Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Annual Literary Auxiliary’s Open House and Bake Sale

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The end of September is going to bring us the 20th incarnation of the Word on the Street Festival. In the quick-rise, quicker-fall world of organized literary events, twenty is a real accomplishment. While this is no kind of grassroots effort (it’s essentially a coproduction between the Books and Periodical Council and the Government of Canada), twenty festivals is inarguable. Twenty festivals means you were a good idea in the first place.

Beyond simply surviving all this time, WoTS has grown by first developing and then maintaining a consistent brand over each incarnation of the event. A Word on the Street is a fun, light, and decidedly friendly event, featuring a group of people (authors) that are neither fun, nor light, nor often that friendly. When left to our own devices, we tend to put our readings in the darkest possible rooms, and when we gather we are more notable for what we don’t say to strangers. Even the big artist-led events have a dark tone to them. The Scream in High Park (which I love) shares many attributes with a Wiccan commitment ceremony: it happens in the woods, at night, there’s a stage, no one’s allowed to talk at certain points, occasionally there’s costumes…

Particularly in the earlier years of Word on the Street, there was a top-down attempt to polish up the authors, and literally parade them out into the world to meet the citizenry on shared ground. They would stop traffic on Queen St. West for a day to do this and while the current venue, Queens Park, is no QSW, we’re still playing books in the middle of the city. Compare this to the venues of the other four regional WoTS events this month. In Vancouver, the festival is scheduled for the already-claimed-for-literature Library Square. Meanwhile, the Halifax version, long removed from the well-lit and trendy atmosphere of Spring Garden Rd, happens in a building near the waterfront called the Cunard Centre, which is sort of a less approachable variation on an airport waiting lounge. I can say this as I was there last year, and had fun.

The fourth event is happening in Kitchener, at Victoria Park. I’ve never been to Kitchener and don’t know what Victoria Park is. It sounds nice, though, doesn’t it? Have fun at Word on the Street, Kitchener-ers.

Even though its floor is covered in unrooted Astroturf, I remain a big fan of Word on the Street. I go there even when not being paid to. It feels like the book industry’s annual open house, similar in tone and rationale to open houses put together by schools, churches, or police stations. People will come up to you at WoTS and introduce themselves and at no point in the ensuing conversation will they say anything like, “I’m actually a writer myself” and then want to talk shop or sell you something. They’ll ask you those questions, the ones you’ve come to expect and have expertly timed your answers to: I get my ideas from BLARRRRGH! The hardest part of being a writer is FLARRRR!!!! I love these questions. We as authors should never grow tired of these questions. These questions were brought to us by people who wish us no ill will and in no way secretly think we’re hacks. Think of these next time you’re wearing your good clothes in a crowded room with free wine.

This is what I look forward to with Word on the Street. Bring me people who will only engage with authors in this direct, tactile way once or twice a year. Bring me your newly-minted U of T freshmen from Nowhereville, Ontario! Bring me your schoolteachers arming themselves with stories for the new school year! Bring me businessmen, and bureaucrats, and families of seven!

For an event quite unabashedly created by what amounts to our bosses, we writers are often at our most personable at Word on the Street. I’m not sure why this is. I have personally witnessed people who I know for a fact are incorrigible, pretension-choked assholes comport themselves in the most amenable of ways when dealing with the pure bursts of fandom WoTS can provide. Why is it us authors are at our best, as ambassadors, when presented with an event we only take sorta-seriously, one that is less “Big L Literary” than, say, the IFOA? Is it the sun? Was all we needed this whole time a little Mr. Sunshine?

Tanned and ready to grin,

PS- Catch the next edition of The Word on the Street on Sunday the 27th at Queens Park, from 11-5. I’ll be reading sometime in the mid-afternoon, holding down the poetry fort at the Great Books Marquee along with Matthew Tierney and Mr. Griffin Award himself, Al Moritz.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Jacob McArthur Mooney

Jacob McArthur Mooney is the author of the acclaimed collection of poems The New Layman’s Almanac (McClelland & Stewart, 2008) as well as an upcoming second collection from the same publisher.

Go to Jacob McArthur Mooney’s Author Page