Book nerds took over the ‘Knife last weekend as the Northwords Writers Festival attracted dozens of literary types for a weekend of discussions, workshops and readings.

The festivities were capped off by a Sunday afternoon panel discussion at the UNW building, which featured Dennis Allan, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Marilyn Biderman, Patti-Kay Hamilton, Catherine Lafferty, Antoine Mountain, WD Valgardson and Richard Van Camp.

With the discussion centering on how to support young and emerging writers, Patti-Kay Hamilton spoke to Yellowknifer about her career as a CBC reporter and her recently published memoir, Trapline to Deadline.

Antoine Mountain, Wd Valgardson, Marilyn Biderman, Patti-Kay Hamilton, Richard Van Camp, Dennis Allan, Catherine Lafferty and Billy-Ray Belcourt discuss how communities can raise writers at the UNW Building on Sunday afternoon.
photo courtesy of Nick Pearce

Over a decades-long career in the North, people across the region had many tales to tell, she said.

“There’s real value in collaboration” she said, explaining how someone who couldn’t read or write would approach her and ask her to tell their story.

Her writing skills became a vehicle for community members to share their stories, she said.

“There’s so much need for that,” she said.

But telling stories can be difficult. When she sat down to write the first draft of From Trapline to Deadline in the fall of 2017, she found it was “exhausting” to revisit some episodes of her past.

One such experience was her coverage of the coroner’s inquest into Father Henry Posset, who died by suicide following sexual abuse allegations.

“It all came back,” she said.

As she wrote, she could “remember holding the stenopad in front of my face. My notes were getting soaked with my tears because it was such a terrible, terrible story. There was so much (of) a tortured soul—his but also the women in the community and all the revelations that were coming out.”

“It rattles around in your soul always,” she said. “Those stories, you don’t forget them.”

“This stuff is bubbling up that I never dealt with,” she continued.

Some stories were left out – either because they didn’t fit, or they were potentially damaging.

Patti-Kay Hamilton, outside the UNW Building on Sunday afternoon, hopes her memoirs will inspire others to tell their stories.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

During the writing process she slipped back into journalistic fact-checking, reviewing the spellings of names, the years of events and the small details that colour her book. Occasionally her editor would point out how her prose had slipped back into news writing.

She said

It could be a “pretty lonely gig,” in her career at Fort Smith, she said as she balanced her personal relationships in the community with her obligations as a journalist.

Now that experience doubles as example. As younger and emerging writers read her memoirs, and learn more about the region’s other writers, she said she hopes they know that “in the North anything is possible.”

Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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