Writers Festivals

September is usually my favourite time of year because of the perfect mix of readying for back-to-school and the arrival of the BIG books of the fall. This year all of the things that would normally make late summer-early fall such a treat are not following their traditional patterns and disappointment is growing. Finding a way to manage the sorrow over what will not be happening requires a new strategy almost every day, and the library resources have been so helpful.

We’ve been trying new recipes which can be eaten at school with utensils and have found success with Laurie David’s The Family Cooks and Aimée Wimbush-Bourque’s cheerful The Simple Bites Kitchen. Both provide a good selection of recipes that can be prepped easily before the busy day begins and finished off after work. They also have some more complicated choices that would suit a day off when a family might be feeling more adventurous.

To prepare for an uncertain school year we’ve been trying to get a handle on the way we organize our study and work spaces and have found that Marla Stone’s 2019 book, The Clutter Remedy, has been an unusually enjoyable read. The library’s catalogue is filled with many others that could spark something similar if you feel like checking one out. Sometimes a beautiful book is exactly the thing to help push through a few years of children’s art projects that have been languishing in Rubbermaid bins in the basement. This does happen.

Tidying up those papers leads to updating calendars with dates for the year’s best events. I don’t mean birthdays, anniversaries, or days off, I mean the arrival of the new fall books and the festivals that are scheduled to promote them. This time of year is usually filled with weekend trips to hear authors read from their latest books. Not so in 2020. Many festivals started announcing changes as to how they would be running their events quite early this year, with great regret. It was so disheartening, until we started to read the great news that many top-notch authors would still be going all out to promote their latest work through online events. Instead of just being able to fit in one or two readings on the weekends you were able to travel, now your options for author readings are almost endless. Even better – geography now means nothing to you. Ever wished you could stop just hearing Shelagh Rogers talk about how wonderful the Vancouver Writers Festival is and actually attend?! Now you can! What about that alluring Brooklyn Book Festival? Get ready for an autumn filled with book talk.

One Book, One Community (OBOC), of course, will be happening soon. This year, we will be welcoming our author for conversation through YouTubeLive on Wednesday, September 23rd and Thursday, September 24th. Our featured author, Waubeshig Rice, will join fellow authors Cherie Dimaline and Jesse Thistle (yes, this year is beyond exciting) to discuss his novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow. If you are not able to attend the live online author events this year, you should give yourself the pleasure of reading this novel. You will fall in love with this family from the first chapter and then hold on tight until the last.

The Kingston Writers Festival officially runs from September 23rd to 27th with virtual interviews and discussions featuring authors like Helen Humphreys, Desmond Cole and Aislinn Hunter. They will also be hosting pre-festival events with Louise Penny and Thomas King plus scheduled afternoon storytime events so there is something in this line-up for every reader. Many of their events are free, with donations welcome to support their festival. Some of the events are ticketed (Thomas King is sure to be popular), with the details all clearly outlined on their website. We might not be able to take a trip to the city that Robertson Davies loved so well, but we can enjoy some time with authors. Surely, he would approve.

Another city that was close to RD’s heart would normally be sharing lots of great news about their upcoming festival right now, promoting events with food, music and fun, but the Stratford Writers Festival posted on their site that they would be postponing their festival with the hope that they could offer some programming later in the year. Their site is still worth a view for information about author talks and video of past celebrations – you can subscribe to their newsletter to be made aware of any events they might plan in the next few months. Sure to be CanCon galore.

And, just down the road, another autumnal highlight, we would absolutely be making plans to enjoy the Eden Mills Writers Festival. They have had some stellar online events this summer and will continue into the fall with local authors like Clifford Jackman (it’s a pirate book!) and Emily Urquhart. Their newsletter is one that you will treasure throughout the year, and they have kindly posted an archive if you wanted to dip into content from the past or dream of festivals of the future.

Normally just an easy train ride away, the Toronto International Festival of Authors has their complete list of guests under wraps until September 22nd, but they are always able to bring the big names to their stage every year, for kids, teens and adult readers. Their fall book club features books from Jesse Thistle and Emma Donoghue so we know that they will be there, and I’m sure that some of the authors appearing at other festivals around Ontario will be in Toronto as well, if you happen to be hunting around for dates that work best for your schedule. This year they are planning something extra special, in collaboration with author Cressida Cowell and the Reading is Magic Festival, to celebrate ‘creativity and connectivity through stories and shared experiences’. It’s six days of free, inclusive programming for families and schools but, I’m thinking, that kind of happiness is for every reader. Glance at that list of authors and illustrators and you will want to sign up for each session.

An annual treat for fans of junior authors and illustrators is always the Telling Tales Festival, held at the Westfield Heritage Village in Rockton, ON. This year they are also moving their celebration online but are expanding it as well! Something that normally packs into one fantastic weekend has grown into an opportunity to encourage creativity and literacy throughout the fall. Their website lists all of their presentations, of course, and you should sign up for their terrific newsletter – the ‘Dragonfly’ to make sure you don’t miss anything. We can all look forward to hearing from festival favourites like Kevin Sylvester and Ruth Ohi but can also find time to meet someone new like Joanne Robertson, who wrote and illustrated The Water Walker in 2017. She will join a panel to encourage kids to learn more about caring for our water and the land that surrounds it. Maybe our September is looking a tiny bit brighter.

Should you decide you want to “travel” to Vancouver or Brooklyn to get your festival fix this year, it turns out you can – just sign up for a session and remember to log on. Maybe you could encourage some friends to join in and wear special festival clothes, order in something fabulous, or prepare a meal that goes with the book that will be featured. Perhaps the money that we are all saving on travel can be spent on supporting our favourite authors or discovering a new one.

Like most of 2020, the fall book festivals are not going to be what we expected and it’s hard to not feel a sense of regret over what we are missing so let’s hope that we all find a new author, read some great books, and eat something delicious while we do it, even if it is from our own homes just this once.

— Penny M.