Welcome to the Volunteer Lounge, where we get to learn a bit more about some of the 350 volunteers who help make the Vancouver Writers Fest possible each year. For our inaugural post, we spoke with Anita Salchert, whose been volunteering with the Writers Fest since 1989 and helps make our office run smoothly by assisting with administrative tasks year-round.
VWF: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
AS: I am the mother of two sons, and a stepmother to another son. I was born in Holland, and immigrated to Canada when I was three years old. When I was eight, my family moved to Powell River, where I lived until 1988. I moved to Vancouver to be with my husband, Guenter, and I started volunteering with the Festival. For most of my life, I’ve worked in doctor’s offices and clinics as a receptionist.
VWF: What made you want to volunteer?
AS: I knew Alma Lee from Powell River – we went to the same Dance Studio – and when she told me had ‘created this job for herself’ by starting the Festival, she said, “Come help me!” In addition, Alma had invited a writer from Thailand to the Festival that year, and, because she knew I had travelled to Thailand, she asked me if I would house him for three weeks while he was in Vancouver. It was so much fun! He would take me to the Asian market at the Granville Island Market, and cook and I would be his sous chef. We even had Alma over for dinner! It was definitely a highlight.
VWF: What are some other favourite moments of volunteering?
AS: In the past 28 years, I’ve tried basically every volunteer job – from Front of House to Reception. I loved helping with the Literati Galas, and, of course, meeting authors and walking them to their events. I remember when I walked Elizabeth George to her event, and we sat in the green room chatting about ‘girly stuff.’ She was telling me some quite personal details, and afterwards, I said, “I can’t tell any of my friends this stuff, can I?” and she said, “No! You are sworn to secrecy!”
I’ve also been lucky to witness some one-of-a-kind events at the Festival. For example, I remember David Mitchell reading on stage, and stopping mid-sentence to announce that he had just discovered a plot hole in his own book! Or, there was the event we did with Alistair Macleod and Chor Leoni at the Waterfront Theatre. It was the first time we presented an event with Chor Leoni and it was so magical – Alistair was crying, we were all crying – it was wonderful. They matched the songs to his readings, and at the end, the singers were standing along the aisles, and across the stage.
I also remember seeing the prolific crime writer, Anne Perry—who, when she was a teen, allegedly helped to kill her friend’s mother—being interviewed by her biographer, Joanne Drayton. I’ve never seen such a hushed audience.
I love volunteering in the office, too. After volunteering at the Festival, I felt a bit down, and I asked Hal if the staff needed any year-round assistance in the office. He said, “Yes!” and I’ve been volunteering for more than 10 years now.
VWF: Why do you think events like the Vancouver Writers Fest are important?
AS: It’s so exciting to give the books I read a voice. Whether that’s hearing the author read from their own work, or sharing the book with someone else. I love hearing from all sorts of authors – you get different perspectives and discover books you never would have encountered otherwise. After hearing the authors read, I even start to read the book in their voice!
I also think a lot about what the kids who attend the Festival get out of the experience. I think the events do a good job of getting kids excited about reading. And I always pass along appropriate books to my grandchildren.
VWF: Last question – what are you reading right now?
AS: Right now I am reading The Hunter & The Wild Girl by Pauline Holdstock. I am really enjoying it, and I only discovered it because she appeared at Incite last year. It’s not super well-known, but it’s excellent.
I just finished reading Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. I really like the way she writes. This book was not quite as good as Girl on the Train, but it was different.
Speaking of books discovered at the Festival, I remember an author reading a mystery novel she wrote about a herd of sheep who solve the mystery of their murdered shepherd [Three Bags Full by Leonnie Swann]. I never would have read that otherwise, but it was so cute!
Thank you Anita for 28 years (and counting)! We couldn’t do this without you.