Toronto book fair draws big guest in Margaret Atwood

Large crowds gather for first annual INSPIRE! Book Fair

The first ever INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair convened at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from November 13-16. The event was part shopping experience and part cultural festival, where book lovers everywhere were able to watch and listen to their favourite authors talk about their new work.

The festival consisted of over 400 international and Canadian authors, including First Nations, Inuit and Metis authors such as Anirudh Bhattacharyya, Sylvia Day, William Gibson, Lisa Bird-Wilson and bestselling novelist Margaret Atwood.

Atwood spoke to a large audience about her new book, Stone Mattress, which is a collection of short fiction. The stories derive from a mythical background more than traditional literary realism. Atwood describes the book as a collection of tales rather that short stories.

“Tales are creepier,” Atwood said. “Tales are closer to Grimm’s fairy tales, and with people in odd positions. So I would say that this collection leans more towards those people in odd positions.”

Atwood also touched on why Canada publishes more short story writers and poetry than novels.

“Long ago, poetry and short stories are what you could get published in Canada, and primarily through a radio program called Anthology. That’s where I first published, except it was poetry,” Atwood said. “There were five literary magazines in the 60’s, and you could only publish stories in there.”

The Fair was produced by The Association for Art and Social Change, a not-for-profit arts organization that promotes Canadian books, authors and artists. One of three directors, John Calabro, said he has always wondered why Toronto never had an international book fair. He added that the next big question was when to host it.

“From surveying the industry, [publishers] said that if you are going to have a book fair, you need to have it in November, because fall is the literary season,” Calabro said. “It would also open it up for Christmas buying.”

The timing of the fair also coincided with what Calabro sees as an increase in bookstores in the U.S., which may lead to a growth of book stores here in Toronto, he said.

Calabro believes people should have more opportunities to discover books and authors. Opportunities like these should also come from schools.

“I think there should be more in the school curriculum and it should be more Canadian centred,” Calabro said, “so Canadian students learn about our great history of Canadian authors.”

In the end, the fair was something that Calabro enjoyed, even though it was a lot of work.

“It started with three people who love to celebrate books. What we did was give a year of our lives towards it, without pay to see how it goes,” Calabro said. “We are not a huge corporation, this was just a labour of love.”