For the first time since 2019, the Toronto International Festival of Authors returns with in-person events, something director Roland Gulliver greets with a sigh of relief. He first joined TIFA in February 2020, just as the world was going into lockdown. What followed were two festivals that were almost exclusively remote.
“It’s very exciting to finally be in person,” Gulliver told the Star earlier this week. “That joy and energy when the authors and writers are in the room and with the public, is very special (and) is greatly missed.”
What the time away has allowed, though, is ideas to percolate on how to create a festival that takes the best of all media, digital and in-person, and crosses borders and hopefully some borders.
One of the biggest events of the 2022 festival was not planned: instead, it came about as an almost spontaneous gesture in conjunction with PEN Canada, after writer Salman Rushdie was brutally attacked in August. The Freedom to Write and Read: Standing with Salman Rushdie on Tuesday will feature authors including Margaret AtwoodJohn Irving, Ian McEwanDeepa Mehta and many others reading passages from Rushdie’s work, reinforcing the importance of sharing our words.
That reading is just one of the main events in a festival that features more than 200 events and activities that organizers hope will draw more participants.
Another is Moth, the award-winning New York group who, Gulliver explains, “do these remarkable, interpreted readings that then lead to discussion and debate about social, cultural, and healing issues.” They will be at a special event at Koerner Hall, part of TIFA’s efforts to host events throughout the city.
There’s also the Wasteland Project, with writers from around the world, including Ukraine, responding to TS Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” framing a global discussion on the impact of war, pandemics, and colonial violence. “I think it’s a really exciting way to work and connect,” Gulliver said.
Marquee writers and readings are always part of the festival: this year they include McEwan, Douglas StuartIreland’s Marian Keyes, Vivek Shraya, Ben Macintyre, sarah poley, Martha Wainwright and Scott Turow with Linwood Barclay.
For the family
TIFA Kids will feature nearly 30 different events, many of which are free, including readings by David A. Robertson and Kevin Sylvester.
There’s also an “Ask the Expert” event focused on TIFA Kids (part of a series of free outdoor events throughout the week) that looks at how to break the news to kids.
For music lovers
Music and words, poetry and dance are combined in a variety of iterations throughout the festival.
kapow! introduces the scottish writer irvine welsh and others in a show that features readings, conversation and hip hop.
Indigenous writer, musician and composer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is ready to put on a performance that “blurs the lines between story and song.”
Poet and writer Anne Michaels will appear in concert, exploring Toronto’s history of poetry, music and storytelling.
TIFA always presents interesting ways to engage with books and writers. One of the most interesting this year is the “Spectacular Translation Machine” with which visitors interpret and “translate” the illustrated book “La Petite Créature” by the French illustrator and graphic artist Marjolaine Leray, selecting a page and writing what What do the words think? It should be. “The really exciting thing about doing it here is that there are so many languages in the city; hopefully we’ll get this kind of kaleidoscope of different translations,” Gulliver said.
TIFA fans will comment that the dates have changed: the festival traditionally took place a month later, during the last week of October and sometimes into the first week of November, depending on how the dates fell. This year, it starts on Thursday, runs through the weekend and ends on October 2.
That date change, Gulliver said, has allowed TIFA to schedule outdoor events. “The thrill for me of the Harbourfront Center as a space is the combination of indoor venues, outdoor spaces like the concert stage, and all of the very designed space by the water.”
Citing the festival’s potential to grow and become more accessible and visible, Gulliver said he is focused on finding ways to engage “both people who are book lovers who come to see their favorite writer but who also want to experience something make it interesting and new.
The Toronto International Festival of Authors takes place at the Harbourfront Center and various venues around the city from September 22 to October 2. Anger festivalofauthors.ca for more information.
Deborah Dundas is the editor of Star’s Books. It is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @debdundas