Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Word On The Street in Toronto

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The Word On The Street 2013 Poster

By Jessica Spettoli

Nothing else signals the true start of the fall season like the day-long festival of The Word On The Street in Toronto. This year the weather was brisk but otherwise rain free. Queen’s Park—normally a small haven in the heart of downtown Toronto—was transformed into a reader’s paradise as stalls were filled with books, the stages with authors, and the street with eager book lovers.

People flocked around the tents for either a glimpse of one of their favourite authors, for the book sales (the HarperCollins tent was stormed by people wanting to buy $3 hard covers and $2 paperbacks) or for the free goodies. This year’s popular free items were the Allegiant by Veronica Roth, tote bags and the librarian style eye glasses handed out by staff. Festival goers really enjoyed having their photos taken with the glasses in the on-site photo booth.

The best part of WOTS, in my humble opinion, was meeting new and old friends that share the same crazy fascination with the written word as I do. It’s comforting to feel that I’m not alone in my passion, especially since I’m the only one amongst my closest acquaintances that is identified as the elusive “book nerd.” WOTS is the place for book nerds to flock in great numbers and squeal in delight over signed merchandise and literary swag. Normally, book nerds are a reserved race that prefer a secluded corner with a good book rather than venturing out into the real world. WOTS is the perfect kind of event for these often shy creatures to leave their reading dens and collect en masse.

The feeling of camaraderie between book nerds is one of the things I think makes WOTS so popular. It’s no coincidence that some major themes in literature revolve around questions of identity and identifying with others. This is especially true in young adult literature, which over the years has had more of a presence during the festival especially in the This is Not a Shakespeare Stage. This year’s lineup of YA authors was impressive with such big names as Elizabeth Wein, Teresa Toten, Eve Silver, Maureen McGowan, Megan Crewe and more. The great thing about being a book nerd is not only experiencing the journey of identity through the written word but also identifying with your fellows and your journeys as readers. While I was waiting in line to have some of my books signed, I was not surprised that our conversations revolved around books we have or haven’t read, liked or disliked and what books we vehemently recommend others to read.

What I was most shocked to learn this year was the realization that WOTS is not only a place for readers but also a medium for authors to identify themselves as authors. Elizabeth Wein, for example, is the author of YA WWII–era books Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. One of the most interesting things about her is the fact that she has a pilot’s license. She often gets asked if one day she would become a career pilot and make writing her hobby. The answer is no as she identifies herself as a writer first and a pilot second even if she wouldn’t mind being call upon as a pilot for charity work or for war work. However, she also identifies herself as a reader. Most people forget that authors are also readers and in the case of Wein, she is a big fan of poetry and it’s that love of reading that made poetry a natural fit as a medium of expression in her novels, especially in Rose Under Fire.

At the Vibrant Voices of Ontario tent, Nathan Whitlock, the Books for Young People editor of Quill & Quire magazine, talked with Kim Izzo and Dennis Bock about being “secret authors.” Kim Izzo, for example, works as the deputy editor of Zoomer magazine and is better known for her advice books geared towards modern women. But her latest novel, My Life in Black and White, is not a marriage guide but a work of fiction. She admits that very few people knew she was writing fiction and the rest were perhaps surprised that her latest published work was unlike what she has published before and hence her persona as a “secret author.” In Dennis Bock’s case, his “day job” is as a lecturer at the University of Toronto but Going Home Again is his fourth book. Despite what his “day job” may be, his literary awards speak for themselves.

In the end, the best thing about The Word On The Street festival is the freedom for book nerds to be book nerds, whether they are readers, authors, illustrators or reviewers. In short, you should really go next year.

Jessica Spettoli is a recent graduate of the Ryerson Publishing Program and is a self-proclaimed book nerd. She currently interns for Open Book: Toronto and Entangled Publishing. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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