The romantic story of the Northwords Writers’ Festival

Before Northwords, there had been many previous incarnations of a Yellowknife literary event. From Evenings with Northern Authors to the Territorial Writers’ Association’s Literary Breakfast, many people interested in writing or reading had limited time or events together to share their enthusiasm for the written word.

Like many great things, the Northwords Writers’ Festival was conceived during the coldest months of the arctic winter. Yellowknife’s first Northwords Festival was brought to life by a small group of writers and literary enthusiasts who romanced a small budget from their first two sponsors: the Tlicho Government and DeBeers Canada. Much like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to create a successful festival event. In the beginning and with the passion and hard work of folks like Cathy Jewison, Doris McCann, Larry Adamson, Judith Drinnan, and Richard Van Camp, the Northwords Writer’s Festival was presented to Yellowknife in August of 2006.

Northwords Festival Founders

The creators were thrilled with the success of the first festival and despite the small budget, they had big dreams for their festival. So out they went into the community looking for more sponsors and writers to help it grow. At the tender age of two, the festival hosted its first Giller Prize winner, Elizabeth Hay. But like every two-year-old, the festival required a lot of time and attention so finding dedicated volunteers was essential.

Once the festival started receiving core funding, it hired an executive director to oversee the administrative essentials of the growing event. From writing funding applications to checking emails and mailing out membership cards, the executive director has been essential to the balance and success of Northwords.

So with a budding romance between its creators and funders, along with an increased allowance, Northwords grew. Soon literary greats such as Joseph Boyden, Jay Ingram, Ivan Coyote, Annabel Lyon, Charlotte Gray, Gregory Scofield, and Kathy Reichs, all wanted to visit Yellowknife and participate in the magic of Northwords.

The success of the festival has helped it develop an excellent reputation. With that reputation and even more support from DeBeers Canada, Northwords launched an anthology of NWT writing before it was even eight years old. Coming Home: Stories from the NWT was an opportunity for many Northern writers have their work published for the first time. It was also a chance for the territory and the country to get a glimpse of the talent many residents have spent crafting on those long, cold, dark nights.

It takes amazing people to make an event consistently successful. Providing writers the opportunity to grow, sharing the magic of the north, showing pride in the Northwords organization, discovering new talent, and being surprised by works of astonishing power are all gifts the festival has given the community. Within a relatively short period of time, Northwords has put itself on the map as one of the really great Canadian literary events. The opportunity writers and the public have to access established and experienced authors is a result of the hard work of many volunteers. There are a few faces that have been around a long while and who have been essential to the exceptional development of this extraordinary young festival:

Judith Drinnan, the owner of the Yellowknife Book Cellar was one of the original founding members of Northwords. She continues to support the festival by hosting the author’s welcome dinner and by promoting the books and authors of the festival and of the north. Signing events are often held at the store where the public has an opportunity to meet authors and buy copies of their work. Judith also offers administrative support to the executive director during the festival as well as donating piles and piles of books for door prizes.

Annelies Poole has been the executive director of Northwords for 5 years. Annelies has worked diligently at promoting and organizing, making policies and writing funding applications. On top of all that, she has published a collection of her work titled Iceberg Tea and is working on completing her first novel. Annelies has been an excellent disciplinarian, keeping the festival on the straight and narrow and has it headed towards a bright and shining future.

Richard Van Camp is a magician. His passion and positivity make the festival an exciting and hair-perming experience. He has been part of Northwords since the beginning as a spirit of purely positive energy. Richard is a spiritual guide and mentor whose work and kind hearted nature inspire many of the NWT’s emerging writers. Richard is a peacekeeper, tension-breaker, smile-maker and he is filled with the most extraordinary generosity. Northwords is blessed to have such a talented role model on its board.

Richard Van Camp Yellowknife

Without the generous support of DeBeers Canada and our other sponsors, Northwords would not be what it is today. DeBeers has supported the Northwords festival as well as literacy within the NWT since its arrival. Without DeBeers, Coming Home would not have become a reality. DeBeers has been supporting writers and readers of the NWT financially as well as through their literacy program which has distributed hundreds and hundreds of books, free of charge, to children and families in communities all across the NWT.

This year marks the 8th Annual Northwords Writers Festival. It is a fantastic event that has grown every year since its inception on that dark magical winter night back in 2006. From the open mike Flash Fiction to the Saturday Evening Gala, Northwords has a little something for everyone. Get a taste of a hot romantic evening by attending the open mike erotica night titled: Blush or if you want something a little more intimate, writing workshops or one on one mentorships are available with festival authors. This weekend is packed full of fun, inspiring, and downright hot, literary events. So get involved and come out to an event or two or three and meet your brilliant local festival: Northwords NWT.

A full schedule of events can be found on the Northwords NWT website: you can find Northwords NWT on Facebook or follow them on Twitter @NorthWords

This article was written by Marcus Jackson. He is an artist and writer living in Yellowknife with his three cats. He participated in (and finished) the 2011 NaNoWriMo challenge and wrote his first novel in just 30 days! He is now editing said novel and planning another. Marcus writes two blogs on an irregular basis and occasionally reads the dictionary for fun. He studied writing at the University of Calgary and the fine art of print media at Alberta College of Art and Design.Angatjuq will be Marcus’ first published work. View his work at


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