Woody Point Gets It Write

Celebrating its 20th Anniversary August 15-20 (Photo: newfoundlandlabrador.com)
Celebrating its 20th Anniversary August 15-20 (Photo: newfoundlandlabrador.com)

✓ Friendly & witty people (see our blog “That’s Some Family”)

✓ Naturally beautiful setting in a national park (Gros Morne)

✓ Excellent hiking (after May, as you’ll see today)

✓ “The best damn writers’ festival in the world” 

These past few weeks I’ve been thinking about Woody Point, a town of seven-hundred people getting ready for this monumental festival. Readings and musical events running morning, noon and night in the Heritage Theatre and on the trailhead sell out within hours of tickets going on sale. Accommodations in town at Aunt Janes Place, L’il Red Inn and The Rooms are snapped up just as quickly, along with places as far away as sixty kilometres.

Not so when we were there on the May long weekend a year ago. 

Just outside town at the Discovery Centre for Gros Morne Park, only a handful of cars were parked outside what looks like an old yellow schoolhouse. It’s where Sarah Polley’s film Women Talking will be screening during the festival and later that day she’ll be onstage at the Heritage Theatre to talk about it.

Behind the Discovery Centre is the Woody Point Lookout trail, a 5.5 km loop that offers one of the best views of Gros Morne NP. The park staff warned us the trail could still have snow. But it was a hot and sunny day, so we gave it a go.

Banks of crusty snow covered at least one-quarter of the Lookout trail but we made it to the Adirondack chairs at the top, the park’s new-age cairn that signals you’ve reached the top. Even Parks Canada gets involved in the festival by having its guides lead literary-musical walks on hiking trails near town. 

Until I saw a poster on the wall at the Merchant Warehouse (also one of the event venues), I hadn’t heard of Writers at Woody Point. “Hosted by Shelagh Rogers” the poster read, the iconic voice (and laugh) of CBC for more than four decades. She’s there this year, too, as she has been since the festival was founded.

When Ontario sportswriter Stephen Brunt bought a summer place in Woody Point and got the idea for a festival of writers and music, a Newfoundland kitchen party not a “holier-than-thou literary chat and panel discussion,” it was journalist and producer Alison Gzowski (Peter Gzowski’s daughter), who suggested Stephen hire Shelagh as the host. 

The festival tends to feature the province’s writers and musicians with a sprinkling of CFAs (Come From Aways). 

Douglas Gibson, the former president and publisher of McClelland and Stewart, wrote,

For a Canadian author, being invited to attend the Writers at Woody Point event in August is the equivalent of winning the Nobel Prize.

Michael Crummey, my favourite NL author, is on stage again this year. While familiar with his novels (River Thieves and The Innocents are my faves), it wasn’t until we were waiting for dinner at the Boreal Diner in Bonavista where back issues of Riddle Fence, the province’s literary magazine, were for sale, that I realized poetry is another of his talents. In the magazine is his poem, “The Kids are Alright” written by a man who is now fifty-seven years old, a parent whose kids who have left home: 

They leave all of the doors of your head ajar,
Purr over the branching tributaries 
of your confusion like 16th century explorers
fingering a map of terra incognita,
…
Turn out their pockets before you throw
the day’s laundry in the washing machine
in the off-chance you might discover
the glassy marble of your heart among
the lint, hard and polished and just small
enough to swallow whole.”

Like the tennis triumvirate of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic that followed Pete Sampas, Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg, Newfoundland has a trio of writers that have upped the literary game that began with Wayne Johnston, Rex Murphy and Mary Dalton, as Chad Pelley, a multi-award-winning writer, songwriter and photographer, explains:

There have always been great writers in the province, but around the year 2000, a pack of writers (“The Two Michaels and Lisa—Winter, Crummey, and Moore”) came onto the stage together, and they, with a dozen or so epic writers, helped established Newfoundland as a literary goldmine.

On Friday (LATE NIGHT reads the schedule) the whole town and its guests are welcome to attend a free event, “Traditional—and not so traditional—Music Session,” what Katherine Ashenburg, on the festival’s tenth anniversary, called, “the unpretentious intimacy that Newfoundland inspires.” 

Write on Woody Point!

Navigation

Ashenburg, Katherine. “Writers at Woody Point ‘kitchen party’ celebrate bringing words and music together.” The Globe and Mail. August 9, 2013.

Cameron-Mccarrom, Shelley. “Rock Solid Storytelling.” Saltscapes Magazine. 

Crummey, Michael. “The Kids are Alright.” Riddle Fence. St. John’s, Newfoundland. No. 13 Winter 2015. Michael, the author of thirteen books of fiction and poetry, has won the Commonwealth Prize and been nominated multiple times for major Canadian literary prizes. His new novel, The Adversary, will be in stores this Septemberhere’s the blurb: “In an isolated outport on Newfoundland’s northern coastline, Abe Strapp is about to marry the daughter of a rival merchant to cement his hold on the shore when the Widow Caines arrives to throw the wedding and Abe’s plans into chaos… It is Michael Crummey’s finest novel to date.”

Gibson, Douglas. “The Point of Woody Point.” DouglasgibsonBooks.com. August 26, 2013. 

Here’s the link to the Writers at Woody Point website. Like me, you may be tempted to order the festival’s special magazine, published this July, celebrating its twenty years, which is available here (and at the festival if you’re so lucky as to be there.)  

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