Writers new and well-known mix it up at this bilingual literary celebration
Josephine Watson is a triple threat at Moncton’s 16th annual Fry Festival, “I’m bilingual, biracial and bicultural!” She is this year’s poète flyée. During festival week, she flits and flies among the events, gathering material for the original poem she will compose and deliver on the last day of the festival. For Josephine, this is a week to see and be seen, to entertain and engage as well as soak up the vibes from the many well-known writers gracing stages around the city.
Named in honour of Pine Street’s pre-eminent literary critic and theorist, the late Northrop Frye, the Frye Festival-Le Festival Frye bills itself as Canada’s only bilingual, international literary festival and the largest literary event in Atlantic Canada.
What sets the Frye apart is the sheer joie de vivre of everyone involved from the authors to the Frye staff and volunteers to the approximately 16,000 people who come out to the year-round festival events. In addition, more than 10,000 children are reached annually through the festival’s school-youth program.
Readings take place in pubs, workshops in libraries, debates and lectures in theatres and restaurants. Live music is also on offer, with this year’s festival featuring Jenn Grant and Caroline Savoie at the Soirée Frye evening.
Emma Donoghue (Frog Music) delighted middle school children with her Irish lilt, telling the kids at Salisbury Middle School what it’s like to be a writer and how they can become writers, too. Montreal playwright/novelist/poet Simon Boulerice had the audience in stitches at a panel discussion with tales of his larger-than-life mother, the inspiration for a good deal of his work. Here was Kathleen Winter (Annabel, Boundless); there was Giller-winner Sean Michaels (Us Conductors) and Jane Urquhart (The Night Stages) and so many others, including Nova Scotia-based poet Brian Bartlett (Ringing Here and There), the luminous Beth Powning (A Measure of Light), and Acadian musician/writer Daniel Léger (Objectif Katahdin).
It’s the kind of festival where you’ll find Newfoundland poet George Murray reading his first children’s book (illustrated by Michael Pittman), Wow Wow and Haw Haw, to a roomful of rapt four-year-olds, where you can find yourself chatting with New Brunswick poet and former Lt-Gov. Herménégilde Chiasson (Autoportrait) about Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe.
There is a place for everyone at the Frye, including those just getting started. Prèlude, sponsored by the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick, featured six emerging writers – three English and three French. Saint John’s Julia Wright was on the bill. The editor of the Hard Times in the Maritimes ‘zine stood in the spotlight at the Aberdeen Cultural Centre and delivered an essay about what it’s like to be a young writer here: “New Brunswick is simultaneously a great place, and the worst place ever, to grow up as a writer… It trains the powers of observation, and the imagination, to live in a place that’s both stuck in the past and endlessly looking to reinvent itself. And figuring out how to actually stay in this place and do what you love also takes a really good imagination.”
And so it went throughout the week, emerging writers rubbed stanzas with the more established among them. Everybody took something from the experience – the chance to grow, to connect with each other and their readers, and the chance to celebrate the power and the glory of the written word. As Northrop Frye said, “The world of literature is a world where there is no reality except that of the human imagination.”