BY TALINE LOSCHIAVO
The sun beamed brightly as Toronto hosted its annual Word On the Street Festival last weekend. A celebration of Canadian literature and magazines, the festival brings together readers and writers from all walks of life.
First launched in 1990, the festival is a vehicle for Canadian authors and artists to showcase their work. It hosts book markets, author meetups, discussion panels, children’s activities and much more.
This year, it featured a large ensemble of participants including David Suzuki (Just Cool It!: The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do), Deborah Ellis (Sit), Jonny Sun (Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too), and Emma Donoghue (Room) to name a few. The chance to see these authors in person is a huge draw for many people.
“I really wanted to see Jonny Sun talk,” said festival-goer Lauren Urquhart. “I wrote about this in my calendar months in advance,” she admitted with a laugh.
Sun’s illustrated humour novel is an Amazon bestseller. Based on his widely followed twitter feed, it follows a lonely alien as he navigates earth and learns about life, love and friendship through the earth creatures he meets.
When asked to join the festival Sun didn’t think twice. “I love books. Books are the first thing I remember falling in love with as a kid,” said Sun. “I have favourites that I hold close to my heart, and I always go back to them. I wanted to create something that might hopefully become that for somebody else.”
The opportunity to share this love of literature is the driving force behind the success and popularity of the festival. It has created a unique community for book-lovers.
“It’s hard sometimes when you’re passionate about something that not everyone enjoys. People don’t generally talk about books anymore,” said Urquhart. “Festivals like this bring everyone together, where you can be passionate without everyone making fun of you,” she said with a laugh. “It’s incredible how many people are here.”
Festival-goer Mariel Concepcion agrees. “I love meeting new people. It’s nice to talk to people with the same interests who just get it.”
And a city like Toronto is the perfect place to host such an event.
“I love any opportunity I get to be back in Toronto. I love being here, taking the train to Union station…Toronto is my home,” said Sun.
The festival not only provides a platform for the public to connect with the stars of Canadian literature, it also paves the way for emerging talent to gain exposure.
One of the ways in which this was achieved was by hosting a writing competition. Titled Writing Divercity 2017, the contest celebrated its three winners by having them share their stories as a showcase. First-place winner Elham M. Ali expresses her opinion on the importance of contests such as this one, especially for minority writers:
“I feel like Word on the Street is so much about appreciating Canadian authors, and it’s about giving voice and opportunity to everybody. For them to try and nurture upcoming potential writers is enormous, and I think that it’s such a great addition to what this festival is already about,” she said.
From the impressive turnout alone, it’s clear that Word on the Street is going strong. It is a beloved event for many. Ali even states that it’s her favourite part of the year.
“I love Word on the Street. I’ve come every year for like, the last five years. I make a point of it. It’s like Christmas for me. To be part of something that I love so much has been the best thing.”
It also resonated with those who attended for the first time this year.
“I didn’t know that this was happening until somebody told me about it,” said Concepcion. “I would totally come back again.”