Archives for category: Events

Publishers and literary events organizers have been working overtime to adapt to a world ushered into lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under an avalanche of cancellation and postponement announcements, I wrote two pieces for the Globe about the impact on the industry:

Canada’s book publishers scramble to cope with the impact of coronavirus >> read it here

While COVID-19 shuts down most book events, FOLD decides the show must go on(line) >> read it here



After almost two years of planning, the inaugural Canadian Writers’ Summit finally had its debut at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, June 15 to 19. A collaboration between 14 national writing organizations, the super-conference represented many firsts: the pooling of resources to gain efficiencies and maximize ideas and the super-sized gathering of Canadian writers among them.

CWS_The organizers banners at CWS_c Katrina Afonso

Banners of the member organizations that put the conference together. Photographer Katrina Afonso.

In total, around 800 writers and publishing and literary arts professionals attended the conference, which included keynote addresses by Lawrence Hill, Nalo Hopkinson and Heather O’Neill, panels about the business of writing, craft of writing, government funding models, equity and diversity in the literary industry, and the annual one-day Book Summit publishing conference.

Now Trending panel at Book Summit at CWS 2016. Photographer Brian Medina.

I managed the communications on behalf of the conference, which included stops at The Candy Palmater Show and The National, and in the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail, as well as for the publishing trade press in Canada and the US.

CWS_Crowd at the Dayne Ogilvie Prize_c Katrina Afonso

Crowd at the presentation of the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Emerging Writers, part of CWS 2016. Photographer Katrina Afonso.

CWS is set to take place every second year, with the next event scheduled for June 2018, also at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.

In 2017, the organizing groups will host their own conferences and AGMs.


Every year, the Politics & the Pen gala gathers 500 guests from Canada’s literary and political circles to dress up, put party politics aside for the night, and celebrate Canadian writers and writing.

A fundraiser for the Writers’ Trust of Canada, the event has, to date, raised more than $3 million to support Canada’s writers. The highlight of the night is the announcement of the winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.

This year’s gala, held at Ottawa’s Fairmont Chateau Laurier, was hosted by Catherine Clark and Ben Mulroney, who had the crowd in stitches with their schtick (heavy on the “kids of former PMs” jokes, obviously). The evening concluded with the presentation of the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing to John Ibbitson for Stephen Harper.

In all, more than $365,000 was raised to support Canada’s writers.

Here are some fabulous photos.

And here is one of many fabulous write-ups.

Congratulations to all of this year’s prize nominees. In addition to eventual winner John Ibbitson, they were:

Greg Donaghy for Grit: The Life and Politics of Paul Martin Sr.

Norman Hillmer for O.D. Skelton: A Portrait of Canadian Ambition

Andrew Nikiforuk for Slick Water: Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry

Sheila Watt-Cloutier for The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic, and the Whole Planet

Alessandra Naccarato, winner of the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. Photo credit Katrina Afonso.


On a hot and humid May evening in Toronto, the Writers’ Trust of Canada handed out its “thing in the spring,” the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. The winner was  Alessandra Naccarato for her poetry collection “Re-Origin of Species.”

The Bronwen Wallace Award recognizes emerging writers under 35 who have yet to publish in book form. Past winners include many then-unknown but now-familiar names, such as Michael Crummey, Alissa York, Alison Pick and Jeramy Dodds.

Host Tanis Rideout (another past winner) set the perfect tone: fun, celebratory, reverential. The crowd schmoozed to classical renditions of Top 40 songs (we were in the Royal Conservatory of Music, after all) in a stunning all-glass room with views of Philosopher’s Walk and the Royal Ontario Museum. The atmosphere was fun, lively, and distinctly emerge-from-hibernationy. This was, said Tanis “our thing in the spring.”

Alessandra Naccarato won $5,000. Her fellow nominees each won $1,000. They were: Irfan Ali for “Who I Think About When I Think About You,” and Chuqiao Yang for “Roads Home.”

Find out more about the prize and this year’s nominees here.

Read stories from CBC Books, the Toronto Star and Quill and Quire here, here and here.

And check out a Facebook photo gallery from the event courtesy of the Writers’ Trust here.

Here are the three nominees chatting with me and (via the magic of Periscope) the world on the pre-ceremony “red-carpet.”

Chatting to award finalists Irfan Ali, Alessandro Naccarato and Chuqiao Yang before the ceremony. Photo credit Katrina Afonso.




From left: Tony Clement, Megan Leslie, Stephen Maher, Tom Power, Richard Madan and Lisa Raitt perform Sweet Caroline at the Politics & the Pen gala


On Wednesday night, at the Politics and the Pen Gala in Ottawa, Joseph Heath was named the winner of the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for his book Enlightenment 2.0: Restoring Sanity to Our Politics, Our Economy, and Our Lives.

The event, which is a fundraiser for the Writers’ Trust of Canada, was held at Ottawa’s Fairmont Chateau Laurier and attended by 500 guests from Canada’s political, literary and arts communities.

Highlights included a “Battle of the Bands,” which was kicked off by co-hosts Hon. Tony Clement and Tom Power and joined by MPs Lisa Raitt and Megan Leslie, journalist Stephen Maher, and broadcaster Richard Madan (pictured).

The event raised more than than $330,000 for the Writers’ Trust of Canada.

The five Shaughnessy Cohen Prize nominees were:

  • Joseph Heath for Enlightenment 2.0: Restoring Sanity to Our Politics, our Economy, and Our Lives (winner)
  • Chantal Hébert with Jean Lapierre for The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was
  • Naomi Klein for This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs the Climate
  • John Ralston Saul for The Comeback: How Aboriginals Are Reclaiming Power and Influence
  • Graham Steele for What I Learned About Politics: Inside the Rise – and Collapse – of Nova Scotia’s NDP Government

View photos from the event and read party recaps at Globe & MailHELLO!, Hill TimesMaclean’s, Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Magazine.

Listen to Joseph Heath talk to CBC As it Happens about his book and winning the prize here and read his interview with the Globe & Mail here.


From right: Paula Todd talks to Brian MacLeod Rogers and Ron Brown at Read. Write. Speak.

This year, Freedom to Read Week in Canada saw more than 65 events take place in schools, libraries and public spaces across the country. In Toronto, the Book and Periodical Council programmed an event with this year’s Freedom to Read Week Champion of Free Expression Brian MacLeod Rogers in conversation with investigative reporter and author Paula Todd (pictured).

The event — entitled Read. Write. Speak. Free Expression Champions on Self-Censorship, Libel Law and Access to Information — also included the presentation of two awards for  free expression advocacy. Ron Brown was awarded the Writers’ Union of Canada’s Freedom to Read Award, and Brian Campbell was awarded the Canadian Library Association’s Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada Award.

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom: a celebration with a serious purpose. This marked the 31st year of the event, which is a programme of the Book and Periodical Council.



Interviewing Lynn Thomson at WOTS 2014. Photo credit: Kent Robinson

This column originally appeared on Open Book: Toronto on Sept, 26, 2014

On the morning of the 25th annual Word on the Street festival (WOTS) in Toronto, I awoke at 7am to the dispiriting sound of torrential rain. I snuggled under the covers with the Sunday paper and guiltily wished I hadn’t made a commitment to go and stand in a tent for most of the day. I wished the rain would stop. I wished I owned a pair of wellies.

At 8am, the rain was still hammering down. At 9am, thunder had joined the rain. By 9:30am I’d realized it was also humid. My hair had tipped me off: it was large.

I began my now annual ritual of figuring out what to wear to a) be presentable in front on an audience, while b) standing exposed to the elements for four hours. I have learned that for Word on the Street, sartorial options are key. I left the house in T-shirt and jean-jacket, toting a scarf, a light sweater, a waterproof jacket, and an umbrella in a bag — just in case. But by the time I’d even made it as far as the front porch, the sun had struggled out from behind the clouds. And out it stayed for the rest of the day. The weather gods had smiled kindly on WOTS 2014.

From late morning until mid-afternoon I hosted the Vibrant Voices of Ontario Stage, hearing readings from, and engaging in some lovely onstage chit-chat with, seven writers in four hours. In case you missed it, here are the Coles notes:

  • Krista Foss read from her debut novel, Smoke River. We talked about learning conversational Mohawk and rebutted the notion that one “graduates” from short stories to the novel.
  • Lynn Thomson read from her debut memoir, Birding with Yeats. I asked her about birding (of course) versus her day job of bookselling, and about her groovily named writing club, The Moving Pen.
  • Russian native Vladimir Azarov read from Sochi Delirium and I asked him why moving to Canada (not Paris, not Prague – Canada!) had inspired him to write poetry.
  • Adrienne Weiss read from There Are No Solid Gold Dancers Anymore. We talked about a psychic on Queen Street and the way actors may become unable to leave behind their defining roles.
  • Recent Quill & Quire cover girl Carrie Snyder read from Girl Runner and answered questions about running, tough career choices, and choosing a 104-year-old Aggie Smart as a protagonist.
  • Gordon Henderson, author of Man in the Shadows, talked about making the transition from journalism to fiction, and why Canadian history is a lot more fun than you think.
  • Claire Cameron read from The Bear, and then talked about the pros and cons of placing your narrative in the hands of a 5-year-old narrator, and the comfort (or terror) of story to make sense of tragedy.

When my stint on stage was over, I took a stroll around Queen’s Park in the now-scorching sun to see what was what (or should that be “what was WOTS”?). I peeped into some tents to check out the programming (including sign language on stage at the Bestsellers Stage), and said Hi to many friends manning magazine booths, who still had wet feet from setting up shop in the early-morning monsoon.

Like the Coach House Wayzgoose (which I wrote about earlier in the month) WOTS is a massive end-of-summer coming together of the publishing crowd, but unlike almost anything else, it’s also a huge community event: fun, family friendly and free to attend. I met one of my best friends at my first WOTS, many chapters ago, and have had memorable conversations with both book-trade friends and book-reading strangers alike at every festival since. WOTS attracted a crowd of more than 200,000 this year. And when you consider than 5,000 sales can a Canadian bestseller make, those 200,000 represent a pretty significant voting block for the future of our business.

Despite the eventual benevolence of the weather gods, one small cloud remained on the periphery of this 25th anniversary WOTS. This year marked the last that the festival would be held at Queen’s Park. Next year it relocates to Harbourfront Centre, and one can’t help but feel though it gains a new home it may lose a little something in the move. More than 200,000 people ambling around our city’s waterfront is already a weekend-ly occurrence throughout the summer, but 200,000+ book lovers taking over a giant, easily stumbled-upon section of downtown to spend a day – rain or shine – soaking up literary experiences has no equivalent.

But that big change is a year away. With the Eden Mills Festival in Guelph and WOTS chapters across the country already having taken place, the 2014 fall festival season is officially underway. As I write, the Kingston WriterFest is in progress (in Kingston, obviously), and Toronto’s International Festival of Authors is a mere month away. Writers: it’s time to meet your readers. There are hundreds of thousands of them. I saw them with my own eyes last weekend. See you at the festivals, rain or shine.





The crowd at Wayzgoose 2014

A new publishing season is in session after the annual Coach House Books bash.

My latest column for Open Book: Toronto is about The Week We Wayzgoosed.

Read it here.


Covers of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize nominated books hang above the crowd at the Politics & the Pen Gala

At a black-tie dinner at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier last week, Maclean’s political editor Paul Wells was named the popular winner (with many friends and colleagues among the 500 guests) of the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for his book The Longer I’m Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006 –. You can read his acceptance speech on, here.

The award is presented at the Politics & the Pen Gala, which raises in excess of $300,000 annually for the Writers’ Trust of Canada.

This year’s event was hosted (to a standing ovation after their opening skit) by Hon. Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport, and Ms. Megan Leslie, Member of Parliament for Halifax and member of the Official Opposition. Next to the announcement of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize winner, the co-hosts’ duet of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” with specially written lyrics about being a woman on Parliament Hill, was the highlight of the evening.

Paul Wells’ fellow nominees for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize were: Margaret MacMillan for The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, Charles Montgomery for Happy City: Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design, Donald J. Savoie for Whatever Happened to the Music Teacher: How Government Decides and Why, and Graeme Smith for The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan, which won the 2013 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Media coverage for the five Shaughnessy Cohen Prize nominees included an interview series in the Globe & Mail (here) and an interview with juror Doug Saunders on CBC Radio One’s Ottawa drive-home show, All in a Day, as the Politics & the Pen gala was getting underway.

CTV Ottawa came to the cocktail reception (video clip here), and Paul Wells was dragged out of bed dark and early the morning after his win to appear on CTV Ottawa’s breakfast show, CTV Morning Live (video clip here).

If you’d like to see some photos from the night, you’re in luck, because there are LOTS.

Here’s a selection:


Kaleb Alexander as Lawrence Hill defending The Book of Negroes. Birdtown & Swanville perform their Freedom to Read Week play, Dear Censor

For this year’s Freedom to Read Week in Canada – the 30th anniversary event – I was honoured to get the chance to collaborate with some hard-working friends who are not part of the book biz, and whose work I greatly admire. On Tuesday, February 25 at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, the Book & Periodical Council, which organizes Freedom to Read Week, and Birdtown & Swanville, a local theatre club, presented DEAR CENSOR: a short play about censorship.

The play featured letters by Margaret Atwood, Lawrence Hill, Margaret Laurence, Rohinton Mistry, Ann Patchett and others, written at different points in time in defence of their own work. Birdtown & Swanville turned these letters into a play about censorship that was original, unusual and a first for Freedom to Read Week. Oh, and it was also fabulous and very fun.

The event got a feature write-up in Hazlitt.

Birdtown & Swanville’s Aurora Stewart de Pena appeared on CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning to talk it up, and Gill Deacon got well behind it on her drive-home show, Here & Now.

Further coverage for this year’s Freedom to Read Week included:

  • An interview with author and former children’s librarian Ken Setterington in the 49th Shelf.
  • An essay by a Calgary student about free expression that was published in the Huffington Post.
  • A challenged books quiz in Quill & Quire.
  • An info-graphic about book challenges in Canada at CBC Books.
  • An article about intellectual freedom in Canada from CJFE.

Freedom to Read Week is a programme of the Book & Periodical Council. The annual Freedom to Read Week event in Toronto is organized by the Book & Periodical Council’s Freedom of Expression Events Committee, on which I am a volunteer. I am also a freelance publicist for Freedom to Read Week.