After many complications and delays over the past three years, the annual SPARKS Literary Festival is finally back in full swing.
The 2023 SPARKS Literary Festival was initially scheduled for January but was postponed due to weather. Fortunately, the event was rescheduled and was finally held on April 23rd at the Suncor Energy Hall. Fittingly, this date happened to coincide with World Book Day.
This year marked the festival’s return to its typical in-person gathering. This was the first time the event had been held in-person since 2019.
History of SPARKS
SPARKS was founded by Mary Dalton in 2009, and it has been dedicated to celebrating Newfoundland and Labrador’s literature ever since. Memorial’s Department of English currently hosts the festival with support from the entire Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Over the years, the festivals have featured a wide variety of authors, from novelists, playwrights, and poets, to comic book artists, television writers and more. The diversity of the writers who have appeared on SPARKS panels over the years reflects the diverse and ever-changing nature of Newfoundland and Labrador’s literature.
This year, Dr. Natasha Hurley, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Dr. Nancy Pedri, English Department Head, introduced the event. The festival’s founder, Mary Dalton, was also in attendance.
SPARKS 2023 was dedicated to Stan Dragland, a highly influential figure in Canadian and Newfoundland literature who passed away this year. Lisa Moore gave a tribute to Dragland at the beginning of the event.
This year’s festival featured five panels and 17 guest speakers.
The first panel, Theatre and Short Story, was moderated by Dr. Rob Ormsby. Bernice Morgan, Dave Sullivan, Sally Cunningham, and Kristina Anne Stocks each read from some of their recent work. Jim McEwen, who was also scheduled to attend this panel, was unfortunately unable to attend.
From left to right: Bernice Morgan, Dave Sullivan, Sally Cunningham, and Kristina Anne Stocks. (Photo credit: Memorial University Department of English via Facebook)
Next up, Dr. Jamie Skidmore moderated the Writer in Residence Panel dedicated to showcasing Memorial’s 2023 Writer in Residence, Meghan Greeley.
Greeley read from her upcoming novella Jawbreaker. SPARKS marked the end of Greeley’s term as Writer in Residence at MUN.
(Photo credit: Memorial University Department of English via Facebook)
The third panel, moderated by Andrew Hawthorn, was dedicated to comics and featured panellists Georgia Webber, Paul Tucker, Kelly Bastow, and Kate Beaton.
From left to right: Georgia Webber, Paul Tucker, Kelly Bastow, and Kate Beaton. (Photo credit: https://www.hss.mun.ca/sparks/authors.html)
The Poetry and Short Story panel was moderated by Heidi Wicks, featuring guests Diane Carley, Delores Mullings, Maggie Burton, and Leah Lewis.
From left to right: Diane Carley, Delores Mullings, Maggie Burton, and Leah Lewis. (Photo credit: Memorial University Department of English via Facebook)
The final panel, titled Story, was moderated by Dr. Helene Staveley and comprised of readings from Julia Laite, Sheila O’Neill, Chief Mi’sel Joe, and Morgan Murray.
From left to right: Julia Laite, Sheila O’Neill, Chief Mi’sel Joe, and Morgan Murray. (Photo credit: Memorial University Department of English via Facebook)
Learn more about each of the festival’s panellists here.
During each of these panels, the audience had the chance to ask the writers questions about their work. These questions opened up insightful discussions about various subjects, from the authors’ inspirations for their writing to their technical processes.
The audience was able to interact more directly with the authors during coffee breaks and book signings throughout the day-long event. They also had the opportunity to purchase the panellists’ recent publications at tables set up by the MUN Bookstore.
Although the pandemic may have temporarily disrupted the tradition, the SPARKS Festival is no worse for the wear. This year’s in-person festival was well worth the wait.
As always, the festival was a wonderful way to pay tribute to the province’s rich literary landscape.