When people call Edmonton “festival city,” they’re usually referring to our world-renowned theatre and cultural summer events, not an 11-day autumn festival put on by a bunch of non-fiction book lovers. But as LitFest — the only non-fiction festival in Canada —celebrates its 16th year, it’s clearly become a permanent part of the city’s moniker and spirit.
“It’s pretty special,” says first-time Executive Director Jana O’Connor. “There’s definitely a lot of love out there for LiFest. That’s a testament to the folks who created it and the people who brought it to this point and shepherded it so well. But I definitely got the sense that it is viewed as a special festival and people are absolutely keen to come to Edmonton to participate. Everyone that I asked [to participate] said yes.”
“Everyone” includes a long list of panelists discussing a wide array of topics (online and in person), including a talk about changing hockey culture, an exploration of the Chinese diaspora and identity through food, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s talk on her book, The Future is Disabled, which will discuss “disability justice and disabled wisdom.” Rollie Pemberton (aka Cadence Weapon) will also return to Edmonton to share his thoughts on Canadian hip-hop and his new memoir, Bedroom Rapper.
The fest will even bleed onto the streets. “Raymond Biesinger and Alex Bozikovic have created this book, 305 Lost Buildings of Canada, and they’re going to do a walking tour of downtown Edmonton,” O’Connor says. “The people who participate in the [90-minute] tour will get this beautiful magazine about the lost buildings of Edmonton, see what they used to look like and hear their stories. And then Raymond’s also doing a masterclass on illustration, talking about his career as an illustrator who’s from here and has grown his career in exciting ways.”
Like Edmonton’s more performative festivals, the people are what make it special. “We’re definitely a city of readers,” O’Connor laughs. “But I think it’s more an extension of the incredible art scene here in Edmonton, across the board. That’s certainly something that I’ve been able to observe in my many years in the arts ecosystem being a writer, performer and administrator. And also, volunteering — I think Edmonton is notorious, globally, for the amount of volunteers that will step forward for events.”
Check LitFest’s full schedule, which runs October 12 to 23, and find the books of every author at Glass Bookshop.