Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

IFOA: Now Even Younger?

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IFOA: Now Even Younger?

When Granta published its second Best of Young American Novelists edition in spring 2007, the strapline on the cover declared: “Now even younger!” Editor Ian Jack justified the magazine’s lowering of the age threshold from 40 to 35 as follows: “When Granta published its first Best of Young Novelists selection in 1983, the words ‘young’ and ‘novelists’ were an unusual combination. Few people in Britain connected serious fiction with youth.” But by 2007, he said, writing was “increasingly being seen as a career choice by Americans in their early twenties.” This new generation of writers ought, he said, to be “getting better, quicker.” Success before forty was no longer as impressive as it once had been.

In 2013, “young” and “novelists” are a familiar combination. When the Man Booker Prize was awarded last week in London, two facts were mentioned in every news story. One: that the novel, The Luminaries, is very long. Two: that the author, Eleanor Catton, is very young. Catton (at 28) won the Booker with her second novel. Her first, The Rehearsal, began life as the thesis for her master’s in creative writing and was published when she was 25. The writer Ian Jack had in mind when he wrote that Granta intro in 2007 was front page news across the world last week. It’s fitting, then, that on the heels of Catton’s record-breaking Booker win, this year’s International Festival of Authors (IFOA), an eleven-day celebration of all things literary that gets underway in Toronto on Thursday, has dedicated an entire programming stream to young writers.

BRAVE NEW WORD, as the focus is named, is presented by festival organizers as a “spotlight on young authors writing in genres from literary fiction to memoir, poetry to thriller.” It’s also presented as an opportunity for these young writers to network on a “globally recognized stage,” though given the calibre of many names involved I expect this won’t be the first such world-stagey opportunity for them all.

Brave New Word participants include Americans Anthony Marra and Marisha Pessl, whose novels (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and Night Film respectively) were the buzz books that bracketed this summer, and Rachel Kushner, whose second novel, The Flamethrowers, was a hit on both sides of the ocean in the spring. Ireland’s Kevin Barry is here having won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award earlier this year for his novel The City of Bohane (though he is presenting story collection Dark Lies the Island at the festival). Israeli Shani Boianjiu’s debut novel, The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, based on the author’s two years serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, was a buzz-tastic book-club favourite that landed on numerous prize and best-of lists in 2012/13. Boianjiu will be interviewed by David Bezmozgis, who appeared on the New Yorker “20 Under 40” list in 2010. Fellow “20 Under 40” author Philipp Meyer is at IFOA this year too, though not programmed as part of the Brave New Word events.

Canadians in the stream include lit-blog It Boy Chad Pelley (you know him from Salty Ink), Tamara Faith Berger (you know her from naughty books Maidenhead and Little Cat), Quebec writer Perrine Leblanc (who you may not know at all, yet, but her novel won the GG in French and appears now in English translation), Giller Prize nominee Craig Davidson, and Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize nominee Krista Bridge.

Oh. Also included in this event stream is a young Kiwi/Canadian writer named Eleanor Catton (you know her from the fact that she was in every paper a few days ago for winning a prize... and for being young).

IFOA runs at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre from October 24 to November 3, with satellite events at 13 locations across Ontario from October 21 to November 3. Most Toronto events are $18, but — nicely in keeping with the celebration of youth thing — the festival offers book lovers 25 and under and full-time students free tickets (subject to availability). There are also a number of free events, including the Brave New Word Artist Talks (Oct. 27, 29 and 30 at 5pm), the CBC Trivia Night (Oct. 26 at 9pm) and the Publishing Keynote (Oct. 28 at 3:30pm).

Featuring around 200 participants from 19 countries in more than 70 events, IFOA isn’t just about those young novelists though. Here’s an assortment of fun festival facts and event ideas:

Age of the festival this year: 34. Six years older than Eleanor Catton.

Festival seat you’ll be sitting in the longest: The one you’ll occupy if you attend the Marathon Reading (Oct. 26 at 4pm).

The seat you can’t sit in at all: The PEN Empty Chair, present on stage at every IFOA event “in recognition of a writer silenced for peacefully expressing his or her beliefs.” This year’s Empty Chair is in honour of Eskinder Nega, a journalist and blogger currently serving an 18-year prison sentence in Ethiopia.

The event with the most participants: The Marathon Reading (see above). Or maybe the CBC Trivia Night, since the participants are technically the entire audience.

The IFOA author with the shortest name: Seth. Though it’s a bit of a cheat when you only have one.

The event most likely to sell out despite its headliner not attending: A Tribute to Alice Munro (Nov. 2).

The book with the most words (probably. I did not count them.): The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. (With Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control likely running a close second.)

Book with the fewest words (81. I did count them): A Long Way Away by Frank Viva, part of YoungIFOA (Nov. 1).

Best event at which a Canadian literary icon interviews a former fiction editor for Playboy: Margaret Atwood interviews Amy Grace Loyd (Oct. 30).

Anne Carson (just: Anne Carson!)

The oldest Kiwi: C.K. Stead — novelist, poet, critic, academic — is to New Zealand what Margaret Atwood is to Canada. He’ll be here presenting his poetry collection The Yellow Buoy. He’s 81.

The youngest Kiwi: She won a prize. Look it up.

For complete festival information and tickets, visit or call the Harbourfront Centre Box Office at 416-973-4000

Becky Toyne is a publishing consultant specializing in manuscript development and book promotion. She is a regular books columnist for CBC Radio One and Open Book: Toronto, and a freelance publicist for many of the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s literary award and fundraising programs. One or two days a week Becky works as a bookseller at Toronto indie Type. You can follow her on Twitter: @MsRebeccs

You can find past columns by Becky Toyne in the Open Book Archives.

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