For Barbara Bell, Artsci'79, MTS'98, it all began in 2009 as a volunteer opportunity to help grow a small writer’s event in Kingston. Over the past 12 years, Kingston WritersFest grew to encompass, every year, more than 50 events covering multiple literary genres, connecting writers with readers, and reaching thousands of participants. Bell became the festival’s artistic director, utilizing her training in community theatre to organize and produce multiple community events. And when one year’s September festival wraps up, Bell starts organizing the next year’s event, planning the budget, reaching out to publishers, and keeping an eye on up-and-coming authors and trends, with the help of a volunteer programming advisory committee, the board of directors, and a small staff.
Aara Macauley, Artsci’04, MA’06, began as a volunteer with the festival in 2013. She is now the operations manager. In a typical year, her job would include coordinating travel and accommodations for visiting authors. But in March, the staff and board of directors of Kingston WritersFest made the call, not to cancel the festival due to the pandemic, but to change the way in which it was presented.
“It seemed to me,” says Bell, “that it would still be important to serve our community if we could, and that the online platform was an opportunity for us.” And while the 2020 festival, presented completely online, lacked the informal conversations between authors and attendees and much-anticipated book signings of previous years, the new format had some interesting benefits as well.
“Some participants said that being in a Zoom call with an author and a moderator felt like they were cozied up in an intimate living room or study, listening in on a fascinating conversation,” says Bell. And that sense of being involved in an intimate conversation about writing and ideas was one afforded to a much broader audience than usual, Macauley says.
"At John Stackhouse’s event talking about his book about Canadian expats on Zoom, we had someone participating from Indonesia.” Other events attracted participants from across Canada and the U.S.
Producing the festival on Zoom also provided the opportunity to record all of the 2020 events. You can view them all on the Kingston WritersFest YouTube channel.