Thin Air organizers knew they had two strong authors when they lured Wayne Grady and Elisabeth de Mariaffi to appear at the nine-day Winnipeg International Writers Festival, which begins Friday.
Little did they know that Grady's novel Emancipation Day and de Mariaffi's short-story collection How To Get Along With Women would eventually be among the 13 books vying for one of Canada's most prestigious publishing honours, the Giller Prize.
Monday's announcement brings added cachet to the festival and some validation of the organizers' instincts.
"I got a little fizzle of joy out of that," says Thin Air director Charlene Diehl. "I'm excited for the writers, but I'm also excited for Winnipeg too."
Diehl enjoyed de Mariaffi's debut collection and knew she'd be a great fit for Thin Air.
"I want to meet her, meet the person who can write stories like that," Diehl said of the St. John's, N.L.-based author.
Grady, a Windsor, Ont, author and translator, plays a role in two nominees on the list for the $70,000 prize. October 1970 by Louis Hamelin, which Grady translated from the French, is also on the Giller long list.
Grady appears on the festival mainstage, at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People, on Monday, Sept. 23, at 8 p.m. and then has a reading the next day at noon at the Canadian Mennonite University's Conference Room.
De Mariaffi appears on the mainstage on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m. and also has a reading at Room 108 at St. John's College at the University of Manitoba on Sept. 27 at 11:30 a.m.
There's more to Thin Air than award-winning authors, though. The storytelling aspect of writing is unveiled when authors get behind the microphone to present their works. Authors have learned that they can create more interest in their books with a lively presentation, Diehl says.
"In my 11 festivals, there's been a marked shift in the performance levels of writers," Diehl says.
Performance is the name of the game at the ForeWords event at the Winnipeg Free Press News Caf© on Sept. 21. The poetry-slam finalists who will represent the city at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in Montreal this fall will perform, and then take part in 17-syllable battles in the Haiku Death Match, which was a big hit at the festival last year.
Diehl calls it rapid-fire rowdiness, with one poet's haiku matched against another with the audience given the final say who's three-line poem gets to move on to the next round.
"It's really thinking on your feet," Diehl says. "It's a serious competition but only in the most joyful of ways."
The festival opens Friday, Sept. 20, at 7:30 p.m., with Columpa Bobb and her Urban Indigenous Theatre Company performing with Bobb's mother, pioneering First Nations author Lee Maracle, in a multi-generational multimedia event at the Centre culturel franco-manitobain.
"She's one of the first aboriginal writers to be published," Diehl says of Maracle, who teaches at the University of Toronto First Nation House. "I'm so happy to get her to come here and so happy that's how we start the festival."