News and Interviews

The Future of WOTS: Maya Baumann of The Word on the Street Takes Us Behind the Scenes of the Festival

Maya Baumann

It's no secret we're counting down the days to The Word on the Street Toronto (Sunday, September 23!), one of our favourite festivals and a highlight of the Toronto literary calendar. While we wait, we're digging into tons of WOTS goodness, including getting to speak to Maya Baumann, Programming Coordinator for the festival. She takes us behind the scenes into what it takes to coordinate hundreds of authors, publishers, magazines, booksellers, and more for one, huge, fantastic literary carnival at Toronto's Harbourfront. 

Maya tells us about the Vibrant Voices of Ontario stage, which highlights the wealth of talent in our province; brand new programming for this year (including WOTS Plus+, which adds an entire extra day of literary events); and what the future holds for The Word on the Street Toronto.

Open Book:

How did the Vibrant Voices stage come to be part of the festival? Why is it an essential element of The Word On The Street?

Maya Baumann:

The Word On The Street was founded by the good folks at the Book and Periodical Council almost thirty years ago, so our roots are very much here in Ontario. As the festival grew, it made a lot of sense to dedicate a venue to highlight the great books that come out of the publishing houses that call Ontario home! Since its inclusion the stage has become a staple in our programming, hosting authors from across the province in every genre. Vibrant Voices is a versatile space, showcasing everything from the latest mystery to slam poetry.


WOTS has added some new initiatives and programming this year. Tell us a bit about those additions and expansions.


First up, on Monday, September 17th, we have partnered with the popular Toronto-based podcast Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids to put on a live-show event at The Royal cinema. A very unique event in its own right, this special Grownups live-show will feature seven WOTS authors, including Anne T. Donahue, Rabindranath Maharaj, Uzma Jalaluddin and Vicky Mochama.

WOTS Plus+, on Saturday, September 22nd, is a new day of programming on belonging, citizenship, and making sense of the world through stories we are bringing to Harbourfront Centre. Through panels and conversations on three new stages, a wide range of topics will be covered by a strong list of authors, journalists, and community advocates. Conversations+ will feature four unmoderated conversations between two authors, such as Lee Maracle and Daniel Heath Justice talking Indigenous literature, and Thea Lim and Paul Vermeersch discussing dystopia. Headlines+ shines the spotlight on topics like the impact of the alleged Bruce McArthur murders on Toronto’s LGBT communities, and the effect of new provincial policies on Toronto in 2018. The Toronto Public Library has sponsored the third venue, bringing their successful On Civil Society programming to WOTS in three excellent panels covering everything from keeping yourself safe online to whether we are wired to participate in a democratic society.


How did you become involved with the festival? What is special about working on WOTS?


The Word On The Street team welcomed me with open arms in the spring of 2017, as I was finishing an Arts Administration graduate course at Humber Lakeshore. As a person starting their career, working with WOTS is a dream. Since we are such a small team your responsibilities are magnified, and though the learning curve is sometimes steep, the skills I have grown are invaluable. Working in the tandem worlds of publishing and event management, you also get to work with the best people in both industries. In my role as Programming Coordinator, I have the opportunity to work creatively to put together interesting events on our 15+ stages, analytically to make sure the logistics of the festival run smoothly, and socially in liaising with publicists and community partners.


Do you have a favourite memory of the festival, either as someone working with WOTS or as a guest?


My favourite memory of the festival is actually how I discovered it. One of the last years the festival was hosted in Queen’s Park was my first year in Toronto. I walked out of my residence building and stumbled across this vibrant scene of endless tables of books under canopies, packed tents with rapt audiences, and crowds of people with (more) books in their arms. It was truly something magical and inspiring, especially seeing so many kids excited about reading. In my hometown I was pretty much the only one who was bananas for books, haunting the library even on the sunniest of days, so it definitely felt like finding a community.


Why do you think Toronto has embraced WOTS so enthusiastically? How do you see the festival's place in the cultural landscape of the city?


The Word On The Street tries to engage as many unique and distinct voices as possible, and in Toronto there is no end of interesting people to engage! Because of this mandate the festival offers something for everyone, no matter the flavour of reader, writer, parent, educator, or publishing professional you are.

There are countless wonderful literary events in the city, from book launches to conferences to debates, but WOTS manages to be all of these in one place. We bring a wonderful breadth of experiences and perspectives from across Canada including Indigenous writing. As a free public event with 200 readers across seventeen programming spaces, there’s nothing else like it!


What do you see for the future of The Word On The Street?


We’re always excited to connect people with new writing from their favourite Canadian authors. This is a transition year for us, being a new team tackling the festival for the first time. We are excited to explore new partnerships that expand the breadth of content The Word On The Street is involved in presenting. This year, we’ve been fortunate to work with Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids and the Toronto Public Library’s On Civil Society series. Because the festival is an important entry point into Canadian books and magazines for readers and writers of all ages and interests, one priority moving forward is to find opportunities to engage with new audiences throughout the year. We want to do as much as possible to get people excited about the stories and ideas of Canadian and Indigenous writers.


The Word On The Street Toronto is a is a national celebration of literacy and the written word. Each September, in communities coast to coast, the public is invited to participate in hundreds of author events, presentations and workshops and to browse a marketplace that boasts the best selection of Canadian books and magazines you'll find anywhere.

The Word On The Street takes place in Toronto at the Harbourfront Centre (235 Queen Quay West) on Sunday, September 23, 2018 and features dozens of fantastic author readings, kids programming, author signings, food tents and much more. This year, the WOTS+ initiative also features programming on Saturday, September 22, 2018.