A festival for lovers of literature

Jule Treneer has been visiting Orcas since he was young. He noticed, however, that something was missing from an island that is filled with creativity and art: a literature festival. So he and fellow book enthusiast Scott Hutchins created one.

“It really struck me as odd that [Orcas] didn’t have a literary festival because of the character of the island and … the general enthusiasm for the arts,” Treneer said. “So we founded the nonprofit and then added a board – our first board – this last year in 2017.”

The inaugural Orcas Island event will run April 13–15 and features both free and ticketed offerings held at various venues around Eastsound although the majority of the main events will be at Orcas Center. Literary professionals from near and far will gather to speak on topics as well as read and discuss their work.

Early prices for weekend passes is $65, and a limited number of passes are available. Saturday’s family fest is free, but reserving tickets online is recommended. Battle of the Genres “after party” from 9–10 p.m. on Saturday at Odd Fellows Hall is $10 and separately ticketed. To view all of the visiting authors and a schedule of events as well as purchase tickets, visit oilf.org.

“It’s been incredible to see the energy pull this together, and I’m really excited about what’s going to happen here,” said Hutchins, a novelist and professor at Stanford University. “So many writers and so much literature in that area of the world. … I’m really glad we’re able to bring this together there.”

Treneer is a part-time Orcas resident who spends the other half of his life in Paris. He and Hutchins are longtime friends who have always wanted to collaborate on a project.

“The Orcas Island Lit Fest is a natural for the islands community. Not only does it bring internationally recognized authors to our corner of the world, but it showcases local literary talent, too,” said author Jill McCabe Johnson, a member of the OILF Board of Directors, which also includes Samuel Gailey, Ayn Gailey, Shannon Borg, Iris Graville and Theresa Harris. “Just as importantly, the islands are an extremely well-read community. I think our visiting writers will be pleasantly surprised to hang out with such smart and engaging readers and writers as we’re lucky to have here.”

Noted authors include several members of the board as well as Jami Attenberg, Kevin Clark, Tara Conklin, Kim Fu, Samuel Gailey Thor Hanson, Adam Johnson, Gilbert King, Robin Sloan, Willy Vlautin, Urban Waite, Jonathan White, Charise Mericle Harper, Lilliam Rivera, Bruce Holbert and more. The writers represent fiction, non fiction, memoir, kids’ books, screenwriting and more.

“We’ve invited an award-winning group of authors and other sorts of publishing industry professionals and people related to the film industry to come up and join us for panel discussions and one-on-one conversations about all things literary,” Treneer said. “All in all it’s going to be a really fabulous experience for people who love books and love reading.”

This year’s festival, which Treneer said he hopes becomes an annual event, is partially funded by a $10,000 grant from the San Juan County Lodging Tax Advisory Committee.

“It really put us on the map financially and helped to legitimize us in the community,” Treneer said. “That’s a really terrific asset for the community… We feel really fortunate to have benefited from that.”

Board member and author Samuel Gailey said he has heard people comparing the upcoming OILF to the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado – only for books.

“We are trying to create an intimate, world-class literary event where people who love to read books can meet and mingle with the authors and poets who love to write them,” he said. “Unlike other festivals that are attended by thousands of readers, we’re limited to only a few hundred attendees our first year, but that challenge is what makes us special. Less people means a more personal, intimate experience.”

McCabe Johnson said that it has been important to the board from the beginning that the literature festival be accessible to people of all ages and interests. Ayn Gailey, who is also a writer on the board, added that half of the festival events are free to the public thanks to several community sponsors, so the economics are not limiting the public’s access to the festival.

“Following in the footsteps of organizations like Orcas Island Community Foundation, Orcas Island Education Foundation, Orcas Island Film Festival and the Chamber Music Festival, we see ourselves as adding to the positive legacy of the San Juan Islands,” McCabe Johnson said. “We’re islanders coming together to build something that is special and unique and that adds meaning to our lives and the lives of others.”