October 25 marked the 22nd annual Totally Unknown Writers Festival hosted at the Rivoli Pool Hall in downtown Toronto. UTM students past and present gathered alongside other aspiring writers to share their writing. Though the event got off to a late start and was short a few readers, this was hardly noticeable as friends and family shuffled in to show their support.
What appeared to be a small room tucked away at the back of the hall was actually much more. Food, drinks, and a small stage made for a casual and relaxed environment. Everyone socialized, and while the attendance might have been lower than in past years, it didn’t weigh on the most important thing: celebrating the writers and their work. Everyone settled in as UTM professor Guy Allen, a pioneer in the style of creative non-fiction and the co-founder of Life Rattle Press, introduced the show.
The night featured stories on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from emotional tales of immigration to fond recollections of the past, humorous encounters, and truly powerful life-changing experiences. The diversity of the authors’ styles of writing ensured that the event was never dull and positive energy kept up throughout the evening. The mood in the room felt more like an intimate gathering than a festival, and certainly provided a warm and welcoming environment.
Because of UTM’s professional writing and communication program, UTM students get a leg up when it comes to creative non-fiction. The style taught in PWC is not easy to master—it requires a perfect balance of personal subject matter and solid technique.
Former UTM student Gabriel Micelli wowed with his story “Fireworks”. The piece provided a thoughtful recollection of both past and present Canada Days by contrasting both and remembering lost love.
Among the writers was a nervous Aaron Jervis, a current UTM student who admitted that he didn’t know what to expect of the festival. His story “Silver Ladders” was a piece that has been in the works for years, constantly changing and growing thanks to ongoing edits from his professor. He said he’s enjoyed the process immensely and expressed that “it’s genuine for me”, which has made writing for him all the more meaningful. He took pride in being able to look at his piece from the perspective of both an author and a reader.
The atmosphere of the event hit a heavier note with Janine Carter’s “Strangers”, a story about strained parental relationships and dealing with the termination of a pregnancy. She said that at first she was “writing about stupid stuff like parties” but found that drawing from a more emotional well just struck a note with readers and made her writing that much richer.
After a brief intermission, the night wrapped up on a lighter note with stories like Kau Monydhot’s “Binti Kiziwi”. The audience had a good laugh with his story about one of the most frightening experiences teenage boys go through: talking to girls. Then, Caroline Wade put a light-hearted spin on the troubles of substance abuse in her story “Christina”. What impressed me was how stories from the festival all seemed to band together to show what the GTA is all about—diversity and acceptance in the face of the differences people experience on a daily basis.