Page and Flesh

By David Bradford

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The Delegate Programme is an opportunity for local authors and journalists to enrich the level of discussion at select events throughout the International Festival of Authors. David Bradford—author of Call Out and contributor to The Unpublished City—wrote about his experience as an IFOA 2017 delegate and for him, it turned the reader-writer relationship into a tangible experience.

“Every time I failed at something,” Eileen Myles told the Brigantine Room audience over Skype, “I could write.” It’s an old, truthful thing Andre Alexis and Kia Corthron seemed to recognize, one which I know well from my better nights, as well as my worst ones.

In a room full of honest-to-God readers, though, I found myself wondering how well they may have recognized Myles’s sentiment for themselves. I wondered how they might connect it with their own failures, and their own reach for that personal thing that wouldn’t let them down—how often that something might have been in the words of others. It reminded me that we writers all started, and hopefully remain first and foremost, readers. That often what we write begins with something we read—out of an impulse to look in a book for something we’ve failed to find elsewhere.

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Attention to Detail: The Art of Research

By Alexandra Grigorescu

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The Delegate Programme is an opportunity for local authors and journalists to enrich the level of discussion at select events throughout the International Festival of Authors. Alexandra Grigorescu—author of Cauchemar—wrote about her experience as an IFOA 2017 delegate and for her, a panel on research caught her attention.

I’ve been attending the International Festival of Authors for years. First, as a student enamoured with the writing life, then as a writer looking for pointers, then as a giddy participant, and now as a delegate. I played against my genre-loving type and chose a disparate set of panels: Keep It Short, The Lives of Underdogs, and Writing an Informed Story. Of these, the last one resonated most with me.

Deborah Dundas’ thoughtful questions took the audience behind the scenes of three distinct worlds and the facts that grounded their authors’ flights of fancy. What inspired me most was the way these three writers—Helen Humphreys, Claire Cameron and Roberta Rich—all began with a germ of an idea.

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Poetry and Canadiana

By Canisia Lubrin

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The Delegate Programme is an opportunity for local authors and journalists to enrich the level of discussion at select events throughout the International Festival of Authors. Canisia Lubrin—author of Voodoo Hypothesis and contributor to The Unpublished City—wrote about her experience as an IFOA 2017 delegate and for her, poetry and the Festival’s Canadian-ness left a lasting impression.

There is a sort of despairing desire that takes its cue from ecstasy. When I first participated in IFOA back in 2014, as one of what seemed like a legion of emerging writers to read in a pilot event called Brave New Word, I did not know by which vein I’d entered that storied, yet abstract character of being a writer—even momentarily, one that had been prescribed or is upheld as such, yet still a thing I regarded without that wild absolute geometry of the author.

I hardly had a moment to pause with any sufficient reverie towards the experience and its meaning. How the years churn out their consequence I will not speculate on now. What sees me as an IFOA delegate for the 38th edition of the Festival is a kind of elaborate dream, one that got wrapped into air when a certain clarity is found in that modulated appeal of event after ecstatic event, and here I was: in the throes of something now familiar, yet unexpected—something oddly warped in a strangeness prone to amnesia.

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“Serious” Authors Can Be Funny Too

By Emily Saso


The Delegate Programme is an opportunity for local authors and journalists to enrich the level of discussion at select events throughout the International Festival of Authors. Emily Saso—author of The Weather Inside—wrote about her experience as an IFOA 2017 delegate and for her, she found hilarity even in the most serious panels.

I expected many things from this year’s International Festival of Authors: intellectual debates, empathetic insights, writing tips, and the chance to meet my favourite authors. What I didn’t expect, however, was comedy.

As a delegate at IFOA 2017, I was lucky enough to attend seven panels. At none of them was humour explicitly on the table. In fact, one event was actually called—wait for it—Futile Fates. Throughout the festival, the writers before me included literary icons, horror masters and articulate historians. Humorists? No. However, at each panel, I spent half of the time in stitches.

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Coming Home to IFOA

By Sheniz Janmohamed

When I was a kid, I used to visit my local library almost every week. I filled my book bag to the brim and looked forward to reading new stories every night. Although I’m much older and more jaded now, there is still a sense of wonder and joy that takes over me when I walk into a library.

Owen Sheers reading at IFOA Markham ©

Owen Sheers reading at IFOA Markham ©

Stepping into a library knowing that you’re going to listen to authors read from books contained in that very library—well, there’s nothing more ‘meta’ than that. After years of organizing IFOA Markham, this was the first year I listened, observed and participated as an audience member. This was the first time it was held in the presence of thousands of books. It felt right. The library was transformed—a place that I would never dare eat in (for fear of ruining a book) was lined with long tables stacked with food—from samosas to falafel to gelato. Anyone knows that the way to a writer’s heart is good food (or is that just the way to my heart?). Authors Giles Blunt, Owen Sheers and Nino Ricci circulated in the crowd of readers, chatting with young writers, librarians and community members. In fact, they were so engrossed in getting to know the Markham community that one of the event organizers had to come back a few times to escort them backstage—proof that they felt at home in our hometown.

The evening began with a ceremony acknowledging the achievements of young writers in Markham. The mayor of Markham, Frank Scarpitti, presented awards to up-and-coming teen writers who participated in the Markham Teen Arts Council’s “Word Up!” Contest. I found this to be an apt beginning for a Lit On Tour event, as it reminded us of the talent we have within our own community, and it gave young writers something tangible to aspire to.

Giles Blunt was first to read—donning the voice of an old monk, he transported us to the monastery where his latest novel, The Hesitation Cut, is located. A line that stayed with me included this one: “his robe flapping around him like a personal storm.”

Owen Sheers illuminated his reading with insights into the process of writing the book, including this gem: “When does a confession become a selfish, not an altruistic act?”

Nino Ricci closed the night with haunting passages from Sleep, describing autumn in all its glory, “…the trees flame up like an apocalypse in their autumn colours.”

After their readings, the authors were gracious enough to take questions from audience members. A young writer asked for advice on becoming a better writer. Owen Sheers had three words for her, “read, read, read”. He also pointed out that he began his writing career by entering literary competitions. Another question arose about the development of book titles and how they were chosen. Nino Ricci wanted to change his original title, but his publisher opted to keep it, whereas Owen Sheers was told to change his title but fought to keep it. They all spoke about tricking themselves into writing, or as Sheers put it, “writing from the corner of my eye.” The authors spoke about the challenge of getting stuck halfway through a novel, and how they push through the writing process. Giles Blunt confessed that after writing 100 pages of The Hesitation Cut, he couldn’t write anymore. He decided to write it longhand, as it allowed him to focus on writing first and editing later. Ricci echoed this sentiment, “Writing longhand allows for editing after not during the writing process. It allows one to release the editorial impulse.”

The conversation was lively, and the authors were genuinely surprised when the Markham Arts Council handed them gifts at the end of the night (another way to a writer’s heart: free gifts). It was an inspiring, heartwarming celebration of writing and reading and a full circle for me—the little girl who loved visiting her hometown library is still alive and well.

Sheniz Janmohamed is an author, artist educator and spoken word artist. She has performed nationally and internationally for over 10 years and has been featured at various venues, including the Jaipur Literature Festival, TedxYouth@Toronto and the Aga Khan Museum. She is also the author of two collections of poetry: Bleeding Light and Firesmoke. Sheniz facilitates creative writing workshops for writers of all ages and has recently completed her Arts Education certification at The Royal Conservatory in Toronto.