Staff

Leslie Hurtig

Leslie Hurtig

Artistic Director

Leslie was born into a house of books and has made her career from various points within Canada’s book industry. She has worked for some of Canada’s best bookstores, acted as a sales representative and publicist for some of North America’s great publishers, and worked as a foreign rights and contracts manager at Raincoast Books. Leslie sat on the Board of Directors for the Vancouver Writers Fest before taking on this role as Artistic Director; a role which she says is her dream job come true.

Nicole Nozick

Nicole Nozick

Executive Director

Nicole joined the VWF team in June 2015 after directing Vancouver’s JCC Jewish Book Festival for eight years. Prior to that she served as the BBC’s Middle East bureau producer in Jerusalem producing large scale media events for television and radio broadcast.

Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, Nicole is learning to love Vancouver’s rain. In her spare time, you’ll find her fog-hunting on the beaches with her brood of three, jamming on the piano or curled up in her fave armchair with a book and a cup of tea.

Andrew Forshner

Andrew Forshner

Development Director

Andrew hails from Edmonton, but migrated westward to attend UBC just after the turn of the century. In his adopted province, he has overseen fundraising events and campaigns for the Victoria Film Festival and Variety – The Children’s Charity.

Andrew is a Director of Rumble Productions and when not engaging in philanthropy, you can find him on a curling rink, in a yoga studio or, more frequently, in one of Mount Pleasant’s many breweries or cafes.

Zoe Grams

Zoe Grams

Marketing & Publicity Manager

Zoe is Principal of the marketing agency ZG Communications. Following an MA in Philosophy, Zoe began her career at a trend-marketing agency in London, UK, before moving to Canada where she worked with some of Vancouver’s top PR firms, followed by D&M Publishers.

She has conceived and executed marketing campaigns for award-winning authors, publishers and charities across North America and writes regularly for publications on both sides of the Atlantic. Zoe is Co-Chair and Director of The KidSafe Project, and a Director of WORD Vancouver. When she is not immersed in books, Zoe travels, walks, and seeks out new varieties of pungent cheese. 

Lauren Dembicky

Lauren Dembicky

Marketing & Development Assistant

Lauren initially moved to Vancouver from Toronto to complete her Master of Publishing at SFU and ended up staying for the ocean, mountains and craft beer. Working at literary magazines for the past four years—The New Quarterly and Geist—gave her a passion for short stories and emerging writers.

When not binging The Office on Netflix, she can be found balancing her ever-growing book collection with growlers from breweries from across the Lower Mainland.

Clea Young

Clea Young

Senior Artistic Associate

Originally from Victoria, Clea moved to Vancouver to complete an MFA in Creative Writing at UBC. She has worked with the Festival since 2007 and recently published her first collection of short stories, Teardown (Freehand Books, 2016).

Her work has also been included in The Journey Prize Stories three times and she has twice been shortlisted for the award. A devotee of the short story form, Clea is always thrilled when a new collection crosses her desk.

Chelsee Damen

Chelsee Damen

Operations Manager

Chelsee has a philosophy BA from VIU. She founded the Nanaimo Fringe, where she was GM 2011-16. Chelsee then covered a series of leave replacements at Vancouver Fringe 2016-17 as Managing Director and Executive Director, before joining the Writers Fest in 2018. Her interests include neurodiversity, resilience, resurgence, music, and the way words bridge the gap.

Chelsee is a second generation Canadian and grew up in Calgary. She also studied child development, worked as a preschool educator, and spent four summers mentoring young feminists at the original Girls Rock Camp in Portland.

Leena Desai

Leena Desai

Outreach Coordinator

Leena is a recent graduate of the Master of Publishing program at Simon Fraser University. She earned her degree in 2018. She has worked on magazines since 2011, with a two-year stint at Architectural Digest with Condé Nast India. Her work experience before that includes several film and television projects in her hometown of Mumbai.

Leena is a cinephile and devours the fantasy and sci-fi genre in both books and movies.

Kathryn Fowler

Kathryn Fowler

Volunteer Manager

Kathryn loves the Vancouver Writers Fest, its celebration of words, the discoveries it offers and the communities forged anew every year. A VWF volunteer for 11 years beginning in the mid-90s, she also oversaw volunteers for The Playhouse for three seasons before joining the festival staff in 2006.

Kathryn reads, walks and sings and is always keen to renew friendships from festivals past and to take on challenges of the next. 

Claire Zhao

Claire Zhao

Festival Assistant

Claire is a UBC undergraduate co-op student with a background in economics and law. As a youth co-founder of the non-profit organization Little Lantern, she is always fascinated by the transformative power of words and ideas, and is excited to work at the VWF.

Claire grew up in Beijing, China and moved to Vancouver 6 years ago for school. Between those places, she has lived in parts of Germany and England. Apart from reading, she also enjoys nature as an outdoorsy Vancouverite.

Courtney Ward-Zbeetnoff

Courtney Ward-Zbeetnoff

CSJ Festival Assistant

Courtney is an Arts and Humanities student at Western University who is finishing an honours specialization degree in Creative Writing and English Literature. Following this, she plans to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. She has a passion for the intersection of art and wellness and works to encourage youth struggling with their mental health to use the arts as a mode of self-expression.

Courtney can always be found with a novel and notebook in hand and is very excited to have the opportunity to work at the VWF.