Festival of words passes to new hands

In a time when digital publishing and the internet have made the future of books uncertain, Wordfest festival director Anne Green is remarkably confident.

“I wouldn’t say it’s affected us in a negative way at all. This is the tangible dimension. You still want to go to a concert even though you can download somebody’s tunes from the Internet,” says Green.

Green, who is handing off director responsibilities after this year to Jo Steffens, has brought Calgary’s literature extravaganza to the cutting edge of a changing media landscape.

Over the last 15 years Green has set to work building Wordfest up from scratch. The festival has showcased 700 writers and is set to add another 74 names to that list with 60 events in Calgary and Banff this year. These figures, when combined with an expected turn out of 13,000 people, make the festival truly a heavyweight — not only in Calgary, but also in Canada.

“We have some cred now with publishers and writers,” says Green. “Although it’s still a struggle to get all the people you want — and of course we never get all the people we want — but it’s because we are well known, the writers seem to really like coming here.”

One just has to look to the festivals line-up to see how far Wordfest reaches. This year boasts the usual plethora of great writers — among them are standouts like Yann Martel, Jane Urquhart, William Gibson, Marc Levy and Dave Bledin.

“I looked at last year’s program and I was really happy with it, and I thought, ‘Oh, gosh. Now what am I going to do?’ But I feel so confident in this year’s program,” says Green. “It’s a tremendous — a huge range of interest and I would go to all the events if I could.”

The festival has also successfully expanded into educational programming. In its first year 137 students attended and last year the number was up to a staggering 6,000.

In a similar fashion, the festival added Francophone events, selling 2,500 tickets to French events last year.

Future festival director Jo Steffens is sure to carry on expanding the festival. She is leaving a job at the Municipal Arts Society in New York and will be on hand for this year to make sure the transition goes as smoothly as possible.

“I’m very very lucky to have had this tremendous opportunity to have built this festival over the last 15 years and to have had the luxury to sit back and make a very thoughtful decision, supported by my board, as to a succession plan,” says Green. “It’s great that my successor, Jo Steffens, is with the organization to work through this festival. It’s going to be different, that’s all.”


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