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Who to see at Word on the Street 

Some don't miss author events at this Sunday's festival

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Though it’s only one day long, the Word on the Street Festival packs in the special guests and artfully highlights local talent. Ending with the East Coast Literary Awards, this is an unofficial literary week in Halifax. Our powerful poet laureate El Jones releases her debut book Thursday night, and reads at WOTS on Sunday. Tents filled with moving, entertaining and thoughtful authors—like Vincent Lam, Natalie Meisner, Sylvia D. Hamilton, One Book Nova Scotia’s featured author Ali Bryan and LaineyGossip’s Elaine Lui—books for sale by the dozen and a chance to see hopefuls pitching the book they’ve always had in them at the annual Pitch the Publisher event make this week better read than dead.

Vincent Lam

Practicing emergency physician and Margaret Atwood protege Vincent Lam's previous works include a nonfiction book, The Flu Pandemic and You, and a Giller Prize-winning collection of short stories, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. His latest work, and debut novel, is 2012's The Headmaster's Wager, the release of which was a long time coming: "I first imagined the book when I was 15 and it was published when I was 38," Lam says.

   Wager concerns the headmaster of an English school in Saigon, his vices and his family, set against a backdrop of war. Lam calls it "part of a larger conversation about the conflict in Vietnam which takes place between my novel and others written during that period," books like The Quiet American, The Sorrow of War and The Things They Carried.

    Lam will appear on the Wonderful Words stage, as well as the Book Club Boat Cruise at this year's festival. Word on the Street, he says, "is a fabulous event. I've been fortunate enough to be part of it in various cities across this magnificent country. It is a great forum to discuss and enjoy the wonders—and challenges—of the written word." —Kevin Hartford

Sylvia D. Hamilton

Writer, filmmaker and King's journalism professor Sylvia D. Hamilton's new book of poetry, And I Alone Escaped to Tell You, concerns African settlement in Nova Scotia, from the early days of captives and refugees to the echoes of otherness still felt today. 

"The various poems came into being in different ways," says Hamilton. "There were some that seemed to arrive fully formed, while others began with a fragment of an idea, a thought or image that I then work with over time." She estimates that And I Alone took more than five years to develop, and "the idea for the book even longer." 

Amongst her many accolades and awards, Hamilton won a Gemini in 1994 for her documentary Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia and the Portia White Prize in 2002. 

For Word on the Street, she'll be appearing at the Dynamic Dialogues tent, a venue for panel discussions, and calls the event "a wonderful celebration of writing and writers. It's energizing to see so many people come out to the readings—it's like a big block party. You have a chance to meet and greet so many people, and to share your work with them. So good for the soul." —KH

Ali Bryan

One Book Nova Scotia—an initiative organized by Libraries Nova Scotia, which picks a book each year to be discussed in a sort of province-wide book club— decided that Ali Bryan's personal, funny and frank Roost was the one to read. It was a good, if unconventional, choice.

Bryan cites "feminism—old, new, bad, what it looks like in 2014, hoarding, Sable Island, blind sharks, motherhood, grief, sibling relationships and aging" as some of the issues touched on in Roost. Influenced by real life, warts and all, Bryan's Roost echoes some of the direct and familiar issues she covers in The Hot Mess Blog ( "I am both inspired and disturbed by the obscene pace of life in the new millennium and the impact of that pace on the humans who live it. There's a notion that we can have it all. Particularly women. Roost is a snapshot of what that looks like. And it's ugly. I'm fascinated by what this looks like in real life."

For Bryan, writing about personal issues serves a purpose in her fiction and creative non-fiction work: "It has helped me flesh out characters so they become more real, authentic, relatable. The blog has also developed my skills as an essayist and writer of creative non-fiction."

It also proves cathartic, and more interesting than the average website fare. "Some authors only blog about the experience of being an author—I sold a book, I ate a muffin, I read a book— I think that's boring! No one cares! Tales of trans-vaginal ultrasounds and learning you can't have any more children are simply more interesting." —Stephanie Johns

Elaine Lui

Elaine Lui, known as a correspondent for CTV's eTalk, co-host of The Social and creator of showbiz blog LaineyGossip, recently added "author" to her resume, having penned the book Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When a Mother Knows Best, What's a Daughter to Do? A Memoir (Sort Of)

   "The book is a love letter to my ma, the Squawking Chicken," Lui says. "She fought hard for the life I have. And she's suffering from an incurable disease. I wanted to tell our story as the ultimate testament to what an amazing person she is, but also so that I'll have something with me if she ever leaves."    

   A "wonderful" side effect of publishing the book has been hearing from women who tell Lui that their own mothers were Squawking Chickens, too. 

   "Too often, we are presented with a greeting card version of what a mother-daughter bond should look like that doesn't take into account culture and background," says Lui. "And just because they don't make TV shows or sappy commercials about them doesn't mean they're not just as loving and beautiful."Lui will be appearing on the Wonderful Words stage at Word on the Street. "Books are everything to me," she says. "Sounds cheesy, but I found myself through reading. So I'm coming to hang out with other people who read. It's the best idea for a party." —KH

Natalie Meisner

Double Pregnant is a funny and poignant piece of non-fiction telling playwright and novelist Natalie Meisner's account of her and her wife both trying to conceive. Forgoing the anonymous donor route—Meisner's wife is a woman of colour adopted into a white family who felt strongly about her own children having a link to their biological origins—Meisner and her partner set about finding a good fit. Having no close friends in Calgary, their adopted home, they had to get creative. "I jokingly called it 'speed dating' and life became very interesting and very odd at that point. We were asking for the most intimate of favours, we even put a profile on a site to contact prospective donors," says Meisner. "We got some interesting responses. One fellow who didn't read the 'artificial insemination' clause on our profile was looking for a hook-up, another was thinking that it would be great if he could move in with us.

"I would tell friends and colleagues snippets of what we were doing and everyone kept saying: You need to write about this!" After having no luck finding enough literature about created families, Meisner took her friends' advice. "It was incredibly terrifying to write non-fiction after having always had the comfortable interpretive lens of character to work with as a playwright," she says. "It made me sweat and so, as an artist I knew I had to do it." —SJ



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