Dreamers and Doers and Those Who Provide Support

We rise by lifting others.” Robert Ingersoll

This is the fifteenth anniversary of the Whistler Writers Festival, a cause for celebration and reflection. As I look back, I think about the first festival in 2002. Twenty participants, one guest author, all gathered in my living room. Those who came from Vancouver and beyond (2) and the guest author, stayed in our house. We felt like a family, all under one roof. I love that feeling and always thought it would remain this way − small and intimate.

Our committed group of volunteers had other plans. Dreamers and doers they rolled up their sleeves, applied for sponsorships and grants, experimented with different formats, invited the very best (known and unknown) of Canadian and international authors, refused to take rejection personally (or at least didn’t let it stop them), and kept focused and driven until everyone could see what these incredible volunteers had known all along: build an amazing literary event in the mountains and people will come. Their efforts have resulted in the Whistler Writers Festival, the Whistler Writer in Residence Program and the Whistler Authors in the Schools program, that in 2015 saw the participation of some 1600 adult and over 800 young readers and writers. Last year, we hosted 55 guest authors over our four-day event.

We didn’t accomplish all this on our own. Yes, we persevered (this year’s festival theme) when at times, with finances stretched to the limit, it would have been easier to call it quits. And don’t think we didn’t consider it. More than once. But there were so many others who saw our efforts and did whatever they could to help. How could we let them down?

Some guest authors refused to cash their honorariums, some sent donations to our cause, noting, the festival has to continue, it is just too important. Long-time supporters told their friends about the festival, brought them along. This helped grow our base. Funders found ways to provide the money we needed to grow, even when our mandate didn’t quite fit their own. Some venue operators reduced the rental cost of venues and in one case, they agreed not to charge us unless we received a grant we’d applied for. When we did receive the grant, they told us to save it for the following year’s festival.

This kind of generosity buoyed us. We remained focused despite the work, the financial setbacks and all the uncertainty that comes with organizing an event such as this. In the end, when a participant sends you a note thanking you for the weekend, or tells you how special it was to meet one of their favourite authors, share a glass of wine with him or her, it all seems worth it.

Do I bemoan those days when we were a small event under one roof? It was definitely easier back then. But our efforts and the kindness of so many would have been for nothing without growth. The festival could not have survived without growing. So no, I don’t. And besides, we’ve kept what was important to us all along: our intimacy (which guest authors and participants alike, praise), and our accessibility. It still feels like a family, to me, a much bigger, inclusive one.

Festival Tickets on sale August 15th at www.thewhistlerwritersfest.com

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