Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Who was there: CNFC conference at the Banff Centre

The recent conference of the Creative Nonfiction Collective, CNFC, was a blizzard of information, activity and fun.

Commonwealth Writers' Prize winner and photo journalist Deni Bechard discussed writers as citizens. He spoke of civilization's need to explore new ways of doing things. His writing topics range from the Gulabi Gang of women activists in India to the non-aggressive society of Bonobos in the Congo.

Another highlight Elly Danica. Her memoir, Don't: a Woman's Word (1989) encouraged other women to break their silence about abuse and incest. Even so, many conference delegates were unaware of Elly's work. Hal Wake was present to interview her; the two first met when Peter Gzowski had Danica on CBC Morningside when her groundbreaking book came out.

Camilla Gibb, first known for her fiction, discussed her 2015 memoir with essayist Susan Olding, and Beth Kaplan gave a great workshop on how to perform your work effectively. John Barton, editor of the venerable and respected Malahat Review, talked about the value of Canada's literary magazines and advised writers on the how to get their work placed there.

Ethnographer Wayde Davis, another thinker who believes we humans must change our outlooks and approaches, gave an evening lecture that was open to the public as well as to conference attendees. Davis, who is not against mining per se, spoke in a calm and factual manner about Red Chris mine. During the lecture, Davis showed slides of the stunningly beautiful and formerly pristine Sacred Headwaters of three of BC's great salmon rivers, the Skeena, the Nass, and the Stickine. The breathtaking beauty of this wilderness area made his talk all the more poignant.

Davis described the ill-informed and ill-starred decision-making process that has led to the opening of the mine on Todigan Mountain. This uniquely gorgeous natural landscape and wildlife habitat of the largest population of stone sheep in the world, as well as various endangered wild mammals habitat is about to be sacrificed to "resource extraction." This rash decision was made by people who had never visited the area. After BC taxpayers subsidized the enormous cost of hydro delivery to this remote part of the province, the government gave the contract to the mining company that was responsible for the disastrous and preventable toxic spill at Mount Polley in 2014. Things could be worse; the original idea was for several mines in the area; however only one has gone ahead.

Overall, this interesting and informative conference, run by a lively and devoted group of organizers, offered more sessions than one person could attend. A late highlight was the Literary Cabaret, which included a hilarious session of impromptu storytelling, was ably led by Annie, who hosts a similar event at Blue Metropolis in Montreal. And speaking of Montreal, that's where next year's conference will be held. I hope to be there.

As a first timer, I found CNFC Banff a great venue as well as a great conference. The rooms were airy and spacious, and there was even water (with real glasses!) and tissues on each table. As Beth Kaplan quipped, "in case I make you cry." Before the conference ended, Devyaneh Salzmann visited delegates to discuss changing programs and residencies at the Banff Centre.

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