It’s said that the most important thing a writer can do to improve their craft is read, read, read. But when they’re on stage, it’s easy to forget that authors are avid readers themselves! While attending #FestofAuthors18, returning Delegate Alexandra Grigorescu spoke to several of this year’s featured authors about the importance of the Festival in that context.
By Alexandra Grigorescu
It’s a long process, a book. It begins with a first frenzied draft, littered with character inconsistencies, timeline errors, and over-wrought metaphors. (That part bursts forth like confetti, and is often just as messy). Then come the edits, and finessing, and the combing through, followed by covers and blurbs. The birth of a book seems as though it’s terribly far off, until suddenly, it’s not.
And then came the day when I was on the Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA) stage, reading and sharing my thoughts with writers I admired, struck by the memory of sitting in the audience. For me, it’s the stage.
I’ve attended TIFA, rapt as can be, for years. The crisp air, the gray October sky, the sound of heels through Harbourfront Centre conjures up memories of hearing Ann-Marie MacDonald talk about Adult Onset and having my well-loved copy of The Way the Crow Flies graciously signed. Or that time I was dizzied by Jeff VanderMeer’s mind-bending talk on his Southern Reach trilogy. The list goes on and on.
For a writer, this festival is a many-splendored thing. It can be energizing, thought-provoking or even nostalgic, and this year, I took the opportunity to chat with a few writers about what the Festival means to them.
“I’m always transported back to when I first fell in love with books,” Marlon James told me. “Because I remember how in reading, I found my voice. And I don’t mean my literary voice. I mean my voice in the world. I mean how to be a person, how to live in my own skin. Toni Morrison taught me how to live in my own skin. So it’s not just writers helping me to be a writer, it’s writers helping me to be.”
This festival connects people. You reach out. You talk about your work, your cities or the political climate. You talk and talk, and it’s a well-earned reprieve from the isolation of staring at a screen or page. And often, you talk about your love of books.
That’s a sentiment that many of the attendees expressed. From Rogers’ Writers Trust Fiction Prize winner Kathy Page (“The great thing about it is that you connect up to a culture and a community of readers… It’s just in a sense what you’re doing the whole thing for, is to connect with people”); to Buzzfeed’s Elamin Abdelmahmoud (“There are people who are my people, and they’re story people, and they’re narrative people…You walk into a room and it’s automatically a comfortable space because you share that kind of love even if you don’t agree on everything”); to this year’s Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language Fiction winner Sarah Henstra (“I tend to be very local with my writer friendships, so I’m really looking forward to talking to people from much further afield”).
Some mentioned the opportunity to connect with diverse voices, such as Lewis DeSoto who noted that, “‘International’ is the important word for me. It’s a way to discover writers. I won’t usually go to a reading by someone whose work I know. I want to discover someone.”
Craig Davidson voiced appreciation for the Festival’s “provocative panels,” which allow for both the “deep dives” of one-on-one conversations and a rewarding sense of “cohesion” between seemingly disparate panelists. And truly, there’s some secret alchemy at work here. Authors are cleverly paired to uncover common ground or strike the debate pulse points of the times. Audience members are moved to buy the work of someone they’ve just discovered. Books are truly and thoroughly celebrated.
Randy Boyagoda summed it up beautifully: “What I enjoy most is the intimacy of this event, where you have an integration of the event space, the bookstore, the space with writers […] All of these different things suggest, what? A community that’s brought together by two things: by the city, and by a love of reading. And TIFA brings the life of the city and the love of reading together like no one else does.”
Long before I had any notion of being a writer, I was a reader. And while my love of books burns bright throughout the year, there is something about the Toronto International Festival of Authors—the connections it fosters, the conversations it sparks, the pure humming energy of it—that adds a generous helping of fuel to the flame.