Toronto prepares for another world-class festival
TORONTO - September saw Toronto overrun with Hollywood celebs, drawing huge throngs of gawkers who lined up to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars at the city's renowned film festival.
Now, the city is preparing for another name-drawing event, although many of the superstars in attendance will probably walk the streets anonymously.
The 10-day International Festival of Authors, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, has a knack for attracting some of the best talent in the world and this year's eclectic lineup includes Canadians Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro -- who is staging a rare reading and Q&A session on Wednesday -- literary heavyweights including John Irving and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, musicians David Byrne and Anne Murray, graphic novel artists Seth, R.O. Blechman and Kean Soo, and nearly 170 others.
The festival has grown almost tenfold from its modest beginnings in 1980, when 18 authors were hosted over six nights, said IFOA director Geoffrey Taylor, who has worked with the festival for the last 15 years.
This year's festival is provocatively being marketed as IFOA XXX, which represents the 30-year anniversary in Roman numerals and also plays on several different themes, Taylor said.
"It has all kinds of connotations, from Xs marking the spot, to supersized, to moonshine -- to all kinds of other connotations," he said coyly.
Like in previous years, the festival will explore new ideas and audiences, and offer something for almost everyone.
"We've been slowly adding more non-fiction, we've been adding poetry, we've dabbled with film and theatrical events as well, what we've done is added more and more so the overall number of authors grows every year," Taylor said.
This year, the festival has a special program featuring Scottish authors, following up on last year's focus on Irish literature, and organizers will tap into the emerging worlds of social networks to engage readers online.
For the first time, the festival is also expanding beyond the borders of Toronto and is sending authors to readings in Uxbridge, Burlington, Parry Sound, Midland, Barrie and Orillia.
"It's the start of a new initiative we hope to grow next year," Taylor said.
Almost 60 writers will be returning to the festival this year for another visit, and many say they love coming back not only because they're treated well by organizers, but because the event exposes readers -- including the participating authors themselves -- to new voices.
"The IFOA is curated wonderfully by Geoffrey Taylor; he has a vision for this festival and the province is very fortunate that he has been able, over the past few years, to expand the festival," said Anne Michaels, who is among the shortlisted writers for this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize.
"From the writers' point of view it's a very pleasurable festival because we are given ample opportunity -- indeed encouraged -- to meet each other and hear each other read. Not all festivals provide this opportunity ... in fact it's quite rare."
Author Graeme Gibson, who has read at the festival several times to promote his novels, said he's watched it grow into one of the most respected in the literary world.
"It has panache and reputation because it's big, it's certainly one of the premium ones in the world," he said.
"Fundamentally it remains a kind of tribal gathering. People interested in books, either as writers or readers, can gather and hear the voices of the writers, which I think can be a very useful understanding of a person's writing."