By Robert Ballantyne
Once a year book lovers gather to rub shoulders with famous authors and score great deals on tape dispensers.
Last Sunday, over 130,000 people attend the Word On The Street festival, which set up shop along Queen St. W. from University to Spadina Avenues and featured book sellers, author readings, musical performances and writer’s workshops.
The festival is mostly about selling books and book-related products. Publishers as diverse as Random House and the socialist independent Between the Lines offered discounted books to passers by.
Ryerson’s Continuing Education department took advantage of the festival to promote their writing-related programs. The department’s booth was a simple one, featuring two instructors and course calendars.
Still, it’s an effective way to attract students, says book publishing instructor Rosemary Shipton. “The publicity works,” she says. “I’ve had two students join the program last year because of this event.”
Everyone at Word On The Street has something to sell, whether it’s a self-published book or a two-year magazine subscription. Corporate sponsors also filled some of the 250 exhibitor booths, some more shamelessly than others. One Shameless corporation, 3M, set up an Innovation Station for Writers, a filmsy excuse to display Post-it Notes and tape dispensers. Word On The Street is a place where commerce clearly meets art.
But the festival is mainly a forum for independent publishers, like Edo Van Belkom, to sell books.
“I’ve been writing full time for nine years,” he says. “It took me five years before I made any money and three years before I earned a profit.”
Belkom is a horror writer and his latest book, Teeth, is about a female serial killer who stalks men in Brampton. “Let’s just say her teeth aren’t in her mouth,” she says.
Next to Belkom’s booth is the Citytv main stage. A samba band is playing while MuchMusic’s Electric Circus personality Nadine Ramkisson hosts the City of Toronto Book Awards. The music was a strange backdrop for a literary award presentation featuring Toronto literati such as Margaret Atwood.
“I’m please to see people turn out,” Atwood says over the din of the band. “It’s always very populous.”
Atwood remained in good spirits even though her latest book, The Blind Assassin, was short-listed for the award. A.B.McKillop won the award for his book The Spinster & The Prophet.
“I’m more or less B.A. now,” says Atwood. “That’s beyond awards.”
Atwood didn’t expect to win the award but was happy to join the proceedings. Far from the award ceremony and its samba band, Chris Pannell’s booth displays his independently-published poetry collection, Sorry I Spent Your Poem.
Pannell says poetry is not a well-paying art and he must supplement his income by teaching writing workshops.
“It’s a brutally competitive market-place out there,” he says. “But I write poetry because it offers release.”
Some journalists also made appearances. Evan Solomon spent the day publicizing his show Hot Type on CBC’s Newsworld. “I think [Word On The Street] is great because thousands of people buy books here,” he says. “Everyone is running a business.”
From books to tape dispensers, it’s a unique to see thousands of book lovers in one place. Where else would you find librarians shouting like carnival barkers, “Step right up! Don’t be shy!”