Why We Exist
“Wordfest was a fantastic way to get our students pumped about reading at the beginning of the year. After reading The Metro Dogs of Moscow by Rachelle Delaney and priming our students to meet the author, they were more excited than ever to participate in this field trip. It has made a lasting effect on the rest of the year, as the students are now eager to read and engage more meaningfully with text!”– Gabby Calder – Teacher
“As an emerging Western Canadian writer, the Festival launched me into a prominence for which I could have only hoped and wished. Your Festival and its hard work to involve local and provincial media in coverage of local and out-of-town writers translated in my case into a nationally syndicated feature which appeared in major daily papers in nearly every large urban market. It would not have happened without the dedication and openness to new writers at WordFest”— JJ Lee, Wordfest 2011 Alumnus
HISTORY | THE INITIAL SEED FOR WORDFEST WAS PLANTED IN 1995 when The Banff Centre, interested in profiling its Writing and Publishing programs, sponsored the Hospitality Suite at The Vancouver International Writers Festival. Don Stein, then Associate Director, Planning for The Banff Centre, established a relationship with the Writers Guild of Alberta and a number of other interested parties, to explore the realities of establishing a Banff-Calgary International Writers Festival.
Wordfest was established in 1996 as a project of The Banff Centre, Calgary Public Library, Mount Royal University and The Writers Guild of Alberta. The Banff Centre then approached respected arts professional Anne Green to develop the Festival and create an independent entity. The annual Festival would take place in October and feature international, national and local writers. Founding Festival Director Anne Green programmed the first Wordfest, featuring 50 writers and two dozen events, taking place over four days. The 1996 line-up featured Margaret Atwood, Roch Carrier, Wayson Choy, Tomson Highway, Paul Quarrington and Sheri-D Wilson.
Since then, Wordfest has presented many notable and world-renowned writers, such as Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Louis de Bernières, Joseph Boyden, Eleanor Catton, Wayson Choy, Douglas Coupland, Roddy Doyle, Richard Ford, Diana Gabaldon, Rawi Hage, Tomson Highway, Lawrence Hill, Nancy Huston, John Irving, Barbara Kingsolver, Dany Laferrière, Alexander McCall Smith, Annie Proulx, Mordecai Richler and David Suzuki.
In 2010, Founding Festival Director Anne Green introduced Festival audiences to incoming Director Jo Steffens. While honoring the mandate of the Festival and continuing its legacy, Executive Director Jo Steffens launched new programming elements that encourage audiences to think differently about the literary landscape.
Wordfest has recently presented writers in unscripted storytelling events; film and short-animation screenings about books and literary topics; curated presentations of essays inspired by online videos; live illustrations; and friendly competitions in which writers improvise a performance of their writing on-stage. These program innovations and others are designed to broaden the audience for the Festival and to foster an appreciation of the variety of forms in which the literary arts can be
April 2015, the Board of Directors of Wordfest announced Shelley Youngblut as the new General Director, to guide Wordfest through its 20th anniversary celebrations and into the Festival’s third decade. Youngblut’s dedication to fostering a generous, inclusive approach to arts presentation at Wordfest marshalled wide community support, inspired audiences and energized volunteers in the creation of a lively, public celebration of 20 years as the region’s premier international readers and writers Festival.
A strong advocate for high-quality community engagement, Youngblut comes to Wordfest from her previous positions as Western Editor of the Globe and Mail and founding editor of SWERVE, the Calgary Herald’s award-winning weekly magazine. A well-known, “creative ringleader,” she is a regular member of the Unconventional Panel on CBC Calgary‚ The Eyeopener, and recently curated the photography exhibit, Your Town is Our Town, at the Lougheed House Gallery. Youngblut is a past participant of The Banff Centre‚ Literary Journalism, Wired Writing Studio and Arts Journalism programs, as well as the Stanford Professional Publishing Program.