WordFest pushes the boundaries of a traditional literary festival

WHOANDWHAT in Calgary on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. WHYANDMORE. (Photo by Kelsey Zeoli/The Press)

WHOANDWHAT in Calgary on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. WHYANDMORE. (Photo by Kelsey Zeoli/The Press)

There’s a reason WordFest calls itself a “reader’s festival,” rather than a writer’s festival – because it is unequivocally and unabashedly for the readers.

Whether you’re a fan of young adult fantasies, gripping murder mysteries, scathing social commentary or engrossing historical fiction, this year’s WordFest will boldly point any book lover towards something unputdownable.

“What’s great about this year’s festival, from my perspective, is that it’s really, really showcasing the incredible originality, diversity and fierceness of a new generation of writers,” said Shelley Youngblut, WordFest’s general director.

“So, if you’re saying, ‘Who’s the next Margaret Atwood? Who’s the next Stephen King? Who’s the next Neil Gaiman?’ We’ve got them.”

With Youngblut at the helm, WordFest is breaking even further out of the box for its 21st year, featuring events such as the Literary Death Match, Crawlspace, a one-woman staged reading and panels on politics, civil discourse in an age of extremes, feminism, diversity and inclusivity.

Newbies to the festival should “use the late night events as their entry drug,” advised Youngblut.

This year’s newest late night event is the Naughty Bits Read-a-Thon, where writers read “not-safe-for-work” selections from either their own published work, or that of another author’s. There’s even a trophy for the juiciest reading.

The Adult Spelling Bee, which was so popular last year that it’s been upgraded to a bigger venue, features celebrity guest spellers, who, with each misspelled word, are required to remove an item of clothing.

The Literary Death Match is also a fan favourite, wherein four authors compete in front of a panel of judges by reading the most gripping and exhilarating selection of their work.

Author C.C. Humphreys, whose latest novel, Fire, is a thriller set during the great fire of London, will be one of the competing authors in this year’s Literary Death Match.

Humphreys is no stranger to WordFest, nor to Calgary, having performed throughout the ‘90s in numerous theatrical productions in the city. He said his history of treading the boards could be his winning strategy in the Literary Death Match.

“I write quite dramatic stuff, so I think because I’m an actor, I can give it a dramatic spin. Whether it’s drama the judges are looking for, I don’t know. But I’m feeling fairly confident.”

Humphreys said he hasn’t yet decided on a passage to read, but he has a wide range of material to choose from.

“I was thinking about that today, how far back into my cannon of work do I want to go? Do I want to go really dark, and dig into Vlad the Impaler? Or do I want to go lighter? So I’m tempted to do my new young adult book, The Hunt of the Dragon,” said Humphreys.

“I wrote my first rap for the book. So I’m wondering if I should do a rap from the point of view of a two-headed snake. The only problem is that I am a 60-year-old Englishman, so I’m not sure how good my rap would be.”

Karen Hines, another guest artist at this year’s WordFest, will also be using the stage as her medium, in a one-woman staged reading called Crawlspace.

Based on “a story she originally wrote for Swerve magazine, about buying the smallest house in an up-and-coming neighbourhood,” said Youngblut. “It was about an artist, trying to be an adult, trying to do the right, responsible thing, and it all goes horribly, horribly wrong.”

No matter what your tastes, whether you’re impatiently waiting for the next George R.R. Martin tome, or lamenting the fact that there are simply no more shades of grey, every reader is guaranteed to find their next literary fix at WordFest.

“You can come for the art, which is all the emerging writers, you can come for the fun, which is all the late night stuff, or you can come for the issues, said Youngblut. “You won’t see these authors anywhere else.”

WordFest runs until Oct. 16 at various venues throughout Calgary. For tickets or more information, please visit: www.wordfest.com

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