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Books Get Both a Push and the Squeeze at Luminato 2013

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Picnic Basket. Photo by Greg Hirson.

The lineup for Luminato 2013 has been announced. Want to know what’s on offer for bibliophiles? Well, a visit to the festival’s newly launched website will tell you the following: click on the “Literary” tab (why is ours the only artistic discipline labelled with an adjective instead of a noun?) and you will discover *drum roll* one event. Flick through the festival brochure and there this lonely event is again. After programming such a wide array of author events at Luminatos past, is Toronto’s festival of creativity and ideas putting the squeeze on the literary arts?

No, it isn’t. In fact by squeezing out what we’ve come to think of as traditional author events it may in fact be pushing literature to new audiences and preaching to more than the choir. The labels are hidden but the programming is there.

On Tuesday morning, before I’d seen Luminato’s website or brochure, I sat through a marathon multi-media press conference at which festival director Jorn Weisbrodt presented a lineup of world premieres, Canadian exclusives, etc, and at which I wrote down all the events (plural) I assumed to be the literary ones that I would want to tell you about. What I came away with was a sense that the idea of a “literary event” as it used to exist had been all-but expunged from the program, but that the notion of literature and reading as entertainment and as shared experience was pushing through.

As he worked his way through the complete lineup, Weisbrodt returned often to the notions of participation, inclusivity and seduction. With that in mind, here’s Luminato’s literary lineup as I see it:

A Literary Picnic. June 22, noon to 4pm. Trinity Bellwoods Park. Free.

Luminato’s banner literary event gets all rock festival this year, with three stages and many blankets playing host to more than 60 authors and a fluid audience for an afternoon of readings and discussions on the theme of “beginnings.” Authors will speak from the stages and hold court from their picnic blankets, making the audience — as per Weisbrodt’s theme — participants in the event rather than passive observers of it. The authors thus far announced are all Canadian, mostly Ontarian, and a mix of household names, relative unknowns and mid-listers. The international stars of previous years have been passed over in favour of the engagement of local artists and audience members in a unique event. Quantity over quality? I don’t think so. Authors include Andrew J. Borkowski, Camilla Gibb, Andrew Kaufman, Grace O’Connell and Jessica Westhead. Probably best to BYOP (bring your own picnic), but if you forget there will be food trucks on site. If raining, the event moves to Sunday, June 23 — books make bad umbrellas.

The Courtyard Revue. Nightly, 11:30pm. Berkeley Street Theatre. $20

This Luminato late-night event is a summertime incarnation of Jason Collett’s hugely popular Basement Revue, held every December at the Dakota Tavern. If you’ve never managed to snag a ticket (the Dakota events usually sell out at light speed), the revue rotates writers and musicians (and other performance artists) in short slots, so you get a reading, followed by three songs, followed by a break for beer, and so on. It’s great entertainment, a brilliant way to be introduced to new (to you) authors and new (to you) music, and it puts readings in an event with live music and beer, which is always going to up the cool factor to the non-book-crowd. The Luminato bumph frames this as a music event, but shame on them, there will be authors in the lineup too. A lineup which, in the true spirit of treating all acts equally and foregoing headliners, remains secret until you’re already at the event. Book soon to avoid disappointment.

Light News: A Performance in Print. Daily. Festival Hub. Free.

A print daily with reviews good and bad from the previous night’s shows, blind text-dates, and other content that captures the ongoing festival experience, Light News will be, as Wesibrodt describes it, "not so much a newspaper about the programme but as part of the programme." Content will be contributed by festival artists, including local authors participating in A Literary Picnic. It seems quaint to have a print newspaper form a festival event, but to be part of this festival experience audiences will be required to read — for entertainment — every day. I have to like that idea.

A Gala Reading. June 20, 6pm. Bram & Bluma Appel Salon. Free.

For fans of the traditional on-stage reading there’s one further all-author event, tucked inside the Evening Illuminations series. For zero dollars you can hear readings by Miriam Toews, Sheila Heti, Miranda Hill and Claire Messud. Can three local authors and only one new book draw a big festival crowd with the A Literary Picnic two days later? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

I’ve attended some great (also some not-so-great) discussions at Luminato over the years, especially as part of the New Yorker partnership, but the ticket prices were often high and the events not dissimilar to the readings and panel discussions one can attend at other great festivals at less sunny times of year. My memories of the inaugural Luminato in 2007 are of a city alive with free experiences in addition to the big-ticket events, from that red ball that got smushed into a different city orifice every day to light beams that danced in the sky to the rhythm of your heartbeat. This year’s program feels like a return to that inclusivity, and tickets for bookish events are priced with the bookish wallet in mind. The literary programming may appear squeezed in some respects, but it is ambitious and creative in all others. See you on a picnic blanket in June.

Luminato Festival runs June 14 to 23 at various locations in downtown Toronto.

Tickets go on general sale on Saturday, April 20 at noon. Having said that, many of the events, including most of those mentioned above, are free.

Becky Toyne is a publishing consultant specializing in manuscript development and book promotion. She is a regular books columnist for CBC Radio One and Open Book: Toronto, and a freelance publicist for many of the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s literary award and fundraising programs. One or two days a week Becky works as a bookseller at Toronto indie Type. You can follow her on Twitter: @MsRebeccs

You can find past columns by Becky Toyne in the Open Book Archives.

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