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It’s That Time of Year Again!

Right after I typed that title, I realized that pretty much everything I do at this job can fall under the ‘that time of year’ category. Because WordFest staff work on an annual cycle, I’m lucky enough to revisit my favourite activities and projects year after year, gradually improving previous efforts to make the current year even better.

One project that’s at the forefront of my mind (and that the title of this post is referring to) is the Volunteer Reader Program. Each year, from mid-February to the end of June, WordFest opens up our ever-growing library to the public, inviting people to come and read the latest submissions to the Festival and write a short book review for myself and our Executive Director Jo Steffens to read.

More book art! This one is by Jacqueline Rush Lee, titled Lorem Ipsum II

More book art! This one is by Jacqueline Rush Lee, titled Lorem Ipsum II

Our selection of books is constantly growing by the day, so we’re eager for the program to start again this year. Our official launch is February 13 (so people can pick up a book in case they have a romantic evening of reading planned on the 14), so feel free to drop by our office after that date to pick up a book. You have two weeks to read it and write a review. Your review can be as long or as short as you like—what we’re looking for is whether you liked the book or not, and why.

Why do we ask our volunteer readers to write a book review? We look to the reviews for a cue on whether we should read a particular book or not. Even though we’re fast readers Jo and I can’t possibly read all the books that are sent to the office. In fact, other WordFest team members read the books as well, and together, we still can’t get through them all. So this is where you come in, dear blog and book reader. You can help us decide what authors come to the Festival by simply plucking a book off our shelf, reading it, and telling us what you thought of it. Enough beating around the bush here, I’d like you to join the Volunteer Reader Program.

Flutter (Devotion Series) 2008 by Jacqueline Rush Lee

Flutter (Devotion Series) 2008 by Jacqueline Rush Lee

If that isn’t enough incentive, we also post a selection of volunteer reader reviews on this blog so there’s a chance your review could be published online. Now keep in mind we can’t post any reviews until the book has been released, so this process is a slow one, but so very worth it! If I haven’t convinced you to join the program by now, feel free to give the office a call for more info: 403.237.9068. Any of our staff members would be happy to discuss the program with you, and answer any questions you may have.

Happy Reading!



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Holiday Book Suggestions from Everett

A staff member talks a bit about his background before joining the WordFest team. He also has a few book recommendations for the holidays! Check it out!

I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Everett Wilson, and I’m the Arts Administrator here at WordFest. My position includes a mixed bag of responsibilities ranging from programming research, to grant writing & reporting, all the way to marketing, box office assistance, occasional graphic design work, and the ongoing maintenance of the WordFest website.

I started at WordFest in May 2012 after spending a few years in Montreal where I pursued post-graduate studies in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill.

My area of interest was the role of the ‘public intellectual’ in politics and society — a topic that still captures my attention and which seems to lend itself well to the work I now do for WordFest, with our mission to bring readers and writers together to experience the power of story. Intellectuals might write non-fiction for the most part, but narrative is still at the heart of what they do. Without the ability to tell a good story, whatever point they had hoped to make would surely fall flat and fail to engage the reader meaningfully. Without the power of story, they likely wouldn’t be considered public intellectuals, at least as I define them.

There are many ways to define ‘public intellectuals.’ But I would say they have to meet the following criteria:

1) They must take thinking and writing — what I call the ‘life of the mind’ — as their vocation or calling, and be recognized as such by the public. They might be artists, writers, journalists, scholars, or even scientists in some cases.

2) They must have something critical to say about the world we live in, whether it be a commentary about the beliefs, assumptions and ideas that guide the choices we make as a society and culture, or just some form of provocative analysis on a hot topic in current affairs.

3) (…and the key ingredient) They must have a knack for conveying complicated and nuanced positions in an accessible form that a general audience can understand.

The last point is essential. If they’re easy to comprehend, but fall short on sophistication, they might very well be engaging opinion writers, for example, but not necessarily ‘public intellectuals.’ Likewise, if they’re able to come up with fascinating arguments, but can easily lose a general audience in a flurry of incomprehensible jargon, they’re not really ‘public’ intellectuals either. They might be better described as disinterested academics in some cases, or professional experts in other cases.

So why am I talking about my background and my interest in public intellectuals? Well, they inform the kinds of books that eventually find a prominent place in my library and, in particular, the top 3 books on my reading list for the holidays:

  1. Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room by David Weinberger

    • “This groundbreaking book shakes the foundations of our concept of knowledge, from the role of facts to the value of books and the authority of experts, providing a compelling vision of the future of knowledge in a connected world” (Source).
  2. Unruly Voices: Essays on Democracy, Civility and the Human Imagination by Mark Kingwell
    • “Most of these 17 essays focus on the degradation of contemporary political discourse, urban life, and culture. University of Toronto philosopher and Harper’s contributor Kingwell (The World We Want) notes that in lieu of “political literacy,” political conversation today is too often characterized by “insult-swapping and bogus claims,” so that “we can no longer hear, let alone appreciate… a just idea”” (Source).
  3. The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember by Nicholas Carr
    • “In this ground-breaking and compelling book, Nicholas Carr argues that not since Gutenberg invented printing has humanity been exposed to such a mind-altering technology. The Shallows draws on the latest research to show that the Net is literally re-wiring our brains inducing only superficial understanding” (Source).

Thanks for the book recommendations, Everett! We’re curious to know what our readers have on their holiday book list. Feel free to share your own recommendations in the comment field below, or Tweet your wish list to @WordFestTweets.


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Seen Reading interviews WordFest attendee Braydon Beaulieu

Hi, all! It’s Julie Wilson, author of Seen Reading, and throughout WordFest 2012, I’ll be checking in each day with a new festival attendee. I’ll ask the same five questions and we’ll see just how varied the responses will be.

First up, is Braydon Beaulieu.

Twitter: @braydonbeaulieu 

Braydon and I have known each other on Twitter for years, but it took his move from Windsor to Calgary, and my appearance at this year’s WordFest, for us to finally meet in person at WordFeast, WordFest’s annual auction drive. It was held at River Cafe, and, my good gravy, was it a good time. Incredible ambiance and food, and the conversation weren’t bad, neither.

Julie Wilson: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at WordFest 2012?

Braydon Beaulieu: Rawi Hage‘s novel Cockroach (House of Anansi Press) was a huge inspiration for my own writing at the Master’s level, so it will be nice to put a face to the person who wrote that.

JW: What is the book you’re currently reading? The very book on your person?

BB: Right now, I’m frantically reading Richard III because I’m presenting something on it, uh, tomorrow. And I just finished reading The Perverse Library, (York: Information as Material, 2010) by Craig Dworkin, which is fantastic.

A library is print in its gaseous state, filling every available space and then increasing pressure—compressing, rotating, double shelving—until, according to the constant required by Boyle’s Law, either the current container breaks, loosing books onto new shelves and stacks, or else the volume stabilizes, stabilizing volumes. (14)

JW: What’s your favourite book of the past year? (Note: I hate categorizations such as Favourite, but, you know, we do have our favourites. I want to know yours!)

BB: Natalie Zina Walschots’ DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains (Insomniac Press, with illustrations by Evan Munday) is absolutely fantastic. The poetry is so visceral and I’m a comic book nerd, so it was nice to see those characters explored in a poetic medium. You don’t see people writing Batman poetry very often.

JW: She has, I think, invented the genre of supervillain-ry poet-ry.

BB: Absolutely, and that’s actually what I’m working on right now in my class with Christian Bök: super hero poetry. Definitely inspired by what Natalie wrote.

JW: What’s your favourite book of all-time?

BB: It depends on what day you’re asking me.

JW: Let’s say, I’m asking you today.

BB: Then I would probably say Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief (originally published by McClelland & Stewart). Just the music of the prose. A lot of prose writers often forget the poetry of their prose. In No Great Mischief, you can almost hear the coastline.

JW: You wake up on a desert island. There’s a bag beside you. Among other items, there’s a book. What’s the book?

BB: Can I ask what the other items are?

JW: It’s your bag.

BB: Probably a first-aid kit?

JW: Well, here’s the thing. You don’t prepare to go to a desert island.

BB: But was it a plane crash? Because I’d read something different on a plane than if—

JW: Well, hold on, Braydon Beaulieu! Let’s think this through. I guess there could be a portal and you were transferred from your bed?


BB: Is this the island of my subconscious?

JW: I’d say so, yes.

BB: Then it has to be a book that’s closely related to my subconscious.

JW: Are you allowed to speak your subconscious aloud? Allowed. Aloud. (That was fun.)

BB: Maybe it’s a book that has yet to be written.

JW: Let’s say it has.

BB: I’m making this difficult!

JW: No; but you might be making it difficult for the next person, because I’m giving this a deeper think.

BB: Well, I know it’s not The Bible, because it has no place in my subconscious.

JW: That’s quite a statement.

BB: Well, I think a lot of people would take The Bible to a desert island.

JW: Because the stories are so good?

BB: It’s long. It would keep you occupied. You might not last long enough, though, to read the whole thing.

JW: The paper’s awfully thin. Could that be useful somehow?

BB: It wouldn’t burn well. Oh, there we go! I would bring The Complete Illustrated Shakespeare because the paper’s so thick and it would burn very well.

JW: And when you’ve lost all language, because you have no one to communicate with, you could still look at the pictures.

BB: I will burn the plays and save the pictures.

[more laughter]

JW: I think that’s a good place to end . . .

Thanks for playing, Braydon!


To follow along with my reader sightings, and to contribute your own—no matter where you live—use the hashtag #seenreading.

If you’re joining us at WordFest 2012, be sure to also include the hashtag #wordfest2012.

And if you see me wandering about, please do say hello. I’d love to know what you’re reading!


Julie Wilson is The Book Madam (@bookmadam), a publishing professional who splits her time between Toronto and San Diego.

She’s an active reader ambassador, coach, and conduit, and creator/author of Seen ReadingFreehand Books & HarperCollins (ebook)—a collection of microfictions written in response to people who read in public. (WordFest’s festival bookseller, Pages on Kensington, also has copies on hand, along with some keen magnetic Seen Reading bookmarks. Stop on by!)

Follow Julie as The Literary Voyeur at @seenreading.

Visit her online homes at and

Julie appears at WordFest 2012 at the following events:

Name Your Sources
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
5-6:30 p.m.
Vertigo Theatre Centre, Studio
with Deni Y. Bechard, Russell Wangersky and Rachel Wyatt

How Should a Writer Be?
Saturday, October 13, 2012
1:30-2:30 p.m.
The Banff Centre
with Joe Meno and Susan Swan

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TumbleWord Contest: “Nine Foot Wooden Poles”

Nine Foot Wooden Poles

By Emiline H.

(Honourable Mention – Youth Category)

I took a step towards my family tipi, breathed out my fear, and stared at the number in the grass. Three hundred seven. What a great number.

Today is the day. The day where I stand proud and tall, presenting my heritage to people in the dark. This is a celebration. A celebration of a way of life. A celebration of a culture that could have  disappeared. A celebration of Canada. “Yes, Ma’am. The eagle is the most sacred bird, as they fly the highest, close to the Creator.” My first visitor stopped by. She seemed to be very interested in the symbols and patterns embedded in the once-alive buffalo hide cover of the nine foot wooden poles. “Every mark tells a story. Here we see the great bear, the protector. His spirit lives on, in here.” I put my hand to my chest and closed my eyes, imagining the mighty grizzly that stands brave and strong. “In our hearts.”

Today is the day. The day where I stand proud and tall, presenting my heritage to people in the dark. There is a celebration, but more than just any festival. This is the Calgary Stampede.

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How To Get To WordFest

Now that I’ve more or less figured out my WordFest schedule, I’m going to need to determine how to get to all of these events.  Naturally, a car would be the easiest way to do things.  I can arrive and depart on my own schedule, I can take any route, and I can sing along to all my favourite songs.

However, the car does have a few disadvantages.  First off, most of the events next week will be downtown and parking is quite expensive in downtownCalgary.  I could save my self a hundred bucks by finding alternative mode of transportation.  Plus, what kind of urban dweller would I be, taking a single occupant car downtown each day?  This means I need to figure out my options.

I live on the West side of the city, not too far away from downtown, so walking could be a possibility.  Well, the morning commute wouldn’t be bad, it’s mostly downhill, but it might be a bit of a trudge on the way home.  Plus, as this isCalgary, the weather could be Antarctic-like at any time, meaning I could be not only walking uphill, but through four feet of snow, against a 40 miler per hour wind; it would be reminiscent of my dad’s walk to school each day.

Perhaps a bicycle would do the trick.  Again, it might be a little bit of a tough ride on the way home, and a bike could be problematic if the above mentioned weather struck.  Riding uphill isn’t much fun, but riding through snow may be worse.  Plus, my spring project of getting my bike tuned-up, is still on the old ‘to-do list.’  I don’t think a bike will work.

Now public transit is a natural choice.  It’s much less expensive than parking, it’s the environmentally conscious thing to do and it doesn’t really take very long from my house.  Plus, no matter what the weather is, my time outside would be limited to a couple of short walks at either end of my journey.  The problem with transit of course, is that I cannot necessarily travel on my own schedule.  I’m tied to whatever times ‘the man’ has decided buses and trains will run.  More often than not, there isn’t a bus awaiting my arrival at my desired stop, nor does it make a bee line to my desired destination.

There are still other alternatives; real ‘outside the box’ types.  I could canoe downtown.  But then I’d have to figure out a way to get the canoe to the river.  And how to get it from the river to Le Germain.  Yes, I could portage, but this is easier said than done, especially since I will most likely be travelling alone.  And now that I think about it, I would also need a canoe.  Maybe I could use a paraglider.  From my house, perched high above downtown it would probably only be one running start before I soared over the traffic snarls below.  Of course getting home could be a problem.  And my total lack of experience or knowledge about paragliding could be a major problem as well.

This may all be a game time decision, to be made Tuesday morning as I make my way down.  But would implore all you readers, if you do see someone trying to portage down Centre St., most likely struggling, please stop and lend me a hand!

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WordFest 2010: October 16, Blog 6

Maybe because in Calgary the pace of development is so accelerated, there is little time for nostalgia and not much more for looking forward. Tributes were made during WordFeast, the Festival’s opening night fundraiser, to Creative Director Anne Green’s stepping down after fifteen successful years at the helm, but neither she nor Jane Urquhart and the others who praised her were excessively wistful. Affectionate and admiring, certainly, but superfluous sentimentality is not the Albertan way, especially when there is a job to be done. Calgarians take great satisfaction in achievements already made, and maybe it is the certainty that there is some other project around the corner that stops tears from flowing—as I’d expected to have been the case with Anne’s departure. It’s not about being stoic, it’s that leaving a job is not ‘retirement’. Alberta is a province of unceasing activity and its psyche and worldview reflect that.

Vertigo LobbyOn the Wednesday night, when the lobby of the Vertigo Theatre packed out as usual—how pleasing it is to WordFest’s appreciative constituency out and buying books—there was a party for patrons (with excellent grub provided by the River Café), but again the mood was entirely festive, Anne Green’s family in attendance as usual. Properly managing an ascendancy is, of course, one of the greatest challenges facing any organization, and the quiet and sure presence in the wings of new Director Jo Steffens, a Calgarian who has returned home to the city after many years working in the literary community in New York, indicated that the festival remains in good hands.

On Saturday night, according to custom, WordFest decamped from the Palliser Hotel for The Banff Centre and the mountains, where remembrance of another kind was made. In the Margaret Greenham Theatre, musician-cum-author Dave Bidini, also a columnist for the National Post, Peter Oliva, Jane Urquhart, Greystone Books’ publisher Rob Sanders and short film-maker Judith Keenan took to the stage with Paul Quarrington’s band, the Pork Belly Futures, to remember the much beloved Toronto author who spent a lot of time in the mountains—he was an avid fisher—and with WordFest, and who died at an unfairly early age on January 21st of this year.

Quarrington, aside from being extraordinarily prolific, had an extraordinarily easy manner so that, were you a good friend or merely more of a professional colleague, as I was, one felt oneself a chum anyway. Quarrington contributed a discussion to a book and a radio series I wrote about Canada, some five years ago, about the idea of the ravine in the consciousness of a bunch of notable writers who’d grown up in Don Mills, one of Canada’s first planned communities. He was easy and witty, as usual, and though I have no reason for knowing if this was the case, I like to think that talking about the ravine (and particularly as a quasi-menacing childhood place) with Lawrence Hill and Barbara Gowdy and myself may have in some way contributed to his having written his Giller-longlisted novel, The Ravine, afterwards. That’s the kind of guy he was. Working hard, in a good mood, and so companionable and self-effacing that anybody around him also wanted a little piece of him, a hand in what seemed like his better version of the writing life. Or musician’s, or gambler’s or fisher’s life, for that matter.

About the family, the day-to-day was not quite so smooth, though those closest to him did not stop loving or caring for him or being cared for by him either. That’s why I don’t think it’s betraying him at all to share just how that ineffable sense of humour accompanied him even into his darkest moments. I was reliably told by a colleague if his that after the friend he was out with did not like the cough she was hearing and insisted Paul go to the hospital to have it checked out, he learned that he had stage four lung cancer.

“Well, I guess that takes care of my commitment issues,” said Paul.

Hearing Dave Bidini and the pair’s band, The Pork Belly Futures play, was particularly moving, especially when it came to Bidini’s setting of a poem of Paul’s to music, a little of which is attached here as a video. You have to know that Bidini still feels his pal’s absence deeply, no matter the quality of his own guard of humour. Paul hangs over his buddies like a spectre, good-natured mostly, but nevertheless there—as when a piece of Judith Keenan video from her documentary based on Paul’s last book, the posthumously published memoir Cigar Box Banjo to interrupt the night’s proceedings almost willfully.

It was a rich near-culmination of a super WordFest, perhaps one of the best. And it’s something to attend the evening showcases at the Vertigo Studio theatre or on the Saturday to wander the paths and the buildings of the Banff Centre, haven for the arts, and to see pass Alice Kuipers and Yann Martel, Joan Thomas, Drew Hayden Taylor, Katherine Govier, Emma Donoghue, Alison Pick, Paolo Giordano and this year’s scores of other extraordinary talents. It’s a rich seam, the literary one, and in Calgary and Banff, this year, it was mined on both the domestic and international fronts—again. Tonight, Sunday night, Anne Green will be fêted, and I hope that she rides the wave of affection that has been evident but understated throughout WordFest 2010 as far as it will take her.

Well done, Anne—and Anne-Nicole and Mary and Amanda and Don and all the rest of WordFest’s terrific staff and volunteers.  And, too, a big welcome to Jo. Here’s to 2011.

Best, Noah.

– Noah Richler, WordFest’s Official Festival Blogger

Noah Richler is a writer and broadcaster. His book, This is My Country, What’s Yours? A Literary Atlas of Canada won the 2007 B.C. Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. He blogs for WordFest and his column,“The Writing Life,” appears here and on

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WordFest 2010: October 15, Blog 5

It’s a big part of the Canadian condition to have to know what you want and where to find it. The climate makes it so. Still. Like Inuit taking that first midwinter peek out of the igloo to read the stars (and decide whether or not what it says about the hunt makes it worth getting up at all), or the man or woman in any number of our towns and suburbs who plots that first drive via the Tim Horton’s or espresso stop (mine, this morning at the Hotel Arts), the Calgarian who is at all interested in the arts needs to have a route and a destination in mind. Even more so if he or she is keen on the “alternative” scene—which, in a city (and a province) that is overwhelmingly politically consensual, is a predilection that makes the day even more difficult.

This is not to say that there is no arts scene in Calgary—not at all. Obviously there is, and festivals such as WordFest and, come January, the High Performance Rodeo, are a big part of it. But art in any alternative sense struggles in a city where graffiti and street art is considered vandalism if it is not controlled and electronic music noise and the prospect of youth listening to live bands even without booze raises the spectre for most of a Bacchanalian rave in which kids’ souls are lost to some demon God probably related to Pierre Trudeau. Eight months of cold streets and tough by-laws in a city so spread out it takes half a tank of gas to get most places have made of Calgary—a tremendous city, don’t get me wrong, did you see this morning’s dawn?— with its own quiet samizdat. Poets, as Shelley famously said, may be the “unacknowledged legislators of the world” but that is not at all to say that what they do, or even a city like Calgary, can be entirely legislated in the way it grows. Still, the city tries—with the CORE/ Devonian Gardens project, for instance, with its new three block indoor streetscape safely under glass, or the famous House of Blues soon to be transformed, if the money is found, into a splendid but nevertheless more anodyne place of music in what was until recently the last unruly, down and out part of the city (one that the photographer George Webber has chronicled in the photographs of his recently published book, Last Call, and that he spoke about on Friday at a fascinating WordFest event at the Glenbow).

from George Webber's "Last Call"











Yesterday, wanting to learn a bit more of the city in which Anne Green’s Wordfest operates, I cajoled Jaime Cundy of Calgary’s non-partisan youth lobbying group Artsvote into showing me their version of the city. Tee shirts work. (I shall be ordering one of theirs.) I’d seen their table of four during breakfast at the Avenue Diner and asked what they were up to and they explained to me that their purpose was to enquire after and expose the arts platforms of, in this case, the political candidates in the city’s upcoming municipal election. Hours later, of course, Facebook and Twitter were abuzz with the day’s metro news sensation—candidate Barb Higgins having had a total hissy fit at a CityTV morning interview with the bunch and, so irritated by their inquisitiveness (entirely civil, they’re good polite folk) and the left turn her interview had taken with Mike McCourt, that she rudely exclaimed, “Who crapped in everybody’s cornflakes?”

artsvote volunteers

Twenty-six year old Jaime, trained as a social worker and psychologist and, clearly in possession of a good business sense, is aiming to set up some kind of counseling service for artists having trouble dealing with success—or, I offered, more likely the lack of it (but this is Calgary, where failure is an afterthought even at the bohemian level). She took me to Inglewood to show me the Ironwood Stage and Grill in one of the few parts of the city where it is possible to amble and stroll, Kensington and 17th Avenue being others, though she explained to me that the best deejay and live music venues in Calgary—this one, the Republik, Beatnik and the Ship & Anchor came to mind—are so spread out that rarely is it going to be a matter of blithely traveling between them and seeing what act is on the marquee. (As ever, you’ll need to have decided beforehand where to go.) And she showed me the long billboard on a construction site painted over by local Boys & Girls clubs lamenting that such art always came down to these impecunious organizations’ initiatives. Another, to have a music venue for underage and therefore non-drinking youth had been stonewalled through a convenient by-law proscribing music in such a club on the basis of it continuing after hours, which seems a big pity.

Boys and Girls Club

But, as in any situation where there is a big urge but official channels are blocked, ingenuity will find a way. Jaime took me over to 17th Avenue, a neighbourhood that was once ‘Electric’ but is now more gentrified. It is fairly easy to see, here, that the prospect of seeing and being seen with a beer and a pad thai on a kerb-side patio is slowly transforming the district into a ‘borough of high rents and driving artists out, which is why it was pleasing to have discovered the efforts that a collective like ART CENTRAL is making by offering affordable shop and studio spaces to a bunch of artists and galleries in their small three-storey mall at Centre Street and Seventh Avenue. Still, there was evidently an “alternative” life on 17th Avenue yet, the two of us immediately greeted by a lean (well kempt) and handsome fella pinning up posters for a pop-up nightclub meet who told us to go see a bridge on Stoney Trail, the underside of which had been wholly and gloriously painted over, so it seemed there was.

“He’s a part of the electronic music scene,” said Jaime—intoning, i.e., that he was a thorn in the side of most councilors—and then she took me past a small, prettily painted ordinary house a mere block away where, she said, there were often art shows put on in the garage. By-laws, she explained, made it very hard for especially visual artists who cannot afford a separate studio space to work at home, and similarly prohibitive rules prevent even those who are so inclined from renting out basement suites rather than full-on apartments so that it is hard for artists starting out even to find a decent pad in the city. We knocked on the door of the house and Sean MacAllister, the young man who curates the shed gallery (with an exhibit by Marcel Bourre on this day) showed us in.

“So,” I asked him, “what’s your advice to someone trying to make it as an artist in Calgary?”
“Get a job,” he said. And then, apologizing, he locked up and went off to his bartending gig at The Coup.

– Noah Richler, WordFest’s Official Festival Blogger

Noah Richler is a writer and broadcaster. His book, This is My Country, What’s Yours? A Literary Atlas of Canada won the 2007 B.C. Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. He blogs for WordFest and his column,“The Writing Life,” appears here and on

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