Stella Leventoyannis Harvey


Ever notice the noise that surrounds us? Headlines shriek, politicians yell, ads bellow. I don’t typically notice the racket, because I’m a gurgling commotion all on my own and I’m drawn to other ruckus like a moth to a flame.  But then I attend a writers festival (one I haven’t organized myself. Yippy!), and in the hush of an author’s reading, or the rapt concentration of a workshop, or the quiet milling of a book fair (hungry authors hoping their book will be lovingly fondled, leafed and purchased) I realize we’re all trying to be heard above the noise. And for writers and writers festivals, being heard is no easy feat. In fact, it seems nearly impossible sometimes. Notice how I said, nearly.

I’m spending the weekend in Vernon at the first and soon to be annual Vernon Writers Festival. I feel a sense of nostalgia working with organiser, Markella Mildenberger and her sidekick, and husband, Keith. They are both starry-eyed and enthusiastic with lots and lots of energy. They are a team, handling all the logistics from set up to tear down and everything in between. It’s just them against the odds that someone will care enough about all the work they’d done to show up.

Yes, that was me twelve years ago. So, hence the nostalgia. And while I’m still organizing the Whistler Readers and Writers festival, I realize I’ll never get to experience that first time feeling again. There’s some sadness in this, mixed with a sense of relief. Not that it gets any easier. Organizing, I mean. It doesn’t. You just get better at anticipating and handling the challenges.

As supporters come through the door in Vernon, also thrilled by this new adventure, I see Markella’s smile grow wide in relief. They came! I can hear her say it, although she doesn’t utter a word. At this moment, I feel as protective of Markella’s new venture as any mom. There are so many things I want to tell her and shelter her from. Maybe she can avoid the mishaps I’ve had along the way. I can see as I write these words that just like a parent, we festival organizers are delusional. I guess you have to be or you’d never get into this business in the first place.

I want to tell Markella that she’s embarked on an adventure of a lifetime. It will bring her joy and frustration, love and heartbreak, elation and fear. I want to tell her that there will be those who will sit on the fence and won’t take her seriously until she’s able to grow her audience, bring in the star-power. I want to tell her to ignore the naysayers and be grateful for the support she does get. Support builds more support and that is how events grow.

I want to tell her that there will be days she will be scared to death that her festival won’t draw a crowd and this will be the year she will lose her shirt financially on her endeavour of love. I want to tell her not to worry, that her passion will sustain her.

I want to tell her that she will make life-long friendships with some of the most interesting people she’s ever met, and that these people will support her with kind words, a warm embrace, even as she questions herself and her ability to go on.

I want to tell her that she will feel exhausted and spent, and wonder more than once a day why she does this. She will then get a bevy of notes from strangers who will say that her festival made a difference in their writing lives. She will understand very clearly why she does it and will feel energized and full again.

Despite the frustrations, setbacks and the non-believers who will wish she would just go away, her community will get on board and appreciate what she has created. They will say, you have made this community a better place to live.

I want to tell her she will learn to roll with the challenges one day and the noise will quiet down. Or she will get better at tuning it out as she gets on with what she needs to do. She and her festival will be heard, despite the many distractions. All she needs to do is persist. She and her community will be the better for it.

But why tell her all this. These discoveries are part of the journey. And isn’t that the best part of all our endeavours worth taking? 

Markellla and Keith


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