From all of us here at TIFA: Happy New Year! To commemorate 2019, we sat with TIFA Director Geoffrey E. Taylor for a quick interview about the past, present and future of the Toronto International Festival of Authors. If starting a new year is anything like starting a new book, consider this a very special foreword from the man behind the curtains.
Before we talk about 2019, what will you remember most from last year’s Festival?
GT: The 39th Edition saw the introduction of several new events that our team is very proud of, myself included. I’m thinking of our Author Talks & Mystery Library events at Union Station, which brought out curious commuters and Festival-goers alike for a more playful and spontaneous author experience; our EUNIC Reading & Reception, featuring a large cast of international authors who rarely appear in Canada, each of whom performed a reading in their books’ original language; and even our Facebook Live event with Waubgeshig Rice and Kevin Hardcastle.
What’s in store for TIFA in 2019?
GT: There was a lot of momentum coming out of the 39th Edition that we’re bringing with us into the new year. We have a very exciting slate of author events in the works, including the return of fan-favourites Lit Jam, featuring talented emerging storytellers and the Battle of the Bards competition in March. And of course, 2019 will mark the 40th anniversary of the Toronto International Festival of Authors. Not that we’re counting or anything.
If you were to tell your 3-decades-ago self (when you first started with the Festival) that you’d someday be planning the 40th edition, how would you have reacted?
GT: Even then the Festival was (as it continues to be) an enormous responsibility. In that sense, I’d like to think there wouldn’t be much disparity between my reaction then and now as I look towards the 40th Edition. Which is to say, I’m extremely honoured to have been a part of this organization for as long as I have, but it’s far from a one-person show. There would be no Festival without our wonderful volunteers, supporters, patrons, sponsors and readers. They’re the ones who really bring the Festival to life, and I am so immensely grateful for their ongoing support. I’d also like to thank all of our talented participants, who continue to bring exciting stories and fascinating ideas to the page and of course the colleagues I work with every day who also help bring the programme to life.
What difference do you see now (in TIFA, or in the Toronto/Canadian/International festival landscape) versus when you first stepped in to this role?
GT: It’s become essential for festivals to imbue their programming with a rewarding sense of discovery outside of big-name marquee events. That is, to offer as many opportunities as possible to learn from authors and communities whose experiences readers may otherwise never have considered or come across in their day-to-day lives. For example, in 2018 we hosted 44 authors from outside Canada (representing nearly 30 countries) for profound conversations about love, trauma, history, identity and more.
How are you approaching this year’s Festival?
GT: What we ultimately want to do is find that balance between looking forward and looking back. The Festival has a long and storied history that we certainly plan on celebrating in 2019, but as curators, there also exists a responsibility to highlight and explore new themes that reflect what’s important to readers today (and moving forward). Expect us to bring back guests who have taken our stage in the past, including those who made their professional debut with us, in addition to showcasing new talent whom we believe will have longevity in the years to come.
What specific achievements does TIFA have to celebrate?
GT: TIFA has grown from very humble beginnings into Canada’s longest-running and largest festival of literature. It’s become the premier event in the industry’s annual calendar, and it’s helped launch the career of hundreds of writers both in Canada and abroad.
Do you have any resolutions for the New Year?
Keep an eye on our event calendar and social channels for announcements regarding upcoming author events, including Toronto Lit Up and the 40th Edition of the Toronto International Festival of Authors!