This year, the Toronto International Festival of Authors ran from October 18th through the 28th.
I’ve covered this event through the years in a variety of ways, some official (in 2013 I contributed reviews to the festival site professionally – like this one – and in 2016 I coordinated their blog tour) and some unofficial (posting reviews of the books here on BIP to coincide with the evening and weekend events).
I attended several 2018 events in an uncharacteristically laissez-faire way; I didn’t purchase my tickets in a bundle (or even in advance), but I started to set aside money for the event months ahead of time, and I attended whenever my schedule allowed and I bought several books until my packet of TIFA-dollars was spent. This is the first time in a long time in which my book-dollars matched my venue-dollars; I also purchased beverages direct where they were offered at an event and, between events, ate and drank at Boxcar Social (no hardship there – it’s a favourite hangout anyhow).
In the events, there was talk of spaces and places:
“Literature is that space where everything is allowed.”
Rawi Hage, speaking about Beirut Hellfire Society
“You come home to someone. You come home to the right person.”
Arif Anwar, speaking about his debut novel, The Storm
“This is my love letter to Copenhagen.”
Amulya Malladi, speaking about her seventh novel, The Copenhagen Affair
“Nepal is under my skin and in my imagination.”
Manjushree Thapa, speaking about her novel, All of Us in Our Own Lives
And Brannavan Gnanaligam spoke about his experience as a child of immigrant parents from Sri Lanka in Australia, the ways in which he searches for commonality through his fiction, because he does not have a homeland.
There were also philosophical discussions about the intersection between worlds and words:
“Reality is so heartbreaking. Sometimes the only way to deal with it is through fiction.”
Vikas Swarup speaking about whether he would write non-fiction
Randy Boyagoda discussed how the multicultural experience is both essential and incidental in this present moment.
Craig Davidson remarked upon the necessary tariff that our brains sacrifice on the route to adulthood. He wonders why we remember things the way we do, whether we do so in order to save ourselves.
“Well, are you going to believe your experience, or not?” asked Lauren B. Davis.
“Before the alphabet, people danced. […] The body was used like a paintbrush, like a pen, explained Rawi Hage.
And Witi Ihimaera spoke about his grandmother as a revolutionary, the ways in which she taught him to question the world around him, to always question. And how memoir is like ventriloquism, a way of feeling everyone else’s story, an “interesting beast.”
Also, there was specific craft advice with other writers in mind:
“My only loyalty is to my characters.”
Vikas Swarup, speaking about his fiction
Maryam Madjidi spoke about how story is everything, how each book should be universal, should be written for everyone in the world. (Appearing with a translator, Maryam Madjidi was attending to present Marx et la poupée, winner of Le Prix Goncourt. One of the festival delegates, artist Jason Loo, has a series of images which features part of this discussion here.)
“Memoir is an interesting beast.”
Lauren B. Davis spoke about the need to establish credibility from the opening of the book; then, the reader will follow.
“Can I live with six different characters in my head without going to the lunatic asylum?”
Vikas Swarup speaking about his 2008 novel, Six Suspects,
Arif Anwar spoke about how characters are the paths not taken, the lives the author didn’t have.
“Don’t ever write a memoir: you can’t lie like fiction writers can.”
And although perhaps it wouldn’t be of interest to the casual attendee, the publishers’ keynote address and panel discussion was filled with all sorts of industry-specific chatter and statistics.
It began with the Ivy Award presented to Brian Lam of Arsenal Pulp for his contribution to Canadian publishing, with the award presented by Catherine Hernandez, whose Scarborough was also nominated for the 2017 Toronto Book Award. (In other awards-news from the festival, Lee Maracle was presented with the Harbourfront Festival Prize before the Governor General’s Award Nominees’ reading.)
Madeline McIntosh, CEO of Penguin Random House U.S., gave the keynote. She spoke about the challenges (a diminished sense of discoverability and diminished review outlets) and the reasons for optimism (including growth in select categories, including 28% in non-fiction and 9% in juvenile and a major increase in audiobooks).
German literary agent Jana-Maria Hartmann spoke about the surprising growth in markets in Poland, where young women are motivated to read at a greater rate than older readers (partly motivated by politics). Australian publisher Catherine Milne pondered whether “flat is the new up” when it comes to growth in publishing, trends in consumption. And U.K. literary agent Lucy Luck remarked upon the number of streaming shows that are based on books in response to the observation that many people now choose to watch rather than read.
And Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm of Kegedonce Press (established in 1980, the oldest indigenous press in the country currently called Canada) spoke about the need to ride the wave of interest in diverse voices rather than risk it becoming a tidal wave, with the priority being to protect the integrity of the text, so that the heady desire to increase the number of publications does not eclipse that sense of value.
In all, the 2018 Toronto International Festival of Authors had something to offer publishers, writers and, above all, readers. Although it has been my favourite literary event for many years, the 2018 season was particularly outstanding: I am already excited about next year’s festival, even though it will take me months to read through 2018’s “discoveries”.