One of the upsides to Calgary’s recent economic boom has been the increase in opportunities presented to Calgary’s artistic community. The boom has seen the birth or resurgence of numerous film, theatre and music festivals in town. The area’s literary community has also benefited, creating both the annual Wordfest and its lesser-known counterpart, the Calgary Blow-Out, presented by Filling Station magazine since 2005.
“During the summer of 2005 Derek Beaulieu, who was the managing editor at the time, was trying to schedule [events]. Basically, he had too many events going on,” recalls Filling Station’s current managing editor, Natalie Zina Walschots. “There were too many people with books out, too many things happening in Calgary all at the same time. Instead of doing a whole bunch of smaller readings or smaller book launches, he decided to start a festival to celebrate the very, very active Calgary literary community. It was an absolutely smashing success, just a great party. It happened again the happening year and we’re hoping to turn it into a tradition now.”
Now in its third year, the Calgary Blow-Out showcases over twenty poets, playwrights and fiction writers with a series of readings. The aim is to put the spotlight on talent that would possibly get overlooked in the hustle and bustle of Calgary’s vibrant local arts scene. The challenge for organizers is to provide exposure to as many locals as possible.
“We do bring in some readers from out-of-town,” notes Walschots. “But they either have lived in Calgary at one time, grew up in Calgary or were raised here. We invite alumni back, so people who went through the University of Calgary creative writing program, for example, often come back. Professors who formerly taught here, as well as anybody
currently based or working in Calgary are very happily invited. What we’ve been doing is trying not to have more than about 25 per cent overlap [in writers], so if you read at the Blow-Out the previous year, you most likely won’t be reading this year. There’s a little bit of overlap, but we try to get as many new Calgary writers involved as possible.”
The Blow-Out’s proximity to the more high-profile Wordfest is a concern, with both festivals occurring within a four-week period. However, Walschots notes that the Blow-Out and Wordfest are completely distinct animals.
“What we’re doing is very different,” says Walschots. “Wordfest is primarily about bringing readers from across Canada and the
States to Calgary. There are actually only two Calgary writers reading at Wordfest this year, three if you count incoming Markin-Flanagan writer Sina Queyras. She’s also reading at our event, I might point out. We also consider her a Calgary writer. So I suppose there’s three, whereas the Blow-Out is celebrating Calgary talent specifically.”
This year’s Blow-Out has several points of interest for the campus crowd, featuring readings by new U of C creative writing professor Robert Majzels, outgoing Markin-Flanagan writer-in-residence Jaspreet Singh and the incoming writer-in-residence Sina Queryas. Initially held on three consecutive evenings, the Blow-Out switched to showcasing three events over two days in its second year and hopes to expand to a third day soon, providing more opportunities for Calgary literature fans to check out up and coming local talent.
“Everybody is really, really great and there is certainly a reason to come out every night,” shares Walschots. “What’s new about this year is we’re having music for the first time. Folk artist Heather Blush is going to playing Saturday afternoon and local band the Lonely Hunters are playing Friday night. We’re also having a series of short films shown on Saturday night. I would encourage everyone to
come to everything.”