The Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA) took place this year from Oct 24 - Nov 03, 2019. This is the 40th year for the festival and the first that I attended, making several trips to Toronto to meet favourite and new authors and to hear them talk about their books and writing. Each event was a new experience. They were exciting, humorous and entertaining and a great way to meet other book lovers.
PEN Canada's Empty Chair
At every festival event, an empty chair appears in recognition of a writer silenced for peacefully expressing their beliefs. This year, PEN Canada recognizes Iranian lawyer and human rights advocate Nasrin Sotoudeh.
Nasrin Sotoudeh has represented children who face the death penalty, activists jailed after Iran's 2009 presidential elections, and prisoners of conscience. Her defence of women who resist Iran's mandatory hijab laws has drawn legal charges which include "inciting corruption and prostitution" and "openly committing a sinful act... by appearing in public without a hijab". Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested in June 2018 and tried without legal representation. She faces 38 years in prison and 148 lashes.
The first festival event I attended was with John Irving and Nazanine Hozar. John Irving is one of my favourite authors; "A Prayer For Owen Meany" being in my top 50 books. It was John Irving who I went for. He was interviewing Nazanine Hozar and helping to promote her debut novel. I very quickly became a fan of Nazanine as well and look forward to reading "Aria".
John Irving was fantastic as an interviewer, respectful, funny and it seemed plays a mentor role to Nazanine, referring to their many exchanges of emails about writing and her book. Nazanine said that like John, it was important that she know the ending of the book while writing it. The book takes place in Tehran, Iran, Nazanine's birthplace. During the conversation, I became more intrigued by the significance of this story taking place in Iran's culture and history. I also became interested in the main character, Aria's story. I believe there might be a strong, female character emerge here. This book is now placed high on my priority list for 2020.
Lee Maracle is a Canadian author and poet. Maracle is one of the first aboriginal authors to be published. In my humble opinion, all Canadians should read Maracle's work especially if you have any interest in our First Nations people. At TIFA, Lee Maracle along with her two daughters, Tania Carter and Columba Bobb talked about their collection of poetry, "Hope Matters". When describing the collection, Lee Maracle said "I come from a collective culture - the words danced on my skin".
The collection includes individual poems by Lee Maracle, Columba Bobb and Tania Carter as well as poems they wrote together using renga, which Lee described as one person writing a verse, then the next person writes the following verse and so on. Something Lee did with her daughters when they were younger.
The poems were written over two weeks on Maracle's porch. They started calling this 'Poetry on the Porch' and hope to continue doing it, maybe next time including the grandchildren, Maracle said with a huge smile on her face.
I read this collection of poetry in one sitting. Some of the poems are raw, honest and deep while others have humour and deal with lighter topics. After hearing the discussion and reading the poems, I only wish I could crash the next session of Poetry on the Porch. I think it would feel a bit like going home.
I had the opportunity to meet Mona Awad, author of "Bunny". Unfortunately, I overlooked the event to witness the conversation, but I had heard of her book. When I happened to be nearby when Mona was signing books I went and asked her if she would sign mine. She was a class act. I was quite impressed by her.
As with many authors signing my books, they comment on my name, often sing to me and some even sign my book in interesting ways. Mona commented, "that is my most favourite name in the whole world". When I realized she wasn't joking, she explained that she named her phone after the song. She said she understood my plight because everyone sings Mona Lisa to her.
I look forward to reading "Bunny", about a recluse graduate student whose world spirals into the macabre upon befriending a clique of rich girls.
Linwood Barclay is a new author to me this year. I started his "Promise Falls" trilogy and knew that I had found a new favourite author. Torkil Damhaug, an author from Norway, was introduced to me at the festival. Both are psychological thriller writers.
Linwood Barclay was promoting his book "Elevator Pitch". His goal was to do to elevators what Psycho did for showers. If that's your thing, maybe picking up a Linwood Barclay book is for you.
Both authors have a great sense of humour; Torkil's timing is impeccable. When asked if they had any advice for authors, Barclay said, "Read!" Without skipping a beat, Damhaug said, "Write!". Seems like a simple equation. Linwood Barclay went further and said that a writer who doesn't read is like being a chef who doesn't eat much.
Both authors shared some recommendations. Barclay recommended "I Am Pilgrim" by Terry Hayes, "The Institute" by Stephen King, and "Devil In The White City" by Erik Larson. He named Ross MacDonald as his favourite author. Damhaug's favourite author is Cormac McCarthy, especially "No Country for Old Men". He gave honourable mention to James Lee Burke.
I now have a few of Barclay's books to get to and Damhaug's book was the fourth in a series, so I may have to start at the beginning before I get to "Certain Signs That You Are Dead".
Like Lee Maracle, who started publishing in the 70's, Thomas King has been publishing since the early 80's. He has been a strong voice for preserving aboriginal lands and culture. I was very excited to have the opportunity to be in the same room as him. It wasn't very long into
the discussion when Thomas King pulled a bunny hat out of his bag, put it on, and said, "I'm a sensitive guy". It didn't necessarily make sense, but showed his humourous and fun side.
I wouldn't have considered Thomas King a crime writer, but he was promoting his book, "A Matter of Malice". The panel included two other authors, Un-su Kim, Teresa Solana and the translator of Un-su Kim's novel, Sora Kim-Russell. Kim, Solana and Kim-Russell were all introduced to me at the festival.
Un-su Kim's novel was first published in Korean; Teresa Solana's book was translated from the Catalan. I loved that the panel included Sora Kim-Russell as a translator. It lead to some great conversation about translation in general, nuances in translation, and humour in translation. All three books seem very different, but they had interesting threads of similarity. King's book is the fourth in a series, so I brought "The Inconvenient Indian" for him to sign instead.
Emma Donoghue, Ian Williams, and Michael Christie made up the panel for their books that have complicated family dramas. I first became a fan of Emma Donoghue when I read "Room". I have several of her novels waiting to be read on my shelf and have "Akin" on my wishlist.
I have read Ian Williams' poetry and loved it. His novel "Reproduction" sounds unique, both in its ideas and structure. Ian seems to have some very profound thoughts and makes very conscientious choices in his writing and the entire production of his books.
Michael Christie is new to me. Michael's novel "Greenwood" also seems to have a unique structure. He said that in the writing of this book he learned that "families are built rather than born. Families are forests, not just trees".
Emma's novel "Akin" comes from a place, Michael's from a tree, and Ian wanted his book to reproduce itself in a way. I look forward to reading all three soon.
The final event I attended was with Tayari Jones, author of "An American Marriage". I read this novel in one sitting at a cottage this summer. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't what I expected. After this interview I appreciate it more.
Tayari has a lot of spunk and character. She is smart, funny and super talented. The interview with her drew an eclectic crowd. There were some great conversations and questions. Tayari talked about the title of the book, something I wondered about myself. She made the point that no one had ever called her American without another word in front of it. Whether it be black or African. She wanted to tell a story that could be stereotypical and normalize it. The book has many powerful lines and it turns out, the title is pretty powerful itself.
The Toronto International Festival of Authors is Canada's largest and longest running festival of words and ideas. I hope to attend again next year for more book adventures.