For the first time since 2019, the Toronto International Festival of Authors is back with in-person events, something that 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 so exciting to finally be in person,” Gulliver told the Star earlier this week. “That joy and energy when authors and writers are in the room and with audiences, it’s very special (and) it’s been very much missed.”
What the time away has allowed, though, is for ideas to percolate about how to create a festival that takes the best of all mediums, digital and in person, and crosses borders and, hopefully, a few boundaries.
One of the biggest events of the 2022 festival wasn’t planned: instead, it came together as an almost spontaneous gesture in conjunction with PEN Canada, after writer Salman Rushdie was viciously attacked in August. The Freedom to Write and to Read: Standing with Salman Rushdie on Tuesday will feature authors including Margaret Atwood, John Irving, Ian McEwan, Deepa Mehta and many others reading passages of Rushdie’s work, reinforcing the importance of sharing our words.
That reading is just one of the marquee events in a festival featuring more than 200 events and activities that organizers hope will attract more participants.
Another is the Moth, the award-winning New York group that, Gulliver explains, “do these remarkable, performed readings that then lead to discussion and debate around social issues, cultural issues, healing.” They’ll be at a special event at Koerner Hall, part of TIFA’s efforts to present events in all parts of the city.
There’s also the Wasteland Project, with writers from around the world, including Ukraine, responding to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” framing a global discussion on the impact of war, pandemics and colonial violence. “I think that’s a really exciting way of working and connecting,” said Gulliver.
Marquee writers and readings are always part of the festival: this year they include McEwan, Douglas Stuart, Ireland’s Marian Keyes, Vivek Shraya, Ben Macintyre, Sarah Polley, Martha Wainwright and Scott Turow with Linwood Barclay.
For the family
TIFA Kids will feature almost 30 different events — many of which are free — including readings from David A. Robertson and Kevin Sylvester.
There’s also a TIFA Kids-focused “Ask The Expert” event (part of a series of free outdoor events throughout the week) that discusses how to explain the news to kids.
For music lovers
Music and words and poetry and dance are combined in a variety of iterations throughout the festival.
Kapow! features Scottish writer Irvine Welsh and others in a performance that features readings, conversation and hip hop.
Indigenous writer, musician and songwriter Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is set to do a performance that “blurs the boundaries between story and song.”
Poet and writer Anne Michaels will appear in concert, exploring Toronto’s poetry, music and storytelling history.
TIFA always introduces interesting ways of engaging with books and writers. One of the most interesting this year is the “Spectacular Translation Machine” with which visitors interpret and “translate” the picture book “La Petite Créature” by French illustrator and graphic artist Marjolaine Leray — by selecting a page and writing what they think the words should be. “The really exciting thing about doing it here is because there’s so many languages in the city; hopefully we’ll get this kind of kaleidoscope of different translations,” Gulliver said.
Fans of TIFA will remark that the dates have changed: the festival traditionally took place a month later — over the last week of October and sometimes into the first week of November — depending how the dates fell. This year, it starts Thursday, running over the weekend and ending Oct. 2.
That date change, Gulliver said, has allowed TIFA to program outdoor events. “The excitement for me of the Harbourfront Centre as a space is the combination of indoor venues, outdoor spaces like the concert stage and all the greatly designed space next to the water.”
Referencing the festival’s potential to grow, and become more accessible and visible, Gulliver said he’s focused on finding ways to engage “both people who are book lovers coming down to see their favourite writer but also just want to experience something that’s interesting and new.”
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