the Gauntlet

Festival highlights the importance of words

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Words are a connecting fibre among a plethora of art forms. In celebration of the artistic staple, WordFest: the Banff-Calgary International Writers Festival, is preparing for its 13th instalment. Organizers hope to present a variable buffet of word-centred art and continue to dispel some long-held myths about literature.

"A lot of people still have an image of going to school and reading being nerdy or related to studying and we don't think about it as much when we're adults," festival director Anne Green says. "I think that the festival is a fantastic way to break their pre-conceptions. Books are very cool and the written word is just about at the heart of everything we do. The festival is a great opportunity to hear the words in the writers' own voice."

This year's incarnation bridges far beyond the pre-conceived confines of a traditional reading, presenting unconventional, yet still word-driven works like the Moving Stories series- a set of feature short films based on a number of literary works- and various musical performances that dabble in the hip-hop, afro-beat and jazz genres, just to name a few. Green says that it is this atypical approach that fosters an intimate yet unintimidating festival atmosphere.

"It's interesting, because I think the festival appeals to a much broader demographic than the literary community," she says. "People who go to all the literary events see people at WordFest that they don't see anywhere else. That's what the festival is here to do because it is quite populous based and it's not just about the literati."

In addition to informing the masses on an often-misunderstood art, the festival provides an unparalleled venue for publishers and writers to promote their books to audiences on a much larger scale, though Green says that performing to a highly-varied group requires very extensive planning.

"We sit down and we look at what's on the table and then we have the cornerstones and then we start to fill it in," she explains. "Of course, I want to bring the very best of what's available to the community, so I start with trying to do that and then, of course, you have to make choices on what you think is an interesting program, because of course the pieces have to get together. If you have 100 fantastic writers, but none of them have anything in common, then we can't really build an interesting program."

With such careful thought paid to the festival's composition every year, there is little surprise regarding its staying power in Calgary and ability to evolve with the changing environment over its 13-year history.

"I think it's a reflection of the community that has totally changed itself," Green says. "It's a very vibrant, buzzing place and not to say it wasn't when the festival started. I think the growth we've seen in Calgary is tremendous and the profile of Calgary has changed as well. I think that the program has developed and we really try and affect our community and what's going on around us."