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Word on the Street Toronto breaks out of one-day festival program, kicking off with civic-issues series

Shawn Micallef, Thea Lim, Nora Loreto, and Shree Paradkar

Word on the Street Toronto is extending its virtual programming across the summer and beyond the scope of the one-day fall book festival for which it is best known.

WOTS executive director David Alexander says, “We’ve been talking about it for a long time. I’m really happy that we we have the opportunity to to spread things out a little bit more without having to negotiate a couple dozen different venues for summer and fall events.”

First up is an expansion of last year’s one-day City Imagines talk into a broader look at civic issues. “We wanted to take the scope a little bit wider so that it’s not just focused strictly on urbanism,” says Alexander. “This year, the theme is how books shape cities.”

The free online series kicks off tonight with Toronto Star columnist and author Shawn Micallef moderating a discussion with Thea Lim, Nora Loreto, and Shree Paradkar on the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic in Canada, and how it measures up to the country’s purported values. Future events include a talk on July 20 with Dr. Karen K. Lee on her book Fit Cities: My Quest to Improve the World’s Health and Wellness–Including Yours, and on July 27, FOLD executive director Jael Richardson will discuss “Black Alchemy: How Our Stories Transform Cities and Spaces” with Drew Brown, Jay Pitter, and Eternity Martis.

There are events planned for September with former Toronto mayor David Miller, whose new book, Solved: How the World’s Great Cities Are Fixing the Climate Crisis, comes out this fall with University of Toronto Press, and chef Joshna Maharaj on her book, Take Back The Tray: Revolutionizing Food in Hospitals, Schools, and Other Institutions, published by ECW Press. Also in the works is an online summer camp for young readers, with partnership details to be announced in the next few weeks.

Alexander expects that September will be a busy month culminating in what would traditionally be the large street fair at Harbourfront Centre on the weekend of Sept. 26–27. The physical fair was cancelled in June. Plans are also coming together for virtual cooking demos (under the punny title WOTS for Dinner) and a partnership with other Canadian lit festivals.

While not all the details are confirmed for the festival weekend, including the fate of the vendor marketplace, Alexander says WOTS will continue its programming partnership with the City of Toronto and Diaspora Dialogues. Expect a digital kids’ “stage” and a couple streams dedicated to adult readers, including a focus on science fiction and fantasy.

“We’re still fine-tuning exactly how much content we’ll do, but our expectation at this point is that we’ll have three streams of content running simultaneously during the festival weekend itself, which I think is a lot more than most of the other festivals are planning to do,” says Alexander. “We really take seriously our place in the literary community as being able to bring together more writers and to showcase a large number of people writing in different forms and from different perspectives.”