Evan Munday on Toronto’s Word on the Street, 2016
The Word On The Street festival happens at the Harbourfront, Sunday September 25th 2016, 11am-6pm
I sat down with Evan Munday, Interim Director of Toronto’s premiere day-long free lakeside literary event, for a chat about what to look out for at this year’s Word on the Street Festival, its place in Toronto literary culture, and the life of an Interim Director.
Don’t miss the festival itself, featuring authors from Lisa Moore to Linwood Barclay to Andre Alexis to Mona Awad on September 25th at Harbourfront. And find out more about The Word on the Street here.
WOTS by the Numbers
people attended last year
authors are presenting this year
stages of programs
years since the first WOTS festival
literary performers since 2001
DT: Where do you see TWOTS fitting into the constellation of literary events and culture in Toronto?
EM: As someone who’s been involved with Toronto’s literary scene for over ten years, I feel I’ve seen it explode. There’s a real wealth of literary programming in the culture of this city. You can go out every night and see a book or literary event.
The Word on the Street is special because it’s a real democratization of literary culture. Though you may not always see them or think about them, there are all kinds of barriers to entrance to literary events – they’re at bars, late at night; many of them are ticketed events, so you have to buy entry; some are only advertised or promoted through authors’ or publishers’ social media channels and networks.
The Word on the Street is a genuinely public, open event that celebrates literary culture – in the middle of the day, on a Sunday, so the whole family can come. It’s all free, and there’s ideally something for everyone.
If you’re really interested in experimental fiction, we have authors for you; and if you’re interested in kids’ picture books we have those too; as well as page-turning adventure stories, and graphic novels, and everything in between.
In my mind TWOTS is the first book event people go to in Toronto, and there they find out about publishers, organizations, and authors they didn’t know before. Pretty soon they’re going to weekly reading series and book launches. The Word on the Street is the welcoming, open, inviting entry point to the literary world in Toronto.
DT: What are the most exciting new additions to The Word on the Street this year?
EM: Two of the more exciting things are our new stages, for magazine programming and genre writers. These two new programming stages in 2016 have really come about from audience feedback – things that kept coming up in requests from our previous attendees.
In the past we had lots of magazine exhibitors, but no stage programming; and we’re excited about adding a new focus on science fiction, fantasy fiction, comic books, mystery…
The magazine stage is mostly panel-based – we’ll have a panel on the future of independent media hosted by This Magazine; a panel on magazine design, especially on Canadian contributions and insights into how Canada is represented; a fashion panel, similarly, and much more.
The genre stage has all kinds of different writers – Canadian mystery, some really good science fiction, comic book authors: Chester Brown is presenting his new book, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus; Madeleine Ashby’s The Company Town. We also have a panel of four different independent comic readers talking about Toronto-based comics.
I’m also a big fan of the author cruises we’ve added since moving to Harbourfront. The authors are put together by theme, so we have a mystery writers cruise, and another all about baseball. You go out on a boat with the authors for an hour in the Toronto harbour – it’s a really fun event.
DT: Could you tell us more about the literacy programming offered by the festival?
EM: Part of our mandate is to advocate for literacy programs and there are two main ways we do that: one is Literacy Lane, where we offer free space to literacy organizations who run programs for children and adults with reading difficulties.
The other is that we also invite a number of those organizations to create free programming for our learning tent – authors and illustrators talking about their books, panel discussions, organizations running literacy programs and activities for families along those lines. On that stage you’ll find American Sign Language storytelling, and Frontier College offering different activities on learning strategies for younger kids. We have the International Dyslexia Association doing a program on identifying and helping kids with learning difficulties, and a lot more.
The idea behind this festival is both celebrating Canada’s, and particularly Toronto’s literary culture, but also making sure there’s an audience for this literary culture for years to come. Our literacy programming is part of that.
DT: What’s the best thing about being Interim Director of the Word on the Street?
EM: The best thing? I get reminded of the number and diversity of different types of books coming out from Canada and especially Toronto in a given year. I used to work for Coach House Books, and working for one publisher you can get tunnel vision, focusing on the books you’re doing. Overseeing this festival you see just how many different kinds of books there are and all the amazing new things Canadian authors and publishers are doing. You really get a great snapshot of everything that’s going on, and it really reignites your interest in Canadian publishing.
DT: Finally, any words of advice for people visiting the festival?
EM: My advice to anyone visiting is check the website schedule first and download our festival program in PDF – find out when the authors you’re looking for are on, and don’t miss them. And then explore! The festival grounds are very different from when they were at Queens Park, with all kinds of different areas.
Photo Cr. Kent Robinson.