Atwood screening signals return of Lakefield Literary Festival

Eager to turn the page on a three-year pause prompted by the pandemic, Lakefield Literary Festival organizers celebrated one of Canada’s most iconic authors as part of a fundraising event Sunday night — signalling the start of a new chapter for the long-running festival, which is set to return next summer.

A special screening of White Pine Picture’s documentary “Margaret Atwood: A Word after a Word after a Word is Power” was held at the Lakefield College School’s Bryan Jones Theatre, attracting dozens of litererature lovers and supporters of the festival.

The Lakefield Literary Festival was last held in 2019 for its 25th anniversary. COVID-19 has forced the festival’s volunteer-led board to cancel the esteemed event every year since — but the two-day celebration of literature is returning in July 2023.

“Next year we will be back and we’re very proud of that,” John Boyko, Lakefield Literary Festival board chair and councillor-elect for Lakefield Ward on Selwyn Township council, told The Examiner. “What we have done, in order to rebuild in a positive and intentional way, is to shrink the festival back to its core elements. We’re going back to basics,” he said.

Funds raised from the documentary screening will go toward marketing — letting locals and visitors from across the country know the festival is back — and bringing top-tier talent to Lakefield. The festival will kick off on July 14, 2023, when two thematically linked authors will read excerpts of their books and discuss their work with a moderator at the Bryan Jones Theatre. The following day, children’s authors will entertain kids in downtown Lakefield, and two more author readings and discussions will take place at the theatre.

The Lakefield Literary Festival board teamed up with Peter Raymont and Nancy Lang, who produced and directed “Margaret Atwood: A Word after a Word after a Word is Power,” to make Sunday’s fundraiser happen.

The award-winning documentary, released in 2019, explores the acclaimed author’s early life growing up in the Canadian wilderness and her formative years as a poet at Harvard University before going on to pen some of her most well-known and beloved novels, including the Handmaid’s Tale.

“(Atwood) decided to trust us and we spent about a year travelling around the world with her. She opened up her life to us,” said Peter Raymont, who co-founded White Pine Pictures — a world-renowned, Emmy-winning production company — more than four decades ago. “It’s an honour to be here and we’re delighted to have our film help the Lakefield Literary Festival with this fundraiser,” continued Raymont.

“The mission of the film was to try to understand (Atwood)’s childhood — where did this extraordinary person come from?,” Lang told audience members.

Both Atwood and the filmmakers have ties to the Lakefield Literary Festival. Atwood attended a past festival and Raymont screened “West Wind: The Vision of Tom Thomson” at the festival a decade ago to coincide with the release of Roy MacGregor’s “Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman Who Loved Him.”

With the return of the Lakefield Literary Festival, Boyko is looking forward to bringing back the community-focused event, which started nearly three decades ago as a celebration of another fixture in Canadian literature, Margaret Laurence.

“We are run by a board, all volunteers, there are no paid staff and we have a long list of volunteers and without the volunteers we couldn’t do it. It’s all about the community funders that make it happen, our volunteer board and all of our volunteers that come out on the weekend of the festival that make it happen. It is a really strong community-building event.”

Despite the three-year hiatus, the festival’s Young Writers Contest has continued throughout the pandemic, recognizing the talents of budding creatives in area high schools.

Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner