Each August my small town plays host to the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. It is the longest running writers festival to feature solely Canadian authors. For four days every summer, readers and writers come together to celebrate the written word. It is a small festival, fun and intimate, held in a beautiful pavilion in downtown Sechelt. It’s always a highlight of my summer. Last year I created my own Writers Fest Challenge and attempted to read work from each of the 22 writers who would be in attendance. I planned to do the same for the 2020 Festival and the final line-up of authors had already been announced before COVID-19 changed all our lives this spring.
Obviously, the festival was cancelled this year. While many literary festivals moved to on-line platforms, ours didn’t, for various reasons. Instead, the directors invited each of the scheduled writers to contribute an unpublished piece that could be a reflection of our experiences in 2020. As Jane Davidson, the festival director, says in her introduction, “We look to writers to interpret and help us process the world we live in.” Fifteen writers have contributed to his unique collection and the focus and style of each piece is unique.
Paul Seesequasis writes a short essay on the strangeness of a newly-emptied calendar while Farzana Doctor’s poems offer a countdown of the endless weeks of lockdown. Harold R. Johnson shares about his remote home on his family’s trapline and the gift of self-sufficiency. Michael Christie shares something similar, talking about building a house for his family on Galiano Island and the gift of distance from the rest of the world. Sarah Leavitt, a graphic novelist, offers simple and compelling illustrations. Amber Dawn uses the beauty habits of her grandmother and her mother to subtly show the stability and instability of our world through history in her poem “working women”. Dawn’s poem “White Bodies Needed” addresses the growing protests against racism and begins with the heart-stopping line, “white women / when we doom scroll our news / feeds and feel powerless / it is an act of racism”. Jack Wang focuses on the experience of being Asian and living in America during an epidemic the (former!!) president refers to as “the China flu”. This is only a handful of the works collected here.
A collection like this is, by definition, very of the moment. It is a snapshot of time and place. Someone a year ago could never understand what’s written here. In ten or twenty years, many of the references will be lost. Readers may not understand why Bill Richardson’s narrator in “Loss Prevention” has a job offering masks to grocery store shoppers but no power to insist they wear them. They may not understand the references to the cheers at 7:30 – the connection they offered or the way they faded out. It’s a collection that speaks to the reader now, here in 2020, a way to say, “You are not alone.”
I’ve read some of these authors before though not all. (I gave up on my 2020 Writers Fest Challenge when the libraries closed.) While I wouldn’t say this represents their best work, I believe its value lies in its unique circumstances. And I enjoyed it as a glimpse into the voices of writers I would otherwise have heard and seen in person. I look forward to the time when that can happen again.
9 thoughts on “Book Review: Monday Was A Simpler Time”
What an interesting project! I can imagine it makes for quite a bizarre reading experience.
It’s definitely unique! It’s almost like a time capsule.
This book sounds like a treasure. I’m hoping people captured different parts of the pandemic. In the U.S., you couldn’t buy flour because everyone was baking, or yarn because everyone was knitting, puzzles were hard to come by. We didn’t wear masks, we did wear masks. We were limited on how many of each grocery item we could buy, we dumped tens of thousands of gallons of milk because it was too expensive to pasteurize it when it wasn’t being bought quickly enough. There’s a weird rhythm of all or none, everything or nothing about the pandemic.
That’s one of the most interesting things in the collection actually, what different authors focus on. Some are more focused on the stay-at-home aspect and family relations, some on grocery store shortages, others on racial issues or even the BLM protests. It’s a real snapshot. We had many of the same shortages here. It’s only been recently that yeast is easier to come by in my town.
Oh wow, I had no idea this was done, what a lovely idea! And although I’m happy for the festivals that did move on-line, I appreciate this initative just as much, because not everything has to move online, ya know? There’s just so much online right now it’s so easy to get lost in the void. This collection sounds like a really delightful way to mark this point in time, and hopefully raise funds for next summer’s festival!
It is a great idea! Jane addresses the idea of online festivals in the intro and partially they didn’t go that route simply because there were already so many writers festivals moving online. It’s nice to have something different and something physical that can be carried into the future.
What an incredible change of direction for the festival to take- and how great that those who might have attended in person can instead read timely pieces from a safe distance. I think you’re right that the relevance of the collection might ultimately be short lived, but it sounds like an experience worth having to be able to read it in its proper moment. Great review.
I agree, I think it was a great idea. I think the value of the book in the future will be kind of like a time capsule, one people might reread to see what we were all feeling and experiencing in 2020, rather than a book read for its great literary value.
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