Books & Ideas Audio
By Vancouver Writers Fest
Exhilarating conversations and ideas from the world’s greatest storytellers and luminaries. From the esteemed vaults of the Vancouver Writers Fest, located in beautiful British Columbia.
Try Not to Be Strange: Michael Hingston
Between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean lies the tiny island of Redonda. Uninhabitable by humans, Redonda is home instead to a variety of wildlife—including untold generations of seabirds that produce the island’s prized source of fertilizer. Though it might not seem like much, this peculiar island is the figurative home of a fantastical and international community of writers, with a highly-contested lineage of kings that includes John Gawsworth, Jon Wynne-Tyson, Dylan Thomas, Umberto Eco, Javier Marías, Alice Munro, and Pedro Almodóvar. In an exclusive Festival Week episode of the Books & Ideas Audio podcast, author Michael Hingston discusses his new book—Try Not to Be Strange: The Curious History of the Kingdom of Redonda—in conversation with Naben Ruthnum, the author of A Hero of Our Time and Find You in the Dark, among other books.
October 17, 2022
Namwayut: Chief Robert Joseph
We all share a common humanity. No matter how long or difficult the path ahead, we are all one. Chief Robert Joseph, globally recognized peacebuilder and Hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk People, joined the Vancouver Writers Fest in September to share his first book, Namwayut. In it, he traces his journey from his childhood surviving residential school to his present-day role as a leader who inspires individual hope, collective change, and global transformation. His dedication to reconciliation has been recognized with multiple honorary degrees and awards. Hear him in conversation with his collaborator, Lisa Thomas-Tench. This event was presented in partnership with Massy Books and Raincoast Books.
September 29, 2022
Binge: Douglas Coupland in Conversation
“If you love Doug’s fiction, this collection is like rain on the desert,” says the publisher of Douglas Coupland’s first work of fiction since 2013, Binge. And certainly, for the millions of readers for whom Coupland’s existentialism, profundity, and hilarity was generation-defining, this is a welcome collection to devour. A collection of 60 stories featuring myriad characters—from the maudlin to the absurd—they ask us to question how we should be living. The bestselling author speaks with CBC producer Lisa Christiansen in this recording from our 2021 Festival. Community partner: Opus Art Supplies.
September 01, 2022
Spotlight on the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts
This year, the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts holds its 40th annual festival from August 11–14, at the Rockwood Centre in Sechelt, BC. We sat down for a Q+A with Jane Davidson, Artistic and Executive Director of the Festival. Jane shares what makes this year's festival special, and reflects on some of her favourite memories and achievements from the past 15 years, as she prepares to pass on the torch. Next, hear a special release of the 2021 Rockwood Lecture, delivered by Seth Klein, from the SCFWA's archives. The Director of Strategy with the Climate Emergency Unit, Klein's book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency explores how we can fight the climate crisis using lessons from the Second World War. Called “a compelling call to arms”, A Good War shows us how far we have to go, but how averting the climate crisis is well within our reach.
August 01, 2022
2022 Festival Reading List Special
We’ve just recently released our 2022 Festival Reading List, filled with over 115 exceptional books and authors that will be joining the Vancouver Writers Fest from October 17–23. In this special episode of the Books & Ideas Audio podcast, Artistic Director Leslie Hurtig introduces the Reading List, and outlines the fascinating process of programming our October Festival, and the many considerations behind the selection of titles. Next, Vancouver Writers Fest staff eagerly share some of the books we’re personally most excited about bringing to this year’s Festival. Dive into this year’s lineup of entertaining and inspiring books with us!
July 01, 2022
Hook, Line, and Sinker
If only there was a word for that sense of anticipation and delight that comes with opening the cover of a new thriller, knowing you’ll be spellbound for the next 300 pages. How do thriller writers create such suspense? Three different writers of mystery, thriller, and horror speak to how they create the propulsive books they do, in a conversation moderated by Rob Wiersema. Carrie Jenkins’ debut is a queer psychological thriller following Victoria, paired with a police officer, as they try to locate her best friend while finding a miasma of sexism and isolation along the way. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work is atmospheric from the first sentence. "Velvet Was the Night" is a “delicious twisted treat for lovers of noir,” set in 1970s Mexico City. Sam Wiebe is a beloved local writer and lauded thriller author. "Hell and Gone: A Wakeland Novel" explores the depths of Vancouver’s criminal underworld. We’re hooked.
June 01, 2022
The Threads of Family and Resilience
Te-Ping Chen’s debut fiction, Land of Big Numbers: Stories, is lauded by NPR as “as brilliant an instance of a journalist’s keen eye manifesting in luminous fiction as one can find.” Through piercing realism and tongue-in-cheek magic realism, it shares journeys of Chinese communities, their history, their government, and how all of that has tumbled into the present, where social mobility is extremely limited. Pik-Shuen Fung’s Ghost Forest reveals the resilient threads of matrilineal history and the inheritance of stories and silences in a moving story of a Chinese-Canadian astronaut family. These remarkable, perceptive writers discuss history inherited in 21st century China, and their depictions of modern day Chinese and Canadian-Chinese family dynamics, with award-winning author and columnist, Anna Ling Kaye.
May 01, 2022
Susan Orlean in Conversation with Mark Medley
Each time Susan Orlean graces the Writers Fest with a visit, audiences are reminded why she is called “a national treasure” by The Washington Post. The New Yorker staff writer, and author of The Library Book joined us to celebrate her latest work—a collection of musings, meditations, and in-depth profiles about animals. “I think I’ll always have animals and I think I’ll always write about them. Their unknowability challenges me. Our affection for them intrigues me,” she explained, when sharing the motivation behind these works, written on her farm and amidst her travels. "On Animals" is yet another stunning example of Orlean’s transcendent skill as a writer to make us newly recognize and think differently about items and creatures in our midst.
March 31, 2022
Caribbean Masterpieces With Myriam Chancy and Cherie Jones
Cherie Jones and Myriam Chancy have both written powerful, dynamic, disturbing novels about upheaval and injustice in the Caribbean. Jones, a Barbadian writer, took the world by storm with the publication of her debut novel How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House: an ambitious, layered novel in which her young Barbadian protagonist fights for her life. Chancy, who was born in Port-au-Prince and raised in Haiti and in Canada, teaches at Scripps College in California. Her new novel, What Storm, What Thunder masterfully charts the inner lives of ten characters whose lives are affected by an earthquake that rocks Haiti and its people to the core. Hear them in conversation with Guest Curator Lawrence Hill as they discuss modern Caribbean literature.
February 28, 2022
Lauren Groff in Conversation with John Freeman
Of all the attributes Lauren Groff possesses, range is surely one of them. Her “all-conquering” 2015 novel, Fates and Furies, was a literary masterpiece about a modern day marriage, creativity, and perception. Florida brought storms, snakes, and sinkholes to lurk at the edges of everyday life in strange, affecting stories. And her latest work, Matrix, a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award, explores the raptures and hardships of life in a 12th century convent, as told by seventeen-year-old Marie de France. USA Today called it "a relentless exhibition of Groff’s freakish talent." Hear from this fascinating mind—and one of our finest writers today—in a sold out conversation with author, poet, and editor John Freeman from the 2021 Vancouver Writers Fest.
January 27, 2022
Omar El Akkad in Conversation with Mark Medley
Omar El Akkad won the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel What Strange Paradise, a devastating yet beautiful story of two children against the backdrop of the refugee crisis, and the dehumanization of those who must flee home. The jury wrote: "Amid all the anger and confusion surrounding the global refugee crisis, Omar El Akkad’s What Strange Paradise paints a portrait of displacement and belonging that is at once unflinching and tender. In examining the confluence of war, migration and a sense of settlement, it raises questions of indifference and powerlessness and, ultimately, offers clues as to how we might reach out empathetically in a divided world." El Akkad’s writing is both fortune-telling dystopia and precise cultural criticism; a necessary writer who probes our humanity. He spoke with Globe and Mail editor, Mark Medley, at the 2021 Vancouver Writers Fest.
November 25, 2021
Saga Boy: Antonio Michael Downing in Conversation with Barbara Chirinos
Antonio Michael Downing was raised by his indomitable grandmother in the lush rainforest of southern Trinidad, but—at age 11—is uprooted to Canada when she dies. He is sent to live with his stern, evangelical Aunt Joan in Wabigoon, a tiny northern Ontario community where he is one of only a few Black children in the town. His memoir, Saga Boy, is a creative, startling mash-up of memories and mythology as he shares the experience of growing up as an immigrant minority and longing for home. Eventually, he becomes a “Saga Boy”: a Trinidadian playboy, addicted to escapism, attention, and sex. When the inevitable crash happens, he finds himself in a cold, stone jail cell. Yet this is a story of pride and reclamation, as Downing reclaims his Black identity and embraces a rich heritage. He speaks with independent curator and producer Barbara Chirinos about his unforgettable story.
October 24, 2021
China Unbound: Joanna Chiu in Conversation with Doug Saunders
As the world’s second-largest economy, China is extending its influence across the globe with the complicity of democratic nations. Internationally recognized reporter Joanna Chiu has spent a decade tracking China’s propulsive rise, from the political aspects of the multi-billion-dollar “New Silk Road” global investment project to a growing sway on foreign countries and multilateral institutions through “United Front” efforts. As the United States stumbles, Chiu’s anticipated work, China Unbound: A New World Disorder exposes Beijing’s high-tech surveillance and aggressive measures that result in human rights violations against those who challenge its power. She speaks to Globe and Mail journalist Doug Saunders about why the new world order she sees has disturbing implications for global stability, prosperity, and civil rights everywhere.
October 22, 2021
Jordan Abel in Conversation with Tanya Talaga
Griffin Poetry Prize winner Jordan Abel’s Nishga is a groundbreaking, deeply personal, and devastating autobiographical meditation that attempts to address the complicated legacies of Canada’s residential school system and contemporary Indigenous existence. It is necessary reading; an astounding work that explores some of the most pressing issues of our time. Journalist and award-winning author, Tanya Talaga, who has worked throughout her career to document and advocate for the need for justice for Indigenous peoples in Canada, spoke to Abel about his latest work. Presented in partnership with SFU’s Master of Publishing program. The content in this conversation can be difficult and upsetting. Visit our website for resources supporting survivors: https://writersfest.bc.ca/event/podcast-jordan-abel-in-conversation-with-tanya-talaga
October 18, 2021
The Winter Book Club with Ethan Hawke
Our Winter Book Club event featured award-winning actor and screenwriter Ethan Hawke for his novel, A Bright Ray of Darkness, moderated by Festival author and longtime podcast host Jen Sookfong Lee. As an accomplished actor, screenwriter, director and author, Ethan Hawke has commanded audiences for the screen, on the stage, and between the pages of some of this generation’s most memorable and evocative stories. A Bright Ray of Darkness, this master storyteller’s first novel in nearly twenty years, evokes the bracing whirlwinds of fame and fortune––and the price we pay for each. Hawke’s narrator is a young man on the cusp of greatness, disgusted with himself after the collapse of his marriage, and still hoping for a reconciliation that would allow him to forgive himself. As he clumsily, and sometimes hilariously, tries to manage the wreckage of his personal life, what saves him is theater and the challenge of performing the role of Hotspur in Henry IV as a debut Broadway actor. Searing, raw, and utterly transfixing, A Bright Ray of Darkness is a novel soaked in rage and sex, longing and despair; and ultimately becomes Hawke’s passionate love letter to the world of theater.
June 18, 2021
Chimes of Freedom: Yaa Gyasi & Colson Whitehead
From the archives of the Vancouver Writers Fest: The memory of captivity is burned deep into the psyche of America, so it is no surprise that novelists continue to revisit the impact of slavery. Born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, Yaa Gyasi imagines how the force of slavery ricocheted through generations, beginning with two half-sisters in 18th century Ghana in her debut novel Homegoing. Lives shaped and misshaped by the historical force of slavery has been a 15-year fascination for Colson Whitehead, US author of five novels. He turns the metaphorical underground railroad into an actual network of hidden tracks in The Underground Railroad, a shattering tale about a young slave’s desperate bid for freedom. Originally recorded on October 20, 2016 at Performance Works on Granville Island.
May 11, 2021
Writing Country (2015) with Roxane Gay, Shilpi Somaya Gowda, Marlon James and Viet Thanh Nguyen
Originally recorded on October 23, 2015, Writing Country is a remarkable conversation with authors Roxane Gay, Shilpi Somaya Gowda, Marlon James and Viet Thanh Nguyen at the start of their illustrious careers. In conversation with Jared Bland, former Arts and Books editor for The Globe and Mail and publisher of McClelland & Stewart. Known for literature that is firmly fixed in place and culture, these authors join Jared Bland to discuss depicting the soul of a country while also exploring universal concerns though portraits of Haiti, Vietnam, India and Jamaica. Rooted in the personal and encompassing the political, they take you into the backstreets, the slums, the rural Indian countryside and the storm of shellfire.
April 06, 2021
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson in Conversation with Dionne Brand
A renowned Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson has been lauded by many as one of the most compelling writers of her generation, as demonstrated by Islands of Decolonial Love, This Accident of Being Lost, Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back and As We Have Always Done. Now, in Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies, Betasamosake Simpson offers a book of wit, power, generosity and fierce insight or, as her publisher explains, “an act of decolonization, degentrification, and willful resistance to the perpetuation and dissemination of centuries-old colonial myth-making.” In conversation with award-winning poet, thinker and Theory author, Dionne Brand, this episode features two exceptional minds together, in a discussion bound to elevate our intellects and our spirits.
March 16, 2021
Walter Mosley in Conversation with Jael Richardson
Writing Is What I Do: Walter Mosley’s work includes 43 critically acclaimed books, translated into 23 languages, and countless essays in prestigious magazines, not to mention influence over some of the biggest shows on our screens. One of the most celebrated writers in America today, he has been described as both “a writer whose work transcends category” (Time) and “one of the most humane, insightful, powerful prose stylists working in any genre. He’s also one of the most radical.” (Austin Chronicle). In this special Writers Fest event, Mosley speaks with Festival of Literary Diversity Director, Jael Richardson about The Awkward Black Man: a new release of 17 of Mosley’s most accomplished short stories, in which he overturns often-made stereotypes of black male characters. In prose and conversation, this incredible artist paints a subtle, powerful portrait of the complexity of humankind.
February 17, 2021
Margaret MacMillan in Conversation with Kathryn Gretsinger
Is peace an aberration? As former president of the World Bank, Robert B. Zoellick, explained, “only a historian with… comprehensive knowledge, command of sources, clarity of thought, and artful writing could succeed so brilliantly with one volume on this sweeping topic.” That historian is bestselling author, award-winning writer and exceptional researcher Margaret MacMillan, who brings modern history to millions of readers with clarity and insight. Her latest work, War, looks at the ways in which war has influenced human society and how, in turn, changes in political organization, technology, or ideologies have affected how and why we fight. Speaking with UBC Professor of Journalism, Kathryn Gretsinger, MacMillan delves into some of the most essential questions about the nature of conflict. When did war first start? Does human nature doom us to fight one another? Why are warriors almost always men? Is war ever within our control? Tune into an event with one of the greatest minds of our generation.
January 13, 2021
An Evening with Emma Donoghue
Man Booker finalist Emma Donoghue is an undeniable sensation who shot to acclaim for penning both the novel and screenplay for Room. Since then, the author has lived with a foot in both worlds, turning her bestselling books into equally coveted scripts. What do you learn about your work as it transforms into new mediums? Has writing for Hollywood changed her approach to writing novels? In an intimate evening, this hilarious bestselling author shares her new novel, Akin, in which a retired professor takes an unexpected journey to the French Riviera with his great nephew—hoping to uncover family secrets—and reflects on the challenges of adapting her stories for screen and her illustrious career to-date. Presented in partnership with Vancouver Film School.
November 26, 2020
Marilynne Robinson in Conversation with Ian Williams
Time to break out your headphones! In a truly special event and conversation available exclusively through the Festival’s Books & Ideas Audio series, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, Marilynne Robinson, sits with 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner and national bestselling author Ian Williams to discuss her widely anticipated new novel Jack, the fourth and last of her Gilead quartet. In this timely conclusion, Jack harkens to a world of segregation, polarizing love and overcoming in rural Iowa. Listen in as these master writers discuss craft, thematic choice and the infinite power of fiction to inspire.
October 24, 2020
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Three Freeman’s contributors from three different genres, born on three different continents, talk about the way love makes a story, a poem, and the shape of a memoir. Mieko Kawakami is the award winning author of Breasts & Eggs, her North American debut, and is declared by Haruki Murakami as his favorite new Japanese novelist; Daniel Mendelsohn is the National Book Critics Circle Award winning author of The Lost, translator of poems of Cavafy, and his latest genre bending tale, Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative and Fate, and Valzynha Mort is a poet and translator and author of four books. Born in Belarus, she now lives in Ithaca, New York. Her latest collection is Music for the Dead and Resurrected. Join Festival favourite John Freeman as he leads a discussion on a topic we could all use a little more of in our lives: love.
October 23, 2020
Ayad Akhtar in Conversation with Eleanor Wachtel
“The weight of politics in our country had coalesced and summoned a response out of me,” said Ayad Akhtar, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Pakistani American novelist, playwright and screenwriter explained of his latest work, Homeland Elegies. Is it, he wondered, possible to write a letter to America in such a time—a letter to all Americans? Judging by the acclaim for this title, the answer is Yes. The story of the son of an immigrant father who searches for belonging in post-Trump America has been called “a revelation,” “profound and provocative” and “An unflinchingly honest self-portrait by a brilliant Muslim-American writer,” and the list continues. CBC Writers and Company host, Eleanor Wachtel, speaks to Akhtar about the unflinching honesty in this partly autobiographical work; the “casino” that is American life; and the consequences of everyone becoming a storyteller in the era of social media.
October 14, 2020
Beverley McLachlin in Conversation with Laura Lynch
For nearly two decades, Beverley McLachlin served as the Chief Justice of Canada, the longest serving Chief Justice in Canadian history and the first woman to hold the position. In a special conversation with Laura Lynch, McLachlin speaks to her memoir, Truth Be Told: My Journey Through Life and the Law, inviting Canadians into her childhood in the rural prairies, the defining moments that shaped her sense of justice and behind the bench during some of the most contentious Supreme Court cases—including Charter challenges, same-sex marriage and euthanasia—sharing an intimate portrait of a life lived in pursuit of justice and equality. Hear from this remarkable feminist icon and modern Canadian great as she opens up on her triumphs and her regrets—and the hope she has for Canada’s future.
August 18, 2020
Bina, Bunny & The Idiot
Elif Batuman, Mona Awad and Anakana Schofield delight in a sold-out evening of whip-smart, hilarious and unapologetically audacious conversation, a highlight from the 2019 season of the Vancouver Writers Fest. MFA student Samantha falls down a surreal rabbit hole, captivated by a mysterious cult in Awad’s Bunny. Wry and laugh out loud funny, Elif Batuman’s Pulitzer Prize finalist The Idiot was praised as “addictive” by Miranda July. Giller Prize shortlisted Anakana Schofield balances black comedy and compassion in Bina, a tour de force beloved by literary powerhouses, including Rachel Cusk and Eden Robinson. Moderated by The Globe & Mail's Western Arts Correspondent Marsha Lederman, these women incisively discuss the craft of comedy and writing independent, self-assured protagonists.
July 21, 2020
Tanya Talaga in Conversation with Jael Richardson
Award-winning journalist, author and CBC Massey Lecturer Tanya Talaga's Seven Fallen Feathers investigated the startling deaths of seven Indigenous students in Thunder Bay. Her research has won prestigious awards and, perhaps most importantly, garnered widespread public awareness. In a 2019 conversation with Festival of Literary Diversity Artistic Director Jael Richardson, Talaga discusses these difficult but necessary investigations, the challenge of writing for change and how she continues to find hope while confronting the hardest of truths.
June 19, 2020
Desmond Cole in Conversation with Barbara Chirinos
Award-winning journalist Desmond Cole’s The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power has been an incisive and revealing work on policing, racial profiling, antiblackness and Indigenous injustice in Canada. While addressing bias, ignorance and willful disregard from those in power, the book heralds the deeply inclusive leadership of #BlackLivesMatterTO and Black activists across the country. Originally recorded February 19, 2020, Cole was joined by Vancouver Arts curator and activist Barbara Chirinos for a lively, intimate discussion on Black activism and resilience.
June 04, 2020
Margaret Atwood in Conversation with Cherie Dimaline
The Handmaid's Tale author and global sensation Margaret Atwood joins celebrated author Cherie Dimaline to discuss The Testaments, writing process and place in an exceptional event recorded at the Chan Centre for Performing Arts. In a conversation that reached far beyond the borders of Gilead, this event was like no other with Ms. Atwood; one that touched on a myriad of topics, from personal to political. In a brilliant sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood answers questions that have tantalized readers of The Handmaid's Tale for decades. Margaret Atwood's sequel picks up the story fifteen years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead. This event was organized in collaboration with the Canada Council for the Arts to celebrate the finalists and winners of the Governor General’s Literary Awards, and was presented in partnership with the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts and Tourism Vancouver.
May 12, 2020
Malcolm Gladwell in Conversation with Lisa Christiansen
International bestseller author Malcolm Gladwell sits down with CBC Host Lisa Christiansen in a gripping discussion of history, psychology and scandal, bringing to light how bad we are at making sense of people. Originally recorded at The Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver, BC.
April 24, 2020
Lindy West in Conversation with Hannah McGregor
Lindy West is known for her fierce, funny and forthright analyses of contemporary culture. During a special event at the Vancouver Writers Fest, West speaks with Secret Feminist Agenda host and professor Hannah McGregor about her instant bestseller The Witches Are Coming, feminism, misogyny and meme culture.
March 08, 2020
Marlon James in Conversation with Ian Williams
By combining African history, mythology and his own rich imagination, Man Booker prize winning author Marlon James captivated the world with his bestselling fantasy novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf. In a conversation with Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Ian Williams, James shares his theories on writing across genres, the importance of reading diversely, and how stories live on in the minds of readers long after a writer’s work has finished.
February 11, 2020