Stephen King. A name that, in this day and age, really needs no introduction. The legendary author made his only Canadian appearance at the 2013 International Festival of Authors, kicking off the festival and headlining PEN Canada’s annual benefit. He was joined on stage by his son and fellow author Owen King, and bestselling thriller author Andrew Pyper, who took on moderation duties.
An introduction to an authors work can be via different means. Some individuals grab their works off the shelves of bookstores and immerse themselves into the universe the writers have created. Others, like myself, have seen adapted works. In the case of Stephen King, his storytelling ability was first communicated to me by various award winning films, such as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Powerful films, ones that tap into your psyche on a completely different level. King’s ability to really connect with the audience comes from his attention to detail, an element we see carried forward to adapted works.
Success is always something to look up-to, especially when you want to find inspiration. King has been writing for many years, even during the most difficult times of his life. Growing up with separated parents and being moved around a lot, King eventually attended the University of Maine at Orono where he began writing for the schools paper. His first professional short story sale happened in 1967, when he sold The Glass Floor to Startling Mystery Stories. His love for writing never stopped, no matter the circumstances. During the early years of his marriage, his temporary labor job to help pay the bills or his official appointment as an English teacher at Hampden Academy, he continued to write a combination of short stories and novels.
1973 is the year that changed Stephen King’s life forever. Publishing company Doubleday & Co. accepted his novel Carrie for publication and in 1974, a new era in literature would begin. Since then, the King name has grown, followers have accumulated and the significance of King’s books in modern literature has been forever immortalized. This evening at IFOA solidified all that and one other thing: the loyalty of his fans. An audience of 400+ people were there to spend an evening listening to their favourite author share stories and details from his life. Some fans who picked up pre-signed copies of his new book, Doctor Sleep, looked all gleamy-eyed at his bold signature on the title page. Others, couldn’t help but be incredibly nervous, fidgeting in their seats, some just starring at the purple curtain in front of them.
When the ceremonies began, including a few words from IFOA Director Geoffrey Taylor and PEN Canada Board Member Charles Foran, the man of the hour stepped on to the stage to a roar of applause from the audience. Some just couldn’t believe it. Stephen King was on stage! He read from his new book, then sat down to listen to his son Owen King read from his book, Double Feature. After both King family members did their respective readings, moderator Andrew Pyper kicked off one of my most memorable conversation events. Known for his dark and twisted stories, King was incredibly humorous that evening, cracking many jokes and taking opportunities to have a good laugh whenever possible. It was incredible to see a different side to the man we have come to assume through his works. He explained how ordinary his life is, reflecting on the importance of family, loving what you do and really, respecting the art of writing for what it is.
Through the conversations that evening, you knew you were listening to a very sophisticated man. Heck, you were in an audience with sophisticated people, including legendary Canadian author Margaret Atwood and the Honourable Adrienne Clarkson. King is not only passionate about his art, but the art of writing in general. Here you had father and son on stage, both discussing their works. The thing that really was significant was how proud King was of his son, and the respect he had for his son’s work. Sure, he cracked a joke or two, but always reminded us about how much love he has for his family. It’s a side of him that really added to the intimate atmosphere created that evening.
Once the official event was over and the audience Q&A complete, both Stephen and Owen King sat down together, side-by-side, to sign books for those in attendance. It was then that I had a chance to connect with some of King’s hardcore fans. There was a gentleman just behind me in line holding on to a hardcover book, standing side-by-side with his young daughter who was holding a paperback book. While I was chatting with another member in line, I couldn’t help but notice the book he was holding: a near mint, true first edition copy of Carrie, the one printed in 1974. Taken back and in complete shock, I asked him if he knew how valuable the item was that he was holding. Bit of a stupid question really, as in my head I knew he did. More shocked was the daughter when she found out how valuable it was. In my conversation with him, he did say that whatever he kept for himself was going to be past down generations. Here was a man who didn’t care what the item was worth but more so, how much it meant to him personally and to his family. He was a true fan of King’s work and intended to past down his classic stories to future generations.
A revisited element throughout the evening was that of respect. Fans respecting authors and authors respecting one another. I had the opportunity to sit down and listen to an author I saw and understood for the first time, introduced to his literary world by not just him, but those who have been reading his works for years. Events like these give a different perspective to an individual, and I certainly had a different perspective of Mr. King. It truly was an evening to celebrate the love of literary art and a beautiful way to kick start a festival promoting and celebrating literature from individuals around the world.
The International Festival of Authors (IFOA) runs until November 3rd, 2013. Visit ifoa.org for event details and tickets.