While kids enjoy the first days of school, September also marks the start of the busiest season on the CanLit calendar. There are book launches and reading series and literary award announcements galore. But across the country, it’s the abundance of literary festivals that gets me excited about the fall. Festivals are where books come alive, where stories from the page take on a whole new life.
And while festivals should excite all readers, writers, students, and teachers, in my experience, litfest audiences are typically comprised of a rather monolithic group of people – a seasoned and generally white crowd (even at festivals in diverse major metropolises). There are lots of potential reasons for this. I’ve written about some of them before. That’s not the point. The truth of the matter is that a lot of would be readers and great emerging writers of all kinds are missing out on a rich, important Canadian experience.
I’ve put together six reasons why it’s important and worth it to attend a literary festival this year, and I’ve included a list of some of Canada’s adult literary events that take place of the next 12 months to help you plan ahead. I’m calling out all readers, yes. But I’m especially calling out folks who have felt marginalized in CanLit on account of race, culture, creed, gender, sexual orientation, etc. I’m asking those of you who have felt left out to find your way in somewhere because it’s important and it just might be worth it.
1. Literary festivals are the perfect place to find a book you’ll love. Litfests feature conversations that give insight into the story behind the story. If you know someone who’s slugging through high school English or who hasn’t picked up a book since high school English, literary festivals are a great space to inspire them (If you’re heading to a festival, this is also an encouragement to bring someone under 25. If they can get past the fact that they're the youngest in the room, they’ll love it).
2. Literary Festivals are a great place to get connected. Reading is a solitary tasks. For readers who are not surrounded by folks with similar tastes and interests, festivals are a great place to meet kindred spirits – folks who are reading or want to read the same kinds of things as you. If you’re reading a book that’s got you puzzled, or a book you’ve absolutely loved, festivals are a great place to engage in helpful discussions.
3. Literary Festivals offer a unique way to develop as a writer. Some festivals and literary conferences have practical writing workshops, but hearing great writing and talking with writers can also inspire your work. Festivals offer a great opportunity for writers to receive training and inspiration on an on-going basis. If you’ve dreamed of writing or publishing a book, festivals are a great place to start.
4. Literary festivals are a great reason to travel – physically or virtually. It’s great to travel and see new places, and festivals provide a great reason to do that. Do you know where the Bayfield Literary Festival takes place or where the Woody Point Literary Festival is located? Can’t go in person? Too expensive? Follow them online. Get on social media and follow live tweets. Experience the country through some of Canada’s most powerful storytellers in some of Canada’s unique settings from wherever you are located.
5. Literary festivals support writers. Buying tickets to literary festivals and purchasing books onsite from indie booksellers keeps writers writing, sellers selling and publishers publishing – it’s the literary circle of life.
6. Literary festivals are a great place to spark change. If you’re of the mind that Canadian books are boring or publishing is too white or ableist or that festivals are too expensive, if you’re finding it difficult to keep up with all of the books, or if you’re bothered by how litfests select authors, litfests are a great place to speak with real people about these very real challenges. Go in person and fill out the surveys or go online. Speak up. And keep digging and reading and writing. And if you can’t find what you like, what’s needed, start one.
CANADIAN LITERARY FESTIVALS
Here is the start of a list of Canadian literary festivals. The original criteria I had in mind was multi-day festivals that focused on books and featured professional authors in conversations onstage and with readers. Do you know of others? Please add names and URLS in the comments section!
Eden Mills Writers Festival | Eden Mills, ON
Thin Air | Winnipeg, MB
Kingston WritersFest | Kingston, ON
Cabot Trail | Cape Breton, NS
FogLit | Saint John, NB
Westport Writers Festival |, ON
Northwords | Bracebridge, ON
Knowlton Literary Festival | QC
Ottawa International WritersFest | Ottawa, ON
Calgary WordFest | Calgary, AB
Naked Hearts LGBTQ Festival of Words | Toronto, ON
Vancouver International WritersFest | Vancouver, BC
Surrey International Writers’ Conference | Surrey, BC*
Whistler Writers Festival | Whistler, BC
LitFest Edmonton| Edmonton, AB
STARFest | St. Albert, AB
International Festival of Authors | Toronto, ON
Words: The Literary and Creative Arts Festival | London, ON
Wild Writers Festival | Waterloo, ON
BookFest | Windsor ON
Words Aloud | Durham, ON
Wordstock | Sudbury, ON
Galiano Literary Festival | BC
Words on the Water | Campbell River, BC
ImagiNation Writers’ Festival | Quebec City, QC
Blue Metropolis | Montreal, QC
GritLit | Hamilton, ON
Ottawa International WritersFest | Ottawa, ON
Ontario Writers Conference | Ajax, ON
Frye Festival | Moncton, NB
Prince Edward County Authors Festival | Picton, ON
The Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) | Brampton, ON
Words on the Lake | Salmon Arm, BC
Elora Writers Festival | Elora ON
Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story | Wingham, ON
Bayfield Writers’ Festival | Bayfield, ON
Hubbards Writers Festival | Hubbards, NS
Elephant Mountain | Nelson, BC
Read by the Sea | River John, NS
Lakefield Literary Festival | Lakefield, ON
Saskatchewan Festival of Words | Moose Jaw, SK
Leacock Summer Festival | Orillia, ON
Winterset in Summer | NF
Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Word | Sechelt, BC
Woody Point Writers Festival | Woody Point, NF
Palaver International Literary Festival | Wasaga Beach, ON
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Jael Richardson is the author of The Stone Thrower: A Daughter's Lessons, a Father's Life, a memoir based on her relationship with her father, CFL quarterback Chuck Ealey. The book received a CBC Bookie Award and earned Richardson an Acclaim Award and a My People Award as an Emerging Artist. A children's book called The Stone Thrower came out with Groundwood Books in 2016. Her essay "Conception" is part of Room's first Women of Colour edition, and excerpts from her first play, my upside down black face, are published in the anthology T-Dot Griots: An Anthology of Toronto's Black Storytellers. Richardson has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph, and she lives in Brampton, Ontario where she serves as the Artistic Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD).