Wordfest is a not-for-profit arts establishment that organizes one of Canada's largest international literary festivals, taking place each October in Calgary, Alberta. In addition to the yearly festival, Wordfest also facilitates and hosts year-round events and programs, which makes up the bulk of their work.
Wordfest originated as an idea conceived by Donald Stein, then associate director of the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, who in 1996 envisioned the coordination of a southern Albertan writers' festival. He contacted Darlene Quaife, then president of the Writer's Guild of Alberta, and Peter Oliva, then owner of Pages Books on Kensington in Calgary, and together the three "assembled a team that reads like an honour roll of Calgary's literary community at the time" including booksellers, writers, a Calgary Herald books editor, and representatives from the Calgary Public Library and CBC Radio, among others. With Anne Green as festival producer, Wordfest's first festival featured 50 authors and two dozen events over the course of four days.
1997 marked the incorporation of Wordfest as a not-for-profit, and also was the first year of the Summit Salon writers' retreat hosted by the Banff Centre, which immediately followed the festivals for years.
From 2010 to 2014, Jo Steffens was Wordfest's director; under her, Wordfest was awarded the Rozsa Award in Arts Management for Innovation in 2014.
Shelley Youngblut became the interim director in May 2015 and in December 2015 became the permanent director. Youngblut, previously an editor with The Globe and Mail and a writer with ESPN, has helped Wordfest grow into a "celebration of ideas even more than[...]a celebration of books", expanding its focus to more heavily include the abstract while still maintaining its core literary aspect. As of January 2017, Wordfest operates from the "Wordfest Lab" located in the Calgary Memorial Park Library, a 110-seat presentation space where many of Wordfest's readings and other events are held.
Wordfest's eponymous festival is held yearly. For six days in October, Wordfest showcases 70 writers, both big-name stars and new talents, in a mix of 65 events and performances throughout Calgary, Banff and the Bow Valley. The Festival offers a wide variety of public events: readings, panel discussions, interviews, multimedia performances, workshops, cabarets, book signings, literary death matches, spoken word performances, informal public receptions and more. Festival alumni include Margaret Atwood, Roch Carrier, Austin Clarke, Douglas Coupland, Roddy Doyle, Timothy Findley, Richard Ford, Lawrence Hill, Nancy Huston, Tomson Highway, Wayne Johnston, Thomas King, Alistair MacLeod, E. Annie Proulx, the late Mordecai Richler, Jane Urquhart and Guy Vanderhaeghe.
In the past, Wordfest's children-geared component operated under The First Calgary Savings Book Rapport Programme, an award-winning education segment that ran throughout the festival in October, bringing children's authors to schools and other public venues. According to the First Calgary Savings, "[i]n 2006, 5,600 students participated" in the Book Rapport Programme. Recently, Wordfest has held other youth events, bringing authors such as Veronica Roth, Lemony Snicket, Ruth Ohi and Arthur Slade to Calgary schools throughout the year.
Beyond the days-long festival held in October, Wordfest also coordinates single-artist readings/events, which feature one artist per night and allow more time for the exploration of their works; alumni of such events include Youtube personality and author Lilly Singh, author Barbara Gowdy, comedian and screenwriter Mike Myers, musician and actor Robbie Robertson, writer George Saunders, and Canada's governor general David Johnston. In addition to the single-artist events, Wordfest also hosts literary trivia nights year-round, i.e. the monthly Dick Lit's Trivia Nights.
Wordfest has an active network of approximately two-hundred volunteers who assist with events year round.
Wordfest is supported by private donors and many organizations, including the Government of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts, Mount Royal University, the Calgary Public Library, and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.
- Wordfest is also the name of the festival in Michael Chabon's 1995 novel Wonder Boys. This is a total coincidence.