Literary heavyweights gather in Toronto

Found in Translation book signing: Authors at the table – Viola Di Grado (Italy), Stephane Michaka(France), Diego Marani (Italy) (Harbourfront Centre Image)

Story by Sandra Williams-Hervé Writer

TORONTO, ONTARIO — Conflict sets the stage for this year’s International Festival of Authors (IFOA) at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.

One thing Canadians and Canadian writers should not feel conflicted about is our rise to literary prominence. It’s true, 2013 has been a banner year for Canadian literature. From Canadian-born and Man Booker prize winner Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries) to fellow Man Booker prize winner Margaret Atwood (A Handmaid’s Tale, The Robber Bride, In the Wake of the Flood) to our beloved Alice Munro (Dear Life, Too Much Happiness, Lives of Girls and Women), who won the 2012 Noble Prize for Literature this October. These are just a few of the few Canadians who either make an appearance or are honoured at the festival.

While it’s no guarantee that Munro will make it in person to her sold-out tribute event on November 2, Canada’s literary circle can’t contain its excitement, “Our literature is relatively young, so when we have a big win like this, personally, I’m thrilled,” said Toronto-based author Alissa York (Fauna, Effigy, Mercy) when I asked her to share her opinion of Munro’s win. Now in its 34th year, the festival has attracted over 8,000 writers from over 100 countries including literary giants such as Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Margaret Atwood. With 77 events that showcase 200 authors from 19 countries the opening festival weekend shows signs of what will be a fantastic not-to-be-missed cultural event.

In Toronto, Literature is King

The festival kicked off with the PEN Canada Benefit, which featured Stephen King and his son Owen King. Then, on October 26, the IFOA hosted a CBC Day. Several familiar CBC faces and voices were present for the special event within an event. Radio anchor David Common hosted and moderated an armed-with-words round table where authors Shani Boianjiu, Sahar Delijani, Anthony Marra and Abdellah Taïa discussed conflict at home and in foreign lands. An hour later in the Fleck Dance Theatre, CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel interviewed Bosnian-American writer Aleksandar Hemon about his latest book, The Book of My Lives. Hemon’s book is a humorous and sad memoir that explores his life in Sarajevo before the onset of the war in Bosnia, and then, his new life as an expat in America.

This year, organizers wanted to celebrate the importance of making literature accessible to as many people as possible by honouring the art of translation. They called it Found in Translation. I sat in on the Breaking Through. Going Global round table, hosted and moderated by Martha Baillie, as they discussed the subject of beauty from the perspective of the protagonist. “I think beauty has many different values and appearances depending on the country and the age,” said Japanese author Mieko Kawakami (Breast and Ovum) through her translator. “Everyone has a different image in their minds. Concrete just like numbers.”

The other focus of this year’s festival is A Brave New Word, a program featuring young and emerging Canadian and international authors. The IFOA puts the spotlight on young authors writing in genres from literary fiction to memoir to poetry to thriller. It will be interesting to see what the fruits will be of this special program as these writers are given the opportunity to present their work and to network with international publishers and other authors on a globally recognized stage.

More about International Festival of Authors:
Dates: October 24-November 3, 2013
Tickets: $15-$18
Box office: 416-973-4000


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Sandra Williams-Hervé is a writer, actress, and producer who divides her time between Toronto, Canada and Paris, France. She was bitten by the wanderlust bug early in life and has visited just about every continent. After growing up in Ontario, she hopes to visit all of Canada’s diverse provinces.

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