ST. JOSEPH DU MOINE: Under the theme “The Resilience of Art and Community,” the Cabot Trail Writers Festival will be taking place again this year.
Rebecca Silver Slayter, the festival’s executive and artistic director, said the decision was made last spring not to have any indoor, in-person events because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a challenge compared to a lot of other literary festivals in the country that just made the shift on-line relatively seamlessly,” Slayter explained. “Here in Cape Breton, a lot of communities just really don’t have great Internet access, so taking part in Zoom events and that sort of things is really challenging.”
As a result, organizers devised a “multi-platform festival” which includes on-line events on their Web site and on social media, radio programs in partnership with CBC Radio, and one outdoor, in-person event, with appropriate social distancing.
She said “Heard in the Highlands: Cape Breton Out Loud!” which will take place at 2 p.m. at Lake-o-Law Provincial Park, will feature local writers Morgan Murray, Mary Louise Bernard, Amy Spurway and Marjorie Simmins, as well as a performance by Mi’kmaw fiddler Morgan Toney. It will be socially distanced, with free masks and sanitizer provided, and authors will be selling and signing their books on site, Slayter said, noting that continuing the outdoor event also helps avoid having writers travelling great distances, and exposing local communities.
“This is the third year that we’ve included an outdoor event so this was just a natural shift to just make that an opportunity to still get together, while following the rules that are in place and making everything as safe as possible for everyone taking part,” Slayter noted. “This will be an event where we can help local writers showcase their work and come together with a local audience. It’s always been a really special event.”
For 2020, the festival has increased the number of authors they’re hosting, and organizers have extended the festival to eight days, now running from September 27 to October 4.
“We were trying to take advantage of some of the opportunities using this different technology made possible. One thing that it allowed us to do was expand it in a number of ways, one of those was the duration of the festival,” Slayter noted. “That also enabled us to double the number of writers that we’re featuring, partly because we don’t have to pay travel costs which usually are a huge part of our budget. But also we just really wanted to invest as much as we could in supporting writers who are one of the many groups of people really struggling with all the economic changes and upheaval of the last six months.”
In addition to Cape Breton authors and performers, Frank Macdonald, Slayter and Andrea Currie will be among the Cape Breton event moderators.
“Nova Scotia and Cape Breton in particular, have so much talent in the performing arts that it’s easy to overlook what the extraordinary talent there’s here in the literary arts as well,” Slayter said. “This has been an island that for a long time that has been home to so many incredible storytellers and really just punching way above its weight for contributions for writing across the country.”
This year some of the events are available on Zoom, others involve panel conversations with participating authors on Facebook Live, and there will be one hour of programming on CBC Radio Cape Breton’s “Mainstreet” each day of the festival, Slayter said.
“In a normal year, all the events take place at the Gaelic College but this year because it’s mostly digital, it’s kind of happening in a virtual space, we’re saying it’s basically happening wherever you are,” she pointed out.
All festival events are being offered for free or by donation. For more information on the program, go to: https://www.cabottrailwritersfestival.com/currentfestival and for general information on the festival, check out: www.cabottrailwritersfestival.com.
“When we first made this change, we were nervous that we’d be disappointing a lot of people, as we ourselves were, of course, disappointed that we’re not able to do things in the usual way,” Slayter added. “But there’s been a really warm response so far. I will say from some of the pre-recorded events that have taken place already, I have found myself as moved, and inspired, and energized as I am at our in-person events. I’ve been just thrilled to see that experience that we always try to share at the festival is coming through in this format as well. I’m just grateful to our audience who is coming along with us on this digital adventure.”