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Rekindling the spark

SPARKS Literary Festival returns online for 2021

By Terri Coles

In early 2020, January’s significant snowstorm delayed the long-running SPARKS Literary Festival.

It was then cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SPARKS Literary Festival 2021 banner

As the pandemic is ongoing, the festival’s usual in-person events aren’t possible this year.

But SPARKS is still happening — virtually, from Jan. 28-31.

“I think this SPARKS festival is a testament to perseverance,” said Lisa Moore, chair of the festival committee and a faculty member in the Department of English.

“Or else there’s just no way to stop great talent.”

MUN English professor Lisa Moore looks into the camera and smiles
Lisa Moore
Photo: Submitted

Established and emerging

This year’s SPARKS lineup includes established writers like Megan Gail Coles, author of the Giller-finalist Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, and Michael Winter, the Winterset-winning author of Into the Blizzard.

It also includes up-and-coming writers like Xavier Michael Campbell, who will read an excerpt from his published short story, Unda Di Naseberry Tree.

“I hope to bring the diversity that is missing from the Newfoundland literary scene,” said Mr. Campbell, who grew up in Jamaica but has called Newfoundland and Labrador home for more than a decade.

“A Newfoundland story told by a newcomer. I hope to be inspired by the fabulous authors presenting their work.”

Distanced readings

Readings and interviews with authors — shared via video on the SPARKS website — will be central to the event for 2021.

“I think there’s an intimacy in this edition of SPARKS, despite all the physical distance,” Prof. Moore said.

Any filming done in person involved social distancing protocols, and the festival team found visual ways to represent the readings.

The team at Memorial’s Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning was key in putting it all together. So were the writers, the organizers and three graduate students, Sharon King-Campbell, Caighlan Smith and Eddie Dust.

Some interviews were online, but most participants could show up in person. The videos are about a half-hour long and will launch twice daily during the festival. The videos will stay online for two weeks.

Renewed community

With its mix of younger and established authors, SPARKS is an important festival for the province, says Mr. Campbell.

Author Xavier Michael Cambell
Xavier Michael Campbell

“This festival is good to shake up and challenge what we think we may consider as quintessential Newfoundland literature,” he said.

He also says it’s a great opportunity for newer writers like himself, and that SPARKS provides a chance for him to see what is possible for a writing career in the province.

“What’s really been great about the experience of putting SPARKS together is a sense of rekindled community,” Ms. Smith said. “It was uplifting to sit down with these authors, and I’m excited to share those conversations with the SPARKS community.”

“There was a lot of coming together here, even as we kept that distance,” said Prof. Moore.

The SPARKS Literary Festival is online this year and runs from Jan. 28-31. Videos will be on the site and YouTube at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on each day of the festival. The festival remains free as always.

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