National Novel Writing Month kicks off

National Novel Writing Month kicks off

You are receiving this transmission because we have a task only you can handle. Intelligence has it on good authority that there is a novel inside of you: a story so crucial it must be shared with the world. Your mission, if you choose to accept it: write your novel in 30 days.



This year, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) kicks off with over 250,000 aspiring novelists on board. Each is hoping to complete a 50,000-word novel between midnight on November 1 and midnight on November 30, by writing approximately 1,667 words a day. Novels can be of any genre, but cannot be co-authored or pre-written. Although plans and outlines are allowed, the aim is to write without revisions or re-reading. Every person who completes the project is declared a winner. Notable novels of a similar length include The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, Brave New World, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Published NaNoWriMo works include Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and The Night Circus, a New York Times bestseller by Erin Morgenstern.

NaNoWriMo was started up in 1999 by a 26-year-old freelance writer Chris Baty and several of his friends in the San Francisco Bay area. In the year 2000, the NaNoWriMo website officially launched, making the project accessible worldwide. In that year, one hundred and forty participants took up the challenge, and 29 of them finished. The following year, news of the project had spread and 5,000 participants joined. The event takes place every November, in order “to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather.” It continues to grow in popularity. In 2012, 341,375 participants wrote a total of 3,288,976 words, with 11 per cent completing the challenge. NaNoWriMo is funded strictly by donations, and also has an online store for merchandise, featuring clothing, posters, and more.

This year, five published authors, one per week, act as writing coaches through the effort’s Twitter handle. The line-up includes Teri Brown, Kristyn Kusek Lewis, Stephanie Watson, Jason Hough, and Julie Murphy. These authors offer advice, prompts, tips, and encouragement under the hashtag #NaNoCoach.

The annual 30 Covers, 30 Days collaboration, in which “thirty amazing NaNoWriMo participants will be paired with thirty designers, who will create a work of art based on a NaNo-novel synopsis,” is also back for 2013. A silent auction will be held early next year featuring full-sized prints of the designs.

In addition to online forums, video sessions, and projects throughout the month, events also happen in the city for writers. Toronto ranks fifth on NaNoWriMo’s list of Top 50 Cities, with London in first and New York in second. Happy writing and good luck to participants!

IFOA celebrates best of Canadian and international literature

Festival features renowned authors including Stephen King and Margaret Attwood

IFOA celebrates best of Canadian and international literature

On October 26, four noted fiction writers, Janet E. Cameron, Fiona Kidman, Mary-Rose MacColl, and Alice McDermott gathered for a round table discussion hosted by Stuart Woods in the York Quay Centre at the Harbourfront Centre. Just a 10-minute walk away, popular children’s and young-adult author Gordon Korman read excerpts from his new novel at the Fleck Dance Theatre. In fact, many well-established authors were having round table discussions and question-and-answer sessions all around the Harbourfront that day, as part of the annual International Festival of Authors (ifoa), the highly prestigious literary gathering held each year in Toronto.

The ifoa began in 1980 in order to: “Present the world’s most important and influential authors, and distinctive new authors, Canadian and international, in a forum that celebrates both books and writing.” The festival also seeks to give Canadian writers an international platform on which to share their work. Over the years, the festival has hosted over 8,000 authors from over 100 countries, including 20 Nobel Laureates.

While the festival receives international acclaim every year, it also prides itself on being extremely accessible to the public — particularly to youth and students interested in writing and authorship. Most events are under $20, and some are even free. Students can receive free tickets to certain events if they are willing to
call in advance.

This year’s festival took place October 25 – November 3. At first, the schedule seems daunting: 200 participants representing 19 countries will participate in a total of 77 events in just two short weeks. The Varsity explored the festival to list some of the highlights for the book-enthused student.

For those interested in great Canadian fiction, several high-profile Canadian authors were part of the lineup for this festival — Margaret Atwood spoke on October 30 with up-and-coming Canadian author Amy Loyd. Alistair MacLeod joined other panelists on October 31 to discuss the theme of beginnings when it comes to short stories.

Other interesting names included Stephen King, making an appearance on October 24, and Canadian Douglas Coupland, author of J-Pod fame. The festival even expanded itself to include guests such as George Pelecano, famous for being one of the writers of hbo’s hit series The Wire.

The festival has something for everyone, with “youngifoa” events catering to children and young adults and in-depth interviews with acclaimed authors. It represents one of the highlights of Toronto’s cultural calendar, and also marks the city as not only willing to host artistic talent, but to share it with its citizens.

Saying goodbye to David Naylor

Outgoing U of T president discusses flat fees, fee diversion, favourite books, and his final thoughts as he says farewell

Saying goodbye to David Naylor

It has been eight years since David Naylor became president of U of T. He’s led the university in the midst of provincial funding cuts, a global recession, and seemingly endless battles with the students’ union. He will step down on October 31, and former Arts & Science dean Meric Gertler will take his place. I sat down with Naylor one more time for a 45-minute interview that lasted nearly an hour and a half, not counting the responses he emailed for the questions we didn’t have time to get to.


The Varsity: I know that provincial and federal funding is something that you’ve talked about for a long time, in terms of the university wanting more of it. If you could have any system you wanted right now, what would it look like?

David Naylor: We would be at the national average for student funding, at the minimum, and that alone would see probably on the order of $300 million of additional base funding; that’s how big the gap has become.


TV: And why are we below the average?

DN: This is a very challenging question to ever answer definitively. If you go back twenty years, you’ll find the province was already lagging in terms of post-secondary funding and, despite some positive steps in the early days of the Reaching Higher program the province adopted, there has been no real progress. It’s particularly puzzling because we are the national average on spending K-12 education, and the national average in terms of spending on health care. Yet we seem to have decided, somehow, that it’s okay to have a situation in which universities and colleges receive relatively less per student from other provinces. Indeed, so much less that if I were to move the University of Toronto’s operations to Edmonton or Calgary tomorrow, we would double our funding from the province, even after they’ve had their cuts.


TV: The province is considering amending the flat-fees structure, the proposal is, as of next year students taking 3.5 courses will be considered full-time, and as of 2015 students taking four courses or 80 per cent will be considered full-time. Do you think that these changes are positive? If so, why, and if not, what would be a better system?

DN: I think the changes are not evidence-based…what has not been established is that there are any ill effects from this approach, and by established I mean good strong evidence rather than the usual anecdote that carries the day in newspapers. When you look at the studies that were done by the Faculty of Arts & Science, with student representatives on those committees, we see quantitative evidence that shows the following:

We see faster times to completion, which is good for everybody. We see the funds that have been generated from the program fee approach have been redirected to improve student aid, which is also a good thing net and net no one ends up paying more as a result, when you consider both intensification and the additional student aid.

You see that extracurricular participation has not fallen one bit. You see that grade distribution, so far from going in the wrong direction, is actually showing positive changes. When you put all the evidence together, there’s really not a lot to say that program fees have had an adverse effect.

Would you advocate for the status quo? Do you think that there should be any change at the provincial level?

DN: Do I think the threshold should be four? No, I do not think that threshold is appropriate. Do I think the threshold could be 3 or 3.5? You can argue it either way, but to me if you’re going to do it, what I really would want to see from the standpoint of fairness is get the evidence as you proceed, step by step, to show that adverse effects are not occurring.


TV: U of T consistently ranks poorly on Maclean’s and other surveys that rank student life on campus. Do you think U of T has as strong a student life or sense of identity as Queen’s or Western? If so, why? If not, why not? 

DN: I take some consolation on these surveys from the reality that we have a more critically minded, and I think very smart, audience that may be more inclined to take a skeptical view than those who are happier to paint themselves purple or participate in rowdy Homecoming institutions.




TV: Can it all be attributed to that?

DN: No, of course not. I just wanted to get in that preliminary caveat before I answered your question. The surveys that I look at that give me some sense of encouragement are the NSSE [National Survey of Student Engagement] surveys. On NSSE, we’re up meaningfully over the last few years on five of the seven big domains, and stable on two others. So there’s no question that student life and student engagement are improving. The reality is that this is a major urban centre. We have a lot of students who commute and we know in all these surveys that commuting poses challenges in terms of spirit and solidarity. I do think that the continued improvement in athletics helps. I think that having a Student Commons will help.

I do think that U of T students are simply more academic and have a stronger orientation to a life of the mind than students at some other campuses. And we get accordingly a group who may be less inclined to go out and whoop it up at an athletic event or hang out at a local bar and have fun and who may be a little more likely to be hitting the books in a pretty demanding school and tending to focus on their academics a little more heavily — and I frankly get that and I admire it.


TV: Yes. Now you said the words ‘‘student commons,’’ so I have to ask: On the one hand you have Trinity, Engineering, and Victoria who want to leave. On the other hand you have the students’ union who doesn’t want them to leave. What is a potential compromise?

DN: I think that one has to ask what are some of the services that are sufficiently common across the campus that they might be provided by an umbrella entity and which are division specific to the extent that one might want to see them devolved and that thinking around functionality is one starting point. Another starting point for a compromise is to think about how good governance occurs and that means there has to be some sense that there is an umbrella body like UTSU, that it is responsive to the component divisions in a way that gives them a real sense of full participation in decisions that are made, and both those principles become a starting point for some intelligent compromises. Where this will end up is going to depend upon whether people are willing to find compromises in both directions.

It is the formal position at Victoria, Engineering, and Trinity that they feel there is no room to compromise and they want out. And a few weeks ago the St. George Round Table passed a motion endorsing the principle that if students have voted to leave in a fair referendum then they should be allowed to leave. And, as you know, the union is not responsive to these things. Online voting only got implemented in this election because Cheryl Misak basically threatened to cut off funding. How do you work with the union under these circumstances?

DN: I think it is fair to say that the administration is very unlikely to be comfortable with anything that doesn’t involve some sensible compromises on all sides and if there is no appetite for compromise then there will have to be some decision made by governance on the advice of the administration as to what a sensible and fair dispensation would be. There is no question we have heard very quickly the unhappiness of at least three major student groups on this campus. There is also no question, that we have watched years of challenges to electoral results and have had more than one student group through the years have similar concerns to those that have crystallized and been voted on now. All that is to say that no one should underestimate the resolve of the administration to see a fair resolution.

So I think you will find that we will be moderately patient, perhaps frustratingly so for those that want a fast resolution, and we are going to try and keep the conversation going and if at some juncture there is no resolution, we will act.


TV: The Varsity recently wrote a story about interest fees the university charges. U of T collects about $1.76 million dollars in interest fees from the St. George campus undergraduate students. I don’t think that’s much money for the administration, but I do think that’s a lot of money for your average student. Students get osap money twice during the year, but they have to pay their fees once during the year. So bearing in mind the different OSAP timelines and the pressure from the students’ union, do you think the current model needs to be altered, and if not, why? 

DN: First off, whatever the number is, any money in base that recurs is important to the institution. This is not a one-time amount of money, it’s a recurring amount of money, but much more important than the actual amount brought in on interest charges is the fact that if fees are not paid on a timely basis, there is a loss on the part of the institution. Like any other enterprise we have to continue to make payroll, deal with our expenses, and manage cash flow.


TV: Are there ways to do that without charging interest?

DN: Well it’s pretty hard not to charge interest because if the money isn’t in our hands we can’t put whatever money has been banked out to collect interest out from the banks. Remember that our money comes in in a couple of tranches, just like the money comes in from OSAP in a couple of tranches. We have to manage cash flow for the year. If we don’t invest the money that comes in we’re guilty of dereliction of the appropriate use of capital in our hands and that would be inappropriate and wasteful. One of the reasons interest is charged on these accounts is not some desire to gouge or to make a lot of money out of the interest per se, but rather to make sure we actually have people paying on a timely basis.


TV: Could U of T operate on a model where students pay once per semester? Other universities do.

DN: You have to look at each institution’s model to look at what works. As I see it, most institutions have some interest charges simply to ensure fees are paid on a timely basis. As I see it when a newspaper reports that this amounts to 19 per cent they are misrepresenting the reality and that no one is going to go a full year without paying their fees. When we have claims that these fees are a great burden when in fact they’re OSAP-eligible expenses, we also have some misperception.


TV: If I may though, the data does show that most people are sitting with it between OSAP disbursement periods.  

DN: So in that period they will see this as an expense and they will wait to be paid back, and I understand that that is something that rankles, I get it. It also rankles when anyone else gets a bill with an interest charge on it, which is why we pay them. I would love to see some sensible compromise that found everyone happy our fees are paid on a timely basis and students feeling as though they are also incentivized to do their share to pay.


TV: What is next?

DN: I will go back to the ranks and I will try to be helpful to the institution in any way I can. I will do some private sector work and I will do some non profit and charitable work and try to stay out of the way.


TV: Will you teach?

DN: I hope so. I love teaching, and I really enjoyed research. I would like to live that life again, but I will have to take a little time to see how feasible that is. I mean, I’ve been at it 14 years as a full-time academic administrator as dean of Medicine and president and the jury is out as to whether I can retool and be effective as a researcher again. I’d like to give that a try, but it may be too late — the neurons may have gone to sleep permanently.


TV: What is your favourite book?

DN: Mr Bumbletoes of Bimbleton… That’s a sentimental choice.  My grandparents on both sides were immigrants with limited education.  My mother was a gifted student, but neither she nor her three brothers attended university. My father was determined to be a medical researcher, and was the only one of six children in his family to attend university.  He arrived here at University College during the Depression without any family financial backing, and worked more or less full-time to support himself.  There was no student aid.  He made it as far as first-year Medicine, but couldn’t manage and dropped out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my parents gave their four children a house full of books and a strong sense that we should all pursue higher education as far as it would take us. Among those books, Mr Bumbletoes was my childhood favourite. I am sorry that my father did not live to see his old oak desk in the office of the dean of Medicine at U of T.


TV: Let me ask you one last question. If you came back to U of T 10 years from now, what would you hope the campus would look like?

DN: I would hope they were still amazingly diverse, with the fabulous mix of students we have here from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures. I think one of the things that I feel best about is that we’ve had huge numbers of people over the last number of years work hard to promote a uniquely Canadian brand of accessible excellence here at U of T. I think it distinguishes us hugely from some of the Ivy League institutions with which we compete otherwise on the academic level, and I also think in the quality of our graduates — so I would want to see that same wonderful level of diversity. I would hope that we might on this campus have finally figured out a way to close down some of the traffic around King’s College Circle, so that this can be even more of a pedestrian space.

I’d love to see some of the new buildings that are planned up and thriving and full of terrific students and faculty and staff, and I’ll be watching all of those developments with great interest. East and West, I would be really excited to see more of a sense of research buildings that enable more graduate students and graduate studies to thrive as per the 2030 plan as well as the outworking of some of the great plans they have underway. For example, in Scarborough the development of the North campus with the remediated land around the Pan Am Centre is going to be incredibly exciting, and I think they will have made big progress a decade from now.

To the West, there’s infinite potential at the Mississauga campus and I can see any number of new programs emerging there that would again represent a change. They have an academcy of Medicine. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Missisauga and Scarborough with academies of engineering or similar professional programs that are tied to St. George at some later date. I think the sense of a blend of all the historic architecture and all the facilities and greenspace is something that I hope will remain forever. It will always be a place I come back to with a sense of coming home.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Alice, you’ve gone far

What Alice Munro's recent Nobel Prize win means for Canadian writers

Alice, you’ve gone far

Last Thursday, celebrated Canadian author Alice Munro was declared winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. She is the first-ever female Canadian to win the award, and only the 13th woman to do so since the prize’s founding in 1901. Upon hearing the news, she said she was “delighted” and “terribly surprised.” At least, that was her reaction when the Swedish Academy finally got hold of her.

As the first Canadian woman to win the Nobel prize, Munro opens the door for others. DEREK SHAPTON/MEDIA PHOTO

As the first Canadian woman to win the Nobel prize, Munro opens the door for others. DEREK SHAPTON/MEDIA PHOTO

Munro is hailed as the master of the contemporary short story, and has indeed almost exclusively stuck to the genre; all of her collections — apart from Lives of Girls and Women — are part of this genre. From the Governor General’s Award in 1968 to the Man Booker Prize in 2009, the list of accolades to Munro’s name continues to grow. In the past half-century, Munro has been a perennial presence on both the Canadian and international literary scenes.

Most of her stories are set in the small towns of Huron County, Ontario, where she was born. While her writing has a local focus, Munro’s complex characters, ambiguous plot, and often disconcerting depictions of human tensions and relationships transcend regional associations. She has captivated an international audience with her unapologetically revealing portrayal of everyday life.

Nicknamed the “Canadian Chekhov,” Munro scrutinizes the small-town life of seemingly ordinary characters, gradually peeling back layers of outward domestic bliss. She gives readers a glimpse into a world that is intensely private.

Though Munro has written extensively about domestic life, she was once told that her work was not serious enough to merit consideration. When first establishing herself as a writer, she faced much condescension, and was dismissed as a housewife whose material was domestic and boring. She was encroaching upon male-dominated territory — criticized by an overwhelmingly male audience — and wrote stories that showed her deep frustration with society’s restrictive gender norms. In her writing, the tension between male and female characters continues to be central to much of her portrayal of familial strife.

Now that a Canadian has reached the pinnacle of literary achievement, some questions are raised as to the overall quality of Canadian literature and how other Canadians may fare in the future. Revered for novels like Surfacing and The Year of the Flood, Victoria College alumna and long-time friend of Munro, Margaret Atwood touches on similar issues of gender dynamics and the volatile relationships people have with nature in her work. Ann-Marie MacDonald, author of the Governor General’s Award-winning, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) or Yann Martel — best known for his novel-gone-blockbuster Life of Pi, and his frostily received allegory, Beatrice and Virgil — are also possible contenders. It would appear to be a bright new day for Canadian writers, but, I suppose only time will tell. For now, congratulations Alice.


Sonia Liang is a second-year student studying English and political science.

Lecturer “not interested” in teaching works of queer, female, or Chinese writers

David Gilmour’s comments draw criticism from administration, students’ union

Lecturer “not interested” in teaching works of queer, female, or Chinese writers

David Gilmour has come under fire in the past few days following an interview with Hazlitt, in which he indicated his preference for teaching the works of heterosexual male authors. The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has criticized both Gilmour and the U of T administration’s response to the ongoing controversy. Gilmour is a sessional instructor at U of T.

“I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women,” said Gilmour in the Hazlitt interview.

In an email to The Varsity, Yollen Bollo-Kamara, the union’s vice-president, equity, stated: “David Gilmour’s comments were absolutely offensive and unconscionable. The University should take immediate action to ensure that concerns of hundreds of members of the university community are adequately addressed. We all have the right to a safe, inclusive learning environment.”

Scott Prudham, president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association, joined a number of university figures in distancing themselves from Gilmour’s statements: “These comments fail in the most fundamental way to respect and reflect the great cultural and intellectual diversity of this institution, this community, and the Faculty Association itself. While Mr. Gilmour may well choose the books he wants to teach based on his expertise as a teacher and a writer, one would hope he would choose his words more carefully in both capacities, not least out of respect for his colleagues and his students.”

Angela Esterhammer, an English professor and principal of Victoria College, praised Gilmour’s professional pedigree, describing him as a part-time instructor who “brings his professional accomplishments as a Governor General’s Award-winning novelist and film critic to his teaching role.” Esterhammer outlined the fact that Gilmour has since apologized to students and staff, and that many people, including the Victoria College administration, have stated that they do not share Gilmour’s views.

Esterhammer concluded by defending the course offerings at U of T, which she described as “without parallel” for their range and diversity: ”David Gilmour’s seminar ‘Love, Sex, and Death in Short Fiction’ is an optional course that students may take at Victoria College. It is one among hundreds of course offerings in literature at the University of Toronto and its Colleges, which include survey courses as well as small, focused seminars. These course offerings are incredibly diverse as to culture, gender, form, period, content, and approach.”

Thursday morning, roughly 50 students attended a rally at Victoria to show their support.

Andrea Day and Miram Novick, two U of T graduate students who organized the rally, called on attendees to “show [our] support for the omission of unserious people like women, queer folks, and writers of colour (especially Chinese writers) from university syllabi.”

U of T issued a statement Thursday outlining their stance on Gilmour’s statements: “One might hope that, in a university environment, teachers would encourage respectful airing of differences of opinion, and that, by airing their own views in a respectful way, they would encourage students to examine critically their own beliefs as well as those of their teachers and classmates.”

The statement outlined the fact that Gilmour has repeatedly apologized for his statements, and that the university had heard from students, faculty, and staff who were “dismayed” by his statements. “The University and Victoria College will also ensure that students in his class are under no misapprehensions that Mr. Gilmour’s literary preferences may be translated into assumptions about their innate abilities,” it read.

This statement also drew harsh criticism from the students’ union. “We are very disappointed in the statement released by the University this evening,” said Bollo-Kamara, “It is frustrating that the University does not acknowledge the impact that Mr. Gilmour’s words may have on the large part of our population who are women, Chinese, or do not identify as heterosexual.”


With files from Kate McCullough.

Students rally against David Gilmour at Vic

Support shown for women writers, queer writers, and writers of colour

Students rally against David Gilmour at Vic

David Gilmour’s comments in an interview with Hazlitt last Wednesday met with controversy and disapproval from some students. On Friday, the conflict escalated with a student-organized rally in front of the Northrop Frye statue at Victoria College. The location was chosen strategically. Gilmour teaches at Victoria College and was a student of Frye, who is said to be one of the most influential Canadian literary critics and theorists of the twentieth century. The rally, entitled “Serious Heterosexual Guys for Serious Literary Scholarship,” was organized largely over Facebook by two U of T graduate students, Andrea Day and Miriam Novick. The rally gained significant media attention. In the Facebook event for the rally, Day and Novick called the attendees to “show [our] support for the omission of unserious people like women, queer folks, and writers of colour (especially Chinese writers) from university syllabi.”

The rally consisted of the organizers, as well as members and students of the English department, reading out passages from novels by female, queer, and minority authors, all of whom Gilmour stated he was “not interested in teaching.” Anthony Oliveira, a PhD student in the English department, told The Varsity that he was “glad to be a part of an event where authors that Gilmour does not think are worth studying are being heard.” The protesters chanted “Gilmour, read more” throughout the rally, and encouraged the crowd of about 50 people to use social media to post about the protest. Major media outlets including CBC, City TV, and GlobalTV attended the event.



Day, a PhD student in the English department, told The Varsity that she and Novick decided to organize the rally largely for pedagogical reasons. “We were very frustrated with the idea that someone’s personal biases can direct not only what they teach but also their students’ experiences in a survey course. Late twentieth century short fiction is incredibly diverse, with plenty of people of colour, women, queer, and trans people. The idea that only white straight men have something to say in that avenue is very upsetting,” she said. Day added that she was impressed that the university called for collegiality, and that neither she nor Novick are asking for his job. She stressed that the controversy is not a result of a difference of opinions, but the blanket statements Gilmour has made. Other speakers at the rally were not as kind to Gilmour. Sundhya Walther, who is also a PhD student in the English department and spoke at the rally, thought that “Victoria College should seriously reconsider his employment, because Gilmour’s teaching philosophy is not something that can be solved by cosmetic gestures.” Krystyn Olmedo, a second-year classics student, compared Gilmour’s comments to something from “ancient times.”  Yolen Bollo-Kamara, the UTSU’s vice-president, equity, was present at the rally and expressed concern at the limited response from the university. “Gilmour’s comments essentially exclude a large portion of the university’s community,” she said.

Since the publication of Gilmour’s comments on Wednesday, he has issued an apology.

The word in Queen’s Park

Festival director of Word on the Street talks about one of Canada's biggest celebrations of literature

The word in Queen’s Park

This past weekend, Queen’s Park was transformed into a bookish haven, attracting bibliophiles and great literary minds alike as over 200,000 people flocked to the annual Word on the Street (WOTS) Festival.

Characterized by booths, stalls, and stages dotting the circle around the ROM, Victoria College, and Hart House, WOTS is a non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating Canadian reading, writing and literacy through a free outdoor festival. In a recent interview with The Varsity, Heather Kanabe, U of T alumna and current festival director of WOTS, chatted about the importance of the festival, and why it’s such a great opportunity for U of T students: “I think the core of what we are has remained the same and true over time, and it’s a simple message — that we support books and magazines, and promote Canadian authors and literacy,” she explained.

“People love to have that chance to both browse different small publishers, books, connect directly with authors in that exhibit or marketplace, as well as to meet authors that otherwise they wouldn’t necessarily have the chance to.” With a carnival-like atmosphere, the festival not only gives its attendees an unparalleled spread of the best of Canadian literature, but is also important in supporting smaller publishers and booksellers, and emerging authors.

Since its inception in 1990, WOTS has been a staple of the fall season in Toronto, with a smorgasbord of genres and events to suit everyone’s taste in literature. WOTS is proof of Toronto’s love of reading, having grown from a mere 40,000 in attendance on Queen West to a national festival dedicated to celebrating Canadian literature. “I guess you can say the word has gotten out, and people love it!” laughed Kanabe. What started out as a glorified book fair has expanded to include programming to engage with festivalgoers, where authors participate in thematic discussions.

“For example, this year our “This is Not Shakespeare” stage, which is focused on teen audiences, has a panel discussion called We Found Love in a Hopeless Place, and it’s looking at these fun love stories from different authors and how that plays in different themes today,” Kanabe explained. While this has been an ongoing initiative, new this year is Toronto Poetry Slam’s Guerilla Spoken Word, as well as a partnership with Moleskine to feature original journal content from authors such as Joseph Boyden, on sale in the Map Room at Hart House.

With Canada’s proximity to the United States, it’s often difficult for us to see our country a separate publishing industry, however promoting Canadian authors and publications is the mission at the very heart of WOTS. As Kanabe relates, “Our mandate is to present 100 per cent Canadian authors and I don’t think you’ll find that almost anywhere else, and definitely not at this scale.” With over 200 authors presenting their works at the festival this year alone, WOTS aims to reserve a quarter of its exhibit space for small presses, independent authors and writing associations in order to support emerging artists. “We’ve taken pride in being one of the first places for Joseph Boyden to platform his work, and now look where he’s come!” exclaimed Kanabe.

For students, WOTS is the perfect way to engage with the literary and academic world in Canada, according to Kanabe. “Some of my fondest memories are getting together with my friends and having my Sunday at WOTS, and because it’s around Queen’s Park Circle, it just felt like a part of being a student and part of expanding our vocabulary and getting a feel for what it meant to be an academic in Canada.” However, even though the festival is right on campus, most U of T students are unaware of its occurrence, due to the fact that it takes place at the very start of term, and classes are just beginning to heat up. “That’s really interesting — perhaps we need to get some professors on board!” said Kanabe. “It’s both the best Canadian literature coming out for the fall, but there are also such great discounts on magazine subscriptions and other publications that you might otherwise not find, and those are the gems that are such a great part of your development as a student.”

Even though, as students, we tend to shy away from reading much more than courses require in the heat of the school year, WOTS offers a wonderful opportunity to rectify that. “It’s tough, but I think the people who inspired me when I was a student were my peers that read above and beyond. Those are the ones that really brought different things and new perspectives to the classroom.”

When asked what her must-see event at this year’s festival was, Kanabe gushed, “I think it would be Joseph Boyden because he is such an amazing author and The Orenda (Boyden’s latest book), has gotten such great reviews — I think he is where Canadian literature is at, and I feel like he completely reflects that sense of being Canadian that we’re all searching for as university students.”

Book Review: Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl

Rainbow Rowell has her finger on the pulse of every eighteen-year-old female nerd girl in North America, and she has managed to turn that insight into a touching new novel, Fangirl. The novel tells the story of a college freshman whose fanfiction about Simon Snow (a series identical to Harry Potter in every way except in name) is legendary online.

FANGIRL_CoverDec2012Many people — adults and teens alike — have been scared away by the intense fan communities that exist on fan fiction websites and blogging platforms. Ms. Rowell, however, has managed to tell the story of one such intense fan with incredible heart. As it turns out, Cath, an English major who can write about boys but doesn’t know how to look them in the eye, is just as relatable as any protagonist, Internet culture notwithstanding. Her coming-of-age story is funny and relatable — whether or not you ship Simon/Baz.