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Booking Up: with Big, Big Names at No, No Prices, Appel Salon Events Are Filling up Fast

By Becky Toyne

As summer span slowly towards fall, and as book people gathered to talk about the heavy calendar that lay ahead, a new literary lineup was among the topics under discussion. The Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library has been programming literary and ideas-based events since it opened to the public in 2009. Now, after a bumper year of headliners like Lena Dunham and Miranda July, the Salon’s profile is rising, and its lineup for fall 2015 is looking splendidly good.

This season’s programming is the work of Yvonne Hunter, a 15-year publishing veteran who took over as manager of cultural programming and special events at the Toronto Public Library in August 2014 and set about attracting some big, big names to the big, big space (the Salon has a maximum capacity of 600, with the option to add another 400 viewing by simulcast in the library’s Atrium). Want to see Patrick deWitt, Jonathan Franzen, Margaret Atwood or John Irving this season? Get thee to the library. Want to see Lawrence Hill, David Lagercrantz, Kate Beaton or Salman Rushdie? Well, sadly, you’re too late now, but they were all sold-out affairs so good luck having bagged a seat anyway.

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When asked about her program, Yvonne exudes enthusiasm for the authors and deep knowledge of and appreciation for the books they write. Over coffee recently she spoke to me excitedly of events past (the first author she put on the Salon stage was Kazuo Ishiguro, who “met every expectation”) and events yet to come (more on that later), rattling off a list both of writers she’s worked with closely in the past and those she’s long admired from afar.

Salon events, for the most part, feature a single author in conversation: an “intimate pairing” that is popular with audiences for its echoes of the salon style of old – a chance to feel privy to a private conversation. In that respect Salon events boast a rare combination of living-room intimacy meets big-top crowd that is difficult to match. For the audiences flocking to events there, the location can’t be a hindrance either: you can’t get much more convenient than Yonge and Bloor for attracting a wide range of readers of all ages from all across the city. Location, location, location.

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Strapped for cash this month? No matter. Though tickets are required to attend Salon events, there is no charge, so no financial barrier to anybody who wants to attend. The library has a mandate to be free to everyone (well, everyone except YOU, serial library-fine racker-upper), a “democratic” model that differentiates itself from that at many other marquee venues in town. You may have to be quick out of the blocks to chase down a ticket for one of your favourite authors though. As the Salon grows in prominence (the Lena Dunham event last October sold out in three minutes), and as its audience diversifies to include the grey-hairs of old alongside the pink-and-purple hairs of new (true story - there were much-younger-then-me women with purple hair at the recent Kate Beaton salon), demand for tickets for many events is outstripping supply. A nice problem to have, though be warned that it’s the library’s policy to overbook to account for the inevitable drop off, so if you’re not in the room when the last seat is filled, be prepared to be disappointed (or at least to watch later on the Salon’s YouTube channel.

Between now and mid-December the Salon will host at least one event per week, with a mix of literary luminaries and widely known celebs, commercial and crime fiction, and “big idea” events. Beyond December, the wheels are in motion to put together the next season, and the seasons after that. Over the course of our conversation Yvonne mentions Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Junot Díaz, Mindy Kaling and Marlon James as just some of the many writers she would love to put on stage when the stars come into alignment – or, more specifically, when their publishers fly them north of the border.

So: much to look forward to in the future, we hope, as well as much to look forward to in the coming weeks. Be sure to bookmark the Salon for your literary event planning this fall.

For a list of upcoming programming in the Appel Salon, including those all-important “on sale” dates for tickets, visit the library’s website here.

For information about stacks of other amazing (and free!) programming taking place at the TRL and at library branches across the city, take a peek here.


Becky Toyne is a publishing consultant specializing in manuscript development and book promotion. She is a regular books columnist for CBC Radio One, a bookseller and events and communications coordinator for Type Books, a member of the communications committee for the Writers' Trust of Canada, and the author of a monthly column about Toronto's literary scene for Open Book: Toronto. You can follow her on Twitter: @MsRebeccs