TORONTO - Book festivals celebrating reading and literacy are a chance for bibliophiles to hobnob with local authors as well as big-name writers who have been nominated for prestigious awards.
The fall calendar is jammed with such events, from big book bashes like the Vancouver Writers Fest and Toronto's International Festival of Authors to more local celebrations.
"They get started by people who have the wish to bring ... in local authors especially and their books and to celebrate literature together," says Elizabeth Eve, an Ottawa-based program officer in the writing and publishing section at the Canada Council for the Arts.
"I think that people feel that by having a festival rather than just one author reading at a time ... you can create a lot more interest in not just local authors but in books and selling books. Booksellers, local publishers and national publishers all have an interest in seeing that kind of thing happen."
Word on the Street takes place Sunday in Lethbridge, Saskatoon, Kitchener, Toronto and Halifax. The Vancouver instalment, which has expanded to three days, is set for Sept. 28-30.
"Word on the Street is a kick-off to the fall book season and a chance to see more than 200 Canadian authors at the Toronto festival alone," said spokeswoman June Dickenson.
Dickenson noted that there's a similarity among the Word on the Street events in different cities, but each one has its own flavour. The national website (www.thewordonthestreet.ca) has links to each where more information can be found.
The granddaddy of the free Word on the Street festivals is in Toronto. It started in 1990 in conjunction with International Literacy Year. Organizers this year are expecting about 215,000 people who will be able to learn about literacy organizations as well as see authors talk about their recent works.
Authors headlining the Toronto event include Jeff Rubin, author of "The End of Growth," and David Suzuki, author of "Everything Under the Sun: Toward a Brighter Future on a Small Blue Planet." Also on the slate are bestselling financial writer Gail Vaz-Oxlade, David Bergen, who will be promoting his new novel "The Age of Hope," CBC radio personality Jian Ghomeshi with his memoir "1982," essayist and novelist John Ralston Saul, author of "Dark Diversions" and chef Michael Smith with "Fast Flavours: 110 Simple Speedy Recipes."
Vancouver's Word on the Street features "Shoeless Joe" author W.P. Kinsella, humorist and radio personality Arthur Black, Vancouver-based novelist Annabel Lyon who has just come out with "The Sweet Girl," a sequel to "The Golden Mean," and journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk.
Michael Ondaatje ("The English Patient," "The Cat's Table") and Vincent Lam ("Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures," "The Headmaster's Wager") are two of the award-winning authors headlining Kingston Writers Fest (www.kingstonwritersfest.ca/) from Sept. 26 to 30. Winnipeg's week of international literary feasting called Thin Air (thinairwinnipeg.ca) runs Sept. 21-29.
Next month has the lion's share of festivals. Many authors will appear at several to promote their new work.
Toronto's International Festival of Authors (www.readings.org) is one of the largest, bringing together some of the world's best writers for 11 days of readings, interviews, lectures, roundtable discussions and public book signings. This year it runs Oct. 18-28, but readings and other events take place year-round.
The Oct. 16-21 Vancouver Writers Fest (www.writersfest.bc.ca/) on Granville Island marks 25 years with a story to commemorate the anniversary by Alistair MacLeod, who will appear to talk about it. To mark this year's 40th anniversary of the publication of Margaret Atwood’s landmark book "Survival," a panel of Canadian writers, including Atwood herself, will examine the state of the country's literature.
WordFest: Banff-Calgary International Writers Festival has 77 writers appearing at its 17th annual event, running Oct. 9-14 in venues across Calgary and Banff. WordFest will feature writers from Canada, Australia, Colombia, France, Great Britain, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan and the United States. In addition, authors will hold master classes.
Edmonton's LitFest (www.litfestalberta.org) is billed as the only non-fiction festival in Canada bringing together award-winning and emerging authors of books, magazines and films. LitFest is slated for Oct. 17-28. Despite its billing as non-fiction, Alexander McCall Smith, the Scottish writer responsible for the bestselling saga of "The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency," the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, the 44 Scotland Street series, and the Corduroy Mansions series, is leading LitFest's lineup of authors.
The Ottawa International Writers Festival (www.writersfestival.org) features big-name Canadian authors as well as master classes led by literary giants and goes twice a year — Oct. 24-30 and April 25-30, 2013.
BookFest Windsor takes place Oct. 25-27 with more than 40 authors lined up, including poet George Elliott Clarke, Montreal-based Anita Rau Badami, author of the recent "Tell it to the Trees" and award-winning "The Hero's Walk," and columnist Noah Richler, whose most recent book is "What We Talk About When We Talk About War."
Plenty of the events are bilingual, but Eve cited two officially bilingual spring festivals — Blue Metropolis Festival in Montreal and the Frye Festival in Moncton, N.B.
The Frye Festival is "culturally one of the most significant in a way because they've brought together in a city with a very divided population ... this bilingual festival which is very impressive," said Eve.
Atlantic Canada’s largest literary event will be held April 22-28, 2013. Prominent writers from Canada and abroad as well as children’s and young adult writers are generally in attendance.
Details won't be posted on the festival's website (www.frye.ca) until mid-February, but "I can confirm that we will be continuing with our regular festival fare, including Soiree Frye (April 25), the Maillet-Frye Lecture (April 27), Frye Jam (April 27), KidsFest (April 27), book clubs, roundtables, readings, etc. We will also have our School-Youth Program, which reaches nearly 10,000 students each year throughout New Brunswick," executive director Danielle LeBlanc wrote in an email.
Blue Metropolis Festival (http://bluemetropolis.org) is being held April 23-28, 2013, in French, English and several other languages and includes readings, roundtables and onstage author interviews.
Other festivals have a more specific theme, such as the JCC Jewish Book Festival (www.jccgv.com) in Vancouver, which showcases Jewish authors from around the world (Nov. 24-29). There is Bloody Words, a mystery festival held in a different city each June and the Leacock Summer Festival, which is Orillia, Ont.'s ode to humorist Stephen Leacock, in July.
The Book and Periodical Council has an extensive list of festivals taking place across Canada. Visit http://www.thebpc.ca/the-resource-file/literary-festivals/
The Canada Council for the Arts updates its lists in July and January each year. Visit http://www.canadacouncil.ca/writing/hc127251506507500000.htm and click on the links for the English or French Literary Festivals.