Read the North Episode 5: The Readers and Writers

6 June 2022 / by Quinton Bradshaw
A woodcut illustration of hands holding a book, under the title text "Read the North"

In the series finale, we return to the beating heart of the festival. Thank you to our community of book lovers and authors who make The Word On The Street such a special place to connect with each other. 

Hosted by Rebecca Diem
Produced by Quinton Bradshaw
Music by James Ellercamp

Special thanks to Waubgeshig Rice, Jael Richardson, Jesse Wente, Maria Zuppardi, Peggy Nash, Jen Albert, and David P. Leonard. 

Reading List:

Moon of the Crusted Snow – Waubgeshig Rice
I Am Woman – Lee Maracle
Gutter Child – Jael Richardson
Unreconciled – Jesse Wente
Women Winning Office – Peggy Nash

Presented by The Word On The Street & CJRU 1280AM, with support from the Community Radio Fund of Canada. 

Episode Transcript:

Rebecca Diem: On June 11th and 12th, The Word On The Street Toronto is returning to the streets for the first time in three years. Today, Quinton and I are here at Queen’s Park. 

[sounds of a city park, with distant traffic and sounds of children playing]

Rebecca Diem: Right now, we’re on the east side of the, kind of, horseshoe shape of the festival. So this is gonna be where KidStreet is. So we’re gonna have the Kids’ Activity Zone and the Kids’ Literature stage. Then some more stages… Indie Alley is gonna be here before it curves up toward the north branch—towards Bloor. 

[street and park sounds fade out]

Rebecca Diem: In less than a week, this space will be filled with volunteers setting up tents, publishers and exhibitors unloading books, and authors preparing to read their work on our stages. Almost everything you need for a festival will be there. Everything, except… well, except for you: the Readers! 

I’m Rebecca Diem. I’m the Digital Strategy & Communications Manager for The Word On The Street, a festival celebrating Canadian and Indigenous writing in Toronto, or Tkaronto. And for the last time, this is Read the North – a series exploring CanLit, brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood book festival.

[theme music – ambient indie/electronic by composer James Ellercamp]

When you’re planning a book festival, you can be one hundred percent prepared – you can have all the maps and permits and schedules – but ultimately, if no one shows up, there’s no festival. WOTS wouldn’t be running 33 years strong if it weren’t for the community of writers and readers that shows up year after year. 

[Reflective scoring begins] 

And it’s strange, with the festival coming back from the virtual realm, to be preparing to welcome authors and readers into this space once again. Because, as I noted in the first episode, at one point we weren’t sure if there would ever BE a WOTS festival again. 

So today, we’re wrapping up our five-episode odyssey through the CanLit industry, with the people who make this festival what it is: The Readers and the Writers. 

First, writers ARE readers. And while not every reader dreams of seeing their own books on the shelf, every writer I’ve spoken to has a variation of that dream that they’ve made reality. 

As we’ve explored throughout the series, CanLit is a complex ecosystem. While there are lots of supports in the industry for writers trying to make it, those can be complicated to navigate. And they certainly haven’t always been equally accessible to all communities. For many writers, the most powerful support they’ve had in navigating the system has come from informal community networks they’ve built, and the mentors who’ve lifted them up along the way.   

[Reflective scoring fades out]    

Rebecca Diem: So to begin, I was wondering if you could introduce yourself and your connection to the industry.

Waubgeshig Rice: Sure. My name is Waubgeshig Rice. I live in Sudbury, Ontario. I’m originally from Wasauksing First Nation. I’m a published author of three fiction titles. And my connection to the industry is quite varied. I’m a grant recipient, I’m a published author, I’m a podcaster. And I sit on various boards and groups related to the publishing industry, like the Writer’s Union of Canada, and I’m involved with the Writer’s Trust as well. 

Rebecca Diem: Waubgeshig is involved with a number of organisations that work hard to support writers and clearly believes there’s value in that work. But in his own path into the industry, the influences that loom the largest are the Indigenous writers who offered mentorship, in all sorts of ways. 

Rebecca Diem: I wanted to start with asking about some of the major influences, for your work, any people in particular that you feel kind of, you know, set the tone for your entrance into the industry as an author in particular? 

Waubgeshig Rice: Oh, yeah. Some very influential and resourceful Indigenous authors helped me sort of break into the industry and really learn the ins and outs of not just publishing itself, but you know, arts funding, various community groups that promote literacy and just writing opportunities. So, early on, when I lived in Toronto, in my, I guess, mid-20s, I got to know about various granting programs through various Indigenous artists that I knew in Toronto, not specifically authors, but you know, musicians, visual artists, and so on. But by the time I moved to Winnipeg, in the late 2000s, sort of in my late-20s, I got to know a lot of Indigenous authors there who were part of what was then called the Aboriginal Writers Collective of Manitoba. So people like Jordan Wheeler, Katharina Vermette, Rosanna Deerchild, Trevor Greyeyes, and so on. And when I got there, I sort of sought out, you know, like-minded writers, people who I could learn from, and this was a free organization, grassroots, that met regularly, just to share their writing. 

And I think being involved with them really inspired me to try to become a published author. Because, you know, by that point, there was no straight line for me to understand how I could do that, even though it had been a dream of mine for a really long time. So getting to know those people was really awesome for me, in just, you know, building confidence, trying to learn a little bit about the industry, but mostly just figuring out, you know, what my voice was and how community could support that. And then as you know my writing career started building a little bit, I got to know some other established Indigenous authors like Jordan Wheeler, Richard VanCamp, Richard Wagamese, eventually Lee Maracle, and those people really supported me and guided me on, you know, my fledgling journey. 

And I think having people from similar backgrounds show me the way was hugely influential. And I’m not sure I would have gotten to the point that I’m at now, without that guidance and support, from, you know, these Indigenous aunties and uncles that I had within the publishing industry, you know? So it was entirely outside of any mainstream route, or educational program or anything else like that, right? It was grassroots people who really guided me on that path. And I think those kinds of efforts are really unsung in a lot of ways within the Canadian publishing industry. And especially for people from the so-called margins, right, like Indigenous and Black authors. 

Rebecca Diem: For people seeking mentors, the term “mentorship” can sound kind of formal and intimidating. Like, what, you’re just going to go up to someone and ask them to be your mentor? I mean, in some cases, yes, actually, people do do that. But I think Waubgeshig’s experience shows that it doesn’t have to be that formal. 

Waubgeshig Rice: So these were people, again, I mentioned them already, like Richard Wagamese, Lee Maracle, Richard VanCamp, Cherie Dimaline, those people especially, you know, and, and it wasn’t always direct instruction. It was community building in that they invited me into their circles, you know, and they cleared a space for me, and ensured that I was empowered to be myself in those spaces, to proudly proclaim who I was as an Anishinaabe author, and storyteller, you know. And so, I have so many stories of what those people did for me. Like, Richard Wagamese, for example, he reached out to me out of the blue after my first book was published, Midnight Sweat Lodge. It’s a collection of short stories that came out through Theytus Books in 2011. 

You know, I looked up to him all through my teenage years, and in my 20s, as one of these seminal authors, as an Anishinaabe storyteller who spoke our truths in the literary realm. And he, out of the blue, emailed me a few months after my book came out to introduce himself, to say, you know, I’m Richard Wagamese and, you know, I received the email, and I was like, Yeah, no kidding, I know who you are, you know? Like, really, really mind blowing for me at the time to get that email. But he wanted to ensure that I knew he was there for me, you know, he said, it’s great to have another Anishinaabe author being published, if there’s anything you ever need from me, don’t hesitate to reach out. And we hadn’t even met in person by that point. But there are other things he did for me too, like one of the first times I went to the Festival of Authors in Toronto, it was one of my first big literary events, you know, and I was, I was kind of nervous, but mostly unsure of what to expect of the whole environment there. 

But he knew I was gonna be there. And I knew he was going to be there too. And as soon as I arrived, he said, Hey, let’s go down to the lobby to get a coffee. And this is at the Westin in Toronto. And he took a table at the very outskirts of the cafe in the lobby there, right, so, you know, near the front door, so we could see people coming in and out. And there were authors, all these, you know, renowned figures in the literary world, coming through the door, and he would, you know, flag them, say, Hey, come over, you know, meet Waubgeshig, and, you know, we’d talk and so on. I didn’t realize afterwards that that was his way of sort of letting me down easily into this, into this environment. And it was so comforting to know that that’s what he did for me. And that’s just another example of what things– of what he and people like Richard and Lee did for me. 

[Slow, reflective piano music begins]

Rebecca Diem: The late Lee Maracle is a legendary figure. At this year’s Word On The Street festival, we have a panel called ‘Storming The Stage’ to honour her impact on Indigenous storytelling in Canada. It’s a reference to her appearance at the 1988 Vancouver Writers Festival during the launch year for her collection I Am Woman. Denied an invitation, she took to the stage and grabbed a mic, explained to her audience that this was her original village, and began reading. And there are dozens of stories like this one. 

[Slow, reflective piano music fades out]

Waubgeshig Rice: One story that I think really resonated with me, and I think is, is out there a lot, especially in the wake of her passing, was how she petitioned a publisher to actually publish her work, you know, she – and this was in the 1970s – she went to people in Vancouver and said, if if I can, you know, assemble a list of 5000 people who will read my work, I think that’s, that’s due for publishing. Right? And that was, you know, the equivalent of a bestseller at the time or something like that, right? 

Rebecca Diem: Yeah. Yeah. In Canada, for sure.

Waubgeshig Rice: Yeah. And so that’s how she did it. She’s like, Okay, here’s proof that enough people will buy my book. So publish it for me! You know? So it’s a pretty, like, punk rock kind of thing to do, you know, it’s pretty awesome.

Rebecca Diem: Lee’s persistence and audacity in challenging a close-minded industry opened up space not only for herself, but for so many Indigenous writers who came after her. That’s mentorship, too. 

Mentorship also came up a lot when I spoke with Jael Richardson. She’s a writer, most recently of the novel Gutter Child, and the director of the Festival of Literary Diversity – or the FOLD. Having been through the publishing cycle several times now, she’s experienced the challenges of navigating the editing process in an industry that is still predominantly white. 

Jael Richardson: And I think it’s also too because as a Black woman writing stories about race, I know that my agent and my editor are not Black women. And so there’s a lot of it that’s tricky, too, and that I need to figure things out and wrestle with things on my own. Because I know that their ability to contribute to certain viewpoints is going to be limited. And, and I think they would admit the same thing, and I don’t think I have any problem saying that. So–but yeah, it’s a challenge.

Rebecca Diem: But for support, she’s been able to turn to trusted members of her community for guidance. 

Jael Richardson: I’ve definitely been mentored and definitely been guided and cared for thoughtfully by Lawrence Hill. He’s played a really, like, fundamental role in my life. And even though he’s never, he’s never had one of my books in advance of it coming out and sort of, like, weighed in on the writing work, he’s always been there to sort of check in with, talk to, lean on. And that’s been a really encouraging source of help. And then I’ve had people like Jay Pitter, who–she’s just an amazing human. I mean, just an amazing human, on all counts.

And I would say Jay Pitter, and Canisia Lubrin have been so fundamental in challenging me. Like they are so deeply ingrained in a sense of community, in a sense of language, in a sense of power and responsibility, and all these big things, that when I sit with them for lunch, they don’t have to read my work to shape it dramatically. They’ll say one thing–I’ll say, you know, I’m struggling with this question in this scene, and they don’t even know the whole story. And they’ll just say, okay, but, you know, remember this, and they’ll drop some, like deep, profound wisdom in my life that shapes the entire book. And there’s no way I can even explain to them what that means, but I can see their voice, especially in Gutter Child. And yeah, those are people that have definitely shaped me in that way. 

And then I think in terms of mentorship, the struggle I have is that with FOLD, I don’t have a lot of time to, like, do formal mentorship. But I’d like to think that what I do in terms of mentorship is create space for people to be mentored. And that there are things that FOLD does that somebody will say I found a mentor there, or I was in Pitch Perfect, or I went to the Writers’ Hub. So I’m really trying to think about ways that writers can find mentors, be a part of mentorship experiences, and that, that’s kind of I guess, what, what my mentorship looks like.

Rebecca Diem: Through FOLD, Jael is also creating spaces to ensure that newcomers to the industry are better equipped to tackle the challenges she has faced. Take, for example, the copy editing process, which she’s described as frustrating. Actually, that’s maybe an understatement:

Jael Richardson: I mean, I could do a whole segment on the copy editing process, which I maybe hate. [laughs] But, the thing that really struck me when I was doing my last set of copy edits, was the way in which I felt, and this is gonna sound maybe dramatic, a little, like bullied in the process. Like, it was like, you know, you need to change this sentence, because you can’t start a sentence with a gerund or -ing word, or whatever it was. And I was like, can you explain to me the rule in which this underlines? Because there’s nothing like when I read it, and I’ve taught grammar, like, I’m not coming out of nowhere with these questions, I know the rules of comma use and all these things. 

And the real message, and it came across with a few of them, was sort of like, well, if you do this, people are going to essentially question your intelligence. And it’s stuff like that, that I had to really push to understand what’s the root of this rule and this concern? And then be able to say, No, leave it.

[Upbeat, optimistic scoring begins]

Rebecca Diem: Jael took that frustrating experience and used it to inform her programming, to create a really helpful resource that lots of writers could access. 

Jael Richardson: We did, at the FOLD last year, a copy editing workshop and a workshop on decolonizing editing. And those were really like sort of life-changing workshops for me, even though I’m not an editor. It just really helped me understand some of the challenges I’ve faced in my own experiences with editors and copyeditors. And it just helped me articulate a little bit better what I need and what, what maybe needs to happen. And that I think is the key to change in the future, is that diversity of staff, and that ability to make change in processes that are harmful, and that are currently like an integral part of the industry.

Rebecca Diem: If we’ve learned anything through this series, it’s that CanLit isn’t perfect. Far from it! It’s bogged down with a lot of outdated ideas and systemic biases, and even when there is positive change, it can happen pretty slowly. 

But this series has also made it clear that the industry is full of smart and motivated people that are helping to change it from the inside out. And the support networks that emerge in writing communities are an essential part of that. 

[Upbeat, optimistic scoring ends]

In our previous episode, we spoke to Cory Doctorow about the support and mentorship he received thanks to Judith Merril, and how her work shaped a generation of speculative fiction writers. And we’ve also seen how those chains of mentorship are happening in Indigenous communities and racialized communities. There’s work to be done to ensure that these informal opportunities are made more accessible. But in some ways they offer more flexibility and community-level accountability.

For all the incredible Indigenous authors that came before Waubgeshig, and opened doors for him, there are exponentially more following through behind him. 

Waubgeshig Rice: Obviously very excited by the younger generation of Indigenous authors, especially, who are already renowned in their own rights, but are doing revolutionary things. See, people like Joshua Whitehead, Billy Ray Belcourt, Alicia Elliot, Ariel Twist, just so many brilliant young people who are being themselves and not apologizing whatsoever for who they are as Indigenous people, you know? And I’m just always really encouraged by those efforts, you know. By and large, these are people in their 20s and 30s. And I’m in my early 40s now, so they’re, they’re the younger generation to me, right? But it’s just really cool to think about what that does for other younger Indigenous people and communities right across the country.

And I should point out that it’s not just young people that we need to encourage, it’s people of all ages, who are starting their writing journeys. And I point to Michelle Goode as a prime example of that. Her novel, Five Little Indians, that came out in 2020, received, you know, a long list of accolades, like the cover of that book is just full of stickers at this point, right? And she became first published in her early 60s, so it is a different kind of journey for everybody. 

And it’s exciting to see this moment unfold. Of course, we’re not where we need to be yet by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve seen some immense progress over the short time that I’ve been in publishing, and it can only get better, I believe.

Rebecca Diem: This explosion of Indigenous talent means that more new Indigenous writers – of any age – will be able to see a place for themselves in the industry. Representation really does matter. There’s a reason why everyone keeps saying that! Here’s a perfect example, shared by Jesse Wente, chair of the Canada Council for the Arts:  

Rebecca Diem: Do you have any, any favorite memory of attending WOTS, with your kids, with your family? 

Jesse Wente: Oh, boy. The one I remember is we found–we ran into an indigenous comic book artist who was printing his own comic books. And this would have been a while ago, like, I want to say 10 years ago, would have been– and so my kids would have been way younger. You know, desk-height kids. And they were with us and into comic books. Because, you know, well, I’m still into comic books, so I’m not sure you ever lose that. And I just remember that being, you know, some of that stuff matters so much. My daughter now is heavily–she’s an artist. I mean, she’s still in high school, but she’s an artist, fairly obsessed with manga and that sort of style. Although she, she finds the frames too confining. And I just think like, that’s, you know, if we don’t have that encounter, does she ever make the connection that that’s something that she can do? 

Rebecca Diem: Attending the festival at a young age had a similar impact on Waubgeshig:   

Waubgeshig Rice: Back when I, when I started university, I think those were some of the earlier days of it. This was the late 90s, early 2000s. I’m–my timeline may be a little out of line. But moving to the city, and having that was, was awesome, you know. It was a way for me to connect with that world, even though I wasn’t really sure that’s where I was gonna end up at that point, you know?

It was like, literally on the streets, you know, and easily accessible for a rez kid who had just moved to the city! So there’s, there’s an immense value in that. And I really—I know that, you know, your team understands that and recognizes that. But just know, for someone like me, you know, as a 19 year old kid, that was, that was eye opening. Potentially life changing, which is, you know, really nice to reflect on all these years later, you know?

Rebecca Diem: As a free, urban, street festival that prides itself on accessibility, we have a responsibility to always be programming towards these kinds of moments. When we put on the festival, we’re presenting the literary landscape to the public. And we want that landscape to be one that every attendee can see a place for themselves in.  

Waubgeshig Rice: I would say that Word On The Street, I think, is excellently placed to do a lot of that work, because the intention behind that festival is community-building, obviously, but having a place to do that outside of the usual, you know, lecture halls or libraries or bookstores that we often see literary events taking place in. And I’ve always been really encouraged by that kind of initiative. And it really puts a place to that effort, you know? 

[Dreamy scoring begins] 

And from an Indigenous perspective, especially, you know, we put so much value in actions in a particular setting. The setting that we do our storytelling in is very much a part of that whole experience. And with Word On The Street that is obviously embedded into that spirit in the first place, you know? And it’s especially important in an urban setting too, of course, like the stereotype of Indigenous storytelling is happening out on the land or in faraway communities, or wherever else but, you know, a huge number of, a huge amount of Indigenous people are in urban settings, so it’s great to have, you know, an on-the-street literary festival for them to be able to connect in that way. 

Rebecca Diem: From the beginning, WOTS has always been intended as a site of connection. A place to connect people with ideas, authors with peers, and of course, writers with readers. 

[Dreamy scoring fades out]  

Maria Zuppardi: I think, especially as a reader, if you really connect with a book, it’s always exciting that, like, let’s say, a festival or just a live event happening, you get to hear the author talk about their book, and it just makes that experience as a reader that much more exciting because you’re hearing them talk about something that they’re passionate about, that you’re also passionate about. So I think that live events especially do help with that connection a lot.

Rebecca Diem: This is Maria Zuppardi, who you may remember from Episode 3 – publishing worker, bookstagrammer, and reader of 94 books last year. 

Rebecca Diem: So you’re a professional bookworm.

Maria Zuppardi: Sure. Yeah, that’s one way to put it. 

Rebecca Diem: What, kind of, happens for you, personally, that makes you really want to share or shout out a book, or shout out an author’s work?

Maria Zuppardi: If I find a story, or a plotline that has really great characters, characters that are really realistic or someone that I can connect to fictionally, of course, I– that definitely is the starting point of me wanting to force everybody in my immediate vicinity to read the book. 

Rebecca Diem: As much as readers like Maria love to hear from the authors of their favourite books, the connection also goes both ways. It can also be pretty thrilling for the writers to hear from the readers. Here’s Waubgeshig again:

Waubgeshig Rice: Well, meeting a class is the coolest thing. And it is probably the greatest honor to visit with students and teachers who are taking the time to dive into my book and learn about it and teach themselves about it, you know? Because when I was a high school student back in the 1990s, Indigenous authors, Black authors, other authors of color weren’t in the curriculum whatsoever. You know, these were experiences that no one was really learning about through literature. And that’s something I needed in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but thankfully, you know, I had an aunt, who showed me Indigenous authors, like the people I’ve been mentioning a lot. 

So, you know, when I think back to 25 years ago, as a high school student, and what I didn’t have, compared to what students now have access to, and how I can play a role in that is just totally mind-blowing, you know. It is really the greatest honor. So I happily engage in any conversation around the stuff that I do, and I really enjoy public events, like I love doing readings and panel discussions and so on. And I think what I–what’s important for me to do though in those moments is to acknowledge where I’m from, and the people who have shaped me. 

Rebecca Diem: When I spoke to Peggy Nash for this series, I mainly expected it to be about arts funding – after all, she’s a former member of parliament, a politics instructor at Toronto Metropolitan University, and one-time member of the Ontario Arts Council. However, she’s also a first-time author. Her book, Women Winning Office, just came out this May. And we ended up spending a bunch of time talking about what it’ll be like to meet her readers for the first time. 

Peggy Nash: You know, I’ve just spent the last year or so during the lockdown writing this book, and maybe if it hadn’t been for the lockdown, I wouldn’t have had the attention span to force myself to do it. And I found it hard to discipline myself, to go in almost every day and write, and I– I look at some of the works, that people have created. Works that, that people say that, you know, they took 10 years to write, and I, I just think, oh, they must crave human connection. [laughs] But I think, it’s–something that I’m kind of looking forward to – and I’m all new to this kind of book publishing thing – but, I’m looking forward to being with people and maybe reading something I’ve written and hearing their reaction, whether pro or con. I–, you know, having survived electoral politics, I have a pretty thick skin. So if people don’t like what I’ve written I’ll, I’ll live with that. But, if– you know if people say that they enjoyed the experience of hearing what I had to, to write, I think that would be very pleasurable. 

Rebecca Diem: Yeah, I think you’ll get a much more positive reaction than when you’re on the, on the floor of the House of Commons.

Peggy Nash: [laughs] Yeah, I got a lot of pleasure out of provoking my opponents there, but, I don’t think that’s the, that’s the goal with, with public readings of your book.

Rebecca Diem: It might be!

Peggy Nash: It might be, might be. 

Rebecca Diem: There’s just something about getting a whole bunch of passionate, excited people in one place, and seeing the beautiful connections that unfold. I especially love this story from Jen Albert, the production editor at ECW press, about attending a WOTS reading – also featuring a familiar name from this episode.

[Sweet rom-com scoring begins]

Jen Albert: I think my first year at ECW press really stands out to me, because it was the first time I was not going as a fan. I’m part of the industry now. And this was also 2018. So it was the season that Waubgeshig Rice’s Moon of the Crusted Snow came out, which is just a classic now. And I got to meet Waub for the first time, and he’s just like, the nicest, most cool person that you’ve ever met in your life. And that was really, really spectacular. And I just loved that whole one. Plus, in the line at Waub’s reading during that event, I reconnected with a person who I knew in the industry who was an acquaintance at the time, and we sort of rekindled a friendship and that person is now my partner who I live with. So magic happens at Word On The Street.

Rebecca Diem: I love that story. Yeah, there’s something about the community, it’s so magical, really, like truly that word, to be in a space surrounded by, by friends and colleagues. And also people that you, that you really deeply admire and be kind of all together in this like one space.

Jen Albert: People that love the things that you love.

[Sweet rom-com scoring fades out]

Rebecca Diem: It’s particularly special to have so many people coming together to celebrate a thing they love together, when the thing that they love is reading. Which is not typically a group activity. Here’s Peggy again: 

Peggy Nash: Of course, the written word is received often in isolation. It’s a solitary event, unless you’re there at a public reading. And so coming together with other like-minded people, And finding communities, I think, is part of The Word On The Street, that you are there with other people who have the same interests as you. And sometimes I think, you come upon publications, writers that you didn’t know before. So it–I always felt it was like this incredible smorgasbord of the arts that you could go – and yes, the thing that you are really fond of, you could go and find that in the smorgasbord – but you could also be open to things you have never sampled before. And I think it’s that spirit of openness and variety that really left an impression on me.

Rebecca Diem: Today, that spirit of openness is more important than ever. David Leonard, president of The Word On The Street’s board of directors, thinks about it a lot when considering the current role of WOTS in the cultural landscape. 

David Leonard: The challenges of Word On The Street, I think, are related to the challenges of, you know, the written word in general. You know, we are in a rapidly digitizing world and I think there’s a lot of polarization that happens in those worlds. And, you know, Word On The Street, ultimately, because it is a festival where people are a community who come out to see each other, and maybe to shop and to pick up physical products, you know, in a world where that’s less important, a festival like Word On The Street has to really try hard to be more relevant. 

And I think that, you know, all the digital formats are great, and it just increases audience, but there’ll always be a space for the physical, for the physical side of Word On The Street. Navigating the kind of polarity of ideas is really challenging, I think, for anyone in an idea space right now, which Word On The Street is, and and I think– I would hope that a festival like Word On The Street continues to try and bring people into space together, rather than try and you know, create these, these places to be pulled apart. 

Rebecca Diem: You may recall, back in episode one, we mentioned our COVID life crisis. As we faced the challenges of a pandemic, and contemplated whether we should carry on, we asked ourselves: Does The Word On The Street still matter?

[Dreamy, reflective scoring begins]

To answer that question, we reached out to our community. We asked them how The Word On The Street was serving them, and how we could do so better. And the response we received was overwhelming. Our community told us that the most important part of the festival–the elements that make WOTS, WOTS–are discovery, inspiration, and connection. WOTS isn’t just a party for the written word, it’s a space where our community gets to celebrate together. It’s where all the pieces of the CanLit jigsaw puzzle are put together to make a complete picture. 

When we started this series, we thought we were telling the story of WOTS. But WOTS, at its heart, is a community. And so, in a way, this series is a love letter to our community.  

Does WOTS matter? Are we still fulfilling all the goals we set out with thirty three whole years ago? One way to find out is to throw a festival, and see if people show up. And if they do – if we’re still creating a space that people want to come to and be in together – then this work is still worth doing. 

[Dreamy, reflective scoring fades out]

David Leonard: What does The Word On The Street mean to me? I mean, it’s– the community is the biggest part of it, you know, The Word On The Street is an organization, it’s a nonprofit, sure, but to me, The Word On The Street is the people who come to Word On The Street. And that, to me, is the, is the absolute essential element of the brand. Whoever is exhibiting, you know, whatever is exhibited, you know, whatever the themes or, or- that happened during the year. It’s all great. But ultimately, The Word On The Street is a community to me. It’s a community festival, but it’s also a festival made up by its community. 

I mean, Word On The Street with no attendees is just a bunch of people standing around. You know, The Word On The Street with attendees is community.

Rebecca Diem: This is the final episode of Read the North, a co-production of The Word on the Street Toronto and CJRU 1280 AM. 

This series was hosted by me, Rebecca Diem, produced and edited by the amazing Quinton Bradshaw, and scored by James Ellercamp. 

A huge thank you to every single person who took the time to talk to us for this series. In order of appearance, they are: 

Carolyn Taylor, Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, Cory Doctorow, Jael Richardson, Anjula Gogia, Nick Mount, John Degen, Jesse Wente, Alana Wilcox, Jen Albert, Semerah Al-Hillal, Maria Zuppardi, Sephora Henderson, Waubgeshig Rice, Peggy Nash, and David Leonard.

Many of them will also be on-site at the 33rd annual Word On The Street festival this June 11th and 12th – and we hope you will be too! We’ll be taking over Queen’s Park Crescent all day Saturday and Sunday with panels, readings, performances, kids’ activities, and of course, so many books. You can find the full schedule online at It’s going to be a really good one. 

If you liked this series, definitely check out more of the great audio content produced by CJRU – you can listen 24/7 at CJRU 1280 AM on the dial, or online at cjru dot ca. 

Thank you so much to the Community Radio Fund of Canada for making this production possible. 

And thanks so much to you, for listening. This has been Read the North. See you on the street! 

[ambient indie/electronic theme music plays]