Celebrating books and writers

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It’s that time of year again when the leaves begin to fall from the trees and aspiring writers and excited bibliophiles prepare to flock to bookstores and theatres throughout the city for WordFest, to see their favourite authors and poets read from their latest work and talk about their craft and careers. It’s far enough into autumn that the longlists, shortlists and finalists have been announced for the various literary prizes available: the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Man Booker Prize, Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Awards.

This year’s WordFest includes a lineup of 75 writers, which includes a long list of authors in the running for the four big literary prizes. Joseph Boyden, Lynn Coady, Craige Davidson and Lisa Moore have all made the Giller Prize shortlist and Coady and Moore are also finalists for the Rogers Writers’ Trust prize. Joseph Boyden is a finalist for the Governor General’s award for fiction along with Eleanor Catton who’s on the Man Booker Prize shortlist. Priscila Uppal is up for the Governor General’s award for non-fiction, Teresa Toten is up for the Governor General’s award for children’s literature and Cary Fagan is a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust prize.

“I’m loving [this year’s lineup],” executive director Jo Steffens says. “When I first program the festival I’m excited about each and everyone. And then you suddenly have this enormous list of writers.”

Steffens says she’s especially excited for some of the less well-known writers, such as Abdellah Taïa, a Moroccan writer in exile in Paris, and others who might be hidden amongst the buzz and hubbub surrounding the household names, like Margaret Atwood, Chuck Palahniuk and Boyden.

Atwood, who first attended WordFest during its inaugural year in 1996, is back with her book MaddAddam, the conclusion to her dystopian trilogy. Atwood is kicking off WordFest with her reading on Monday, Oct. 14.

Steffens says getting Atwood back was a “coup” and was perfect timing to have her launch the festival Monday evening.
But there is also a long line of other Canadian authors attending the festival, including local authors, such as Ali Bryan, whose book Roost was released last spring, and Deborah Willis, the University of Calgary’s previous writer-in-residence.

Not just the written word

Now in its 18th year, WordFest is exploring other mediums for presenting writers’ work, through audio and visual representations, reflecting the changing nature of literary art and the book industry.

Steffens, who took over for founding director Anne Green three years ago, says she’s been slowly implementing changes to the festival to explore some of the other ways we consume literature.

“I’m really thinking of ways to broaden the audience for literary programming,” Steffens says. “I’ve been building on it and this year I’ve really made a big jump in that direction.”
Steffens had previously produced an event called Word Projects for WordFest that displayed public art installations and last year’s events included Word of Mouth, where performance poets included audio and visual presentations into their spoken-word performances, and Story Shorts, which screened animated shorts.

“This year I’ve really made quite a few changes,” Steffens says. “I’ve introduced some series: one called Page Breaks, with the returning This Really Happened from last year, and I’ve added Literary Death Match and Word Play Live into that series.”

This Really Happened puts authors on the spot to tell true stories unscripted, Literary Death Match features authors performing their writing within seven minutes and Word Play Live involves a radio adaptation presented with sound effects and dramatic voices.

WordFest runs Oct. 14–20 in Calgary and Banff.

For more informatiom and tickets visit their website.