Toronto Reading Series: Exploring a Rich Ecosystem of Literary Performance

The First in a Series on the Toronto Literary Reading Scene

Toronto Reading Series:A writer need never be idle in Toronto—almost every night features great readings and events. This means a curator or host needs to set his or her particular event apart from the others. This results in an affable competition, with Toronto readings co-existing in a diverse cooperative ecosystem.

To ensure that each reading series is unique, hosts attempt to attract spectators by claiming a particular hosting style, a venue and an organizational approach to their literary vision.  They do this because they know there can be more to readings than simply providing a platform for book promotion or a place for writers to network – because the reading is a genre in itself.  

Despite that, not all writers pay attention to the performative element of their reading. We’ve all attended readings where writers have been underprepared, not having rehearsed or chosen materials beforehand. This is largely out of a host’s hands, and everyone can have a less than stellar performance due to nerves or an off night, but writers should understand that they are performing—and the audience is attending (or should be) to see a great show. Thankfully, writers want to be read, so have a natural reason to perform well, but hosts can also research to make sure they have quality performers. And a series itself—through reputation and past performances—can encourage quality performances.

When I founded The Emerging Writers Reading Series, I was working against the more traditional sit-down-and-frown reading series models, trying to bring in readers who were technically sound, but who also brought energy to their performances. But our Toronto ecosystem needs many different types of readings to thrive. There are big fish and small fish, and some readings that straddle different reading boundaries.

Choices of readers, format, venue, introductions, frequency and length of readings, etc., all contribute to the unique atmosphere of an event. Some series, like Write Club, are reminiscent of a competitive rap battle, whereas Pivot is a smaller, intimate reading frequented by both established and up-and-coming writers and poets. The open mic sets the standard in reading accessibility—the audience is performer and performer audience. Art Bar uses this to straddle different spheres by having it follow established featured writers. This is one strategy to bridge tones and audiences, to merge established and emerging talent, and to remain both accessible and excellent. But doing everything in one series isn’t possible, so hosts have to make choices, and audiences benefit from the resulting diversity.

Over the next few posts, I’ll profile reading series in Toronto, talking to their hosts and curators about their considerations when putting on a reading, as well as their opinions of the reading scene in general. I’ll start by talking to Edward Nixon of Livewords, Jacob McArthur Mooney of Pivot, Alicia Merchant of Write Club, Liz Howard of Avant Garden, and Chris Graham of Amazing New Stuff.

These select Toronto reading series are different, but they work together. They promote each other, expose new talent to each other, and help cultivate a healthy literary scene from the ground up. It’s an exciting time to be part of this literary community. So check it out.

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