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Courtesy Wordfest

Wordfest brings literary excitement to Calgary’s “reader ecosystem”

By Isobel Chiang, October 4 2016 —

From Oct. 7–16, avid readers and writers will gather for Wordfest, a 10-day festival that unites Calgarians with over 100 authors from around the world.

According to festival director Shelley Youngblut, Wordfest’s mission is to “connect Calgarians with life-changing ideas” and link “authors and readers in real time, face to face, through workshops and speaker series.”

“But it’s not your mother’s literary festival,” Youngblut says. “It goes way beyond that.”

Youngblut feels Wordfest takes reading and writing — which according to her are “the most guilt-free experiences you can have”— and makes them more accessible, exciting and enjoyable for Calgarians.

“I call it the exclamation point to a book club,” Youngblut says. “This really introverted thing now becomes extroverted and that’s when the magic happens.”

According to Youngblut, Calgary’s “reader ecosystem” makes the city the perfect place to host Wordfest, now in its 21st year.

“We’re the most literate city in Canada by far. We have the youngest population by far,” she says. “We’re really challenged right now economically. I think at this point we need our authors and our thinkers and our books and our readers even more.”

While Wordfest runs off-festival programming year-round, the organization culminates in the 10-day festival.

This year’s roster features Canadian authors including Yann Martel, Emma Donoghue and Jane Urquhart.

“Everybody knows the Lawrence Hills and the Margaret Atwoods and the Yann Martels — and we have Yann Martel coming — but there is this new generation of Canadian writers,” Youngblut says. “They are the ones being nominated for the Giller Prize, the Rogers Trust, the Writer’s Trust and that is so exciting.”

Homegrown authors include Andre Alexis, recipient of the 2015 Giller Prize for his book Fifteen Dogs, as well as Craig Davidson, Alissa York and Ivan Coyote.

For creative-writing students at the University of Calgary, Youngblut recommends several interactive workshops.

Participants can learn what constitutes “funny” during a humour-writing workshop with Mark Leiren-Young, or transform nervous energy into meaningful live performances during a workshop with Ivan Coyote.

There are even adult-only, late-night events like the Naughty Bits Read-a-thon on Friday, Oct. 14, while the Adult Spelling Bee on Saturday Oct. 15 promises a cash-bar, potential nudity and a rousing good time.

Alongside festival events, Wordfest Youth will visit over 70 different schools this fall, allowing kids the opportunity to nurture their love of reading.

Youngblut says whether you’re a self-proclaimed bookworm or an ‘only-on-holidays’ kind of reader, Wordfest has something for everyone.

“When you call something a literary festival,” Youngblut says. “It makes most people think that it’s not for them and that’s not the case. Life-changing ideas are for everyone.”

The festival will take place from Oct. 7–16 at various venues, including the Arts Commons’ Big Secret Theatre, the Glenbow Museum, Mount Royal University, River Cafe, Deane House and Sidewalk Citizen. Event ticket costs run from free to $45 and can be purchased online.

For more information, visit wordfest.com

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