A Literary Tradition: The Annual International Festival of Authors

By Waheeda Harris


When the air turns crisp and the leaves start turning to vibrant shades of gold, orange and red, it’s time for Toronto to celebrate the written word.

Since 1974, over 8000 writers from over 100 countries have gathered at the water’s edge at Harbourfront to discuss their latest prose and meet their devoted readers at the International Festival of Authors (IFOA).

For those precious ten days in late October, the book-obsessed are treated to a welcome frenzy of readings, round table discussions and on-stage interviews, and of course the ability to get their favourite tome signed by the author. But as this festival grew, one of its best side effects was that readers discovered new writers, from near and far.

In my past life working within Canadian book publishing, it was an honour to bring authors to IFOA, who felt they were being celebrated like A-list celebrities. I saw how readers came for their favourite but soon discovered another writer to add to their growing reading list. At this festival, everyone’s adoration of the written word was infectious.

But it wasn’t just the fans who made it an unforgettable experience – it was the ability for writers to be among their peers, and be able to hear their favourites perform and disseminate personal revelations about their latest works too.

One of my favourite memories was working with American actor/playwright/author Wallace Shawn, better known for his work on stage and screen than for his writings. His delight in being welcomed as a writer at IFOA was almost indulgent for him, as I saw well-known novelists join the fans to say hello during his signings. As Shawn was repeatedly asked by fans about his writings, he constantly commented on how well-read Torontonians must be to know more about him than his unforgettable role in The Princess Bride.

In its 39th year, IFOA has become one of the premiere literary festivals on the planet, welcoming the new and the established to come to Toronto to share their words.

At this year’s festival, the book-obsessed can be front and centre for Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland, Andrew Pyper, Stephen King, Alice McDermott, Meg Wolitzer and Lawrence Hill, with IFOA paying homage to Canada’s best known writers, Alice Munro, who will be honoured with the annual Harbourfront Festival Prize.

IFOA is on from October 24 until November 3, 2013.

Toronto Bookstores to Discover Any Time of the Year

But this festival isn’t just for locals – with such a plethora of writers representing a wide range of novels, memoirs, short stories and poetry, any book lover should be encouraged to come for a week or a weekend this holiday season to immerse in Toronto’s literary festivities . And for those who want to continue finding the best of the literary offerings in Toronto, here some local faves:

Another Story – found in the heart of Roncesvalles Village, visitors will find a wide selection of adult and children’s titles and a dedicated section of titles devoted to equity and diversity.

Ben McNally Books – this source for literature and non-fiction titles in the business district offers customers in-depth selections not easily found and hosts a monthly brunch featuring Canadian and international authors and their newly-published works.

Book City – a favourite of readers for its consummate selection of fiction and non-fiction for adults and kids, this local independent has locations in popular neighbourhoods like the Annex, Beach, Yonge & St. Clair and Greektown.

The Monkey’s Paw – an antiquarian bookstore specializing in the rare and odd in the Dundas/Oassington neighbourhood and the home to the world’s only book vending machine, The Biblio-Mat.

World’s Biggest Bookstore – at one time this store held the most titles in one place, but to locals it’s a favourite stopover for kids, college students and adults in the downtown core to find books, magazines and related gift items.

About the Author

A freelance journalist since 2000, Waheeda Harris writes about travel, design, style and the people who are passionate about what they create. She’s contributed to newspaper, magazine and web publications since 2000 including The National Post, Toronto Life, Zoomer, Design Lines, Canadian House & Home, Tribute, Best Health, Style, The Globe and Mail, VIA Rail Destinations, Sweetspot.ca, The Grid, Sympatico Travel & Lifestyle, Elle Canada, Where.ca and HomebuildLife.com. She’s the co-author of the Night + Day Guide to Toronto (Pulse Guides, 2008), and was the travel editor of Lipstickpowdernpaint.com (2009-2011). She currently contributes weekly to Canada.com Travel, Travel + Escape, AOL Canada Walletpop.ca, Kalev.com and regularly to Vacay.ca, TheLoop.ca Travel, and Toronto Homes Magazine.