For those of us who love talking about books, Edmonton is a great place to be, especially in October. That’s because Edmonton hosts the only festival in Canada dedicated exclusively to non-fiction. LitFest, Edmonton’s non-fiction festival, runs from Oct. 15 to 25 and will feature a diverse mix of local and touring artists discussing a variety of subjects.
LitFest (formerly the Alberta Book Fair Society) had its first year as a public festival in 2002. According to executive director Fawnda Mithrush, the festival resembled a book fair convention in its early years. Then in 2006, the executive director at the time, Miki Andrejevic, remodeled the festival as a non-fiction festival.
“So 2006 is kind of when we had our new birthday and what brings us to where we are today,” Mithrush said.
Since becoming a festival dedicated to non-fiction, LitFest has grown from an event run over three or four days, to an 11-day festival, and audiences have grown along with it. Mithrush said she has especially noticed excitement about the festival growing in the last three years or so.
Mithrush said she believes Edmonton’s arts and culture community and its enthusiastic audiences make a non-fiction festival possible in Edmonton. “I think Edmonton is in a unique position because they’re such good audience members in general,” she said. “We have a great theatre, arts and culture community, and people love festivals here. In that way I think we’re a great platform to actually get conversations going about what the non-fiction content is out there.”
What to look forward to at this year’s festival
Edmonton audiences will be treated to a mix of local, national and international artists at this year’s festival. “I think it’s important for Edmonton audiences to be exposed to people who aren’t from here as well as people who are from here,” Mithrush said. “And one of the great things about LitFest is that it brings our Edmonton writers and that community together with people from across the country. So writers from Toronto and Vancouver are talking to our writers here, that’s a great opportunity for them as well.”
One of Mithrush’s goals when programming this year’s festival was to bring in a diverse set of artists. As part of that diversity, Mithrush has included a number of First Nations artists and First Nations issues in the festival. Artists will also lead discussions on gender, food and a variety of other topics. Welsh journalist Jon Ronson, who recently wrote a book titled So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, will be at the Winspear Centre to speak on Oct. 20.
Those wishing to attend LitFest can get tickets in advance or (depending on availability) at the door. Other ways to support LitFest include volunteering and donating to the festival.
For those who aren’t able to attend LitFest, there are other literary events in Edmonton throughout the year and LitFest is hoping to become more involved in them. “In the past we haven’t done too many auxilary-type events, but moving forward I think it’s important for LitFest to remain a presence in the city throughout the year,” Mithrush said.
One way LitFest has expanded its presence for this year is by partnering with the Edmonton Arts Council for Word on the Square, which features local artists reading and discussing their work Tuesdays at lunch hour beginning Sept. 15 and continuing for the following three weeks. LitFest also tweets as @LitFestYEG to promote local reading groups throughout the year. Mithrush adds that they appreciate the enthusiasm of Audrey’s Books, which holds several events and book launches throughout the year.
LitFest also hopes to grow and expand its programming for the festival in the coming years, Mithrush said. Given this city’s enthusiasm for artistic events and festivals, Edmonton’s audiences are likely to grow along with its non-fiction festival.
LitFest is one great way to support Edmonton’s literary community and festival scene. Book enthusiasts can also find information on used bookstores in Edmonton on our blog.