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AfterWords: a literary festival for everyone

A conversation with co-founder Stephanie Domet

AfterWords Literary Festival is taking place in Halifax from Oct. 29 to Nov. 5, 2023. The event, which invites writers and readers alike to come together, was founded in 2019 by Stephanie Domet and Ryan Turner. 

AfterWords welcomes numerous authors including Emma Donoghue, David Adams Richards and Zoe Whittall. The festival will take place at a variety of venues in both Halifax, Dartmouth and Millbrook.

Domet, who is also the event’s co-executive director, along with Turner, describes the festival simply. 

“It’s people who love reading and writing, having conversations.”

Bridging the gap

Domet understands many people may feel intimidated by a literary festival and think they don’t belong, whether that be because of culture, race, history, geography or the divide of North and South in Halifax. 

“We think our community is all of Halifax,” says Domet.

Domet notes that the job of a literary festival is to work hard to bring in those from all walks of life. 

Part of that is the intention behind choosing specific venues. 

AfterWords aims to be in spaces where people already are, where they feel comfortable and welcomed. AfterWords won’t present in spaces that aren’t wheelchair accessible or that don’t have gender neutral bathrooms. They also offer American Sign Language interpreters at as many events as possible.

“It’s always been part of our goal, to be in as many little venues as possible and take AfterWords into little corners of the city,” says Domet. 

AfterWords is also offering two virtual workshops, one hosted by Eden Boudreau, and another by Ali Bryan. Additionally, both events held at the Bus Stop Theatre—Poetry and Prose and Friday Night Writes—will be live streamed on the theatre’s website

What’s new this year?

Although there’s no theme this year, there are plenty of new events coming to AfterWords. 

Kids’ Day on Saturday, Nov. 4 features an old-fashioned popcorn machine, author readings and a Kids’ Day passport to be stamped or signed by the 13 authors in attendance. The event, held at the Halifax Central Library in Paul O’Regan Hall, is aimed at kids as old as 12, and free for all. 

They’ve added daytime readings, like Halifax Readings at the Carleton on Saturday, Nov. 4. 

“It doesn’t work for everybody to go out for a full night of literary good times, from seven to 10,” says Domet. 

Those interested in the daytime readings can pop in during lunch for small periods of time, if that’s all they are up for.

AfterWords is also expanding to Dartmouth and Millbrook. On Friday, Nov. 3 they will offer readings in Dartmouth at Morley’s Coffee, and on Sunday, Nov. 5, author Amanda Peters will be reading from her book The Berry Pickers at Millbrook Cultural Centre. 

Staying strong through unpredictable times

“We just live in hope that we can have a baseline, normal year. That’s how we’re celebrating our fifth, by still existing,” says Domet. 

None of the years before this one have been exactly normal. Their debut year in 2019 was followed by two years of pandemic. Then last year, the festival was disrupted by Hurricane Fiona. 

Though the COVID-19 pandemic certainly posed challenges to the young festival, it also offered some unexpected upsides. Moving everything online allowed the festival to host authors that they wouldn’t have been able to if the event was in person because of scheduling conflicts and prices. In 2020, they managed to book New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay to be part of the online festival, which brought an international audience in only their second year of existence. 

Diversity

“[We] try to make sure there’s a lot of diversity in our lineup, in terms of what the writers look like, what their lived experience is [and] what kinds of stories they’re bringing forward,” says Domet. 

A highlight of AfterWords 2023 is the four-part podcast being launched, A Modern Mi’kma’ki. The podcast, hosted by shalan joudry, Trina Roache and Rebecca Thomas launched with a live recording on Oct. 23 at Halifax Central Library.

“We want to use our festival as an instrument for truth and reconciliation,” says Domet. After many conversations with joudry about speaking in Mi’kmaq, language reformation and storytelling, the idea of A Modern Mi’kma’ki was born. 

Domet shares some ideas that joudry has expressed to her. “Speaking in Mi’kmaq is not about having the vocabulary words, because it’s a verb forward language. What it really requires is a paradigm shift in our thinking. You have to think differently. You have to decolonize your actual thinking process in order to truly understand this language.” 

The importance of literature

Domet argues that writing and reading are two of the most important things out there. 

“I think reading is a revolutionary act that changes the world,” she says.

She thinks that reading, writing and storytelling help us understand how to be human, something that’s essential at this point in history, which is full of massive challenges. Reading, writing and storytelling heightens and deepens empathy. 

“Even if what you’re reading is something that’s light as air, that is of no consequence; a romance, or a mystery. You’re engaging with another person’s point of view … That’s radical shit.”

To see the full event schedule or find more information, head to https://www.afterwordsliteraryfestival.com/. The festival runs until Nov. 5. 

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