U of O partnership recognizes value in getting students involved

Photo by Marta Kierkus

Reading enthusiasts take note. It’s that time of year again for those of us who love to read for fun, not just for our grades.

After demand from students, the University of Ottawa has partnered up with the Ottawa International Writers Festival this fall to offer students free admission to all events and workshops.

For more than a decade, the festival has been celebrating writing and literature by bringing authors and audiences together to share experiences and ideas.

“The University of Ottawa has decided to encourage students to attend the festival,” says art director Sean Wilson. “It sees the value of having university students participate in the cultural activities of the city. It’s also the first time in many years that we have French-language programming.”

Wilson is responsible for selecting the local and international authors who will present at the festival. “It’s really just about finding the best mix we can of writers and different topics to have a comprehensive festival and to include every type of writer that we can,” he says.

If you aren’t an English major, it doesn’t mean you’ll have nothing to gain. Whether you study political science, engineering, or something else, the festival will have something to offer for some extracurricular learning.

Justin Trudeau’s sold-out event, Common Ground, will look at how political figures go about writing a memoir. History and international affairs students may want to attend Nick Gray’s discussion of his book Escape from Tibet, on the escape for freedom, and challenges of the Chinese repression.

The idea is to create an environment in which readers and writers alike are engaged and encouraged to participate in a conversation similar to upper-year university classes.

Wilson says he’s most excited for students to attend an event called Riveted. Jim Davies, an author and a professor at Western University, will lead a discussion on the underlying reasons why we are fascinated by and fixated upon certain things. Understanding what captivates us is, according to Wilson, fundamentally useful in all areas of study.

Rachel Fernandes, vice-president of literary and publications of the Undergraduate English Students’ Association, says the festival offers a lot of opportunity for students to broaden their minds.

“They have a lot of international programming,” she says. “There are poets from Australia, various places. I think it’s really cool because it opens up and gives students the opportunity to see something and learn about a different culture.

“It’s exciting because students will be able to come and see the author in person … and see them in action. They can ask questions and interact with them,” says Fernandes, adding that the interactive element is a welcome break from the one-way lecture style common at school. It’s a great way to see different approaches to writing, she says, which can help a student broach a style or genre they haven’t attempted yet.

A series of master classes will include Patrick Lane, David Bergen, and Chris Turner who will speak about poetry, fiction, and writing for social change. This year’s festival has also paid special attention to science and technology. American behavioural neuroscience professor and author Daniel Levitin has been invited to discuss how technology affects our lives, and how to manage information overload in an age of data.

“Whatever you are interested in, you get an author as well as an audience who are sharing the same interests as you,” says Wilson. “People continuing the conversation long after the festival is over is our biggest indicator of success.”