Wordfest stays online for fall programming with author pairs

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They are called literary “power couples”.

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First-time novelist Genki Ferguson will be in talks with one of his mentors, Canadian-American novelist and Zen Buddhist priest, Ruth Ozeki.

Writer and playwright Drew Hayden Taylor will chat with CBC film and pop culture critic Jesse Wente. Both are Ojibway and the discussion will likely revolve around the orientation of Indigenous creativity and art in a post-Truth and Reconciliation culture.

American author Torrey Peters will join Canadian author Casey Plett, both transgender, to discuss trans issues and rights.

Author and former investigative journalist Linden MacIntyre will be in discussion with Canadian author and satirist Terry Fallis.

These are among 26 writers who will be part of WordFest’s 26 @ 26 online fall program, where notable authors have chosen to be matched up for conversations. The program kicks off on September 7 with author Miriam Toews discussing her new novel, Fight Night, with Claire Cameron, author of The Last Neanderthal. The conversations will take place online every Tuesday (Omar El Akkad and Ian Williams will be pushed back to Wednesday, September 21 due to the elections) until November 30. occurs when the two who are talking are already acquaintances or mutual fans.

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“What happens when you pair people who are wondering is you start the conversation that’s already in sync,” says Shelley Youngblut, CEO of Wordfest. “They already have a lot in common and things are coming out.”

This is the second year that Wordfest has adopted the format and the second year that its full list of fall events will be held online. In 2020, the festival was gearing up for its 25th anniversary celebrations when COVID hit. The programmers nevertheless turned to an online 25 @ 25 presentation, which also featured online events with 13 “lead authors” choosing who they wanted to have a conversation with.

Other pairings this year include Calgary’s Marcello Di Cintio with Palestinian-American writer Hala Alyan, Canadian writer and animator Jael Richardson with poet and novelist Katherena Vermette. Poet, novelist and TV screenwriter Zoe Whittall will have an event, although her contact person has yet to be announced. Shelagh Rogers will chat with Cherokee Nation academic and writer Daniel Heath Justice. Indian author and cultural critic Amitava Kumar is twinned with American novelist Jenny Offill. Canadian-Japanese writer Hiromi Goto will meet writer Kyo Maclear. Cookbook author Dorie Greenspan will chat with mystery novelist Louise Penny.

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In addition to the 26 @ 26 program, Wordfest will feature a range of featured authors at separate events. This includes Michelle Zauner, who leads the American indie-pop group Japanese Breakfast and just released the memoir Crying in H Mart on September 16. Other authors who will be featured by December include Wayne Johnston, Tomson Highway, Jordan Tannahill, Janet Skeslien Charles, criminal defense attorney Marie Henein, Douglas Coupland, Chris Hadfield, Jonathan Franzen and Rick Mercer.

“What I’ve learned in those 18 months doing online shows is that if an interview goes really well, you can put in 20 minutes and you can see it,” Youngblut says. “It’s such a tangible change. The author forgets that they are in front of the camera. They’re just having a conversation, they’re in their heads and it’s wide open. This is when the magic happens. You see them so close in a way that you really can’t, even if you’re in the front row, of a live show.

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That said, Youngblut is hoping Wordfest can start hosting live events by the end of November in conjunction with online programming.

Wordfest launched Imagine on Air earlier this summer, an on-demand streaming channel that charges subscribers $ 26 per year to access Wordfest events. While Wordfest’s pivot to online programming during the pandemic has been widely viewed as a success, Youngblut points out that it is more of a creative triumph than a business one. As with all arts organizations grappling with the economic uncertainties of COVID-19 and funding for the arts in general, Wordfest still depends on community support.

“We use our money very efficiently,” she says. “But I’m worried about 2022. Anyone who appreciates what we’re doing or has found solace in what we’ve done, any inspiration, we’re really grateful for the support you’ve given us. Just be aware that we could use some more. When you are the organization that has been seen as the backbone to success, people forget that it is still a lot of work. We are pivoting in the air right now, there is still some anchoring that has yet to come.

For full lineup, visit wordfest.com

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