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Wordfest celebrates 20th anniversary with spotlight on Canadian writers

By Emilie Medland-Marchen, October 13 2015 —

Wordfest, Calgary’s premier literary festival, is returning to local bookstores and libraries from Oct. 13–18 for its 20th anniversary. The festival is celebrating a milestone year with a high-profile lineup that includes writers like The Book of Negroes author Lawrence Hill and Adam Shoalts, who writes novels about his Arctic expeditions.

The festival focuses on both emerging and well-established authors. University of Calgary professor Christian Bök, whose poetry collection, The Xenotext: Book 1, was recently released in Canada, will discuss his work at the festival. Another of his books, Eunoia, was adapted into a performance to be presented during a accompanying local dance festival.

Interim General Director Shelley Youngblut thinks this year’s Wordfest will be one for the books. Wordfest is a highly respected Canadian literary festival — Wordfest secured prolific novelist Margaret Atwood as a headliner in 1996, the festival’s first year.

“Wordfest was big from the get-go and has never really slowed down,” Youngblut says. “We’re known for giving emerging writers their first chance at reading at a major festival.”

Allan Lord

Former Calgary poet laureate Kris Demeanor will perform at Wordfest on Oct. 17. // Allan Lord

Many of the featured emerging writers are Canadian. Toronto author Trevor Cole, who was short-listed for the Governor General’s Literary Award, hosted a Creative Writing Master Class on Oct. 13, while former Calgary poet laureate Kris Demeanor will perform at the 20th Anniversary Celebration on Oct. 17.

Youngblut says bringing a solid lineup of Canadian artists to the festival is one of Wordfest’s focal points.

“We’ve really made an emphasis this year to focus on Canadian writing — partially because it’s our 20th anniversary and partially because it’s just so good,” she says. “There’s a lot of great books and we have a lot of really high-profile authors who will not disappoint.”

One returning event is the popular “Literary Death Match,” held on Oct. 15. The event is a reading series where authors read from their best works in a rap battle format. Their performances are critiqued by a series of judges, who take reactions from the audience into consideration.

Some events in Wordfest are more political. “Stephen Harper Revealed” takes place on Oct. 18, the night before the Canadian federal election. The talk features John Ibbitson, author of the biography Stephen Harper: The Making of a Prime Minister. The event is bound to be heated, but Youngblut says the timing is deliberate.

“I had always planned for Stephen Harper’s biographer to be in Calgary the day before the election. I honestly think Calgarians want to have a really strong sense of what’s going on,” she says.

Youngblut is excited for the festival to kick off, stressing the importance of words in all mediums.

“Writers spend so much time thinking about things and they’re dying to share it. We’re calling this a reader’s festival. It’s wordy goodness,” she says. “I really want people to understand that every great thing, whether it’s music or film or theatre, begins with the word. And people at our festival are the best practitioners of it. They really want to interact with you. And there’s a bar. What more could you want?”

Wordfest runs from Oct. 13–18 at various locations throughout Calgary.

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