Columnists

Festival like a Pro at Toronto’s Great Big Literary Party

By Becky Toyne

It’s October, the month when pumpkin fills our bellies, ghouls parade our streets and writers from around the globe flock like moths to the literary-festival flame. In Toronto (and many Ontario locations beyond), that means IFOA: the International Festival of Authors. There will be writers of books (more than 100 of ’em). There will be readings and interviews and book signings. There will be parties. There will be idols met and new voices discovered. There will be inspiring exchanges on stage. There will be awkward ones. And there to see a large portion of the above will be a group of festival regulars who frequent it, year after year, as friends, fans and cheerleaders for the written word. With this year’s IFOA set to get underway on Thursday, I asked three such festival aficionados to share their top tips, festival memories and who they’re exited to see (and to share the stage with) this year. When planning your 2015 IFOA adventure, take some style, stamina and scheduling advice from these festival-going pros.

THE CHEESE-PLATTER HOVERER

Michael Winter, Dionne Brand, Joseph Kertes, Carrie Snyder, Brian Francis at IFOA 2014 (c) ifoa.org, Tom Bilenkey

State your name, occupation and involvement in this year’s festival, please.
Brian Francis, playboy by day, writer by night. I'm hosting two events this year, as well as teaching a workshop.

How many events (on-stage and parties included) do you expect to attend at this year’s IFOA?
As many as they'll let me into. I'm hoping some of them include a cheese platter.

How will you get there?
I'll probably ride my bike, although that limits my fashion choices. And fashion is always an important element at IFOA. Rumour has it that gaucho pants will be big this year. So you know what you'll be seeing me in.

How will you get home?
By the grace of God.

Who or what are you most looking forward to seeing and why?
I saw Anakana Schofield when she was last at IFOA promoting Malarky. She was awesome. A total breath of fresh air. So I'm looking forward to seeing her again.

Share your top tip for successfully navigating these 11 days of back-to-back book stuff.
Smile a lot. Pretend you know everyone. Stay close to the cheese platter.

Is there an author whose work you first discovered at an IFOA event? Who?
I hosted a round table with Carrie Synder last year, author of Girl Runner. I really liked her book, although it's hard for me to relate to athletic characters.

Can you share a favourite memory from IFOAs past? (keep it clean(ish!))
The time Alice Munro and me shared a Benson and Hedges Menthol 100 outside of the Brigantine Room. Dare to dream.

Anything you’d rather forget?
The first reading I ever hosted, I mispronounced an author's last name. She wasn't impressed.

THE BE-SUITED STROLLER

IFOA Welcome Party (c) ifoa.org, Tom Bilenkey

State your name, occupation and involvement in this year’s festival, please.
My name is Evan Munday. How are you doing? I’m an author and illustrator of children’s books, as well as a bookseller (at Book City) and publishing freelancer. I’ll be hosting two events at the IFOA this year.

How many events (on-stage and parties included) do you expect to attend at this year’s IFOA?
I'll probably attend at least six to eight events.

How will you get there?
On foot. I live less than a half-hour walk from Harbourfront Centre, which is very convenient for IFOA events (if anything that involves travelling under the Gardiner can be considered “convenient”).

How will you get home?
Also by foot. I like having a constitutional after book events, as it gives me some time to think and process what just happened. And can really blow the stink off me. (Though I try to keep very well deodorized.)

Who or what are you most looking forward to seeing and why?
This year, I'm keen to see American Lauren Groff (Fates and Furies) and Spanish author Edgar Cantero, whose The Supernatural Enhancements book sounds like something I would have liked to write.

Share your top tip for successfully navigating these 11 days of back-to-back book stuff.
Take some days off. If you’re into books, you may begin to experience a severe and understandable fear of missing out (FOMO). But if you attempt to see everything and go to every reading or party, you'll burn out fast.

Sartorial question: How would you classify your festival style?
I mean, I almost wear a tie to bed, so I will likely be wearing something arts-business casual, at the least. I usually bump it up for IFOA, sometimes wearing actual adult shoes instead of sneakers with my shirt and tie. Because of when the festival falls, I have attended events in Halloween costumes in the past. But they had a literary theme (e.g. Sexy Sherlock Holmes)! This year, I already have some Halloween formal wear picked out.

Is there an author whose work you first discovered at an IFOA event? Who?
Colson Whitehead springs to mind. I didn't know who he was when I went to see a four-author reading he was part of several years ago. I was attending primarily for Sherman Alexie. But then Whitehead took the stage and read this bizarre and hilarious piece—a letter from a fictional pick-up-artist guru to T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock—and I thought, I immediately have to read everything this man has written.

Can you share a favourite memory from IFOAs past? (keep it clean(ish!))
I was lucky enough to attend a conversation with Junot Díaz and Michael Chabon a couple years ago, and during the conversation, Díaz quoted his favourite Michael Ondaatje line. Little did he know that Ondaatje was in the audience, and the people seated near the Canadian author started to laugh. Eventually Díaz figured out what had happened and kind of lost his mind for a few seconds. The audience applauded Ondaatje for about a minute. It was a really wonderful moment between two writers. Then I saw Ondaatje in Díaz’s signing line after the talk, which made it even better.

Anything you’d rather forget?
I think if I've learned anything from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it’s that I shouldn't regret any of my memories. Even the bad ones.

THE LATE-NIGHT NACHO-EATING WARDROBE PLANNER

Ann-Marie MacDonald at IFOA 2014 (c) ifoa.org, Tom Bilenkey

State your name, occupation and involvement in this year’s festival, please.
I'm Grace O’Connell. As a freelance writer and editor, I wear a lot of different occupational hats (including one as Senior Editor for this website). And I’ll be hosting a couple of events with terrific writers at IFOA 2015—can’t wait!

How many events (on-stage and parties included) do you expect to attend at this year’s IFOA?
I'm hosting two events, and will be attending several more. I always really like the Humber School for Writers panel, and they have one of my favourite authors this year, Meg Wolitzer. That same night is the celebration of CBC’s Writers & Company 25th anniversary and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize shortlist reading, so I might just have to camp out at Harbourfront Centre for the evening.

How will you get there?
I live on Queen West, so I often ride my bike, Billy. If I'm running late though, and I often am, I'll take a cab, so I'm very, very happy the Queens Quay construction snarl is finally gone.

How will you get home?
I'll hop back on my bike, walk or take the Spadina streetcar, depending on timing, fatigue, weather and intoxication factors.

Who or what are you most looking forward to seeing and why?
I'd have to say Meg Wolitzer again. Not only because she’s an amazing writer (if you haven’t read The Interestings, get it IMMEDIATELY), but she’s also a fantastic speaker. She’s very direct and very funny, and she gives real, concrete tips and responses to questions. She’s legit.

Share your top tip for successfully navigating these 11 days of back-to-back book stuff.
Shoes you can walk in. Alternating water and drink-drinks. If you're at a party, go as far into the room as you can as soon as you can—it's always most crowded right near the entrance. Bring a canvas bag for books. Fully charged cell phone.

Sartorial question: How would you classify your festival style?
After a few festivals (on a writer’s budget, which always meant running out of things to wear), I started my annual tradition of making a list of what outfit I'm going to wear to what event so I don’t end up wearing the same dress six times. It makes everything so much easier, and I'm not running to H&M to get a new outfit at the last minute anymore. I mostly go for comfortable dresses and shoes I can walk up to the stage in without tripping.

Also, IFOA always overlaps with Halloween, so I'm hoping to see some people in costumes. I once went to a party at the House of Anansi offices dressed as Peter Pan because I had a Halloween thing to go to after.

Is there an author whose work you first discovered at an IFOA event? Who?
The terrific Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Harding, for whom there is a story below.

Can you share a favourite memory from IFOAs past? (keep it clean(ish!))
It's a tie: the sale for my first novel, Magnified World, happened to be confirmed right at the beginning of the 2010 festival, and at the Walrus party that year the lovely Louise Dennys from Random House took me around to introduce me to a bunch of amazing people. I was on cloud nine the whole night—it felt surreal. I was 26 and couldn't believe I was going to have a book published, let alone that I got to meet all those fantastic writers.

Tied with the time a few years later when I ended up at Sneaky Dee’s at the end of the night, having nachos and beer with some other writers, including American author Paul Harding, who was super funny. The next morning I got a book couriered to me from Paul that said “Dear Grace, bottoms up!” because our group had ordered so much beer.

Anything you’d rather forget?
The time I stumbled over an author’s name during an introduction. I felt like such a jerk. Also the time one of the authors told me right before we went on stage that my fly was down (thank you, kind author). I double-check now, don't worry.

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Fleck stage (c) ifoa.org, Tom Bilenkey

Where you'll find these friends of the festival on stage at IFOA

BRIAN: I’m hosting two events. Around the World in 60 Minutes on October 24 and Scream on October 30. (I'll be doing my best Michael Myers impression for that one.) I'm also teaching a one-day writing workshop on October 24 and a workshop about book promotion on November 7. You can register via the IFOA website.

EVAN: The first thing I'm hosting really sells itself. Three of today’s finest cartoonists will be discussing comics and graphic novels: Jillian Tamaki, Adrian Tomine and Dylan Horrocks. On Saturday night (October 24). And it’s free. Why would you not go to this? I am honestly shocked they trust me to MC an event of such spectacle. It’s going to be the Bautista bat flip of book events.
Then I host a poetry reading,  More Than You Can Stanza, on Sunday, October 29. Fun fact: it will be more *fun* than you can stanza. I know from first-hand experience that Oana Avasilichioaei, Claire Caldwell and Andy McGuire can knock a poetry reading out of the park. And I'm keen to see John Burnside and Milan Jesih do the same.

GRACE: I will be hosting two amazing events: the first is on October 31 and is a conversation between Jane Urquhart and Lawrence Hill about Jane’s newest novel, The Night Stages. It’s co-presented by the Amnesty International Book Club, which I think is pretty neat, and Jane and Larry are both such iconic writers; I'm really excited.

The second event is the next day, November 1. Rosemary Sullivan , who just won the Hilary Weston Prize, will be talking about her new biography Stalin’s Daughter with Anne Michaels. Stalin’s actual granddaughter, Chrese, will be attending. Rosemary’s biographies are just amazing, so it’s an honour to host her.

See you at the festival!


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