NorthWords writers’ festival heads online in June

This year’s NorthWords NWT literary festival will take place online from June 19-28, replacing the traditional format of events held at locations around Yellowknife and beyond.

Valerie Gamache, NorthWords executive director, told Cabin Radio the online event would remain “totally in line with our mission to support and promote writers.

With writers and artists often having less income this year during the Covid-19 pandemic, Gamache said “that’s really what motivated our decision to move forward.”


The festival has been a staple of the northern literary scene since 2006, showcasing northern and Indigenous authors.

This year’s festival will feature live video panels, pre-recorded readings, and virtual writing workshops. It coincides with National Aboriginal Day on June 21, which will be celebrated with traditional forms of storytelling.

Featured writers include Jesse Thistle, Niigaan Sinclair, and Fort Smith’s Richard Van Camp.

“Everybody was up for it,” Gamache said of this year’s guests. “It’s been very incredible responses … very, very exciting.”

A reading will be shared online each morning of the festival, with a more interactive event each evening. A detailed schedule and full lineup is expected this week.


Reconfiguring the festival has been a learning curve, Gamache admitted. NorthWords has hired technicians to ensure everything runs smoothly.

“They are going to give us a hand during the live events to make sure that if something goes wrong, we have help,” Gamache said, “and we don’t start panicking too much.”

Going online gives the festival a chance to widen its geographic reach. While typically rooted in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, and Hay River, people from across the territory will now be able to tune in for free.

If there’s enough interest in the virtual version, NorthWords could come to smaller communities in physical form some day.


“Now that we are gaining this expertise that means, in the future, we can offer some of our events [to] other communities in the North as well,” Gamache said.

“We’re hoping that they’re going to come, have a peek, enjoy a few of our activities, and then after that, they’ll stick with us.”

NorthWords president Robyn Scott said residents have volunteered time and know-how to make the festival possible.

“It is moving how passionate people in the NWT [are about] supporting artists during this time,” Scott wrote to Cabin Radio.

“I think a lot of it is about resiliency: that we can be faced with obstacles and through these difficult times we can still survive, or even thrive, in the face of adversity.

“I like those messages of hope that I can find in literature.”

NWT residents can check out the NorthWords Facebook page for updates on this year’s festival.