Kingston WritersFest wrap up


This post includes the final two reports Betsy Kepes sent us from the Kingston WritersFest. –ER


The End of America: Screening and Panel Discussion

Most of the Kingston Writersfest events happen on the sixth floor of the Holiday Inn on the waterfront. It’s not exactly an ivy-covered nineteenth century hall, but the sixth floor does have a series of rooms with lots of chairs. It’s possible to have a little bookstore set up in one room, a couple of events happening in two other rooms and a reception area. For the biggest events, Writersfest participants walk to the Grand Theatre on Princess Street or buildings over on the Queens University campus.

I wanted to hear Naomi Wolf again and she would be at the Q and A after a screening of the documentary based on her book, The End of America. In the complex writersfest booklet (there are 44 events scheduled over a four day period) it looked like I’d need to find Dunning Hall. I strolled over to the campus, by chance following a street that had magnificent Victorian homes, many restored as bed and breakfasts. One, called The Secret Garden, had a fake waterfall and stream flowing through a yard full of flowering plants.

As I neared where I thought Dunning Hall would be I saw a woman in front of me walking quickly, as if she were late to an important meeting. As I often have that whoops-I’m-late stride, I knew she was my white rabbit. Soon she crossed the street and veered toward a building with a Writersfest sign at the door. We both hurried in.

Naomi Wolf published her bestselling book The End of America in 2007 and the film based on it came out in 2008. The documentary splices together scenes of Naomi Wolf on stage talking about her book with scenes that include police dragging peaceful protestors to the ground and historical footage of the Nazis rounding up German citizens to be sent to prison camps. Wolf’s book, and the documentary, explained how, step by step, democratic freedoms can be eroded away by, as the program notes said, “despots and elected governments”.  It was a chilling film, to put it mildly. One of the first steps was to instill fear in the population, another step was to give the government the power to gather information from its citizens, or even imprison them, with no due cause (the Patriot Act).

I wondered how the Canadians who sat all around me in the auditorium were reacting to the movie. After it was over a history professor at Queens, Ian McKay, responded to the question, “Is this subversion of democracy also happening in Canada?”

Unfortunately his answer included the sentences: “This film to me is as fresh as paint” and “we are making war the new normal.”

Naomi Wolf and Avram Ludwig took questions from the audience and one man asked how things have changed since Obama won the presidency. Avram Ludwig replied, “We made the mistake of kicking back”. He advised instead constant pushing and work.

It was a sobering event, but also energizing. No kicking back and relaxing allowed. We can vote in November and we make choices every day, almost invisible ripples in the universe.

Here is the trailer for the movie:

A Quick Reaction to the Kingston WritersFest

My evaluation of the Kingston Writersfest?  I’m hardly qualified to judge as I only attended five of the 44 events offered. The festival is an ambitious undertaking and from the small sample I participated in, they’ve chosen well in finding dynamic speakers and relevant topics. I didn’t go to any of the “hands on” writing events— Writing Narrative, Writing Humor, Writing Dark Fantasy. Most of these workshops were sold out, a good sign. And teens had a whole separate track of events. It would have been a thrilling weekend for a young writer looking for information and inspiration.

Perhaps not surprising, most of the audience in the events I went to were far older than their teens. Most discouraging was the gray-haired audience at The End of America event, held on the Queens College campus. Where were the young activists, the people who needed to carry on the work that Naomi Wolf and Avram Ludwig had begun?

I can say, with no reservations, that Kingston is a wonderful place to have a September writing festival. The city pulses with energy and all the writersfest events happened in a small area, useful for visitors without a car. I’d go again, and bring others to join me. The price of some of the events seemed high, but I’m spoiled from living near four college campuses where most literary events are subsidized by the universities and are free to the public.

Most of all, I’d continue to support the Kingston Writersfest because it brings together authors and readers and celebrates the written word. What better way to learn more about Canadian authors and the people who love to read them?


  1. Lucy Martin says:

    Your field reports are very interesting.
    Thanks for sharing the experience with us Betsy!

    • Betsy Kepes says:

      Hi Lucy– I’m glad you enjoyed the posts about the Kingston writersfest. I enjoy your reports from Ottawa.

      Have you been to the Kingston event? It certainly was a good excuse to have a weekend away, and my seventeen-year-old son got to take a look at Queens. He loved the Kingston downtown– lots of gamer stores and friendly people in them. We may come back for another look.