Culture: The Word is "Celebrate"

Ontario hosts many wellknown and respected arts celebrations; jazz festivals, film festivals, theatrical events like the Fringe Festival, and visual arts spectacles like Toronto’s Luminato.

JK Rowling signs copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at YoungIFOA, part of the International Festival of Authors.

Because of the great respect in Canada for literacy and freedom of expression, some of our most cherished of these special events are our literary festivals.

Literary festivals take many forms. Some, like the highly respected Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, which takes place near Guelph every fall, are basically networking and workshopping opportunities for writers and publishers.
Others, like The African-Canadian Children’s Literary Festival (ACCLF) are aimed at children. ACCLF takes place on two consecutive Sundays in February at the York Woods Library and Theatre – 1785 Finch Avenue West, Toronto. The event celebrates education and promotes African culture and identity through reading, writing and storytelling. The goal of the festival is to help and inspire children from ages 5 to 16 to display their talents, explore their heritage and express themselves creatively. For more information, visit their website at

The primary purpose of most literary festivals is to give readers of all ages opportunities to meet and listen to their favourite authors, or to introduce authors to audiences from their communities.

gritLIT, Hamilton’s Literary Festival, has moved from the beginning of November to the beginning of April – making it one of the only such events to take place in the spring. With its reputation as a gritty city, Hamilton promotes this as “a gritty, passionate and adventurous” festival to showcase and celebrate excellence in the literary arts and to draw attention to local writers. Most of the events are held at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

Orillia, the hometown of Canada’s greatest humourist Stephen Leacock, hosts Ontario’s largest summer literary event – the Leacock Festival – featuring readings, dinners and special events at the Leacock Museum.

In 1993, a Toronto writer put together the resources to hold an outdoor poetry reading on the Shakespearean stage during the Dream in High Park. He named the event the Scream in High Park. The week-long summer festival features readings across Toronto, wrapping up with the big event on the main stage in High Park. The Scream Festival leans toward experimental work.

Every year, Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre (235 Queen’s Quay West) hosts international readings every Wednesday. The International Readings Programme includes ALOUD: a Celebration for Young Readers, A Forest of Reading® Festival of Trees – and most famously, the world renowned International Festival of Authors (IFOA). This year, the festival will run from October 22nd through November 1st. Recent IFOA guests have included Isabel Allende, Margaret Atwood, Mohsin Hamid, Nikita Lalwani, Michael Ondaatje, J.K. Rowling, Amr Sawah, M.G. Vassanji, Enzo Cormann and David Davidar.

Michael Ondaatje reads from his Governor General’s Literary Award-winning novel, Divisadero, at the International Festival of Authors.

For more than ten years, the Ottawa International Writers Festival has been celebrating the world’s best writing. They hold two separate festivals which they call the Spring Edition (April 12-19, 2008) and Fall Edition (Oct 18-26, 2008). The festival has presented authors including Shauna Singh Baldwin, Oni The Haitian Sensation, Helen Oyeyemi and Yann Martel, as well as Nobel Laureates Naguib Mahfouz and José Saramago, All events are held at Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa.

There are also a couple of festivals with broader, less welldefined goals. BookFest Windsor and The Word on the Street are two such events – combining elements of all the different types of literary festivals to attract the widest possible audiences. BookFestWindsor celebrates books – from the art of book binding to the joy of reading and the freedom of expression. As the only Canadian literary festival within a four-hour radius, it is an important festival for Southwestern Ontario. It takes place in late autumn. In 2007 the three day festival featured author readings, interviews and signings as well as workshops and lectures on book arts, book collecting and publishing at the Art Gallery of Windsor and The Kaysandra and Christopher Curtis Children’s Learning Centre at the Windsor Public Library’s Central branch.

Claudio Muñoz, Assistant Editor, and Sabine Ehgoetz and Gilda Spitz, regular contributors to Canadian Newcomer Magazine, distribute free copies at Word on the Street 2007

The Word On The Street is the largest literary festival in North America. It takes place at the end of September in five cities across Canada – Halifax, Toronto, Kitchener, Calgary and Vancouver. These huge free “literary theme parks” feature exhibits by publishers, booksellers, literacy organizations, libraries and writers’ associations. It is a great place to discover and pick up books and magazines and to enjoy music, food and entertainment including an exciting roster of author readings, discussions with the public, kids’ events and much more. The 2007 Word on the Street Festival at Queen’s Park in Toronto, was attended by a quarter of a million people.

If you want to support literacy, learn about resources available in the community or just pick up some great books, then plan to attend one or more of these events over the next year. Perhaps we’ll see you at the Canadian Newcomer Magazine booth at The Word on the Street.