Five Questions with The Word On The Street Organizers

Word on the Street 2015 (2)

IFOA: You are a small team making a BIG event happen. What’s the hardest part?

The Word On The Street
: Probably making sure the office keeps working and doesn’t just read the festival library. We’re not kidding. The whole team is really just a bunch of word nerds,so with a ton of great books at our fingertips this year, it’s sometimes difficult to stay on task. Some of us also have a tough time not nerding out when speaking to childhood heroes, ie, Kenneth Oppel, or new favourite authors, ie. Nathan Adler. Apparently the hardest part is just being too geeky.

IFOA: This is the biggest The Word On The Street has ever been. What are the newest additions to the festival?

The Word On The Street
: We have two new stages this year.The Genre Zone Stage is brand new, with programming that audiences have been wanting for a long time. This is the must-attend stage for fans of Canadian science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and comic books. The Canadian Magazines Stage, which hasn’t been a stage at The Word On The Street for a few years, has been revived with an injection of pure excitement. There’ll be panels discussing a wide range of Magazine topics from designing the Canadian identity, living a greener life, and even a Zine race!

IFOA: Can each of you recommend one thing we cannot miss at this year’s festival?

The Word On The Street

  • Loribeth, Programming Assistant: Is there a better way to spend the day than on a boat with André Alexis and Gary Barwin talking about boaty, piratey things and sailing around Toronto’s waterfront? I think not. A Pirates’s Life for Me on the Author Cruises is the event I’ll be dreaming of all day.
  • Emily, Volunteer Coordinator: Without question, the TVOKids LIVE! Stage. Even as a full grown adult, OddSquad is the funniest show I’ve ever seen. I’ll be sneaking away to make sure I’m there. There’s also so many activities for families, where kids can run around and be kids which is probably the best part of the festival for me.
  • Justin, Marketing Coordinator: Make sure you’re at the Toronto Star Tent for the talk between Mitch Potter and Thomas Walkom, Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump: What it Means for Canada. I have the feeling this one will be a show stopper (I mean the event, not the presidency…I think).
  • Katie: Event Coordinator: I’m getting my sister to take copious notes at Purely Pumpkin with Allison Day at the Cooks ‘n’ Books Stage. Allison is right. Pumpkin doesn’t have to be just seasonal anymore. I want to know how to make that happen. And free samples of pumpkin flavoured goodies?! Yes please!
  • Evan, Festival Director: Maybe it’s obvious that I would have a penchant for the visual, but our panel featuring some of the best indie comics creators in the city, The6ix in Four Colours, is an event every comic-lover should attend. Found on the Genre Zone Stage, Jason Loo, Nathan Page, Drew Shannon, and Leisha Riddel are going to show why Toronto is a centre for comic innovation.

IFOA: We are really intrigued by the Author Cruises. Can you tell us more?

The Word On The Street
: We take a lot of pride in this stage because there’s nothing else like it in the country. Audiences are able to go on hour long boat cruises throughout the day on the gorgeous Tall Ship Kajama with various panels of renowned authors. Because of this amazing experience, this is the only stage at the festival that’s ticketed, but it is well worth the price. You can buy tickets in advance for any of our four Author Cruises.

IFOA: What do you love most about The Word On The Street Toronto festival?

The Word On The Street: The opportunity to share something we love with so many people. It’s still so encouraging to us that over 200,000 people come out year after year to celebrate reading and literature, and that we get to be a highlight in many Canadian’s reading lives. No one will say “print is dead” when they see the excitement in the air during the festival. There’s something special in being part of the literary energy of not only Toronto, but of Canada.

Five Questions with Chris Hedges

Hedges, Chris

IFOA: Can you tell us a bit more about what you will be discussing at your keynote address: The Price of Truth in Journalism in a Post-Fact World at the Humber Liberal Arts Conference at IFOA?

Chris Hedges: The decline of print as a medium to impart information has given primacy to the image, and therefore the skillful manipulation of emotion.  The electronic mediums that impart images eschew complexity and nuance.  They speak in easily digestible cliches and replace information and fact with entertainment and spectacle. This is the template for all forms of totalitarianism, including our corporate totalitarianism.

IFOA: You currently teach prisoners at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey. What is your favourite and least favourite part of this role?

Chris Hedges: My favorite part is teaching brilliant students with a deep hunger to learn. My least favorite part is dealing with the prison administration.

IFOA: You speak English, Arabic, French, Spanish, Latin and Ancient Greek. Is there another language you would like to learn?

Chris Hedges: Russian.

IFOA: Can you describe your time as a foreign correspondent in fewer than 10 words?

Chris Hedges: A study in human depravity and violence.

IFOA: Foreign correspondent, author, professor, ordained minister. What’s next for you?

Chris Hedges: That’s enough.


See Chris Hedges deliver the keynote address at the Humber Liberal Arts Conference.

Get your tickets here.

5 Questions with Naomi Guttman

Guttman, Naomi

IFOA: Where did you draw inspiration from to write your latest collection?

Naomi: I spent a brief time in my twenties studying music, for which I had very little talent. They say that for writers all experience is grist, so I guess that the beginnings of writing about music and musicians go back to that time. I’ve always been interested in food and in the past dozen years as I’ve created courses on food and participated in conferences on food, I’ve met a wide array of people who are also interested in food, with eating it, researching it, and writing about it.

Needless to say, those of us obsessed with food are in many ways hedonists, and Donny is a character who embodies the Dionysian qualities that stress life’s sensory pleasures, including food. You might say that I created Ari as an ascetic counterweight. Their “opera,” or song, is a conversation I have with myself every day: do I indulge in the pleasures of the world as they are given to me, especially those of food, or do I choose restraint in the recognition that the planet’s resources are in fact dwindling under population and environmental pressures?

IFOA: What is your writing process?

Naomi: It’s very slow. With this book I began by setting myself the goal of writing prosy blocks of poetry, 10 lines per poem. At first I wanted to capture each character’s point of view, via an omniscient narrative voice. Because I wanted to tell a story, eventually I had to figure out how to create more dramatic poems rather than simply meditative ones. I also realized that I wanted to do more formal experimentation, and that took some time to develop. I teach, so the book was written in fits and starts, mostly over summers. I’d say it took about 4 years to complete the manuscript, and another year or so to polish it.

IFOA: If you could collaborate with any writer, who would it be and why?

Naomi: I’d love to collaborate with a composer and a librettist, perhaps using “Donny & Ari” as the basis of a contemporary opera. I’m also very interested in the personal documentary and would love to collaborate with Alan Berliner, or someone like that. But most writers are solitary types, so it’s hard to imagine it happening.

IFOA: What are some of the subjects aspiring authors explore in your creative writing classes? Do you have advice for them about finding inspiration?

Naomi: Young people, naturally, gravitate to writing about what they know. I often begin a course with childhood memories, important places, and dreams as sources for their writing (I have them read Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet”); at the same time, I want them to turn the usual advice on its head: as the writer Brett Lott said, “Write what you don’t know about what you know.” I ask students to consider the mystery, the gaps between what they think they know and what they actually know.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Naomi: I’m working on a personal documentary in video. I don’t know that it will ever be of a quality that I’d want to show the world, but I’m enjoying the exercise of putting visual material, recorded voices, and music in relationship to one another. I’m also working on some personal essays. I’m still writing poems, but I haven’t zeroed in on collecting a new manuscript, though I believe that if I looked at my notebooks, I might be able to see the beginnings of another volume of poems.


See Naomi read live at Brick Books’ 40th Anniversary Celebration on May 25th at 7:30pm.

Five Questions with…Carolyn Smart

Smart, Carolyn

IFOA: What inspired you to write Careen?

Carolyn: For the past few years I have been interested in writing the unrevealed truths behind certain historical figures. Reading a recent biography of the outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, I learned that their lasting fame was based on one set of staged photographs left behind in a getaway, and a 1967 Arthur Penn film that to a large degree invented their story. I was drawn to tell the more realistic tale: the hardscrabble existence of two young people with absolutely nothing to lose in Depression-era Texas, an area and time with which I have a personal connection: my maternal grandfather was a failed gun-runner who died in penury in Laredo.

IFOA: What is the hardest part about writing poetry that resembles dialogue?

Carolyn: I wanted the poems to have recognizable and distinct voices, to be revealing information but also working as rhythmic language; I wanted lyricism and narrative linked. And for this book I took the leap to write in dialect, which to me felt revolutionary.

IFOA: What piece of advice do you give to aspiring authors in your creative writing classes?

Carolyn: I encourage emerging writers to avoid self-censorship, to edit thoroughly, and to remember why you write: because you love it.

IFOA: What are you reading now?

Carolyn: I am reading “Inferno (A Poet’s Novel)” by Eileen Myles, also “Speedboat” by Renata Adler. I just finished “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” by Ocean Vuong and “Bluets” by Maggie Nelson.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Carolyn: I’m writing poems about all kinds of different things, in lots of different forms. I’m not sure where it’s going yet, but I’m open to anything.


See Carolyn read live at Brick Books’ 40th Anniversary Celebration on May 25th at 7:30pm.

Five Questions with…Matt Rader

Matt Rader, the author of Desecrations, and a Toronto Lit Up participant answered our five questions.

©Ron Pogue

 IFOA: Tell us a bit about your latest collection of poetry.

Matt: This is a collection celebrating in the ruins, listening for music in a room of silent instruments. It has a heavy title and the poems sometimes try to look dark places in the eye–colonialism, failing health, banishment–but these are mostly love poems, the kind of love that persists when there’s no longer any reason to love except that you want to.

IFOA: You’re an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, as well. Have you found teaching creative writing has affected your own writing at all?

Matt: I’m constantly humbled by the brilliance, fearlessness, and vigour of the people I encounter in my work. Trying to support other people to develop their relationship with their own imagination is baffling and mind-blowing. It has given me an even deeper and more profound respect for my teachers. I hope it has made my writing more open. These answers feel a little more ethereal than I intend them.

IFOA: Who are some of your favourite poets you can recommend to our readers?

Matt: Michael Longley and Larry Levis have been twin influences throughout the writing of these poems. Elizabeth Bishop and Gwendolyn Brooks are two others I return to again and again. Everyone in Canada should read Russell Thornton. Maggie Nelson changed my life.

IFOA: Where is your ideal place to write?

Matt: I don’t have an ideal place: it depends on the project. Some of Desecrations was written in a farmhouse in the Irish Midlands and I loved it because I woke in the morning, made coffee, wrote, read, walked the fields, and talk to no one.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Matt: It’s too early to tell.  As Frank O’Hara, one of the resident ghosts of Desecrations, once wrote: “Grace / to be born and live as variously as possible.”


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