Every year, for the past 11 years, my summer officially begins when I hop on the ferry to Wolfe Island for the Joe Burke Wolfe Island Literary Festival.
I’ve been to the festival every year (ok, there was the one year when I had no voice and was stuck in bed with a fever) since the beginning. I’ve read at more than half of them. Every year I get asked by writers, how do I get asked to Wolfe Island? I hear it’s incredible.
And they’re right.
For me, it was the place I was invited to participate as a writer long before I had any reason to be invited. It was where I first read from every work I’ve gone on to publish. It’s the place I read from my first novel, and then sold them off a blanket on the grass, before they were available anywhere else. A special moment for me because the Joe Burke Wolfe Island Literary Festival is the closest I get to feeling at home.
Maybe it’s the magic common to all islands, maybe it’s the line-up considerations by Dave Bidini and Mark Mattson – always a mix of relative unknowns and literary superstars. Maybe it’s the location, hidden away, at the edge of the water where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence. Maybe it’s the fact that literally everyone in the audience will buy and read the books of every writer who reads at the festival. (Note to writers: Bring books to sell on Wolfe Island!) They’re an enthusiastic and engaged audience – they love poets, and memoirists, novelists and journalists with equal passion. They yell and heckle and applaud.
It’s all of those things. And more.
Where else can you watch a little boy dressed as a dog dance to Christian Bok’s poems like he’s at a rave? Or sneak away as the sunsets to a magically lit ferry garden discovered across the way by Steven Heighton? Or watch Stanley Cup Playoffs with Grant Lawrence on a rickety old TV set up in the hunting shed?
I can’t promise any specific magic this year at the Joe Burke Litfest, but I can tell you something magical will happen, something you won’t forget.
This Saturday, June 6, Mark Medley hosts this year’s celebration of literature. We will enjoy readings from Michael Crummey, Helen Guri, Paul Vermeersch, Dani Couture, Bernie Finkelstein, Darryl Webster, and Liz Howard.
Don’t miss it. I’ll see you on the ferry.
Tanis Rideout is the Poet-Laureate of Lake Ontario. She has been part of the Waterkeeper community forever.