Co-Chairs' Report for the Year 2017

Presented at the Annual General Meeting of the Knowlton Literary Association on Saturday,
March 17, 2018 at the Lac-Brome Community Centre, 270 Victoria, Knowlton, Quebec.

There are dangers, in this festival-making business, of being too predictable, falling into routine, doing what has always worked without significant variation. If we want people to return to our festival year after year, attract new participants, especially the young, pull people away from the seductions of the screen, then those of us who run literary festivals should be ready to make the experience lively and exciting. Festivals put readers in the same room as writers in the hope that a unique literary chemistry will be created which will keep the art of reading and of writing alive and well.

So the eighth edition of the Knowlton Literary Festival was highlighted by three new departures: a special evening allowing local writers to engage in on-stage interviews about their work; an opportunity for writers and readers to meet an experienced publisher up close in a round table situation and the Tales for Tots (Les 'tits trésors) initiative designed to foster reading among children 0-7.
A word or two about each

Local Authors

We are very literary lot in this community. Once word was out that the Festival was going to feature local authors at a special Thursday evening event, we received an enthusiastic response. In the end eleven authors shared their work with readers: Julia Rohan, Kate Reed, Michel and Patricia Lavoie, David Marler, Julian Armstrong, Alex Roslin, David Edmond, udith Avinger, Amy Royea and William Prouty. Poets, novelists, writers for kids and for adults, people who live in cabins in the woods, cookbook creators, life coaches and a biographer—there must be something in the Townships air. With mini-interviews conducted by volunteers from the Yamaska Literacy Council, tables for writers to greet their readers and sell their books and wine and cheese to make the evening festive, the event attracted over 100 people.
Our thanks to Danny and Lucy McAuley and Wendy Seys for putting this show together.

Alas, one of our writers has left us. William Prouty, a native of Bondville, professor of literature at McGill University and the University of New Brunswick died this year at the age of 85. He will be remembered for his literary salon here in Knowlton, the Purple Wednesday Society, and for his poetry. These lines from “The Doubter Reads the Book of the World” express his love of the “passionate mystery” of earth, air, fire and water:
He reads the rivers and the islands,
The mountains glistening
Beyond the heaving seas,
He reads the continents' divorce,
The lush plains dying into deserts.

Stories about storytelling

If local writers showed us that creativity flourishes around Lac-Brome, noted Canadian publisher Douglas Gibson and his panoramic and superbly anecdotal presentation of great Canadian storytellers from Philippe Aubert de Gaspé to Joseph Boyden demonstrated just how inventive and singular Canadian writing has become and how the publishing world has helped it thrive. It was reading Stephen Leacock's hilarious stories, he told us, that brought him from Scotland to Canada, so we asked film-maker Gerry Potterton to screen his ingenious cartoon version of Leacock's famous story “My Financial Career” then introduce his friend Doug. Our festival was well launched.
Doug Gibson proved also to be a very helpful resource as the weekend went on. We had asked writers to make themselves available for closer encounters with festival participants and he, Rana Bose, Donna Morrissey, Sharon McKay and Kathy Stinson engaged in conversation with a small group of local writers over lunch on Saturday. And on Saturday afternoon, when one of our invited writers did not show up, Gibson, Sharon McKay, Donna Morrissey and Kathy Stinson stepped in with a lively impromptu panel discussion on the writing life.

Tales for Tots

“Few things are so economically and spiritually disabling as not being able to read, said Wendy Seys of the Yamaska Literacy Council, “the early years are out best chance.” Prompted by Wendy and in partnership with Mother Goose day care, the Village Reads programme, the Pettes Library and the Townshippers' Association, we set out to collect books in English and French so that very young children would would be exposed to the world of reading. Hence the Red Book Wagon which was filled with books no longer needed, 11 liquor boxes in all. The project turned out to be successful beyond our initial hopes and was followed by a Tales for Tots reading day at the Pettes Memorial Library earlier this year. Festival writers Sharon McKay, who writes for young adults, and Kathy Stinson, author of the numerous stories for children, provided two Saturday morning sessions for children, parents and grandparents. Ms Stinson also conducted three highly successful workshops for the children of Knowlton Academy. We believe the Festival is making a difference by bringing the delights of reading and writing to young people at a time when screens large and small offer so much distraction.

And the Festival

Eight visiting, 12 Townships writers, 674 people in seats, and two dogs who came to look after their masters. A very satisfying weekend. Writers enjoyed their time with us, which has something to do with our talent for organization, something to do with the welcoming atmosphere of the Town of Brome Lake and the Auberge Knowlton, and a lot to do with that special buzz created when people come together to talk books. Anne Fortier conducted a much appreciated writing workshop, Terry Mosher was highly entertainng as we helped him celebrate 50 years of cartooning (so there were pictures, but he told stories too so it counts). Rana Bose was a revelation at breakfast at the Relais and Ian Hamilton during brunch recounted the inside story behind his Ava Lee series. All the guys fell in love with Donna Morrissey. She brought Newfoundland to us once again, this time with high voltage and plenty of charm. Kathy Stinson was truly impressed by how Renalee Gore encourages kids to read st Knowlton Academy while Sharon McKay actually got a young boy to put on a burka. We have every reason to be pleased with the quality, excitement and variety which characterized Year Eight.
This was also a year of number-crunching. Our new and very diligent treasurer, Alan Eastley, conducted a survey of attendees and with a 41% response rate was able to determine what was already evident from hairstyles that 80% of our participants are female, 20% are male, 64% are local, 36% are from outside the immediate area, 50% are repeats from previous year and 50% are new to the Festival. We've got 258 Facebook members, which includes 49 from Montreal and 25 from the United States. Alan, in fact, has accumulated an impressive and helpful set of data on many aspects of our operation, and we will be drawing upon his conclusions and suggestions in the coming year. Together with reflections offered by Rob Paterson and Frank Johnston-Main we have materials for increasing the quality and effectiveness of the festival in coming years.

Shakespeare on the Green.

Moving Repercussion Theatre from Douglass Beach to the green space in front of Knowlton Academy meant that we had easy parking and accessibility by foot right in the centre of town. The weather--always a dangerous variable--decided at the last minute to behave itself, and the performance of Much Ado About Nothing before 300 people went forward nicely. Beatrice and Benedick stopped fighting and got married, as we knew they would. Virgin Hill not only provided free coffee but also donated their tips to the Festival. This was Repercussion's fifth appearance in Knowlton and they are coming back this July 14 with Romeo and Juliet.

Our thanks to the following organizations, businesses and individuals for helping make 2017 a year to look back on proudly:

For financial support: the Ville de Lac-Brome, the Townshippers' Foundation for a donation and for allowing us to use their good offices for tax receipts to donors, the Waterloo Caisse Populaire Desjardins, Brome Lake Books, the Knowlton Players, Axion, the Quebec Writers Federation, the Brome Missisquoi MRC, the Lions Club and the people of Knowlton and vicinity who so generously continue to support the festival. Thank you to Frank Johnston-Main, Renalee Gore and Judith Duncanson for their work in drafting our requests.
Solid and clear financial numbers from 2016 enabled us to apply for, and secure, additional funding from our primary supporting partners (including new financial support from the Quebec Writers' Federation) while tighter and clearer negotiations with our participating writers helped us reduce net costs in key areas of speakers' fees, travel and accomodation. The end result was a significantly improved financial position and a replenishment of our cash reserves after several years of gradual erosion.

For reading lots and lots of books: Danny McAuley, Sheryl Taylor, Frances Gallagher, Jana Valasek and Jane Livingston for coming up with an exciting selection of writers both from here and from away. To Danny especially who has been such a strong guiding force in tracking down writers and persuading them that Knowlton is a place they should visit, meet their readers and find new ones. Through some sort of familial sleight of hand he has adroitly replaced himself on the Board with his wife Lucy whom we welcome happily while Danny devotes more time to the Knowlton Players.

For venues: The Brome Lake Community Centre and its very helpful and considerate staff; the Auberge Knowlton for providing us with a room to meet and hatch plots; Knowlton Academy for a great open space for Shakespeare; Bishop's University for allowing us one last time to present our ever popular Writing Workshop at the Knowlton Campus. We sincerely hope BU and the Town find a way of keeping university level instruction alive here in Knowlton.

For food services: Le Relais who fed us and our guests and our participants at Sunday breakfast and brunch; Eileen Menec and associates for hors d'oeuvres at the opening reception, Café Floral for the box lunches; Virgin Hill for coffee and the children of Knowlton Academy Bistro for the best muffins in town.

For signing our fund-raising letter: Janie Barakett, Debbi Eaman, Jane Livingston and Alex Paterson. It worked beautifully.

For more great design: The indispensable Jamie Lawson who once again gave us pamphlets, posters and banners which set the tone for our festival and for Shakespeare on the Green. She's moved to Ottawa, we hear, but that doesn't mean we can't call on her to make us look really good in 2018.

For translation: Ann Enns, too often a thankless role, but we thank her just to make sure we do appreciate her work.

For video, Rugge Thompson, who gets us off the page and out there into the digital world where it's all happening, or so they say.

For flowers: Debby Hornig. They give us a touch of colour.

And, finally, to Michel Gabereau and the late Signy Stephenson for managing our website. To Signy we owe so much over the last years. A keen-eyed proof reader, she could spot errors which had drifted through our supposedly vigilant selves. She had good ideas and we listened. She and Michel helped get our website up and running. Most of all, she was our Inn-Keeper and Hostess-in-Chief, the person who welcomed our visitors and made them feel at home. We will honour her memory during our 2018 Festival. Thanks Signy, we miss you.
During last year's annual general meeting we announced certain actions which we hoped to implement during the year. We said we wanted a more interactive festival and, with Doug Gibson, made a significant move in that direction. We reduced the number of visiting writers from 12 to 8 and succeeded in getting most of them to spend more time with us on the weekend. We did indeed continue our video recordings of events. We increased participation of Townships writers tenfold and our Thursday evening event with them proved a highlight of the festival. We were able to use the good offices of the Quebec Writers Federation to facilitate invitations to two writers. We recruited Alan Eastley who took on the role of treasurer, persuaded Jane Livingston to return to the Board, but lost Kathy Lexow who has moved to Gatineau (We shall miss her meticulous minutes and her ability to consider a problem from all angles.) We still could use more volunteers.The co-chair arrangement proved awkward, so we will be reverting to a single president. We made a concerted effort to solicit funds from the Canada Council and Canadian Heritage, but the effort proved challenging and is still ongoing, as is our effort to include Ecole St-Edouard in our program for children.

In 2018: Here are some ideas which emerged from our review of festival operations in 2017 and which we will be acting on as the year proceeds:
Expand our use of non-print media to promote the festival
Invite more non-fiction writers
Focus on emerging writers
Take into consideration some of the suggestions for authors made to us by those who completed surveys
Arrange more panel discussions featuring visiting writers
Encourage donors to attend (only about 12% of our donors attended festival events)
Increase our list of e-mail addresses (currently 196 compared to 615 mailing addresses)
Ensure that snacks, coffee and non-alcoholic beverages are available at all sessions, including dog biscuits
Be very firm and clear about the amount of time authors are given to make presentations and make it convenient and interesting for them to be available for closer contact with participants
Integrate additional activities with visiting writers more effectively during weekend schedule
Hold periodic coffee meetings with local writers
Organize writing workshops to take place outside the Festival weekend
Carry on with the Tales for Tots initiative
Initiate a productive working relationship with Massey-Vanier High School
Reduce number of Board meetings, clarify tasks, delegate work to sub-committees
Recruit more volunteers to help accomplish all of the above
Begin planning for our 10th anniversay festival in 2019.

Louise Penny, our esteemed and very famous Honourary Patron, says that the Knowlton Literary Festival has been going from strength to strength, which we think is true. It means, of course, that we're going to continue to attract first-rate writers of all kinds, that we'll do our very best to deserve the community support which has been granted us, and that we will develop a clear view of the future and a systematic plan to renew our human resources in the coming years. If we keep our focus on producing a quality event, the Knowlton Literary Festival will continue to be that “perfect marriage of place and prose and poetry” that Louise believes is the Festival's singular accomplishment.

Submitted to the Annual General Assembly of the Knowlton Literary Association
on Saturday, March 17, 2018

Philip Lanthier and Frank Johnston-Main