In 2017, Canada’s oldest feminist literary journal, Room magazine launched the literary festival Growing Room as a space to celebrate diverse Canadian writers and artists run entirely as a labour of love. And this year is no exception. Running from March 1 – 4 in Mount Pleasant, Vancouver, the festival is set to feature 18 panels and readings, nine workshops, and an opening night party featuring music by Too Attached (Vivek Shraya and Shamik Bilgi). Because we can’t be there ourselves, we chatted with Chelene Knight, managing editor of Room magazine and one of the organizers of the festival, about this year’s events.
Where we explore literary spaces.All Lit Up: Tell us a bit about Growing Room. What was the impetus for starting the festival?Chelene Knight: We knew after the success of last year’s festival that we wanted to do it again this year, but with a bigger focus on mentorship. Growing Room is a place where all voices matter, where everyone gets a chance to speak and hold space no matter where you are in your literary career. I honestly don’t know if I can name another festival where so much emphasis is put on the need for emerging writers’ stories AND established writers’ stories. It’s a beautiful mix of the two.What also makes Growing Room different from other festivals is that we also put together the magazine at the same time, with very little to no extra help. We all take on multiple roles and wear so many hats while still holding day jobs, have families, you name it. I am so inspired by the passion that the Room collective has for this festival, because without it, where would we be? Would this festival even exist without the “Roomie love”? Nope.
Junie Désil reading at last year’s event.ALU: What has the response been like from the community?CK: The response has been glorious. Again, this is why we wanted to put on another festival because the demand is there and the need is there. After sending out the press release, I was really shocked and impressed by the emails I received from folks who just wanted to say “thank you.” Just those simple two words. Thank you. Sometimes that’s all you need!ALU: This year’s programme looks fantastic; the panelists and authors are top notch. Can you tell us a bit about some of the sessions you have planned? CK: Yes! We are very excited for all of the panels because we know they will create important conversation. We wanted to leave some of the panel themes a bit broad so that the authors and moderators would feel free to dig as deep as possible into the topics without feeling constricted. I am really looking forward to the Re-opening Wounds panel because I have a lot to say about trauma, memory and how folks on the outside of this trauma can affect healing. We’ve also introduced manuscript consults and doubled the amount of workshops offered and at super reasonable fees. Again, it comes right back down to mentorship and removing financial barriers. Growing Room 2018 is all-inclusive if you really think about it. We see the participants being as involved as the authors and organizers. We all do this together. It’s beautiful.
Jen Sookfong Lee, Dina Del Bucchia, and Kellee Ngan on a panel at last year’s festival.ALU: Did you incorporate anything new into this year’s festival based on last year’s response?CK: Yes! The manuscript consults.ALU: What was the most surprising thing about organizing Growing Room?CK: I would say how much work it is! One thing I don’t think folks know, is that the festival is put on by volunteers (some with small honorariums) so it’s a labour of love! But what was really surprising was how seamlessly we all worked together. How we all had this same vision in mind and how quickly it all became a reality.ALU: What are some of your favourite memories from the inaugural festival last year?CK: Sadly I was whisked away last year due to a family emergency, so I had to fly out only days before the festival. But I will never forget following the festival via social media and reading all of the comments about how utterly life-changing the festival was and how folks didn’t know events like these were necessary until they attended Growing Room. What a compliment! * * *Thanks so much to Chelene Knight of Growing Room for answering our questions and for permission to use the photos.Note: All venues at Growing Room are on the ground floor or accessible by elevator. Washrooms are available on the same floors as the venue. For more info on accessibility at Growing Room, click here. And for more ALU Field Trips, click here.