Are you ready for Canada’s largest independent literary celebration?

By Clayton Andres

When his father Neil first came up with the idea of a writing festival in Ottawa, Sean Wilson thought his dad was insane. “At the time, I had been noticing that just about everyone I knew in the creative community had the sense that they had to move to Toronto or New York or somewhere like that because there was this common wisdom that everything was happening somewhere else,” Sean Wilson recalls.

But the more he thought about it, the more he realized that “Leaving town seemed like a cop-out,” and he and his father agreed that the city “needed a world-class celebration of ideas and creativity.”

Father and son decided that an Ottawa-based writing festival “seemed like a great way to put Gandhi’s advice to ’be the change you seek’ into practice” and to “build something exciting and new rather than bailing on the city.”

The Ottawa International Writers Festival was started in 1997, and has been going strong for 15 consecutive years.

Since its inaugural year, the festival has expanded far beyond the Wilsons’ original vision. The festival was started as an autumn event, but its growing popularity led to the need for expansion. In 2004, a Spring edition was added to extend the festivities. “It’s been amazing how supportive the community has been,” Neil Wilson said. “Audiences keep growing, feedback is glowing and the authors all want to come back.” He has also seen a real turnaround in the number of creative individuals who decide to remain in the nation’s capital. “More and more of our best and brightest are staying in Ottawa and finding ways to make it work here as musicians, actors, writers and poets.”

Amidst all this growth, the festival has remained true to its intended goal: “to get the world’s best thinkers and most creative talents together to share their enthusiasm with us and bring people together to explore our world.”

To Sean and Neil Wilson, the festival is “not academic,” but rather, “all about creativity and sharing in the excitement of talking with hugely talented people from all over the world. That means if we’ve done our job, there’s something here for everyone.”

  • If you love great writing, you can’t miss The ReLit Awards, hosted by Kenneth J. Harvey. M.G. Vassanji, Annabel Lyon, John Ralston Saul, Pasha Malla, Steven Heighton and Shani Boianjiu are all vying for the top prize.
  • If you love movies, then come and see the Ottawa Premiere of Midnight’s Children with Deepa Mehta. She will be sharing her experiences on making the film and working with Salman Rushdie.
  • If you are into science, you can’t go wrong with the New Science Series. Mario Beauregard will be looking at the latest research on human consciousness and give us a fresh take on the mind/body debate. Jacob Berkowitz will address the natural history of the cosmos from the Big Bang to our bodies’ molecular structure.
  • If great food is what excites you, then check out An Evening with Chef Michael Smith at the ever so cool Side Door restaurant in the Market, where he’ll talk about preparing great food on a tight schedule.
  • Are you a pop-culture fanatic? Jian Ghomeshi will reminisce about the eighties, and Jonathan Goldstein will give you his fun take on turning 40.
  • Are you a news junkie? Then you should listen to what Lloyd Robertson has to say. As well, Chris Alexander, Robert Fowler and Michael Petrou will discuss their harrowing experiences in the Middle East, while Doug Saunders talks about Muslim Immigration into the West.
  • Are you interested in promoting Human Rights? Well, Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives for Human Rights Watch, offers an essential overview of the global struggle to secure basic rights for women and girls.
  • Are you concerned with Environmental issues? Tim Ward and Tzeporah Berman will talk about the gap between our beliefs and lifestyles and ask how we can be the change we want to see in the world.
  • Do you like Mysteries? We’ve got Mark Billingham, Maureen Jennings and Peter Robinson, three international bestsellers at the top of their games.
  • Do you love Poetry? Then you need to catch the John Newlove Poetry Awards. And don’t forget to check out Nyla Matuk, Matthew Tierney and Marcus McCann at The Manx pub.
  • Are you interested in religion and morality? Rabbi Harold S. Kushner will discuss the Book of Job and what to do when bad things happen to good people.
  • Want to watch live Music? Well, we have another of Alan Neal’s amazing Songwriters Circle. Plus Mike Dubue will give us a sneak peek at some new Hilotrons tunes.
  • And if you love once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to experience something unique and fun and different, you need to witness the world premiere of Eschatos, A Live Radio Play, created and performed by David O’Meara, Ian Keteku, Jennilee Murray and Mike Dubue with Octavie Dostaler-Lalonde on cello.

The Ottawa International Writers Festival Fall Edition starts at 7:00pm on Friday, September 28 with Arnprior Expressions, “The Poetry of Place,” in the Arnprior Public Library, 21 Madawaska Street. The event will feature poets Phill Hall, David O’Meara and Sandra Ridley.

Ottawa Life Magazine will cover these and other events lined up for this year’s festivities.

For a complete list of events, visit

If there is a specific event you want Ottawa Life Magazine to cover, let us know on our Facebook page or on Twitter.