Sami Alwani teaches a workshop about creating comics from personal experience at the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival in July. Photo: Kirk Lisage

Sami Alwani teaches a workshop about creating comics from personal experience at the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival in July. Photo: Kirk Lisage

Festival Tales: The writers you’ll be reading next

Four workshops and their presenters at the upcoming Elephant Mountain Literary Festival

by Anne DeGrace

Great writers don’t emerge fully fledged.

“I think that I shall never see,” the hatchlings twitter, “a poem as lovely as this tree.” And then they spread their wings and learn to avoid cliches, kill their darlings, and, thankfully, discover new metaphors.

The Elephant Mountain Literary Festival, now celebrating its 10th year, is a readers’ and writers’ festival that embraces all sides of literary creation. Running online this year from July 7 to 11, the festival showcases a selection of Canada’s finest authors alongside some of our exceptional local talent — all of whom began as writerly nestlings.

In the interest of fledging the next batch of literary high-flyers, EMLF offers opportunities for writers to sharpen their beaks — er, pens.

Readers take note: these are the writers you might be reading next. They may author the poem that makes you swoon, the memoir that breaks your heart, the story that tickles your funny bone, the play that brings the house down, or the graphic novel that knocks your socks off. Writers, read on.

There are four small-group, online workshops, each comprised of two sessions over Saturday and Sunday, July 10 and 11, as well as blue pencil critique sessions.

Clem Martini teaches Curtains Up!, a workshop for budding playwrights and screenwriters. This is a chance to learn from a writer who has flown the distance, with more than 30 plays and 10 books of fiction and nonfiction. He is the Chair of Drama in the School of Creative Performing Arts at the University of Calgary, where he teaches Playwriting, Screenwriting, and Theatre for Young Audiences.

Carla Funk teaches Poetry in Motion, which focusses on the process of the craft. Carla teaches in the Department of Writing at the University of Victoria. She is the author of four books of poetry and is a former Poet laureate for Victoria. Her most recent book is a memoir, Every Little Scrap and Wonder, a gorgeous book that offers insight into the childhood of this gifted poet.

Cartoonist Sami Alwani offers a different storytelling spin: how to take personal experiences and transform them through the craft of narrative comics and fiction. This artist, whose work has appeared in Vice and American Comics, also won the prestigious Doug Wright Award in 2018, and we are delighted to have him with us. His first collection of stories, The Pleasure of the Text, is out now with Conundrum Press.

Jenna Butler offers nature-writing in a workshop entitled Wild Words, and she is just the person to teach it. Three books of poetry, a travelogue, and two collections of ecological essays make up Jenna’s list of critically-acclaimed titles, the most recent being Revery: A Year of Bees, published last year by Wolsak and Wynn. Her research into endangered environments has taken her across the globe.

In addition to these workshops, writers can submit samples of their work for one-on-one online critique. The Holley Rubinsky Memorial Blue Pencil Sessions, named for the late Kaslo author, will this year be offered by Jenna Butler (poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction) and myself, Anne DeGrace (fiction and creative nonfiction). Jenna offered Blue Pencil sessions last year, and the response was so positive we asked her back. My bio, and the bios of all of our authors and presenters, are at

Writers, are your pinfeathers ruffled in anticipation? Readers, are you ready to hear some newly hatched words? It all comes home to roost on Sunday, July 11 at 2 p.m. when workshop participants share their words and the annual Richard Carver Award for Emerging Writers is presented. Get ready to feather your nests.

EMLF 2021 has a chock-full schedule of talks and readings by fascinating writers, panel discussions, and workshops. Follow this weekly column leading up to the festival and go to for all the details.

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