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Headwaters Arts Fall Festival to wrap up with ‘Bookish Afternoon’ at Alton Mill

September 14, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

The finale for the Headwaters Arts Fall Festival is the annual “Bookish Afternoon,” as BookLore’s Nancy Frater likes to call it.

This year, the Authors’ Afternoon presents Cindy Matthews with her collection of short stories, “Took You So Long,” and Max Wallace brings his book, “After the Miracle.” They are coming to the Alton Mill Arts Centre on Sunday, Sept. 24, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., on stage under the tent over the Annex, a setting of so many memorable events. Later, refreshments and chances to meet the authors will be available, who will be happy to sign copies of their books available for sale at the event.

Toronto-based Canadian journalist Mr. Wallace’s new book is “After the Miracle: The Political Crusades of Helen Keller.” It follows Helen Keller’s incredible life of activism that took her around the world. Afflicted at 19 months old by illness, possibly scarlet fever, she was left deaf and blind. The Oscar Award-winning movie “The Miracle Worker” gives a memorable version of Helen Keller’s road to overcome these disabilities.

Mr. Wallace admired her rejection to focus on her own stories in favour of stories about other disabled people and her strong criticism of Nazism, capitalism and racism. Where other biographers have underplayed those aspects of her life, Mr. Wallace was attracted to write more fully about her.

She spoke out against commercial greed and poverty and railed against the racism of her native Alabama.

Cindy Matthew won the IPPY Gold 2023 & eLit Awards Silver 2023 awards for her book Took You So Long. This collection of short stories is linked by her premise of “what if…” Taking the common situations, the homes and innate possibilities of the lives behind the front doors, Ms. Matthews paints her own pictures of how she imagines those lives could be, given the twists she imposes upon them. 

It was the homes along the country roads where she lives, “in the middle of nowhere,” as she told us, that inspired the unusual tales she fashioned for Took So Long.

Yet, her life before the country and the book is fascinating, of working on many levels with the education of disabled and special needs students of many ages and in a wide variety of situations. For eight years, Ms. Matthews was a special education vice-principal in the Kitchener- Waterloo region, instructing teachers how to teach children and older disabled people.

“Every child needs an education,” said she. “I had to go to the places of custody for youth behavioural students, or medically fragile; some with autism who couldn’t go to school and so education had to come to them.”

She commented, “I was in the car all the time.”

Before that, she held jobs under the high school teaching programs down to kindergarten, working within the autism spectrum in 32 different schools to help teachers and support staff to know how to teach children differently, help with paperwork for school funding, and help students to learn.

“I also worked for Queens [University] writing teacher qualification courses online from 2006 to 2019,” she told us. As a vice-principle, “The job was so fascinating and there were such good relationships – it can only help the students to be the best they can be if the teachers are shown how to teach them well.”

A speaker, an older man with Cerebral Palsy at university, “talked mostly about the whole universal design,” she related. “He just wanted us to understand another vision and I realized I wanted to be involved with the special needs.”

She began writing professionally for the Waterloo region paper, The Record, applying to be on the editorial page of the Record and doing book reviews. Her editor told her about the short stories the paper received that no one wanted to review. Ms. Matthews did want to review them, and she said they influenced her to write such stories herself.

Landscaping at their [country home], she wanted to write short stories and took courses. The writing was good; it gave her something to do. For her first contest, she came in third, and that was all she needed to keep on writing.

It was a validation.

Writing his book about the Holocaust, Max Wallace learned about Helen Keller’s activism. He is fascinated by how celebrities use their fame to influence people in general, whether purposefully or not. Mr. Wallace’s own direct involvement in helping people with disabilities has been by writing about Helen Keller and advocating for disability rights, as well as, for 15 years, writing described video scripts for AMI TV, designed to help visually impaired people follow the action in TV shows and films.

Raised in Montreal with his parents since the age of nine, at college, Max Wallace began writing in student newspapers, going on to write and edit stories for Concordia University’s paper, The Link. Over the years, following his journalistic training, he worked with Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation to record Holocaust survivors’ video testimonies.

Mr. Wallace co-founded both the Ottawa Folk Festival and the Ottawa International Busker Festival in the early 1990s.

Although Cindy Matthews and Max Wallace have little in common where their respective writing careers are concerned, their lives bear some strong similarities in the mutual interest and involvement they have each had within or in support of many disability communities. 

Meanwhile, Cindy Matthews is thrilled to be included with Max Wallace in the Author’s Afternoon at the Alton Mill on Sept. 24. Details and tickets at

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