How to Make the Most of Word On The Street

by Jessie Hale

Published at 2013-09-19

This Sunday, September 22, the streets around Queen’s Park will turn into a paradise for book lovers. Writers, book publishers, literacy organizations, bookstores, magazine publishers, and readers of all ages will gather for Word On The Street, Toronto’s annual celebration of words and the people who love them.


Of course, with hundreds of exhibitors and dozens of readings and signings, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, plunk yourself onto a bench with a cob of roasted corn, and weep for your inability to take in everything at once. (Not that that’s ever happened to me.) As a frequent WOTS attendee, and as a production assistant this year, here’s my guide for getting the most out of this Sunday.


Before the festival: Pack a backpack (not a shoulder bag; it’s going to be heavy by the end of the day!) with a refillable water bottle, a canvas book bag or two, and some healthy snacks, like granola bars, almonds, and dried fruit. (There will be food available for purchase at the festival, but you may be flying between events with no time to stop.) Don’t forget sunscreen; this Sunday calls for cool but sunny weather. Bring a pen as well, so that you can circle the exhibitors and events you want to check out in the festival program (which will be available onsite, but click here for a handy map). Alas, there will be no coffee for sale on festival grounds, so fuel up beforehand!


11:00: The festival officially opens to the public. Get to the park early and take a tour of the grounds, making a note of those booths you want to return to later. Do not make the rookie mistake of buying ten books right away. You’ll have to carry them around for the rest of the day! Start your tour at Hoskin Avenue, moving north and following the crescent around, with brief detours north on Queen’s Park for KidStreet and west on Wellesley for the indie authors at Writer’s Block. Don’t buy anything yet, with the one exception of a mandatory subscription to The Walrus (booth 144, QPCE between Wellesley and St. Joseph). The Walrus has historically offered a year’s subscription, plus a sweet canvas bag, for an even twenty.


Wander the exhibitor booths to check out the latest offerings from both big-name publishers and indie presses. Particular highlights include the endlessly creative Drawn & Quarterly (booth 204, QPCE south of Grosvenor), the beautiful-to-look-at ChiZine Publications (booth 179, QPCE north of Grosvenor) and ECW Press (booth 208, QPCE south of Grosvenor), and the CanLit big guns of House of Anansi Press (booth 157, QPCE at Wellesley).


Don’t forget about the magazine publishers, either. Shameless Magazine (booth 139, QPCE south of St. Joseph), Descant, Broken Pencil (both in Magazine Mews, QPCE north of St. Joseph), and many more will be selling subscriptions and back issues. 


11:30-12:00: Head to the Toronto Book Awards tent at the south end of the park for your first reading of the day. Katrina Onstad’s acclaimed Everybody Has Everything, the story of an urban couple who unexpectedly find themselves parents, was longlisted for the 2012 Giller Prize and is now a finalist for the Toronto Book Awards.


12:15-12:45: Head half a block north to the Great Books Marquee, where Wayne Grady will read from Emancipation Day. It’s just been longlisted for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize.


12:45-1:15: Lunch! There are food vendors at several locations on festival grounds: on QPCW south of Hoskin, on QPCE north of St. Joseph, and on Wellesley west of QPCE. The choice between delicious Indian curry or good old poutine is up to you, but you absolutely must buy a cob of roasted, buttered corn (leaving a festival of any kind without eating roasted, buttered corn violates several Toronto city bylaws).


If you finish lunch early, sneak into the This Is Not the Shakespeare Stage (QPCE north of Wellesley) to catch a bit of Open Mic Hour, featuring fresh, young voices aged 13 to 19.


1:15-1:45: It’s back to Great Books Marquee for readings from two short story collections: The Other Side of Youth by Kelli Deeth, and Life Without Death by Peter Unwin. Short stories are easy to overlook in a country that loves a big fat novel (I’m looking at you, Rohinton Mistry), but they can be little pieces of magic. Bonus: the collections are published by two of Canada’s finest small publishers, Arsenal Pulp Press and Cormorant Books, respectively.


1:45-2:15: Give your tired feet a break and stay right where you are for Elizabeth Ruth, reading from Matadora. The novel about a young girl trying to make a name for herself in the bullring has received tons of accolades, including being named as a finalist for the 2012 Rogers Writers’ Trust Award.


2:00-3:00: Head back to the south end of the park to the Vibrant Voices of Ontario tent, where Olivia Chow will host a panel called Driving Radical Change. Community organizers Charlie Angus, Helen Burstyn, Andrea Curtis, and Sarah Liss will share stories of how remarkable individuals can make powerful changes.


3:00-4:00: Head to the Bestsellers Stage next door, where award-winning author and festival headliner Joseph Boyden will read from his new novel, The Orenda. Already an Indigo bestseller and longlisted for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize, this is the book that every bookseller in Canada will soon come to know as “I heard about this book on the CBC, I think it starts with ‘O’?” (As an added incentive, Joseph Boyden’s lovely speaking voice and quasi-Irish accent are treats in themselves.)


4:00-5:00: I officially give you permission to purchase! Now's a great time to do another walk of the circle and stuff your handy backpack full of goodies; the crowds will have thinned at the more popular booths, so you can read back cover copy at your leisure. You might even have time for another cob of corn. 


5:00-5:45: Round out the day with a poetry slam at the Vibrant Voices of Ontario tent. Even if you don’t think poetry’s your bag, everyone should attend at least one poetry slam at some point; it’s a truly amazing display of talent. Plus, there is a poet named Optimus Rhyme. Enough said.


5:45-6:00: Take one more tiny peek at your favourite exhibitors. Remember that buying directly from publishers means that they get to pocket the profit! (That should give you all the excuse you need to stuff a few more books into your overloaded bags.)


After the festival: Put your feet up, break out one of the several hundred free bookmarks you’ve probably picked up, and get reading!