Wordfest™ is a not-for-profit organization that brings readers and writers together to experience the power of story through accessible and engaging programming in Calgary, Banff and the Bow Valley.
Wordfest hosts year-round literary events in Calgary, Banff and Bow Valley featuring the world’s best writers. Over 850 writers have presented at these events over the past 19 years. Festival authors have included Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland, John Irving, Chuck Palahniuk, Richard Ford, Alexander McCall Smith and David Suzuki.
The Festival: October 14-19, 2014
Wordfest’s main event is a literary festival that features upwards of 70 writers from the local, national and international stage. The Festival has approximately 60 separate events and attracts an audience of over 15,000. Some events also offer programming in multiple languages such as French and Spanish. Festival events take place across Calgary and in Banff through founding production partner, The Banff Centre.
In addition to the annual Festival, Wordfest hosts various events throughout the year. They include poetry and spoken word performances, current event panels, publishing industry workshops, youth and multilingual programming and marquee showcases that feature the biggest and brightest stars of the book scene. They often include music, visuals and technology.
Book Rapport: October 14-17, 2014
First Calgary Financial Book Rapport is a popular youth and education program that brings students together with authors to stimulate literacy and encourage a love of reading and writing. As part of its commitment to youth literacy, Wordfest also created the Book Buddies program, which subsidizes literary events for high-needs and at-risk youth. Wordfest supports accessibility and engagement for readers of all ages.
The initial seed for Wordfest was planted in 1995 when The Banff Centre, interested in profiling its Writing and Publishing programs, sponsored the Hospitality Suite at The Vancouver International Writers Festival. Don Stein, then Associate Director, Planning for The Banff Centre, established a relationship with the Writers Guild of Alberta and a number of other interested parties, to explore the realities of establishing a Banff-Calgary International Writers Festival.
Wordfest was established in 1996 as a project of The Banff Centre, Calgary Public Library, Mount Royal University and The Writers Guild of Alberta. The Banff Centre then approached respected arts professional Anne Green to develop the Festival and create an independent entity. The annual Festival would take place in October and feature international, national and local writers.
Founding Festival Director Anne Green programmed the first Wordfest, featuring 50 writers and two dozen events, taking place over four days. The 1996 lineup featured Margaret Atwood, Roch Carrier, Wayson Choy, Tomson Highway, Paul Quarrington and Sheri-D Wilson.
In 1997, Wordfest was incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation. This year also marked the inaugural Summit Salon, hosted by The Banff Centre. The Summit Salon was an exclusive writer retreat immediately following Wordfest and preceding the Vancouver International Writers Festival.
Over 15 years Wordfest has presented many notable and world-renowned writers, such as Margaret Atwood, Louis de Bernières, Wayson Choy, Douglas Coupland, Roddy Doyle, Richard Ford, Diana Gabaldon, Rawi Hage, Tomson Highway, Nancy Huston, John Irving, Barbara Kingsolver, Dany Laferrière, Alexander McCall Smith, Annie Proulx, Mordecai Richler and David Suzuki.
The Festival has grown over the years to attract over 15,000 people to a six day festival that features over 70 writers in more than 60 events. Wordfest also includes a celebrated youth education program, First Calgary Financial Book Rapport, and the dedicated French-language component Festival des mots. In addition to the annual Festival in October, Wordfest now also presents events throughout the year.
In 2010, Founding Festival Director Anne Green introduced Festival audiences to incoming Director Jo Steffens. The 16th annual Wordfest was the first under Steffens’ artistic guidance and continued the rich tradition of world-class and ground-breaking literary arts programming.
While honoring the mandate of the Festival and continuing its legacy, Executive Director Jo Steffens has since launched new programming elements that encourage audiences to think differently about how books and literature can be experienced.
Since 2011, the Festival has presented a series of art installations and rich-media experiences around Calgary each year during Wordfest under the title, Word Projects. Past examples have ranged from radio-play adaptations of short stories by Festival artists and a looped audio exhibition inside a shipping container, to projections of letraset art on the Calgary Tower and poetry on outdoor digital billboards.
Steffens has also successfully introduced alternative and experimental event formats into the Wordfest program. The Festival has leveraged partnerships with local, national and international arts organizations to offer unique programming that involves Festival writers in unscripted storytelling events; film and short-animation screenings about books and literary topics; curated presentations of essays inspired by online videos; and friendly competitions in which writers improvise a performance of their writing on-stage. These program innovations and others are designed to broaden the audience for the Festival and to foster an appreciation of the variety of forms in which the literary arts can be experienced.
Wordfest’s annual literary festival brings thousands of people of all ages together to share a love of reading and writing. This celebration of the written word connects Calgarians to worlds beyond their imagination and events beyond their experience. There is nothing more powerful than a story well told and it is through reading that we are exposed to new ideas that help us understand the world around us. Wordfest is a non-profit, charitable organization committed to promoting a culture of reading and storytelling.
Jo Steffens, a Calgary native, returned home from the United States to take the Director position at Wordfest in 2010. Steffens moved from New York, NY, where she was a curator at The Municipal Art Society (MAS) and director of their bookstore. Steffens founded the Independent Booksellers of New York City with Sarah McNally. She also brings a depth of experience in new technologies and their application to the literary arts. Steffens has launched a series of books based on one of her MAS exhibits. Unpacking My Library, Architects and Their Books (Yale University Press) is the first book of the photographic series that has gone on to look inside the libraries of writers and artists.
Photo Credit: Monique de St. Croix