Category Archives: 2012 Festival Blog

Everything that’s going on at the 2012 edition of WordFest!

Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

Well, that’s it. WordFest 2012 is over. Kaput. Never to be seen again. There are no more WordFest 2012 events coming, it’s time to lay the 2012 Festival season to rest. However-as Bryan mentioned in his last post, we finished with a bang (the Giller Prize Winner of 2012, none other than our local literary celebrity and WordFest alumnus Will Ferguson). To see a volunteer reader review of this book, please click here.

Before his event on Nov. 13, Will Ferguson and I were sitting in the salmon coloured John Dutton greenroom together, and he spoke fondly of his previous book tours with a colleague we had in common. He then shyly asked if I had read his book Canadian Pie, which referenced a story he thought I would enjoy, as it generally makes fun of the plight of the book publicist (a role I can sympathize with, as I frequently act as handler to our Festival authors). Shame-faced, I admitted I hadn’t read it yet, but promised to borrow it from the library. What struck me about this interaction was that Will rarely quizzed people about reading his books, but the ONE time he decides to, I haven’t read it. I truly did feel badly that I hadn’t read it, because I most likely would have read it beforehand had I known it included a story that I could so easily relate to.

Shortly after the end of the event, while people were lining up to get their book signed, I snuck up to the Pages table and purchased the second last copy of Canadian Pie they had. Then I waited until all the other books had been signed and the patrons had left to ask Will to sign my book. He wrote me a kind message and it filled me with a warm glow as I left the venue that night, relieved that our Festival season had ended, but a little sad that I didn’t have anymore of these author interactions to look forward to until 2013.

So, you’re probably still wondering what the title of this post is referencing. Essentially, now that our Festival season is over, this is your last chance to give us (timely) feedback on our 2012 season. What did you enjoy? What did you want to see more of? We’re already starting to plan the 2013 season, so you need to let your opinion be known now. Otherwise, I’ll forget it, you’ll forget it, or it will simply be too late to work your constructive criticism into our 2013 season. We’ve created a handy dandy online survey form for you to fill out, so please click here to make your opinion known!



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Literature and Laughter

The WordFest 2012 season officially wrapped up last night following Will Ferguson, this year’s Giller winner, and his performance last night.  Of course many think WordFest ends the weekend after Thanksgiving, in Banff; but they would be wrong.  Since then, Calgary book lovers and WordFest junkies have been privy to three fantastic events.  Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Will Ferguson event, but I was lucky enough to take in two of the best events I’ve ever seen, these past couple of weeks.

The first, on October 25th, featured Alexander McCall Smith the author of over 100 books, including the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and was held at the KnoxUnitedChurch downtown.  I believe this was the largest venue I’ve ever attended a WordFest event in and the crowds were there to prove it, as they packed the room to hear what the Scotsman, by way of Zimbabwe, had to say.

I had never read any of Mr. Smith’s books, but know of their popularity and am familiar with the photograph of him that is found on the back of most books.  It features the man adorned in a kilt with his glasses in hand as he lets out a hearty laugh.  The photo has always caught my attention and he’s always struck me as somebody who seems to enjoy life.  I’m happy to report he didn’t disappoint. While many authors sometimes seems as if they’d rather be somewhere else other than a literary event of this nature, it seemed Mr. Smith wouldn’t rather be anywhere on Earth, other than the Knox United Church on October 25th.

Much like Richard Ford in September, Mr. Smith didn’t just answer questions, he told stories about his answers, and more often than not, they had the audience laughing out loud.  Of course it didn’t hurt that he was usually leading the laughter, letting out a loud chortle every time he told a story.  It was impossible not to enjoy the show.

The comedic theme continued into November, as WordFest welcomed Lemony Snicket to the John Dutton Theatre at the Calgary Public Library.  Again, I had never read any of the author’s books, and was really only familiar with him because his name was in the title of that Jim Carrey movie, “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.”  In fact, I really expected him to look like Jim Carrey did in the movie.  Which, of course, makes no sense, but that’s what I was thinking; I always expect authors to look like their characters.  Imagine my disappointment when I first saw Peter Benchley.

The Lemony Snicket’s event was great because it engaged the children without losing the adults.  When kids were screaming with a combination of fear and excitement, the adults in attendance were laughing until their sides hurt.  A personal favourite was after having called four volunteers to the stage to help with a bit, he said to the audience, “I now need two…” at which point fifty little hands soared into the air, “…HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS!” at which point fifty hands disappear just as quickly.

While it was a literary event, and did feature an author reading from his “bothersome” book, it was an event that would appeal to anybody, regardless of whether or not they have read his work, and regardless of whether or not they had any interest in attending a book reading.  Instead of following any of the standards for similar events, Mr. Snicket provided a truly unique and entertaining experience, which provided me with so many first-time experiences for my WordFest career.  For example, it was the first time I’d ever seen an author run up and down the aisles, it was the first time I’d ever seen an author take pot shots at the audience’s appearance, and it was the first time I’d ever seen an author borrow an accordion from somebody in the audience. (And the first time somebody in the audience had an accordion to lend too for that matter!)  If you missed out on seeing this event, that’s too bad for you.




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The WVAP – Flummoxed by Sandwiches

Every year, I am lucky enough to be invited to a variety of parties, socials, events, and functions, where I meet a variety of people and have new and unique experiences.  This past Friday, the WordFest Volunteer Appreciation Party, or the WVAP as it is known colloquially, was one of those events.  Held each year to celebrate the hard work volunteers put in to make WordFest possible, it’s an event I wouldn’t miss for anything.

This year the event, as Anne mentioned, was held at the swanky Motion Art Gallery, Eau Claire Market, in beautiful downtown Calgary. The venue offered a dynamic space for volunteers and staff to get together and trade stories, share their experiences from WordFest 2012, and have an all around good time.

When I arrived at the Gallery I surveyed the room, trying to pick where to set up shop for the evening.  One table in particular caught my eye, where Michelle (the Artist’s Lounge host during WordFest) was sitting.  It’s always wise to have the volunteer in charge of food and booze for authors all week, at your table.  The fact it was situated next to the food didn’t hurt either.

Contrary to what Anne may think however, I was not focused on the chicken tray, as there were so many other things to grab my attention this wonderful evening.  First off there was also a Signature Focaccia Sandwich Tray, featuring turkey, roast beef, cheese and vegetable, and Italian classics, all on delicious focaccia bread.  There was also the “All Rolled Up” or  “Lavosh” tray; a selection of mixed wraps including roast beef, turkey, ham, cream cheese, and tuna salad.

For those not interested in sandwiches, (yes, those crazies do exist), there was also the aforementioned chicken tray, a fruit tray, a vegetable tray, a sushi tray and a spinach dip spread with sourdough bread.  Basically, there was something to tempt even the most discriminating tastes.  And let’s not forget the desserts, where an array of brownies and assorted squares helped silence everybody’s sweet tooth.

This night was so much more than just food however, and I don’t want to devote too much time to that topic.  There was also an open bar, offering a selection of beer and wine.  From my experience, beer and wine go quite well with a selection of appetizers and sandwiches.  The only problem we faced, as far as food and drink were concerned, was that there was too much.  Even with my robust appetite in attendance, left-overs were inevitable.

But besides the food, the evening was an excellent opportunity to share stories from the week that was WordFest 2012.  Who could forget one volunteer asking Noah Richler what his father did for a living, and upon finding out he was a writer, asking what his name was? And the setting was definitely I step up from the community halls of years past.  Which isn’t anything against community halls, but when I can be enjoying lovely pieces of art, instead of blank walls last painted in 1974, I’ll take the Gallery.

For entertainment, volunteers were treated to music from Ethan Collister and Caleb Roddick, as well as a special performance by a promising new group, the MacIntyre Sisters.  We were also afforded the opportunity to play an interesting game (and fitting given this was a WordFest party), where each person was given a sheet to write down a noun. The paper would then be passed to somebody else who would write down a verb, and then to another who would add a complement.  People were then asked to share their creations with others.  It is amazing how long I would agonize over a verb, in an attempt to be funny.  I quickly learned that no verb is really funny on its own; it needs to be combined with a noun.


See, it isn’t funny on its own.  But when used in a sentence, can be kind of funny.

“The tray flummoxed Bryan with its vast selection of sandwiches.”


Like all good things, the party eventually came to and end, coincidently at the same time as the bar ran out of booze.  WordFest was over for another year, as I put my coat on and prepared for the exit. It was then I became rather emotional, watching the trays of excess food being packaged up, unable to think of a way to get them home, and unable to continue eating.



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Let’s Get Down-WF Volunteer Style

WordFest volunteers are special to me. And when I say special, I mean special as in, my sanity rests entirely upon their shoulders during WordFest week. There are a few full-time staff members at WordFest, and over 200 volunteers. Needless to say, the Festival itself would not exist without these wonderful people dedicating their time to our organization. With this in mind, we hold a Volunteer Appreciation Party for them each year, shortly after the Festival ends.

Last Friday, we hosted the shin-dig at the Motion Art Gallery, here in Eau Claire Market, which is where we also hosted Wild West WordFest’s media launch. As you can tell, it has now become one of WordFest’s favourite party venues! In previous years, the party has been held in community halls, so this beautiful art gallery played a key role in making this celebration one of the best we’ve ever had. We also had live music from the fantastic performer Ethan Collister and his special guest Caleb Roddick. If you’d like to read more about Ethan’s experience of volunteering his musical talents for us, please visit his blog here.

So aside from the swanky new venue and live entertainment, the WordFest staff got creative and created a few original pieces to perform for the crowd. I created a dubious acrostic poem from the word ‘volunteer’, which spoke mainly about how wonderful they are. Although she wasn’t in attendance, our Marketing Manager Mary Kapusta also created a lyrical piece titled “ode to the sandwich”, which recounted her hunger pangs for deli trays throughout the Festival week.

These deli trays are actually a big part of the volunteer experience at WordFest, as Safeway generously sponsors the food for our trusted army of WordFest helpers, so deli trays like the ones pictured below are a common sight in our volunteer hospitality lounge. Like Mary’s poem says, everyone’s favourite tray is always the chicken tray.

The Famous Chicken Tray

The delicious deli trays from Safeway made a second appearance at our party, and although I ate from these for five days straight during the Festival, I was still looking forward to sampling from them again. Sushi, chicken, sandwiches, cheese and fruit are just a few of the delicious tidbits the volunteers were once again treated to.

So, now that I’ve spent half of my post talking about food, let’s hear what Bryan, our Festival blogger thought about the whole thing. Will he be as focused on the menu as I was? Based on his earlier Festival posts, I’d say there is a pretty good chance he will be!

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Sunday, Sunday, Sunday

The final day of WordFest 2012 has now passed, and with it another festival is in the books. As with any annual event, there’s always a mix of emotions when it ends.  For the team that puts WordFest together, there’s relief that everything is finally over for another year, but also a sense of satisfaction that it was such a success. For those attending, the fun of meeting authors, talking with other readers, and hearing about new books will have to be off until October 2013.  Or at least until October 25, 2012, when Alexander McCall Smith visits Calgary!

The final day treated us to three events in the Kinnear Centre, overlooking the beautiful Bow Valley.  Leading off was The Ties That Bind with Shree Ghatage, Simonetta Agnello Hornby, Vincent Lam, Kyo Maclear, and J. Jill Robinson.  There was some good discussion following each author’s reading, but unfortunately with so many authors and so little time, we didn’t get through enough questions.

Following a quick trip to the dining centre for lunch, it was back to the Kinnear Centre to see Life Interrupted with Marjorie Celona, Vaddey Ratner, and Russell Wangersky.  I must say, this even featured one of the most emotional readings I’ve ever seen at a WordFest event.  Dealing with the difficult subject of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970’s (something Ms. Rathner liver through herself), her book In the Shadow of the Banyan is by all accounts quite a heart-wrenching read.  While reading, Vaddey began to tear up, and wasn’t alone either, as many in the audience seemed to get “something in their eye” all at the same time.

WordFest 2012 concluded with Worldly Words with Billie Livingston, Susan Swan, Gail Jones, and Mohammed Hanif.  As I experienced last year, there’s almost a feeling of a let down during the final event, as you realize that there aren’t any more events to attend afterward. Much like the final day of a vacation, where you’re enjoying yourself, but in the back of your mind you realize that tomorrow will not be vacation!

I had a couple of observations from Sunday, having basically attended three events in quick succession.  First of all, The Kinnear Centre is a wonderful venue for authors to read, as the audience can relax and soak up the view of the Rockies while they listen. It kind of reminds me of reading on the beach; there’s just a nice relaxing quality to it. Much nicer than say, a view of a junkyard or a busy highway.

I also noticed that hosts are using the same template for their intros that has probably been used for over ten years. At each event the audience is reminded to turn off their cell phones and pagers.  Yes, pagers.  For those of you under the age of 25, pagers were used before cell phones, and would buzz whenever you received a call, giving you the number that called.  You could then head to a payphone to return the call (payphones were public telephones found in booths on the street and in most businesses, that allowed you to make a call after depositing anywhere from 10 to 35 cents).

But seriously, I think the guy in The Hangover is the only person to use a pager in like, a decade.  But I don’t fault the hosts, as I know myself from hosting an event with Patrick DeWitt last December, that you just don’t seem to notice it in your pre-event preparation.  When you do notice that you’re asking people to turn off their pagers is as you read the line off the page. “And please turn off any cell phones or…uh…pay…gers.”  You realize you’ve just said it out loud, but are not sure why.  At any rate it always gets a little bit of a chuckle from the audience and can be effective at putting the host at ease if they are nervous (as I was).  Suddenly the host and audience are in on a little joke together!

I don’t mention any of this as a criticism of anything or anybody, mind you.  In fact, I think I’d probably be a little sad the day I heard an intro that didn’t ask me to turn off my pager.  It’s kind of like hearing your Grandpa tell the same story every time you visit.  You know the story backward and forward, and you always joke behind his back that he’s told it so many times, but you really miss hearing it after he passes away.

I must sign off now, but not for long.  Even though WordFest 2012, save the one event next week, is over, the blog continues!  In the next few days I’ll have a couple more posts featuring a recap of my week, and a little talk of what went on in the late night lounge, something I’ve had to keep a secret until all the authors left town.  It’s simply scandalous.  That might be a stretch, but, well, you’ll have to read to find out!



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Martin Amis on Writing, Politics and…Porn?

Perhaps the biggest event of WordFest each year, the Banff Distinguished Author Series, took place last night at the Margaret Greenham Theatre.  This year’s event featured Brilit’s ‘bad boy” and literary provocateur, Martin Amis.  Always a controversial figure, Amis was a great snag for WordFest as he not only brings in people who read his books, but also those who only know his reputation, having never read anything of his.

Also at the event, were John Vigna, reading from his book Bull Head, and Deni Bechard reading from his memoir, Cures for Hunger.  As happened last year, and can probably be expected to happen every year, the event was sold out, so my seat was located backstage in the green room.  Well, it wasn’t really the green room, but the next room out from the green room.  It featured chairs, TV’s with audio, and beer.  It also featured a giant, by which I mean Costco-pickle-jar-size, jar of condoms.  Yes, there is a giant jar of condoms sitting backstage; I guess you can never be too safe.

Since the announcement that Amis would be attending WordFest, I’ve been going through a range of emotions, dominated by excitement and fear.  I’ve read several of his books, including last night’s read Lionel Asbo: State of England, hence the excitement.  But I’m also aware of his, shall we say, controversial nature, so there was a little bit of fear that the event wouldn’t turn out well. That probably wasn’t a well-founded fear, but it was fear nonetheless.

As I eased into a chair backstage with a cold bottle of beer, the night began with The Banff Centre President, Jeff Melanson taking the stage to introduce the first two authors for the evening, John Vigna and Deni Bechard. Both gave excellent readings, after which the event broke for a brief intermission.

Following the break, Jeff returned to the stage to introduce Mohammed Hanif, who in turn would be introducing Martin Amis. “So without further ado, please welcome, Mohammed Hanif” were Jeff’s words, as the crowd began its applause.  But after a few seconds, Mohammed had yet to appear, and the applause began to awkwardly taper off.  Suddenly, Jeff returned to the mic to interrupt the silence, “So the Banff Centre was started with a vision, in the midst of the Great Depression…”

In the green room, we wondered what had happened when the washroom door in the corridor between our room and the green room flew open, and Mohammed came running out, headed to the stage!  Mohammed later told me he was told he had more time, so he made a quick pit stop in the washroom. “Then I hear my name being called!”

Understandably flustered, Mohammed rushed onto stage, passed the podium, waved to the crowd and took a seat in one of the two chairs at centre stage.  Apparently he was of the belief that Martin Amis was a man who needed no introduction.  After a couple of moments, the event’s main attraction took the stage and read a couple of passages from his book before joining Mohammed at centre stage.

This is where the night really took off, as Mohammed led a wonderful conversation about the book, writing in general, language, and even politics.  In fact it was the political discussion that generated the best sound bites I might have ever heard at a literary event.

After a series of more typical questions, Mohammed asked Martin, “Living in America now, tell us what is going to happen in the upcoming election.”  Apparently this was something Amis had thought about before, as he let loose his opinions for all to enjoy.

“Help us if Mitt Romney wins. This isn’t a man any American would like to have a glass of…a glass of…water with.”

“Mitt Romney is World blind.  Here is a man that while in Jerusalem, thinks the garden of Eden is in Missouri.”

And my favourite exchange:

Martin Amis: “Mitt Romney looks like a porn star.”
Mohammed Hanif: “Which one?”

Maybe it was the beer, but for those of us in the room-next-to-the-green-room, we were in stitches for much of the conversation, but also on the edge of our seat, as nobody wanted to miss a word of what either had to say.

The feeling seemed to be the same for those in the front-of-house, and everybody I talked to after the event was smiling and seemed to have enjoyed the performance very much.  I think two things made the evening such a success.  First off, Mohammed asked some great questions, especially when he strayed from the typical questions one hears at an event like this.  And secondly, Martin delivered some real answers, and didn’t offer the typical responses.  An audience can always detect honesty, and they always appreciate it, as was the case last night.

Following the event, the night wasn’t over of course, as there was still the Poetry Cabaret to finish of the evening.  Performing were Ken Babstock, Ivan E Coyote, Lorna Crozier, Phil Hall, Kath MacLean, and A.F. Moritz.

I think my favourite part of the poetry events, both here in Banff as well as at the Vertigo in Calgary, is they seem to create a certain kind of intimacy with the audience, more so than other events.  But the space is the same, and the audiences are more or less the same size, so I think it must be the nature of the material being presented.  Perhaps it is poetry that is more intimate than a novel, and as a result it creates a bond between the performer and the audience that reading from a book does not.

After the Poetry Cabaret I was forced to make a quick escape to my room to catch up on some much needed sleep.  After all I still had a full day of events to see.  But I did manage to stop into the Artist’s Lounge for a drink.  Plus they had pizza, and I really like pizza.


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Seen Reading interviews WordFest attendee Priya Mishra

Hi, all! It’s Julie Wilson, author of Seen Reading, and throughout WordFest 2012, I’ve been checking in with festival attendees. I asked each one the same questions and together we discovered just how varied the responses would be.

My last interview was with Priya Mishra, a most lovely and eloquent reader. Let’s set aside the fact that she’s 17-years-old and focus on well she articulates her reading habits.

A real pleasure, and a fine way to conclude these reader interviews. Who says young people don’t read? Pssh . . .

And many thanks to WordFest for having me. As an invited author: What a joy! As an invited blogger: What a treat!

Keep reading, and be seeing you!

Julie Wilson: Who are/were you looking forward to seeing at WordFest 2012?

Priya Mishra:  I attended last year, too.

JW: OK, let’s start there. Who left an impression?

PM: Tanya Davis. Her style was very unique, and I came with a lot, because I really like poetry, but it’s something that I’ve only gotten into recently, and I enjoyed the way she put herself out there through music.

JW: And this year? Anyone you wanted to see or came away happy you caught?

PM: Everyone was pretty new to me, but I’m glad I saw Sheri-D Wilson.

JW: Wonderful! Why did you like her?

PM: Her poetry was out there! She just put everything into it, and she didn’t hold anything back. And she had so much energy.

JW: And do you have a favourite book of all-time?

PM: The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke.

JW: Readers can’t see this right now, but there’s a chorus of other young adults nearby and The Thief Lord just got some fist pumps.


So why do you like that book so much?

PM: I read it when I was really little, and I guess most of what I like is fantasy but there’s no fantasy in The Thief Lord. It’s very real and touching, I found. It has the mythical proportions, but all of it’s highly believable.

JW: Do you have a favourite book of the last year or recent years?

PM: Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Japanese Manga. There’s D. Gray-Man, by Katsura Hoshino. It’s written by a woman, which isn’t very common for boys’ Manga, and it’s a horror, but also a comedy [laughter], and it really pulls at your heartstrings. Manga doesn’t usually do it as strongly as D. Gray-Man. Usually, you find that more in novels.

JW: So, there’s something about the prose of the D. Gray-Man that appeals to you, like in a novel?

PM: Yes.

JW: You’re a very sophisticated reader, by the way. You’re very good at explaining why something appeals to you as a reader, as well as where the work sits among its peers. A lot of people don’t know how to talk about writing in these terms. I think I’m proud of you.

[awkward silence]

JW: OK. Last question. You wake up on a desert island. You’re not going to a desert island. You wake up there. There’s a  book beside you? Do you know what it is?

PM: [no hesitation] The Lord of the Rings.

JW: All the rings, I take it?

PM: Yes!

JW: Why?

PM: They’re the greatest creation ever!


PM: Ever!


JW: How?!

PM: Because it’s so . . . detailed. There’s everything in there. It could almost be historical.

JW: I’m not gonna lie, I’ve never read The Lord of the Rings, and you’re swaying me.

Actual last question. What are you currently reading?

PM: I’m reading ten books right now!

JW: Are you? GOOD! Do you always have something on the go?

PM: I’m always reading something. The main one I’m focusing on is It, by Stephen King.

JW: IT?! I wasn’t expecting that. You’re how old?

PM: 17-years-old.

JW: OK. What do you like about Stephen King?

PM: Well, it’s interesting, but the first thing I read by Stephen King was The Stand, and I like his larger novels compared to his smaller ones, because there’s so many characters in them, and they’re so fleshed out, and it’s difficult to flesh out so many characters in one book and keep the plot going.

JW: You said 17-years-old? I think you might be my favourite kind of reader.


JW: I have to ask one more question. How many books do you read a year?

PM: 50-70?

JW: [lengthy pause] Poetry. Manga. Horror. Character construction. Fantasy. History. You do know you’re a publisher’s dream?


To follow along with my reader sightings, and to contribute your own—no matter where you live—use the hashtag #seenreading.

If you’re joining us at WordFest 2012, be sure to also include the hashtag #wordfest2012.

And if you see me wandering about, please do say hello. I’d love to know what you’re reading!


Julie Wilson is The Book Madam (@bookmadam), a publishing professional who splits her time between Toronto and San Diego.

She’s an active reader ambassador, coach, and conduit, and creator/author of Seen ReadingFreehand Books & HarperCollins (ebook)—a collection of microfictions written in response to people who read in public. (WordFest’s festival bookseller, Pages on Kensington, also has copies on hand, along with some keen magnetic Seen Reading bookmarks. Stop on by!)

Follow Julie as The Literary Voyeur at @seenreading.

Visit her online homes at and

Julie appears at WordFest 2012 at the following events:

Name Your Sources
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
5-6:30 p.m.
Vertigo Theatre Centre, Studio
with Deni Y. Bechard, Russell Wangersky and Rachel Wyatt

How Should a Writer Be?
Saturday, October 13, 2012
1:30-2:30 p.m.
The Banff Centre
with Joe Meno and Susan Swan

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