The 2008 International Festival of Authors (IFOA) at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto ran from October 22 to November 1st and featured 67 events across 11 days. 135 authors appeared from 15 countries.
Andrew Westoll, the official blogger for the 2008 IFOA described the event as "the most successful IFOA ever."
Many of the events focused on Irish writers. I attended a round-table discussion on contemporary Irish literature moderated by Bert Archer with authors Dermot Bolger, Emma Donoghue, Hugo Hamilton, and David Park. Irish writer Anne Enright, winner of the Man Booker Prize for her most recent novel The Gathering, read an interesting excerpt about how your spouse "resents you" after children and then, "somehow (they) grow to love you again." There was the feeling, when confronted with infidelity, that "someone must die," and she asked: "Why not (tell kids about the infidelity)…why not rear men who can talk?"
New York Times bestselling author Sarah Vowell, while reading from "The Wordy Shipmates," paralleled the biblical story of the fleeing Israelites to the 17th Century Puritans leaving England for Boston. There was the "idea of America" and the duality of the settlers having humility under God and being chosen by God. There were diary entries of John Winthrop such as a list in Winthrop’s "spiritual diary" that paralleled the list in The Great Gatsby of "all the things I got to do."
Junot Díaz, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his debut novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao explained in an interview how the US "exports violence." Rawi Hage, whose second novel Cockroach shortlisted for the Rogers Writers' Trust and Scotiabank Giller Prize, was asked in this same interview session whether his book was intended as an homage to Kafka’s Metamorphosis. He said it was not.
Josef Škvorecký, 1984 winner of the Governor General’s Award, presented his new novel Ordinary Lives. Prior to the interview, Josef spoke briefly before his translator Paul Wilson read from Josef’s new novel. Josef said in the interview that a writing technique he employs is to transcribe various reminiscences onto small cards, scattering them on the floor and then arranging them into a random series to form the chapters of a book. He remembered his first night away from Prague as having no fear of the police coming at night. He became interested in America through American films, and through Upton Sinclair and Hemingway. This is the last novel he said he will write. From the IFOA website: "For the first time, the bi-annual Ben McNally Travellers Series takes place as part of IFOA. Join host Ben McNally as Julie Angus, Dervla Murphy, and Andrew Westoll share tales from the Atlantic, the Urals, and the Last Eden of Suriname." This event started with Julie Angus, who explained in a very matter-of-fact manner how she decided to row across the Atlantic with her boyfriend. It was something that had never been done before. The trip covered 10,000 km and 5 months. They began by cycling from Siberia to Portugal, where they departed for Costa Rica. Once in Costa Rica, they met some friends who cycled with them to Vancouver. One of the worst hurricanes in history was thrown into this immense series of challenges, as well.
Dervla discussed her career and cycling across Europe, and her new book Silverland: a Winter Journey beyond the Urals about her midwinter journey from Moscow to the Russian Far East. Andrew Westoll read from his book The Riverbones, set in the Suriname Nature Reserve, the "largest tract of pristine rainforest left on Earth." It was very engaging, lucid, with wonderfully descriptive passages.
Andrew Pyper read a part of his work The Killing Circle that incorporated male "bonding" in fly-fishing and watching baseball and movies. There was the nostalgia of old drive-in movie theatres (of which there are still some, I’ve heard) and vintage posters and Leave It To Beaver. There was a man running through a cornfield, the corn stalks "slashing against his face," and his imaginings focused on an abandoned farmhouse. He wondered, as he looked at it, "what bad news came to those who lived here."