An estimated 7,000 people crowded into the Church St neighbourhood on Aug 26 for what is being described as the first queer literary festival of its kind to be held anywhere in the world.
Church St was closed to traffic between Gloucester and Alexander streets to make room for the festival, called Writing Outside the Margins.
The event was produced and sponsored by Xtra in partnership with the Church-Wellesley Business Improvement Area.
Author Patrick Califia, whose books include Macho Sluts, Mortal Companion and Speaking Sex to Power: The Politics of Queer Sex, journeyed from San Francisco to read at the event.
Califia joked that he would never expect to see San Francisco’s Castro St closed down for an event like Writing Outside the Margins.
“I think it’s really exciting that it’s honouring the written and the spoken word,” says Califia. “When I came out the first place I headed to find out about my sexuality was the library and thank god there were librarians who were opposed to censorship and kept whatever minimal sources of information there were. It’s through the printed page, through the written word that we know about the folks that have gone on before us and it’s the way that we leave a little trail of breadcrumbs for the new folks to follow. It’s invaluable just for that reason alone.
“We’re still seeing so many independent bookstores go under, so many small publishers going out of business because they aren’t able to sustain any kind of decent profit margin,” says Califa. “With the advent of the internet and festivals like Writing Outside the Margins, it’s become even more crucial to get your voice heard. Being surrounded by so many like-minded people carries so many immediate responses and rewards.”
Nalo Hopkinson, who teaches at the Humber School for Writers, read from her latest novel The New Moon’s Arms.
“It’s summer, it’s out on the street and it’s a street full of queers having fun,” she says. “You can let your hair down and there are books. How much more perfect could it be?”
James St James, who wowed the audience with his animated reading from his latest novel Freak Show, made his first trip to Toronto.
“I’m from LA and nobody reads in LA,” he says, “so to actually have people reading and coming and listening to novels, it’s pretty exciting. And the boys are just gorgeous!”
The authors were just as excited to meet each other and swap work stories as they were to meet their fans, the readers.
“It’s a good-looking crowd and a smart crowd, that’s for sure,” says Dan Bazuin, of Church St bookstore This Ain’t the Rosedale Library. “It’s fantastic to see this combination of people out on the street and for its first year I think it’s a really successful turnout.”
“I’m loving the fact that it feels like we’re starting something new and it’s great that we’ve got such an impressive lineup of people,” says Stephanie Creede, whose alter ego is burlesque dancer Scarlet Sylphide who performed at the events’ gala party. “It’s such a good feeling to take this first step. I’m running around trying to hear everything and talk to people I’ve admired for a long time.”
“I’m running totally on adrenaline right now but I’m loving it,” says Xtra’s community relations manager and event organizer Adrienne DeFrancesco. “I really wanted to break down barriers and it’s exceeded my expectations. It’s so tremendous to have such a diverse collection of people and genres of writing and see the passersby engaging in all of it.”
Engaging on so many levels among so many readers and writers and even watchers is really what made Writing Outside the Margins so successful.
Califia sums it up best: “I think it’s through a more collective process, a more community- orientated process that we can actually help each other,” he says. “I look toward all the people who are carrying on important aspects of this work. There’s a whole generation of smart queer writers in their 20s and 30s who are just amazing.”