Fred Wah, who has been a friend of EMLF since its inception, appears as part of Alumni Reading and on the panel discussion Writing in a Dangerous Time on Saturday. Photo: Submitted

Festival Tales: Dangerously cool at the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival

Anne DeGrace's final column before the festival starts July 7

by Anne DeGrace

As I write the final column in this series it is dangerously hot; you could say I am Writing in a Dangerous Time, which just happens to be the theme of this, Elephant Mountain Literary Festival’s 10th anniversary year.

A festival for both readers and writers, EMLF runs July 7 to 11 and is entirely online, so you can access free events and affordable workshops from the relative safety of your home — wherever that may be in the world. Danger in the form of extreme heat, galloping viruses, and proliferating travel trailers are kept at bay while you, in your personal laptop zone, broaden your mind, prod your creativity, raise your glass, and dive into the refreshing words of some of Canada’s very best authors.

All three of EMLF’s popular panel discussions, which take place on Saturday, July 10, will flirt with danger in interesting ways.

The Publishers’ Panel at 2 p.m. presents a cross-section of people who take the blood, sweat, and words of writers and turn them into books. They are: Matt Bowes from Edmonton’s NeWest Press and Vici Johnstone from Caitlin Press at Halfmoon Bay, as well as Andrew Steeves from Gaspereau Press and Andy Brown from Conundrum Press (which specializes in graphic novels), these latter two located a clam-toss from one another in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.

Moderator Leesa Dean will take the temperature of the publishing industry, find out what dangers and opportunities lie in this changing literary climate, and extract some tips for writers who would dance with these devils, if only they knew how to get out of the slushpile and into something more fruitful.

At 3 p.m. we’ll experience the flip side with the panel Writing in a Dangerous Time. Anna Purcell moderates this panel peopled with authors Cheryl Foggo (who gives our keynote address on Wednesday), and Fred Wah, John Vaillant, and Lisa Moore (who make up Alumni Reading on Friday night). How do we tell stories in a world that can feel like it’s heading for hell in a handbasket? This, and other toothy topics, will make for fascinating conversation.

Our last panel at 4 p.m. offers another spin on the 10th anniversary theme. Making Comics in a Dangerous Time features the perspectives of graphic novelists Sami Alwani, Zoe Maeve, and Sherwin Tjia, thoughtfully moderated by Nathan Wilkinson. A dozen years ago I met Sherwin when he was promoting a new book outside a Nova Scotia bookshop in a memorable encounter that makes me want to know more about these comic creators and how they deal with dangers — internal or external — through this unique medium. All are published by Conundrum Press, and Sami Alwani teaches a small-group online workshop that still has some spaces available.

For these and all events, registration is required and donations are welcome.

When EMLF 2021 concludes, it’s not over. During the year we work to build the next generation of booklovers and storytellers. We’ve held writing workshops for youth, and we’ve partnered with area schools to bring children’s authors to classrooms, including award-winning author and playwright Marty Chan, and beloved author-illustrator Lee Edward Fodi.

If you put all of the words that have been read and spoken over 10 years of the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival end to end, I’ll bet they would circumnavigate the globe at least 10 times. Travel may still be restricted, but words know nothing of petty pandemics and the like: they go where they will. When things heat up, that’s cool to remember.

One thing we know for certain: as long as we keep telling our stories — be they fun or funny, dark or dangerous — we will find our way forward.

The Elephant Mountain Literary Festival is tremendously grateful to the Nelson Star for hosting this column. For info and registration for all EMLF 2021 offerings go to

Nelson Star