Break out your dayplanner, because the Super Bowl of literary events is almost here, with more panels than you can shake a Kindle at.
Ballast your bookshelves! Settle your schedule! Bibliophiles, now is your time. The film industry has had its way with TIFF, and musicians took over the town during NXNE, but this Sunday is your chance to get your word nerd on at the 22nd annual Word on the Street Festival. Finally, your chance has arrived to rub elbows with the likes of Neil Pasricha (The Book of Even More Awesome) and Polkaroo. (Has anyone ever seen those two in a room together?)
What started out as a smallish festival taking over a chunk of Queen Street in 1990 has since grown into the Super Bowl of literary events, attracting more than 200,000 people annually to Queen’s Park, where tents and exhibitor booths are strategically sprawled between Wellesley and Bloor streets. “We have a lot of well-known Canadian names on the literary scene, but I think what people get a lot out of, especially the young Toronto crowd, is the authors who are a little less well-known,” says Nicola Dufficy, the Australia-born festival director. “It’s an opportunity for them to connect with their readers and vice-versa, and for people to discover their new favourite author.”
One of those well-known Canadian names is Governor General’s Award–winning author Guy Vanderhaeghe (12:30, Scotiabank Giller Prize Bestsellers Stage), whose long-awaited new novel A Good Man completes his western-themed trilogy. And on the smaller but more quirky side, Toronto author Jessica Westhead (whose latest collection, And Also Sharks, explores some relatably neurotic characters) will be part of a panel discussion about short stories, the social misfits of the literary world (2:15, the Great Books Marquee).
If you’re looking for a panel to really indulge your love of Toronto, your best bet is without a doubt “Toronto as Muse: Books Inspired by the City We Love,” which hits the Vibrant Voices of Ontario Tent at 11:00. The panel features four authors—Sean Dixon, Farzana Doctor, David Penhale, and Jim Nason—whose books, as you might have guessed, are based in this fair city; Nason’s short-story collection, The Girl on the Escalator, was inspired by people he observed while riding the TTC. And since it’s immediately following at noon, we’d recommend you check out “Mastering the Mystery: How to Keep Readers Guessing” at the new This Is Not the Shakespeare Stage, if only because the panel includes talented illustrator/world’s most likeable book publicist/newfound author Evan Munday (The Dead Kid Detective Agency), who will be joined by enviable young adult genre writers Norah McClintock and Shane Peacock.
But of course, one of the draws of the Word on the Street Festival is all of the super-cheap stuff you can get. Looking for something new to fill your mailbox? Magazines like Dandyhorse, Spacing, and The Walrus offer some of the best subscription deals you’ll find all year (plus free tote bags with those Walrus subscriptions). This weekend, Spacing will also be launching brand-new Toronto neighbourhood buttons, magnets, and T-shirts to accompany their wildly popular subway swag.
With more than a dozen marquee tents of planned programming and at least 100 exhibitor booths, the Word on the Street is a mighty beast. Not even the Gods of Rain can stop the festival from moving forward—though according to our friends at The Weather Network (we’re knocking on wood), this Sunday’s shaping up to be a mostly sunny affair. So embrace September’s lingering warmth, grab one of those portobello mushroom burgers we hear they’ll be selling, and embrace the first official weekend of fall—the season of curling up with a good book.