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The Word on the Street, Vancouver-Style

by Kathy Sinclair

imagine 225,000 Canadians spending one whole day reading, writing, listening to authors read, and supporting small book and magazine publishers.

Sound like a pipe dream? Nope, it's just another year of The Word On The Street (WOTS), a free festival in celebration of the written and spoken word which took place September 26, 1999 in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, and Halifax. In Vancouver, WOTS took place at Library Square.

It's been almost two years since I moved to Vancouver, and for two years I've been lamenting a seeming lack of literary life in this city. Where were all the readers? The writers? The poets? Well, they showed up in full force on Sunday. I guess I haven't been looking in the right places.

Poet bill bissett gave a reading in the childrens' area; Susan Musgrave and Brian Brett talked about Writers in Electronic Residence, a program that matches student writers with "real" writers via the internet; book and magazine publishers practically gave away their wares (I snagged a vintage Patricia Young for $2, and a couple of new titles for $5 each); and hundreds of people sat on the steps of the main stage, listening to the latest in poetry slam. Also notable was a photography exhibit, "Lit Happens" portraits of Canadian writers such as Lorna Crozier, Marilyn Dumont, Jane Rule, and Al Purdy.

The only hesitation I had about Word On the Street was its corporate sponsors folks such as Chapters, Starbucks and the Gap turned out to be the money behind it all. "We might as well get something good out of McDonald's," my friend said, rather wisely.

And she's right. Even Shakespeare had the Elizabethan equivalent of corporate sponsorship. But I still don't like it.

Kathy Sinclair is canadian content's B.C. correspondent.
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