This week Toronto is full of writers. From October 12th to October 20th, the annual International Festival of Authors takes place at Harbourfront.

The event has become the largest annual literary festival in the world. The first festival featured eighteen writers; this week, eleven years later, the numbers are turned around – eighty-one authors will read from their works. Although ticket prices have grown with its stature (this year it will cost you fifteen dollars to see one reading featuring three writers), audience numbers haven’t suffered. Last year some ten thousand five hundred people came to hear, and more are expected this year. What do they come for?

Variety, perhaps. They can hear D.M. Thomas reading from his latest novel, Lying Together, or perhaps they prefer Elmore Leonard. They might want to see Marin Sorescu, the Romanian poet who was scheduled to read at last year’s festival but was prevented from leaving the country at the last minute. Argentines Osvaldo Soriano, who wrote A Funny Dirty Little War, and Abel Posse, whose book The Dogs of Paradise was recently translated into English, will be present. Syl Cheny-Coker from Sierra Leone, who has a new collection of poetry, The Blood in the Desert’s Eyes, and a novel, The Last Harmatten of Alusine Dunbar, will read in the same session as Canada’s Neil Bissoondath, author of the widely acclaimed A Casual Brutality and the recent short story collection On The Eve of Uncertain Tomorrows.

Not only are fiction, poetry and drama available, but biography and criticism will get their share of the spotlight. The list of authors seems endless, and for those who value a chance to see great writers from all over the world, exciting: J.M. Coetzee, Ahn Junghy, A.B. Yehoshua, Gearge V. Higgins, Michiko Yamamoto, Joyce Carol Oates, William Boyd, Marianne Wiggins, Fay Weldon, Cees Nooteboom and obviously, many more.

One of the festival’s goals, according to artistic director Greg Gatenby, is “to make Canadian writers better known abroad by showcasing them in an international context.” Besides Neil Bossoondath, other Canadians reading will include Nicole Brossard, Daniel David Moses, W.O. Mitchell, Barbara Gowdy and U of T’s current writer-in-residence, Dionne Brand.

Greg Gatenby has obviously tried to put together a program in which there is something for everyone. Not everyone, however, delights in this sort of festival. In last Friday’s Globe and Mail, John Allemang argued that modern literary readings are “about seeing the dust jacket in the person and connecting the vibrant prose of the printed pages with the sexual aura or hair do,” and that “the standard of literary performance is probably lower now than it has ever been in the history of artifice.” Commenting on the Allemang piece, Harbourfront official Sheila Kay points out, “Obviously ten thousand people do like the readings.”

In addition, many people criticize the fact that the festival is run very much like any other entertainment business — the readings are on the expensive side, and contracts with the authors prevent them from giving readings in the city around the time of the festival, so that aside from interviews they remain inaccessible to anyone but the Harbourfront audience. Harbourfront argues that without the business tactics the authors wouldn’t be here at all.

Tickets and information can be obtained from the Harbourfront Box Office (973-400), or from any Ticket Master Canada outlet.