Charlottetown: The town that reads together
For one week in May, the National Reading Campaign transformed Charlottetown into Reading Town Canada
The lights are low, the food is local, the wine is flowing, and the conversation shows no sign of slowing down. A group of people is gathered around a table in a cozy attic-like lounge. The talk is animated, and occasional bursts of laughter interrupt nearby conversations.
That was the scene in Marc’s Lounge on Charlottetown’s Sydney Street on May 9th, just a few hours shy of one week into Reading Town Canada, a travelling literary festival spearheaded by the National Reading Campaign.
And this was the kind of scene the festival fostered. Reading Town Canada, which debuted last year in Moose Jaw, SK, puts a unique spin on the age-old tradition of the literary festival. Although it has plenty of the usual workshops and signings, the Charlottetown version, which was supported by the PEI Literacy Alliance, also featured little libraries set up in wooden cabinets on the street, poems delivered in pizza boxes, people reading aloud from a rocking chair in Bookmark Bookstore’s window.
“We didn’t have many people sign up before Reading Town started, but as people started sitting in the window, more people got interested,” says Lori Cheverie, manager of Bookmark. “We heard nothing but positive feedback. There were always people stopping and looking, and some people would come in to ask about Reading Town.”
The festival hosted a variety of local authors, like Glenna Jenkins, author of Somewhere I Belong, who ran a workshop on writing from family history; Finley Martin, who launched his new Anne Brown mystery, The Dead Letter, at Carriage House; and Dave Atkinson, author of Wereduck, who spent an evening chatting with fans at the Tween Reading Café at Beanz Espresso Bar and Café.
There were also some notable authors from elsewhere in Canada, including Zarqa Nawaz, creator of “Little Mosque on the Prairie”, who read from her new book, Laughing All the Way to the Mosque.
“Her book is about growing up in Canada,” says James Roy, Reading Town’s project manager. “She’d never been to the East before this week. I took her to a school on Tuesday afternoon, and she gave a talk to a grade 11 class and it went really well. She tried to use the opportunity to bridge the gap between cultures.”
The event also welcomed Debra Komar, who launched her newest book, The Bastard of Fort Stikine: The Hudson’s Bay Company and the Murder of John McLoughlin Jr., at the Confederation Centre Public Library.
Although the entire festival served to unite the Charlottetown community in a celebration of reading, there were two events in particular that really brought people together, and both were organized by Bookmark.
The first was a private event honouring its 10 top-selling Island authors from last year. The second was Reading at the Mall, a last-day-of-the-festival family event that featured readings, signings, and visits from picture book characters.
“We were just so busy, we’re only absorbing it all now,” says Cheverie. “Every day we were involved in something, and Saturday was far bigger than we thought it would be. There were hundreds of kids here. The other tenants in the mall were so happy about the buzz we’d created. It was amazing to see that, as a bookstore, we could create such a positive draw. Books are just so important.”