By Matthew Gilbert for the Orcas Island Lit Fest
The primary mission of the Orcas Island Lit Fest, taking place this June 2 – 3, is to “support literary culture in the San Juan Islands,” especially aspiring writers and students. In that spirit, this year’s event again has a plenitude of local talent and opportunities for community-building. Orcas Island is well represented with Jill Johnson, Victoria Grageda-Smith, Michael Hurwicz, Shannon Page, and Quinn Bailey (technically not a local now, but he grew up on Orcas and was a familiar face behind the counter of Darvill’s). Iris Graville, Abigail Prout, and Irene Skyriver call Lopez home, while Michael McGregor lives part-time on San Juan. Jessica Gigot, Matthew Sullivan, and Gail Folkins are Skagitonians for whom the islands have been a source of writerly inspiration.
Indeed, the natural richness of this enchanting archipelago – and the (arguably!) charming quirkiness of its towns and inhabitants – has in different ways moved all of these artists in crafting their work. “I find the beauty and the small-town vibe, with all its incumbent eccentricities, incredibly inspiring,” says mystery writer Shannon Page, whose most recent novel is Orcas Intermission, the fifth and final book of her Chameleon Chronicles. For poet Jill McCabe Johnson (whose press, Wandering Aengus, has published several local and regional poets and writers), “Access to nature is important to my writing and my overall well-being.”
The “bewitching beauty” of the islands “makes this the perfect sanctuary for providing infinite inspiration and the solitude necessary to devote myself to my writing,” said Victoria Grageda-Smith, who is a featured “debut novel” panelist on Saturday for The Thomasite (historical fiction set in the early 1900s about the " benevolent assimilation of Filipinos" by 500 American teachers). “On Orcas Island in particular, I find kindred spirit with its many artists who are equally passionate about their art – whether in the visual arts, theater arts, dance, or music – which, in turn, inspires me toward excellence in my literary work.”
The festival itself plays an important role in providing a supportive community for those whose work is often a solitary endeavor. “In the large literary world, it is rare to find a small, well-curated event that centers on connection,” says poet, farmer, and environmental writer Jessica Gigot, whose second book, Feeding Hour, was a 2021 Washington State Book Award finalist. For first-time writer Michael Hurwicz (Leonid Hurwicz: Intelligent Designer), “I want to be able to present effectively about my writing, and this gives me a chance to practice in a relatively non-terrifying environment.”
“Hearing creative and caring people share their work in person is pure nourishment, even more so in such a special place,” says Matthew Sullivan, author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore with two more under contract, whose specialty is “literary mystery” fiction. “The LitFest is an amazing opportunity,” says Shannon Page. “Writing can be lonely work, so it’s valuable to be able to connect with other writers, to hear what they are working on, to share our words and our stories.”
The best part is that you can experience all of these writers – along with others from the northwest region – at the “free for all” Friday night Lit Walk, where each of them will read from their work at one of the following venues: The Barnacle, Darvill’s Bookstore, Doe Bay Wine Co., Gerties, Roots, and Tidepool. Go to the Lit Walk page [https://www.oilf.org/festival-schedule-2023] on the OILF website for a schedule. And there are still a few tickets left for the Saturday panels and the Saturday night special event, “Word Play: An Evening of Songs and Stories,” available for purchase here. [https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2023-orcas-island-lit-fest-in-person-tickets-574871053797 ]