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Q&A with Word on the Street’s new national director, Nicola Dufficy

After three years as festival director for Word on the Street Toronto, Nicola Dufficy has moved into the role of WOTS’s national director. As part of her new position, which she started in February, Dufficy now oversees festivals in Halifax, Toronto, Kitchener, Saskatoon, and Lethbridge. This year’s event takes place Sept. 22.

Dufficy was a poet and high school teacher in her native Australia, but made the transition to community-arts administration in 2009 when she was hired as children’s events coordinator at Toronto’s McNally Robinson Booksellers.

How has your role changed at WOTS? I’m now responsible for helping coordinate five WOTS festivals at the national level. I’m not involved in their day-to-day operations, but I’m responsible for making sure that the festivals are compliant with the mandate of WOTS, organizing national partnerships, and creating that sense of cohesion between the festival cities.

Do you have a sense of how WOTS is integrated into publishers’ marketing plans? It’s an important date on the publishers’ calendars because it’s their opportunity to come face to face with the community who are going to be buying their books. For smaller publishers, it’s a no brainer: that sense of brand becomes really important. I noticed in the last few years that some of the larger publishers at WOTS Toronto have begun to change their publication dates to coincide with the festival. That shift indicates that we have an impact on the sales and promotion of fall books.

How do each of the cities handle programming? We all have the same goal to promote Canadian books, but each festival is given the freedom to program in a way that reflects the city’s unique flavour. In Halifax, for instance, their festival is right on the waterfront, and they have readings for children on Theodore Tugboat. Canada is diverse, so you want to offer something that fits the particular community.

Will WOTS expand to other cities? It’s definitely one of our goals. We are talking with different communities to see what we can make happen. We need to make sure that, in adding new festivals, we’re creating a stronger organization rather than taking away from the other festivals.

Are there specific challenges you hope to address within WOTS? One of the main challenges is funding “ to make sure we’re able to offer an event that is free and accessible. We offer more programming in one day than many of the multi-day ticketed events. We do pay our authors professional speaking rates according to the Canada Council for the Arts, because even though we’re a non-profit organization, we don’t want to sit back and ask people to do us favours. Part of our role is respecting the artistry of authors, and making sure we’re treating them as professionals.