This article was published 19/9/2018 (799 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If those in charge of this year’s Thin Air 2018 — Winnipeg International Writers Festival seem more preoccupied than in most years, it’s with good reason.

In addition to its typical slate of writers, the festival has added an opening weekend dubbed Voices in the Circle, three days of programming focused on issues of decolonization, reconciliation, Indigenous identity and more.

Author Joshua Whitehead’s latest novel Jonny Appleseed recently made the Giller Prize long list. (Supplied)

Author Joshua Whitehead’s latest novel Jonny Appleseed recently made the Giller Prize long list. (Supplied)

And while you might not find many big-name novelists, poets and non-fiction writers among this year’s Thin Air attendees, the works of those who are participating are no less fascinating. "Our agenda has become less to lasso the famous writers — those people get a lot of attention," says festival director Charlene Diehl. "This year more than most, smaller presses are highly represented. We like working with those presses — they’re feisty, they take a lot of risks in what they publish. They can take a run on someone who’s not as well-known, or people who come from communities who aren’t that well-represented yet in the literary establishment."

And while there’s sure to be plenty of buzz around the events featuring Joshua Whitehead, whose novel Jonny Appleseed was longlisted for the Giller Prize earlier this week, there are many other must-see events at this year’s Thin Air.

Here are five of the hottest tickets for the festival, as chosen by Diehl and program associate and audience development co-ordinator/publicist Bruce Symaka.



Friday, Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m., Manitoba Theatre for Young People, $10

Shelagh Rogers (Supplied)

Shelagh Rogers (Supplied)

Thin Air’s opening night event is a double bill that that features many of the writers appearing over the course of the opening weekend as part of the Voices in the Circle programming. Among those appearing is CBC personality Shelagh Rogers, who will read from Richard Wagamese’s posthumous novel Starlight. "She’s a much-loved figure amongst all these writers," says Diehl.

Billy-Ray Belcourt, meanwhile, is from northern Alberta’s Driftpile Cree Nation, a Rhodes scholar whose most recent collection of poetry, This Wound is a World, won the $65,000 Griffin Poetry Prize. Saskatoon poet Tenille K. Campbell will read from her book #IndianLovePoems, which Diehl describes as "raunchy as all get out." Lucy Haché is coming in from the West Coast to read from her two books of poetry, Clouds and Stars. "Her voice is calm, wise and spare, meditative," says Diehl; "her poems are beautiful, and illustrated beautifully by local artist Michael Joyal."

Also on the bill is first-time author Darrel McLeod, whose book Mamaskatch Diehl calls as a "very funny, very heartfelt, beautifully written book." And while Saskatoon poet Zoey Roy doesn’t have any published work in tow, Diehl explains she is a "young, feisty spoken-word artist who is working with high school kids and street kids. She was a street kid for a while, ran away from home, got sucked into the CFS system and made her way back out. She’s very strong youth advocate and a powerful voice — not a published author, but a storyteller."

The second half of the opening-night double bill is the Haiku Death Match, which sees competitors go head to head in crafting short, 5-7-5 poems in elimination rounds. "Many of the authors from the first event are sticking around for the Haiku Death Match," says Diehl. "It’ll be raucous and fun."

Author Darrel J. McLeod (Ilja Herb photo)

Author Darrel J. McLeod (Ilja Herb photo)


Saturday, Sept. 22, 4-5:30 p.m., MTYP, $10

A trio of authors continue the Voices in the Circle opening weekend theme, albeit from wildly different perspectives. "It won’t be light, but they’re really resourceful, interesting people who are tackling something extremely topical — figuring out how to enter this period of reconciliation in a healthier way," says Diehl.

Alberta poet Billy-Ray Belcourt (Griffin Poetry Prize)

Alberta poet Billy-Ray Belcourt (Griffin Poetry Prize)

"Canada’s not the only country grappling with these issues."

In addition to Belcourt, the event will feature Angola-born, Brazil-based Ondjaki, whose most recent novel Transparent City has garnered plenty of buzz. "It’s a version of a decolonizing narrative that’s happening in Africa," Diehl explains.

The third writer in the event is Deni Béchard, whose latest novel White delves into the Congo and, according to Diehl, sets out to unpack "the ugly side of white help in African countries." Béchard wasn’t able to make it from Boston, so he will submit his portion of the reading and ensuing discussion via Skype.



Monday, Sept. 24, 7:30 p.m., MTYP, $12

The Monday mainstage event, dubbed "Paranoia," features six authors, including Essex, U.K.-born Alex Pheby. "I heard Alex read from his novel Playthings when I was in Edinburgh for the festival there," says Symaka. "His book is from the point of view of a real person, Daniel Paul Schreber, who has what we would now call paranoid schizophrenia. It’s this fascinating, sad, darkly funny portrait of a man who doesn’t know he’s losing his mind."

Kagiso Lesego Molope (Supplied)

Kagiso Lesego Molope (Supplied)

The paranoia theme doesn’t end there. "The Andrew Daley book Resort is a love story about two con artists in Mexico, but the narrator doesn’t really know if his partner is telling the truth," says Symaka. "Adam Dickinson’s book of poetry, Anatomic, is about all the toxins we take into our body every day. He also becomes kind of paranoid; he becomes hypervigilant."

Rounding out the mainstage event are three other authors delving into paranoia: Jamie Quatro’s Fire Sermon, about a woman who’s very religious and is having an affair; South Africa’s Kagiso Lesego Molope, whose young adult novel This Book Betrays My Brother is told from the point of view of a 13-year-old girl who witnesses her brother assault another girl from the local township; and Winnipeg author Jennifer Ilse Black, whose novel Small Predators takes many forms in its detailing of the aftermath of a violent demonstration at a university underetaken by student activists.



Friday, Sept. 28, 4:30-5:30 p.m., Carol Shields Auditorium, Millennium Library, free

Abu Bakr al Rabeeah (Supplied)

Abu Bakr al Rabeeah (Supplied)

Abu Bakr al Rabeeah was born in Iraq during the war. His father eventually moved his family to where he thought there would be safety — Syria. The ensuing civil war there sent the family fleeing across the globe, eventually landing in Edmonton.

"The book Homes: A Refugee Story was written with his English teacher, Winnie Yeung, who will be here," explains Symaka. "Abu Bakr is also coming with his father, because he’s only 17 — he’s still in high school. His father really comes through as the hero of the book."

Yeung will read from Homes, which will be followed by a discussion with al Rabeeah about his childhood and the process of collaboration.



Saturday, Sept. 29, Good Will Social Club, 2-4:30 p.m., $10

The programming at the Sept. 29 afternoon double bill ranges from the suspicious to the downright strange. "We’ve got local author Michael J. Clark (Clean Sweep), who we’ve teamed him up with Sam Wiebe, who’s a hotshot up-and-coming thriller writer from Vancouver," explains Symaka. Wiebe’s most recent book Cut You Down takes place in Vancouver and Surrey, B.C., with Symaka calling it "noir-ish suspense."

Susanna M. Smith (Suppllied)

Susanna M. Smith (Suppllied)

In the second half of the double bill things take a turn toward darker, more surreal fiction. "We’ve got Julie Demers, from Montreal; her book Barbe was translated into English as Little Beast has been translated to English. It’s about a 14-year-old girl in rural Quebec in the 1940s who grows a beard and whose mother keeps her from the villagers — it’s a dark fairy tale," says Symaka.

The Fairy Tale Museum by Susanna M. Smith keeps things a little bit weird and a whole lot dark, "It’s being called a novel, and I love that it’s called that," explains Symaka. "It’s these little vignettes of dreamlike, nightmarish fairy tale sequences: a vampire with narcolepsy, people with bird heads, Little Black Riding Hood... and then at the very end you find out there’s something that connects them all."

For a full list of authors, events and tickets, visit

Twitter: @bensigurdson