Beyond Words: Toronto Grows Its Own LGBTQ Literary Festival
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Beyond Words: Toronto Grows Its Own LGBTQ Literary Festival

The Naked Heart literary festival gives voice to the queer community in Toronto and beyond.

Glad Day Bookshop, the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore. Photo by Samira Mohyeddin.

This past weekend, Toronto got its first queer literary festival. Presented by Glad Day Bookshop, Naked Heart: An LGBTQ Festival of Words, took place in various venues within walking distance of the Church Street Village.

David’s Tea, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Yorkville Library, City Park Library, the Ontario Public Services Employees Union Hall (OPSEU) and well-known bar Zipperz hosted more than 120 writers who presented 47 panels, workshops, and readings during the three-day festival. Although some internationally renowned queer writers were present (most notably, American novelist Larry Duplechan) it was Toronto’s own heroes who took the spotlight. Playwright Brad Fraser, writer (and sometimes-Torontoist contributor) Denise Benson, Farzana Doctor, Sarah Liss, and Sky Gilbert were among the locals involved.

Scott Dagostino, manager of Glad Day Bookshop and a regular columnist for Daily Xtra, also presented at the inaugural festival.

“We need to tell our own stories and the next generation needs to see themselves represented in script. This is what got us through the AIDS crisis and this is what keeps us alive,” said Dagostino.

Established in 1970, Glad Day Bookshop is billed as the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore and the Naked Heart Festival is a reflection of its mandate, and of the queer community today: culturally diverse and inclusive.

The festival aimed to do more than just have writers read from their work.

“We wanted to be able to provide a place where potential writers can meet publishers, or learn about how to get their work published. Getting people’s voices heard is what is important for us,” said Dagostino.

One of those people is Toronto based Filipino-Canadian writer and performer Catherine Hernandez. The writer read from her first work of fiction, Scarborough Stories, which was given the Emerging Writer Award from the Asian-Canadian Writers’ Workshop

Although Hernandez is not new to the queer literary scene, having read at Glad Day events before and being the current “Thinker in Residence” at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, she is a novice in the world of fiction writing and publication.

“I wore two hats at this festival, and that was one of the things I enjoyed the most, the opportunity to be a learner and to read from my work,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez thought that writers greatly benefited from the workshops at the festival, particularly those who wanted to know more about the publishing side of the literary world.

“It is important to understand the business side of the industry. It is a great way to ensure that the stories and words of our community get published,” said Hernandez.

The preservation of community was a message that was repeated by participants and organizers alike.

“It is about community and always has been,” said Dagostino, who hopes next year’s festival will be even bigger and better.