2 min

The Word On The Street’s LGBT history

Toronto’s annual book and magazine fair has always been a bit queer

Credit: Word on the Street

Since 1990, The Word On The Street has been celebrating the written word and advocating for literacy across the country. The book and magazine festival has changed and evolved since its inception, racking up a long list of awards that includes the highly sought-after Canadian Event Industry Award’s Best Festival Star Award in 2012.  It has also grown to include communities nationwide, including, Halifax, Saskatoon, Lethbridge, Kitchener and Toronto — the publishing capital of Canada.

The impact of The Word On The Street on audiences across Canada is huge. In 2013 alone, an estimated 270,000 visitors participated in the festival in 440 events, featuring 650 authors and performers. This year’s festival boasts 130 events with almost 200 authors across 16 venues.

The Word On The Street also has a rich history of integrating the LGBT community in its operations. The festival has made a conscious effort to be inclusive of queer writers, facilitating a platform for authors each year to reach wider audiences.

“We represent highlighting authors that are from the community as well as books that include relevant themes in young adult and adult stages,” says festival director Heather Kanabe.

The Word On The Street has acquired an impressive roster of queer writers this year, including writer and activist Shawn Syms, Sri Lankan author Shyam Selvadurai, who wrote Funny Boy — compulsory reading in the Canadian queer canon — and Dionne Brand, who won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and was Toronto’s poet laureate from 2009–2012.

The festival also contributes to the health of small businesses. Kanabe says inviting LGBT exhibitors from communities nationwide has been an important aspect of the festival’s diversity.

“We’d been wary of joining Word on the Street,” says Scott Dagostino, manager of Glad Day Bookshop.

“Happily, though, our first appearance last year made a small profit, as we sold a healthy mix of great new releases and bargain classics. Even the rain that day held off for the hours in the midday so we were delighted. Next month, we’ll be back bigger and better.”

Kanabe says she is excited for what this year’s festival has to offer. For the first time, The Word On The Street will be held at the Harbourfront Centre. The new venue allows for new programming opportunities, including author cruises.

“These boat rides featuring author readings will leave every 90 minutes on the tall ship, Kajama. For the cost of a ride, participants can enjoy a number of fantastic authors including Lynn Crosbie with Where Did You Sleep Last Night which features a character who seems to be Kurt Cobain reincarnated in another man’s body, identifying as Celine.”