A who’s who of Canadian writers will descend on Halifax for the next week, starting Sunday. The fifth-annual AfterWords Literary Festival kicks off Oct. 29 and runs until Nov. 5. This year’s lineup is as stacked as the hardcovers piled next to your bedside table: Book lovers can meet and hear from the likes of Emma Donoghue (Room, The Pull of the Stars), Alicia Elliott (A Mind Spread Out On the Ground) and Mona Awad (13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl), while also taking in homegrown Nova Scotia talent including Karen Pinchin (Kings of Their Own Ocean), Amanda Peters (The Berry Pickers), Simon Thibault (Pantry and Palate), Sal Sawler (When the Ocean Came to Town) and Shauntay Grant (Africville).
Credit festival co-creator—and former Coast managing editor—Stephanie Domet and co-founder Ryan Turner for the lineup, which brings 53 authors and hosts together for readings and workshops at nine venues across Halifax and Millbrook First Nation.
“We’re always talking with each other about what the next festival should look like and, and who we might want to approach,” Domet says, speaking by phone with The Coast. “Even now, we’ve got a few ideas for next year.”
Domet calls Donoghue’s latest novel, Learned By Heart—a book about a budding queer romance in a 19th century English boarding school—“one of my favourites” this year.
“She thinks really deeply, but she also writes with a lot of heart and soul,” Domet says. “You get this kind of fabulous blend of a really intellectual writer, but also a writer who really understands the human condition.”
She’s equally over the moon about having Peters, a Falmouth-based writer of Mi’kmaq and settler ancestry, as part of the festival lineup. Peters’ debut novel, The Berry Pickers, was just named a finalist for the 2023 Barnes & Noble Discover Prize. (The winner is announced Monday.) The book follows a Mi’kmaq sister and brother who are separated when their family goes berry picking in Maine. After a strong Canadian response, it comes out Oct. 31 in the US.
“I think about that book probably once a week,” Domet says. “She works so hard, but her prose is so easy. The way she tells that story is so confident and warm, and there’s a simplicity that sits on the surface of something that I think is actually really complex.”
New to the festival this year is a still-in-development podcast, The Modern Mi’kma’ki Podcast, that brings Mi’kmaw writers shalan joudry, Trina Roache and Rebecca Thomas together to “untangle a colonial history, wrestle with cultural teachings and ask the big questions: How do we honour our ancestors? How do we all live as Treaty People? What does netukulimk really mean when you buy your food at the grocery store?”
The writers recorded their first podcast episode live at the Halifax Central Library on Oct. 23. (“It was incredible,” Domet says.) After the festival, the recording will be made available. There are discussions about hosting the remaining episodes live in front of an audience as well.
“If we can, we’ll continue the conversation,” she says. “But what an incredible opportunity to hear those voices.”
Festival passes are still available online, starting at $95. Single-event tickets are also available, ranging from $5 to $30. Some events—including a Kids’ Day on Nov. 4, Peters’ live reading in Millbrook and a panel on the state of our oceans—are free.
“We want to make a festival that is really accessible to anyone who wants to come to it,” Domet says. “So if you want to come to AfterWords and you cannot afford tickets, just write to us and we will connect you with some free tickets, no questions asked.”