has caught alight.    

After a highly successful debut at Memorial University’s Petro Canada Hall last January — which saw every seat filled, and more chairs added — the Sparks literary festival will be held again this Sunday, featuring 16 local authors and celebrating writing of all kinds in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mary Dalton, a poet, professor of creative writing and founder of the festival, said she attempted once again this year to include a wide mix of writers in various genres and stages of their career.

Established writers like Kevin Major, Stan Dragland and Jane Urquhart will be participating, as well as Dana Evely and Al Geehan — two students in MUN’s creative writing diploma program. Local icons like Bernice Morgan and Andy Jones, poets including George Murray and James Langer, and some newly published writers like Kate Evans will also be reading from their pieces, signing books and leading discussions. Others taking part are Libby Creelman, Samuel Thomas Martin, Larry Matthews, Robin McGrath, Marie Wadden and Emily White.

“Whenever people come together there is enormous stimulation, but the main thrust is celebration of the accomplishments of each person, where they are now, and to give them a chance to talk to each other and their readers,” Dalton explained.

The goal of the Sparks festival is multi-faceted, she said, and it’s as much about the readers as it is the writers.

“Affirming and celebration of the interconnections between Memorial University and the larger writing community, that’s the major one. Another is to celebrate the readers of the literature, and to bring the writers and the readers together. The festival is really a literary party,” Dalton said. “In the depths of January, we’re lighting some literary sparks.”

Jones, an actor and storyteller as well as a writer, was one of the university’s most recent writers-in-residence, and will be the first playwright to be included in the literary festival.

“Playwrights don’t necessarily get published in Newfoundland, and that’s an issue. We’ve never had a publishing thing happen with plays here, whereas people produce plays all the time,” Jones said. “Not one of my plays has been published, yet I’ve toured every single corner of the country, I’ve been in Australia and Glasgow, Scotland and Waterford, Ireland. I’m really glad they recognized that.”

Jones applauded Dalton and the other festival organizers, saying it’s about time a literary festival was held in St. John’s, given the amount of writing talent in the city.

The Sparks festival will also include displays of letterpress and other alternative forms of publication from publishers like Walking Bird Press, Running the Goat and Rattling Books, as well as booths from literary journals like Riddle Fence. Books by the participating writers will also be sold at the event.

The festival, which takes place Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., is broken into four sessions, with a lunch break from noon-1 p.m. Admission is free and open to everyone, and there’ll be free parking nearby in Lot 15.

If all goes as well as last year, Dalton said, there’s likely to be a Sparks 3 in 2012.

“Already, as I think of next year, there are so many more writers who would make wonderful contributions to a third festival,” she said. “The power and diversity of the literature in this province and the sheer number of accomplished writers is most impressive.”

A schedule for the 2011 Sparks literary festival is available online at events/SPARKS.php.

Organizations: Walking Bird Press

Geographic location: MUN, Newfoundland, Australia Glasgow Scotland Waterford Ireland

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