Festival flourishes in third year with broad literary focus

Growing Room

When: March 11-15

Where: Various Vancouver locations

Tickets and info:festival.roommagazine.com

Shani Mootoo has never been to the Growing Room feminist literary and arts festival but the author is looking forward to seeing what other artists have to say at the March 11-15 event.

“It’s kind of a very interesting experiment … ” said Mootoo about the varied roster of participants. “There are a lot of writers here who are doing very different kinds of writing. Lots of young people who are putting into practice many of the political ideas that they’ve been sort of honing for the last several years as society has been really, really changing in terms of identity and stuff like that.

“I find that interesting and I would like to hear what people are saying and see how the literature is changing right now,” added Mootoo, once a Vancouver resident who now calls rural Prince Edward County, Ont., home

Mootoo, who wrote the Giller Prize-nominated Cereus Blooms at Night, is coming to the festival with a new novel. Polar Vortex is set in a bucolic rural Ontario town. In it we meet painter Priya who has moved to the boonies with her writer partner Alexandra. The pair has a comfortable life as artists. Priya, though, has threatened the couple’s bliss by inviting to visit an old friend with whom she has a very complicated and fraught emotional past. It’s a past that Alex knows very little about.

Mootoo’s novel makes you wonder about how much is too much information, and who decides that?

“What I really came to enjoy exploring was how much do you share,” said Mootoo when asked about revealing our personal histories. “How much do you hold back and the recognition that you don’t have to face everything and the other person cannot really know what you’re thinking. You also don’t know what the other person is thinking. When I realized that in a sense that’s what I was writing it just sort of just kept amplifying. It was making me uncomfortable to even write it.”

Also an acclaimed poet, Mootoo, who was born in Ireland and raised in Trinidad, will be taking part in a handful of events/panels at Growing Room.

“First of all she’s a wonderful writer. We were really excited about Shani’s upcoming work,” said the festival’s director, Jessica Johns. “She was a Vancouver resident, she doesn’t live here anymore, but it’s exciting to have someone kind of return, especially now with a new work coming up and with connections to the place.”

The festival, now in its third year, is showcasing 85 renowned writers, filmmakers, dancers, comedians and musicians from across Canada. The idea for the festival is to “celebrate inclusive storytelling in all its forms,” and allow people to proudly be themselves “through art.”

While that inclusivity of storytelling is the backbone of the event, the festival is still literary in nature. Some of the writers joining Mootoo at the event are: Griffin Poetry Prize-winners Eve Joseph and Liz Howard, and Gov.-Gen. Prize-winner Gwen Benaway.

Growing Room festival director Jessica Johns is in her first year at the helm of the young festival.

Growing Room /


“It’s a festival that celebrates the writing and artwork of artists, women, which of course includes trans and sis women, two-spirit, non binary and queer artists,” said Johns when asked to describe Growing Room. “It’s also a festival very focused in anti-oppression and trying to create as accessible a space as we can for as many folks as possible to be able to attend in some form or another.”

With that accessibility comes a wide range of events, panels and social opportunities. Key changes this year include the shortening of the festival from nine to a much-more-manageable five days. There will be online access for those who can’t get to the actual events, and a marketplace will be set up at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

“It’s doing really well. I feel like this is something that people really want,” said Johns when asked about how things were going leading up to the festival.

“It’s at a time where there’s a lot of political and social unrest for a lot of legitimate reasons and I think having a space that is very open about talking about those things, and the effect that that’s having on the art world is very (important). So we focus on that … It’s important to have a space like this when it seems like the world is going to hell, you know?”



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