Literary festival meeting mandate

Tara Bradbury
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SPARKS festival slated for Sunday at Suncor Energy Hall at MUN school of music

When poet and MUN English professor Mary Dalton created the SPARKS Literary Festival, she envisioned a place in St. John’s to celebrate the writing gifts and accomplishments of local writers; a literary kitchen party, where established and new writers could be showcased; a “word spree,” she has said.

Giller Prize longlisted author Elisabeth De Mariaffi will read from her short story collection, “How to Get Along with Women” at the SPARK Literary Festival at MUN this Sunday. — Submitted photo

Five years later, she says the festival has turned out exactly the way she had hoped it would.

This year’s SPARKS festival will happen Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Suncor Energy Hall, at MUN’s School of Music.

Writers from a variety of genres will participate, including Elisabeth de Mariaffi, whose short story collection, “How to Get Along with Women” was longlisted for the 2013 Giller Prize, Michael Crummey, Chad Pelley, Mike Heffernan, Carmelita McGrath, Marjorie Doyle, Anne Budgell, Chris Brookes, Paul Bowdring and Claire Wilkshire, with MUN students Katie Vautour and Shannon Page. Throughout the festival, the writers will conduct public readings and book signings, and take part in mingling events.

For the first time, Dalton — the author of five books of poetry, including her most recent, “Hooking: A Book of Centos” — will read.

“People have joked with me in the past about how I’ve never taken part, and I’ve always said the director Mary Dalton hasn’t invited the writer Mary Dalton to read yet,” Dalton said, chuckling.

Other readers include Irish poet Patrick Cotter of Cork, for whom the festival partnered with the Irish Newfoundland Association to bring here, as well as Neil Bishop and Jean M. Snook, authors of book translations, marking the first time SPARKS has included translation as a literary genre.

“Translation means that you are, in a sense, making a new work,” Dalton explains. “You are making choices about words or nuances of words, because, of course, you’re never going to find the exact word in another language.”

After the final session of the day, prizes will be presented for the SPARKS Nature Poem winner and the winner of the Cox and Palmer SPARKS Creative Writing Award.

“I’m thrilled to see this festival make it to the five-year mark,” Pelley told The Telegram. “They break the day up nicely in four pairings of four authors, with breaks between each to socialize, eat and catch up with fellow writers and readers. And having it in January is nice because there’s not much else happening in the literary world at this time, so SPARKS is always something to look forward to.

“Behind the scenes, there are a lot of socials for the authors to mingle, and it’s always nice to get away from our computers to do so, and remember there’s a real world out there beyond the fictional ones we’re making up.”

One of the reasons Dalton established SPARKS, she said, was to fill a need for a literary festival in the St. John’s area. There are others in the province, like the Winterset in Summer in Eastport, the Writers at Woody Point festival and the March Hare in Corner Brook, but before SPARKS, there was none in St. John’s, where most of the province’s writers live.

“Every festival has its own personality, flavour and emphasis, and SPARKS is very much what I want it to be,” Dalton said.

“Everything about it is designed to celebrate the writers here, including the bringing in of writers. This was to celebrate writers on their own turf, and the city has embraced it.”

The SPARKS festival is free and open to the public, and lunch will be available for purchase on site (or participants can bring their own). Free parking will be available in Lot 15B, next to the school of music.

There will be books for sale at the event as well as displays by literary publications such as Riddle Fence and the Newfoundland Quarterly.

A complete schedule can be found online at

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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