Interview With Leslie Hurtig, Artistic Director at Vancouver Writers Fest


Please share with readers a bit about the journey that led you to where you are now - the Artistic Director at Vancouver Writers Fest.

I  grew up in a house of books; my parents opened the first bookstore in Western Canada, and my dad went on to be a publisher and writer, so you could say that working in this industry is in my blood. Through university, I worked at Munro’s Books in Victoria, and later Blackberry Books in Vancouver and Greenwoods Books in Edmonton. These jobs lead me to publishing; publicity, sales and foreign rights sales. As my kids were growing, I volunteered for the Board of Directors at the Vancouver Writers Festival and then eventually became the Artistic Director of the organization.

What is the Vancouver Writers Fest, and what is the ultimate goal of the organization? What type of events do they offer?

The Vancouver Writers Fest is a literary arts presentation organization. We began in 1988 as an annual, international festival that aimed to connect writers with readers, and grew into an organization that offers year-round programming for all ages and across many genres. Our October festival remains the center point of our activities, but we also run a series of free events in partnership with the Vancouver Public Library from January to June, and a series of events for youth throughout the year. In addition to these, we present Special Events throughout the year with internationally renowned writers in conversation. We connect people to exceptional books, ideas and dialogue, aiming to ignite a passion for words and the world around us.


What is an Artistic Director, and what does fulfilling that role for this organization mean in terms of job requirements and how you spend your day?

In partnership with an incredible team, I program events for the organization. My job is to connect with publishers, literary agents, authors and moderators to produce the events that appear on our stages and at the workshops or events that fuel our community engagement. This means keeping on top of publishing trends, forthcoming titles, and the people who are writing and publishing the books. I also spend a lot of time connecting with other arts organizations with whom we partner or share ideas and information. 

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Depending on the time of year, my day is spent meeting or emailing with publishers and authors, as well as planning forthcoming cycles of events. I travel 2-3 times per year to Toronto for meetings, and spend a good part of my day reading manuscripts or pitches for new books. Occasionally, I also get to interview some of the authors who come to the festival. Of course, as a not-for-profit administrator, my job also entails working with the team and our Board of Directors to keep the organization financially healthy and relevant. This means fundraising and connecting with cultural partners.

What do you love most about the job you do? Can you share a high moment your remember? 

I learned very early on that “book people” are my kind of people. I have found that folks working with (or on) books tend to be open-minded, thoughtful, intellectually challenging, funny and generous. The thing I love most about my job is the incredible people I get to work with, and the conversations that I get to be privy to. I feel so lucky to be able to listen to the conversations between writers, journalists, publishers and booksellers. There has never been a time that I’ve come away from an event or dialogue when I haven’t learned something new, or thought about an issue in a new way.

A highlight for me is always festival-week, when the days are a blur, but I stop for just a moment to watch a few minutes of any of our 80 events, and hear the crowd murmuring their appreciation, or guffawing at a conversation on stage. I love to feel the electricity in a room when the events are going well and the authors’ words are resonating. That’s magic.

Another highlight was interviewing my literary hero, UK writer, Deborah Levy. Covid meant that visit ended up being virtual, which was probably a good thing because my toe was tapping wildly from stress. She was gracious though, and I was grateful.

VWF has several events coming up? Would you like to share a bit about them?

This May we are presenting a Bestseller Series, featuring three events with three acclaimed, bestselling writers; Margaret Atwood, Louise Penny and R.F. Kaung!

Three years of pandemic programming resulted in the Vancouver Writers Fest not being able to host our usual number of in-person, ticketed Special Events. Normally, events like these provide the bread and butter needed to fund our flagship Festival in October. The pandemic resulted in serious deficits (not just for us, but for all most arts organizations), and we were concerned moving into this new year. 

Margaret Atwood came to the rescue by offering her time, and waiving her usual fee. As a result, we are able to present Ms. Atwood on May 7th at the Chan Centre; an event that goes a long way to raise funds for the festival. She will be talking to award-winning author, Ian Williams, about her new collection of short stories, Old Babes in the Wood, which is fantastic, by the way.

In collaboration with her publisher, Louise Penny also agreed to visit us, and to be in conversation with her good friend, Shelagh Rogers. We’re delighted to be presenting Ms. Penny on Mother’s Day (May 13th) to discuss her latest Armand Gamache mystery, A World of Curiosities, and to also celebrate Shelagh’s 15 years with CBC’s The Next Chapter.


And finally, R.F. (Rebecca) Kuang, the New York Times bestselling fantasy writer, will be joining us with her much-anticipated new novel, Yellowface. She will be in conversation with local author and moderator extraordinaire, Eddy Boudel Tan at Djavad Mowafaghian Theatre at SFU Woodwards. We had to move this one to a larger theatre because demand for tickets was so hot.

Where can readers go to learn more about VWF and to purchase tickets?

Information on all our events can always be found on our website at There you can also sign up for our weekly newsletter, Books and Ideas, which is a great way to stay up to date on events happening at the VWF and all across Vancouver.

We also have a podcast, Books & Ideas Audio, which you can find wherever you access your favourite podcasts!


I would love to close with a quote that has personal meaning for you. One that is your go-to. Could be on the importance or reading, or one that guides you through your day.

"Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences." --Sylvia Plath,

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