Just about every September since 1989, the second Sunday of the month finds me at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. Begun that year by author Leon Rooke and his wife Constance (also an author) as a small gathering of Canadian writers sharing an outdoor book launch, it’s grown over the years to one of Canada’s premier writers’ festivals.
Eden Mills is a tiny village about an hour west of Toronto, on the banks of the Eramosa River. 19th century stone houses are scattered among later houses on a very few streets, many with gardens running down to the river. On Festival Sunday, some of these gardens provide the venues for the authors, with the audience sitting in lawn chairs, on blankets, or just on the grass, listening.
Over the years, I’ve heard such Canadian greats as Margaret Atwood, Alistair MacLeod, and Peter Gzowski read here. There is fiction and non-fiction, poetry, essays, prose. Writers to make you laugh, cry, think. There is a children’s author venue, to foster a love of words and books among young people. Our local Guelph indie bookstore, The Bookshelf, is there with piles and piles of the featured authors’ books, and a venue to get them signed. There is local organic ice cream and locally-roasted coffee, and a variety of food trucks, and no venue is more than 500 m from another, an easy walk on the quiet streets closed to cars for the day.
And it never seems to rain.
Back when I was still writing apprenticeship novels no one will ever see, I would sit on the grass and listen, and dream of reading at Eden Mills. To do so (in the Fringe venue, for unpublished or limited-published authors, as I was in 2016) was both terrifying and exhilarating. I had won places in both the prose and poetry competitions, so I was reading twice. I stood under a canopy, the Eramosa flowing in the background, 50 or 60 people scattered over the sloping lawn, waiting to hear my words. I did it; people applauded, and by the end of that day, after mixing with other authors both in the readings, the authors’ lounge, and the amazing authors’ dinner given at the end of the day, my perception of myself had changed. I wasn’t ‘an aspiring writer’ any longer. I was, simply, a writer.
(Oh, that dinner. The food was excellent, as I remember, but the crowning glory was the dessert: a selection of pies baked by the residents of Eden Mills and environs, pastry as flaky as you could want, bursting with fruit, and so good.)
For the last few years, I’ve been at Eden Mills in the Publishers’ Way, with one or the other of the small presses that publish my work. It’s a different view, a chance to chat with book lovers of all ages and interests, meet other publishers, do some networking. But I still sneak off to sit by the river and listen to an author or two, buy some books, say hi to old friends, and revel in the beauty of the village and the energy and commitment and vision that has kept this festival going for thirty-three years.
I plan to be back next year, the second Sunday in September. See you there?