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Word Up!

The Word On The Street is a national celebration of literacy and the written word.
On one extraordinary Sunday each September, in communities coast to coast, the public is invited to participate in hundreds of author events, presentations and workshops and to browse a marketplace that boasts the best selection of Canadian books and magazines you'll find anywhere. The Halifax event takes place on Sunday, September 25, from 11am-5pm along the city’s waterfont. AE spoke with the festival’s executive director, Colleen Ritchie.

AE: How long have you been involved with WOTS?
CR: Last year was my first year with the festival. Sean Williams hired me as the event producer and we worked as a team. We were both freelancers in a tough year for the festival. They had been without an Executive Director. A small and dedicated board made sure the festival happened and in an 8 week period this team moved the festival back to the street after many years indoors. I enjoyed the festival and the work and negotiated with the board to become their permanent part time Executive Director for this year. In January I attended the national executive director's meeting in Toronto and had the pleasure of meeting the other ED's. There are two new festivals this year in Lethbridge and Saskatoon. There is something great about being part of a national day that celebrates literacy.

AE: What are the challenges of your position?
CR: Some of the challenges involve funding. This is a large festival with lots of elements. The more elements the more it costs! Funding for arts is not an easy sell. We are lucky to have great support from all three levels of government and lots of in kind support as well from media plus a multitude of fabulous exhibitors. We have tightened our belts with regard to overhead and now that I am able to work on the festival year round the focus will be fundraising. Another challenge is of course on outdoor event in Nova Scotia. It makes such a difference to be in different outdoor locations, it makes the festival accessible and more interesting but it does present challenges. We can not control the weather so we ask attendees to dress for the weather and come and enjoy a fantastic day on our beautiful waterfront.

AE: What are the rewards of doing what you do?
CR: The rewards, there is nothing like watching the attendees listen to the authors, adults and children are transported by the author's ideas and stories. A book, a story, a poem, a song - words and illustrations can take you places and that is an amazing thing to bring to life. This year we have a general theme for the event - the book that got you hooked. We want everyone, authors, illustrators, publishers and attendees to think on this and let us know what book it was. When I was younger we had a set of books called The Value Tales - they told the stories of famous people in animated hard cover books. Each book had a moral and each character had an imaginary friend. Amazing. I have a full set that I found at a flea market and I treasure them. Another reward is reaching out to community partners and working with interesting people who are passionate about literacy and access to books for all. This year we are going to have programming that includes a literacy celebration with a variety of participants from different organizations - Literacy NS, The Good Reads program is sending authors Joy Fielding and Anthony Hyde to read at from their new books, Halifax Humanities 101, Read to Me and representation from the after school programs at the North Branch library.

AE: What is the festival’s core mandate?
CR: To celebrate reading and advocate literacy. To organize and produce an annual, one-day literary festival in conjunction with other The Word on the Street host cities, to celebrate reading and writing and to promote Atlantic and Canadian writers, books, magazines and plays. To bring the writing, publishing, literacy, and education communities together to heighten awareness of, and encourage and foster a positive attitude towards literacy. To emphasize the joy of reading and increase public appreciation of the printed and spoken word in a fun and accessible environment. To enhance public awareness of, and interest in, the quality and quantity of Canadian authored or produced books, magazines, plays and stories. To provide a dynamic venue for Atlantic and Canadian writers to showcase their work, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry and plays.

AE: How has the festival evolved over time?
CR: The festival has seen many changes over the years, going from its original location on Spring Garden Road to an indoor venue at Pier 21 and the Cunard Centre and ultimately finding its way back outside to Victoria Park last year and now our new site at the Halifax Waterfront. We have gone from a format that was mainly individual author readings to one which includes a variety of panels and interview-style discussions with multiple authors on the stage. We have expanded the offerings for children and teens and introduced a graphic novel component to the festival. This will take place inside at Alderney Landing where the market usually happens.

AE: What’s new and exciting for this year’s festival?
CR: The TD Kids Book Club hosted by CBC - Valerie Sherrard will join us and read from The Glory Wind her award winning and award nominated book. She is nominated for the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People, her publisher Fitzhenry and Whiteside said in a news release. Both awards recognize excellence in Canadian children's writing. The Glory Wind was also the winner of the 2011 Ann Connor Brimer Award, a bronze medalist for the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards, and a nominee for the 2011 Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award. Readings on Theodore Tugboat for the little ones. We have four authors who will be reading on the boat. As mentioned above the graphic novel programming on the Dartmouth side. Strange Adventures exhibitor booth will be on that side as well. We have partnered with two other large festivals that are happening on that weekend. We wanted to create a more layered experience for the attendee and are pleased to announce that the International African Bazaar will remain open on Sunday and that the Francophone Multicultural Festival will be open as well and they will have a literary cafe in the am. Watch for the festival opening on the main stage - we have partnered with the Writer's Federation of Nova Scotia and the opening to the festival will showcase the winners of the winners of the 34th Atlantic Writing Competition (the AWC.) Since its inception in 1976, the AWC has proven fertile ground for blossoming literary talent across the region, boasting Lesley Choyce and George Elliott Clarke among its past prize winners. Recent winners include Susan White, who after winning fist-prize in the young adult novel category in 2010 went on to publish her manuscript, The Year Mrs. Montague Cried, with PEI’s Acorn Books this past spring. The winner of each category will be recognized at our event at 11 am on the main stage. Watch for Pitch the Publisher hosted by the Atlantic Publisher's Marketing Association.

AE: What do you have planned for the years ahead?
CR: In 2011 and 2012 we will be developing a series of quarterly events that will happen throughout the year so that we can keep the festival in people's minds all year long. These smaller events will serve as fundraisers and keep the festival top of mind all year long. We are looking forward to continuing to develop our relationships with the various literacy groups, programs and initiatives in the region and will work to incorporate them in meaningful ways in our festival. We also want to grow the programming and hope to be able to offer more programming at the Dartmouth location next year. Finally, we have an adopt an author program for individuals and for corporations. I would love to see every author adopted before the festival this year. We have over 50 authors participating.

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