Free literary festival draws Indigenous writers of all genres

Wednesday, September 13th, 2023 10:49am


Image Caption

At left, poet Mahara Allbrett, who was once published under the name Skyros Bruce, will be on a panel called “Groundwork: Indigenous literatures reading and discussion at Word Vancouver’s Reading & Writing Festival. At right, Nathan Adler, Festival Indigenous curator.


“People are actually wanting to hear what Indigenous people have to say. If you look at the bestseller list in Canada, Indigenous writers are topping those lists on a regular basis.” — Nathan Adler, Word Vancouver’s Reading & Writing Festival Indigenous curator
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Indigenous writers will be featured prominently on Saturday at Word Vancouver’s Reading & Writing Festival.

And guest Indigenous curator Nathan Adler is hoping that writers and audiences form a new bond at western Canada’s largest free literary festival which runs until Sept. 23. See website here: WV/23 (

“That’s one thing these festivals are really great at, helping authors find an audience. It’s a lot different when you get to hear an author read,” said Adler, who is a creative writing sessional instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, BC.

“So (people) come and hear (the authors) read and they’re really inspired and they purchase their books and the authors themselves make new fans for their works. They form new readers and they form new relationships with an audience.”

This is the first literary festival that Adler, who is Anishinaabe/Jewish, two spirit, and a member of Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation in Ontario, has curated.

However, he says, the work involved in curating the festival was similar to his work when contacting Indigenous writers for the Exile Editions anthology Bawaajigan—Stories of Power, which he edited.

For the festival, Adler gathered his writers—some poets, some prose writers, some spoken word artists—and worked out the best themes or panel fits for who he had.

And he’s happy with his line-up.

“I’m really thrilled that I get to ask writers that I admire to come and I get to meet them and talk to them. I’m really excited to meet some of these writers,” said Adler.

He admits that top on his list is poet Mahara Allbrett, who was once published under the name Skyros Bruce. Allbrett was one of the first Indigenous women in British Columbia to be published.

“She’s a poet that I really admire and I’m really looking forward to speaking with her,” said Adler.

While Allbrett hasn’t published her own collection of poems in a while, Adler says she told him she may write some new work specific to the festival.

“I’m really excited to hear what she brings,” he said.

Allbrett is participating in a panel entitled “Groundwork: Indigenous literatures reading and discussion.” Also taking part are young emerging spoken word artist Alex Taylor-McCallum and new novelist Joseph Kakwinokanasum.

“I chose the title Groundwork, because (it’s about) those that lay the ground for writers that come after,” said Adler.

The second panel Adler will be facilitating is entitled “Creeland: Indigenous poetics reading and discussion.” The panel is named after Dallas Hunt’s newest collection, Creeland. Hunt, as well as poets Wanda John-Kehewin, Brandi Bird and Délani Valin, are all Cree.

“It’s really the exploration of Indigenous poetics…really in the way traditional poetics and storytelling comes through in their poetry,” said Adler.

In a one-on-one session, Adler will be leading Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith, who will be video conferenced in from Toronto, in conversation about the writing life and how “she’s really getting important stories out there.” Smith is a journalist and memoir and fiction writer. She is the author of These are the Stories: Memories of a 60s Scoop Survivor and editor of Silence to Strength: Writings and Reflections of a Sixties Scoop Survivor.

All events will be held at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Robson Square in downtown Vancouver.

Adler is looking forward to crowded rooms of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers. Rooms hold about 50 people and the events will also be livestreamed on UBC’s You Tube channel at The University of British Columbia - YouTube

“There’s been a lot of renewed interest in Indigenous stories, in particular. People are actually wanting to hear what Indigenous people have to say. If you look at the bestseller list in Canada, Indigenous writers are topping those lists on a regular basis,” said Adler. It’s a far cry from where “historically we haven’t had our stories out there as much.”

Adler is also a writer. He is a winner of the 2021 Indigenous Voices Award for Ghost Lake, a collection of short stories with an interconnected cast of characters. He published his debut novel Wrist in 2016. He’s presently “plugging away” on short stories, a novel and a graphic novel.

A full schedule of all Indigenous events happening on Sept. 16 can be found at

“In general, I just hope people come away really inspired by the types of stories that are being told,” said Adler.

A fundraiser for First Nations Emergency Services Society to provide relief for those impacted by the BC wildfires will also be held on Sept. 16. BC Federation of Writers, Real Vancouver Writers Series, Sunshine Coast Writers Fest, Surrey International Writers Conference, Vancouver Writers Fest, Whistler Writers Fest, and Word Vancouver have come together to raise awareness and funds.

Authors Claudia Cornwall, Renée Sarojini Saklikar, and Frances Peck will present readings and reflections that speak directly to the BC fires. There will also be chances to share together and prizes for those who donate.

A Gofundme page has been set up at with a goal to raise $5,000.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.