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Guide: 7 virtual book events

An illustration of the article title

The upside to Canada’s book festivals being driven online during COVID-19: every ticket is more accessible, despite geography. For the Nova Scotian writer who wants to hone their craft at Calgary’s When Words Collide or the B.C. librarian planning to bring their virtual reading club to Ontario’s Forest of Reading Festival, 2021 is the perfect opportunity to dip into events that aren’t usually just a click away. Here are seven festivals to stream this summer.

Photos of three authors appearing at the Frye Festival

Souvankham Thammavongsa, David A. Robertson, Francesca Ekwuyasi

Frye Festival

Frye.ca April 16–25

The bilingual Moncton, New Brunswick, festival is the largest literary event in Atlantic Canada.

Who’s on? Fifty-seven authors – including Francesca Ekwuyasi (Butter Honey Pig Bread) and Amber Dawn (My Art Is Killing Me) – will participate in panel discussions. They’ll also be paired in one-on-one conversations: David A. Robertson (The Barren Grounds) joins Souvankham Thammavongsa (How to Pronounce Knife) and Shani Mootoo (Polar Vortex) speaks with Carol Bruneau (Brighten the Corner Where You Are). Author and activist Lee Maracle will deliver the annual Maillet-Frye Lecture.

Highlights Storytelling and virtual chats will be held on the festival’s YouTube channel alongside videos of students who participated in Frye’s youth program showing off their writing, drawing, and music.

How to register All programming is free and will be available on the @FryeMoncton YouTube channel.

Photos of two authors appearing at the Forest of Reading Festival

Michelle Kadarusman, Brian Francis

Forest of Reading Festival

ForestOfReadingFestival.ca May 18–20

The Ontario Library Association’s annual kid-voted book awards have expanded their virtual programming to engage students across the country. This year, teachers, librarians, and parents can register on behalf of their junior book enthusiasts, allowing them to vote for their favourite nominated book and participate in festival sessions.

Who’s on? More than 140 nominated authors and illustrators will attend, including picture-book authors Danny Ramadan (Salma the Syrian Chef), Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali (The Proudest Blue); middle-grade novelists Michelle Kadarusman (Music for Tigers) and Heather Fawcett (Ember and the Ice Dragons); and YA novelists Tanaz Bhathena (Hunted by the Sky) and Q&Q columnist Brian Francis (Break in Case of Emergency), with Canada Reads’ Ali Hassan hosting.

Highlights In addition to nine awards ceremonies to crown favourite books as voted by kids across age brackets, this year will also include author interviews, panel discussions, and illustrator events. The virtual world has prompted a record number of public librarians to sign up, as they partner with schools to provide support and look for new ways to engage their patrons from home.

How to register Registration is now open on the Forest of Reading festival website. Tickets are $20 for Ontario Library Association members and $35 for non-members. The award ceremonies will be public and held on the CBC’s educational streaming service, Curio.ca. All other content is open to registered users at forestofreading.com.

Illustrated poster of Toronto Comic Arts Festival

Toronto Comic Arts Festival

TorontoComics.com May 8–15

This celebration of comics expands from a weekend to an entire week of on-demand programming. Organizers say elements of the virtual festival, such as inviting guests virtually or archiving events on video, will continue long after mass vaccination.

Who’s on? Among the 600 (!) headliners are Jeff Smith (Bone, RASL), Nagata Kabi (My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness), and Q&Q cover artist Cole Pauls (Pizza Punks), who also designed TCAF’s poster (above).

Highlights The virtual marketplace features books, zines, exclusive work, and ephemera for purchase from artists. To recreate the hum of the festival floor, TCAF suggests following along on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram using the hashtags #TCAF and #TCAF2021, where organizers promise interactive activities.

How to register All events are free. Registration for limited-capacity events, such as workshops and professional development seminars, will open in mid- to late April.

Tanya Boteju holds a mug

Tanya Boteju (Greg Elhers)


mtlyafest.com May 23

The Montreal festival, organized by the Jewish Public Library, connects fans with their favourite young adult authors.

Who’s on? Around 30 speakers will appear, including Dhonielle Clayton (COO of We Need Diverse Books), Sarah Mlynowski (the fractured fairy-tales series Whatever After), and Tanya Boteju (roller derby coming-of-age novel Bruised).

Highlights Author panels will be divided into themes such as genre, representation and inclusion, debuts, series writing, and “tough topics.” Workshops will help aspiring writers with world and character building, how to get published, and editing.

How to register Tickets are available on the festival website with a suggested donation of $10 or pay what you can. Events will be held on Zoom, with links provided to ticket holders; additional programming will stream on the @mtlyafest Instagram.

Photos of two authors appearing at The Festival of Literary Diversity

Ian Williams, andrea bennett

The Festival of Literary Diversity

TheFoldCanada.org  May 1–15

The Brampton, Ontario, literary festival that represents the underrepresented will hold its second virtual lineup with an unprecedented 40 events and 60 authors – twice as many as usual.

Who’s on? Authors from Canada and around the world on the FOLD line-up include Liberal MP Marci Ien, journalist and essayist andrea bennett, Giller winner Ian Williams, and the best laugh in the business, Trickster author Eden Robinson.

Highlights Panel topics include Big and Beautiful Bodies, hosted by author and editor Christina Myers; Writers on Love & Longing, hosted by romance author Farah Heron; and a two-part panel called Writers on Community & Isolation. The annual Writers’ Hub has been reimagined as a two-hour virtual event with publishers and literary organizations offering industry advice on publishing and promotion to writers. A virtual lounge will allow panellists to recreate the mix-and-mingle magic of the traditional festival.

How to register Registration is now open. A pass to all 40 events is $39 and includes the option to replay the sessions through May 30.

Harold R. Johnson

Saskatchewan Festival of Words

FestivalOfWords.com July 15–18

For its 25th anniversary, the Moose Jaw literary festival will feature prominent local venues and businesses as backdrops for some of its virtual events.

Who’s on? The slate of 21 authors includes Harold Johnson (Cry Wolf) and Jael Richardson (Gutter Child). The full list will be announced at the end of April.

Highlights Live workshops, pre-recorded panels, and live Q&As with authors will stream on YouTube and be available on the Festival of Words website as podcasts after the event. Beyond virtual talks, festivalgoers can gather through book clubs, workshops, and a concert. Plus a live chat will simmer all weekend long on an interactive website.

How to register Registration opens at the end of April for free programming and an affordable pass to all festival sessions. Free events will be hosted primarily on YouTube, in addition to some ticketed Zoom sessions.

Photos of two authors appearing at When Words Collide

When Words Collide

WhenWordsCollide.org Aug. 13–15

The Calgary festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary with 10 or more concurrent sessions running every hour throughout the weekend.

Who’s on? There are more than 250 presenters including mystery writer Cathy Ace; paranormal romance and YA fantasy novelist Michelle Rowen; and Indigo’s category manager for Western Canadian authors, Dave Reynolds.

Highlights Panels cover eclectic topics such as how parents and teachers can nurture young writers, the craft of writing metaphorically, and a medical investigator’s take on approaching a suspicious death for crime novel enthusiasts. The festival will also hold a pitch session with agents and acquisition editors, one-on-one manuscript reviews with editors, an online art show, book market, and casual gatherings on Zoom hosted by groups such as Editors Canada, Crime Writers of Canada, and SF Canada.

How to register Registration for free programming will be completed through the festival website. Advance sign-up for certain sessions  will open in July.

Update, Apr. 20: This story has been updated from the May print version to reflect that Forest of Reading’s awards ceremonies are now free.