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BARRIE NORTH WRITERS’ CONFERENCE: A HUGE SUCCESS

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BARRIE NORTH WRITERS’ CONFERENCE: A HUGE SUCCESS

By Emily Groh on behalf of iDeology*

April 7, 2009 — At 7:30 p.m., the lights in Barrie North Collegiate’s gymnasium dimmed and the second annual L3: Writers’ Conference kicked off with Mr. Brian Adduono’s opening statement. The gymnasium was silent as Mr. Adduono explained about the iDeology program and that L3 meant “language, literacy and literature.”

“Some may call us dinosaurs,” Mr. Adduono said, joking about what many may view as an archaic concept: reading printed books. “But we are dinosaurs who still walk the earth!”

He went on to explain that the Writers’ Conference is actually a class project and that the iDeology students supervised every facet and performed every task to make this event possible. Afterwards, Dr. Bruce Meyer spoke about the UPC Partnership and his part in the Writers’ Conference. Then it was time for the main event.

Anthony de Sa, introduced by two iDeology student hosts, appeared on stage dressed in a gray sweatshirt. After reading an excerpt from his book Barnacle Love, Mr. de Sa concluded with two more readings from his stories “Urban Angel,” “Shoeshine Boy” and “Mr. Wong Presents Jesus.” The audience enthusiastically applauded when he took his bow.

Eleanor Watchel took the stage next. She began with reading a passage from her book, Conversations with Carol Shields, and then took some time to describe her encounters with the wonderful woman. The audience laughed at many of her jokes and was eager to ask her questions about her career as a journalist and her time with Carol Shields.

Then it was time to announce the poetry finalists. To celebrate having Jay Ingram come to the conference, the iDeology class set up a poetry contest that was open to elementary and high school students. The poems could be no more than ten lines long and had to begin with the phrase “My Daily Planet.” The winners were paraded onto the stage after reading the prize poems and were awarded with paraphernalia autographed by Jay Ingram himself. Then Mr. Ingram began his articulate presentation.

“It’s nice to be in a school gym in a literacy conference,” Mr. Ingram said. He went on to explain what it was like to be on a television show and how difficult it was trying to write a two hundred and eighty page book from seven hours of filming.

After much hilarity and insight, Mr. Ingram began his slide show, detailing many of the items present in his book, The Daily Planet Book of Cool Ideas. Such items included a green (environmentally friendly) house, a net zero duplex, a backpack that creates five watts of electricity just from being carried on someone’s back and many more. After mentioning a few more interesting things (algae that eats carbon dioxide, for example), Mr. Ingram took a bow and the evening closed.

It was a night of amazement and wonder, celebrating literacy and literature and the audience was free to mingle with the authors during the book signing afterwards.

Although the previous evening was remarkable, it was only a warm up compared to the next day. Barrie’s Town Crier opened the event, ringing his bell as he shouted out greetings for all to hear as he read expertly from his scroll. Though he was a tough act to follow, Studio 168, Barrie North’s own Communications Technology class, managed to amaze everyone with their professional morning broadcast that centered on the Writers’ Conference itself.

Mr. Eric Walters was warmly welcomed as the keynote speaker. Prowling across the stage and manning his own slide show, his dynamic presentation enthralled the audience. After mentioning a few of his books (Diamond in the Rough, Ricky, Sketches and Black and White), he focused on his newest novel, Alexandria of Africa. Mr. Walters spoke about his own program and what he has done to bring aid to Kenya.

“You can’t help everyone,” Mr. Walters told the audience. “But that is no excuse not to do anything.”

This amazing presentation was followed by workshops that were no less magical. Annexing the English rooms, the gymnasium, the library and Studio 168, the workshops were hosted by many literature professionals including Antanas Sileika, Chum McLeod, Marty Gervais, Priscila Uppal, PEN Canada, Andrew Pyper, Penguin Group and Nino Ricci to name a few.

Penguin Group provided four people to the workshop: journalist Mark Medley, author Richard Poplak, editor Nicole Winstanley and publicity agent Steven Myers. They each talked about their roles in the creation of a novel and talked about Mr. Poplak’s new book, The Sheikh’s Batmobile. The room was full of avid listeners who asked many questions and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Andrew Pyper (pictured) explained six general rules for writing to his audience and explained that, to avoid clichés, one should write what one sees. He insisted the class do a fun writing exercise to illustrate this. The task was to describe the back of your hand and the results were very interesting. After a brief question and answer period, the students left his workshop full of tips and writing fervor.

Presenters at twenty-six other workshops offered numerous tips and shared their experience in the writer’s craft with the enthusiastic students.

That evening was the climax of all the excitement. The gymnasium was packed with more than three hundred eager customers ready to be amazed by the line-up that evening. The gala opened with a poem written by iDeology student Ian Huffam entitled “Confused or Wandering Mind.” Andrew Pyper was next. After explaining a little about his newest novel, The Killing Circle, Mr. Pyper read an excerpt from the beginning of the novel that kept everyone on the edge of their seats.

Next, another student, Ariel Strasser, recited her poem “Camping” and then welcomed Priscila Uppal to the podium. After thanking Mr. Adduono for inviting her, she read passages from her poems “The End of the Paragraph” and “Fortune Cookies on the Other Side of the World,” and from her novel, To Whom It May Concern.

Kameela Amer, another iDeology student, performed her compelling poem “Breaking Free” and then Mir Hussain Mahdavi was called to the stage. An Afghani journalist, Mr. Mahdavi, was imprisoned by his government for his views and political commentaries and sentenced to death. Thanks to PEN Canada, he was released and was able to find his way into Canada. He made a heartfelt speech about the trials and tribulations in his home country and the difficulties of trying to earn a living and trying to write in another country. Having lost his audience when he fled Afghanistan, Mr. Mahdavi stated that he is “dying day by day” having “no past, no present and an unsure future.” He implored the event attendees for help, stating that it is Canada’s responsibility as a nation to provide more support for those writers who are in exile.

Following Mr. Mahdavi’s powerful speech, student Natasha Booth recited her original poem, “What”, and then Nino Ricci was welcomed to the stage. After adding support to Mr. Mahdavi’s cause and reiterating his message, Mr. Ricci read an excerpt from his novel, The Origin of Species, entertaining everyone with his humor and storytelling expertise.

The final iDeology student, Gabrielle Anderson, moved to the podium and, after placing an old fashioned suitcase on the stage, performed her poem entitled “Suitcase;” a piece of work inspired by her visit to a World War II concentration camp. The evening wound to a close with Alistair MacLeod reading a passage from one of his short stories, completing the link between past and present with “The Boat.”

As people mingled for book signings and iDeology magazine purchases, they commented on what they thought of the Writers’ Conference.

“It was great,” said Mr. David Gray. “I enjoyed the readings by the authors.”

Robert Paul Weston, one of the authors invited to present in the workshops, said, “It was surprisingly good — that a high school program could produce it.”

Mrs. Lynda Tuffs said, simply, “It was absolutely fantastic.”

Later, when the excitement of the conference had died down, Mr. Adduono gave his perspective on how the conference went. “It exceeded my expectations,” he said. “At moments it turned to magic — the sublime and life-altering at times.”

There is no doubt that the 2009 Writers’ Conference was a great success. Students and adults alike left the gymnasium with a new respect for writing, a hunger for literature and a new book or two autographed and tucked under their arm. Many people will be anticipating the line up of next years L3: Writers’ Conference on April 15 and 16, 2010. The only question would be: who will be in the next exciting lineup?

*About the iDeology Program at Barrie North Collegiate

Open Book is thrilled to host the iDeology Progam's student blog. iDeology is a unique package of three Grade 12 high school courses rolled into one: English, Writers’ Craft and Philosophy. The Program focuses on personal growth through reading, creative writing, exploring ideas and exciting class projects. The L3 Writers’ Conference is perhaps the biggest project; iDeology students organise and run Ontario’s largest high school literary event, featuring workshops, readings, contests and presentations. Each year over twenty authors present to more than 300 students and the evening events, open to the general public, draw close to 500 people each night! Past participants include Alistair MacLeod, Nino Ricci, Eleanor Wachtel, Joy Kogawa, Jay Ingram, Erika Ritter and dozens more. iDeology students also produce a professional magazine, perform a Poetry Slam, write and produce plays and short films, host a concert and much more. iDeology is associated with UPC – Laurentian University at Georgian in Barrie (patron professor – Dr. Bruce Meyer). Students get guest lectures from university profs and attend university lectures on campus. Students also get interesting field trips to other universities, Stratford Festival, CBC, CTV, Much Music and performances. International travel saw students go to New York City and soon London & Edinburgh. In addition to blogging on www.openbooktoronto.com, iDeology participates in the “Aristotle” online essay competition – and won it in 2008! iDeology is a unique and exciting way for students to prepare for university and perhaps “find themselves” along the way. The Program is taught by Brian Adduono at Barrie North Collegiate in Barrie, Ontario.

Please see previous student articles about the preparation for the Writers' Conference here and here.

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