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Writers Festival Programming Streams

Renowned poets performing at the top of their game and interacting with the audience is live literature at its best. Some would argue that poetry needs to be read aloud. We would agree and add that there’s nothing like hearing the cadence and tone of poems when delivered by the authors themselves.

Audiences in Ottawa, as befitting a national capital and an international city, demand the highest level of debate and discussion. THE BIG IDEA, our town-hall style discussion with audience participation, covers the issues of the day.

This is where book-lovers come to hear their favourite stories come to life as read by the author. More than a reading, The Writing Life also features on-stage conversations where authors engage with the audience and their peers. Often funny, occasionally moving, and always fascinating, The Writing Life is an opportunity to spend time with the greats, to meet up-and-coming authors, and to get to know the inspiration behind the works.

With climate change, clones, superbugs, genetic discoveries and life on Mars making headlines around the world, it’s not just experts at the NRC or intellects on campus who are fascinated by the latest scientific breakthroughs. Cutting-edge developments presented to general audiences in an interactive setting are the essence of ‘The New Science’.

Some of the world’s best writing is happening outside the pages of books. The Writers Festival regularly features staged play readings, feature films, documentaries, CD launches and songwriters circles. Innovative programming expands the Festival’s reach to youth, reluctant readers and the community at large.

With non-fiction topping bestseller lists, Festival programming features a growing number of acclaimed biographers and popular historians. With a special focus on Canadian events and including local as well as international authors, we offer audiences the opportunity to explore the world from many perspectives and to spend time with many of the most fascinating characters of today and yesteryear.

Community and Social Development

We’ve been bringing the best storytellers and illustrators from around the world into contact with kids throughout the region since 1999 through Think Ink / Step into Stories: Ottawa’s Festival for Young Readers. In many ways, the workshops, author readings and energetic Q&A sessions with thousands of children each year—many from Ottawa’s most disadvantaged and challenged schools—is perhaps the most important program we offer. As our schools struggle to boost their standings in province-wide comparisons, and with reading showing the least improvement of ‘the three Rs’, our commitment is to intensify our efforts to build on the results we’re seeing from these programs.

As well as offering our literary programming throughout the year, we have been forming partnerships with literacy groups across the country to understand the relationship between literacy, writing and social inclusion, and to explore and develop ways to bridge the gap between literacy and literature.

Senator Joyce Fairbairn, a champion of the literacy movement in Canada for over 20 years, has referred to the literacy situation in this country as Canada's “hidden shame.”

The costs, both financial and spiritual, of the literacy crisis in Canada are devastating, and it is part of our mandate to develop solutions to the extreme challenges of this situation.

Over the next few years we are embarking on a number of bold initiatives to bring writers and target groups together in an effort to spread the word that with imagination, compassion and the right partnerships, we can raise the rate of literacy in Canada.

We will be working closely, not only with children, but with the homeless, new Canadians, First Nations, and parolees to create writing and publishing opportunities as well as other basic skills that will enable these citizens to gain self-esteem and to overcome obstacles in achieving their full potential.

Our History

We launched the first Ottawa International Writers Festival at the National Arts Centre on September 5, 1997. It featured sixteen writers from Ireland (the largest contingent ever to read beyond the Emerald Isle), sharing the stage with thirty-five Canadian writers from across the country. We called our inaugural Festival the “Writes of Passage” and we spoke of the gift of literature and the intimate relationship between the writer and audience that reminds us that “ultimately none of us lives in isolation, that we are all interconnected, all part of one large, often cramped, sometimes raucous, but never dull world-family.”

The Festival opened with an Aboriginal elder conducting a sweet grass ceremony, followed by the haunting sounds of Celtic music and dancing. From opening night to our closing celebration with Pulitzer Prize winner Frank McCourt reading from Angela's Ashes, those nine days had transported us to a different world. Those were heady days, when we were crazy enough to program six writers each evening without an intermission!  Heady days, when we transformed a former NAC bookstore turned storage room into our “Irishtown Pub”—selling more beer during the course of the Festival than the entire NAC summer program! The Fourth Stage was born!

For more than a decade now, we've been celebrating the world’s best writing from home and abroad with an eclectic program that presents interactions with leaders in the worlds of science, history, poetry, politics, spoken word, economics, drama, fiction, biography, music, religion, spirituality and more. Since 2004, the Festival has consisted of two annual Editions, Spring and Fall, with special events throughout the year.

In the course of our twelve years, presenting hundreds of authors to the public, the Writers Festival has featured more than 50 Governor General Award winners, two dozen Trillium Award winners, eight Giller Prize winners, seven Pulitzer Prize winners, five Booker Prize winners and Nobel Laureates Naguib Mahfouz and José Saramago, along with bestsellers and wonderful emerging voices. 

Local writers have always been of special importance in Festival programming, ensuring that this city’s best share the stage with greats from around the world. An editorial in The Ottawa Citizen on October 11, 2006, notes: “The festival does bring the world’s writers to Ottawa, but more importantly, it holds a mirror up to Ottawa’s writing scene... It’s getting difficult to imagine the Ottawa writing community without the spring and fall versions of the writers festival, or its other special events throughout the year.” 

About Oneness-World

Oneness-World Communications is a charitable corporation (Charitable # 86830 7778 RR0001) whose mission is “to promote an appreciation of the cultural arts in Canada through public events; to create and manage public events that promote literacy and the cultural arts; and to provide related services. The most visible manifestation of this mission is the Ottawa International Writers Festival, Spring and Fall Editions.”

In addition to our annual literary Festivals and our Step into Stories literacy program for young readers, we also host year-round literary events and literacy programs for the disadvantaged. 


Sarah Dearing
Wayne Grady
Charlotte Gray

Kenneth J. Harvey
David Hamilton
Remco Volmer
Thea Yeatman



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