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Our picks for Toronto International Festival of Authors

Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA) has, like many literary festivals this year, transitioned to an online program featuring a veritable line-up of Canadian and international artists, including a few from Australia. The program is free and events will be available for three days following their initial release, so don’t worry if you can’t catch them at the time.


Skin Hunger series

The Dutch phrase huidhonger translates to mean ‘skin hunger’, a longing for human contact while in isolation. It’s also the premise of a new series of commissioned works at TIFA. Throughout the festival, internationally renowned authors, including our very own 2020 International Booker Prize–shortlisted author Shokoofeh Azar, American novelist Meg Wolitzer, and Canadian-Nigerian artist and writer Francesca Ekwuyasi, will deliberate on figurative and physical manifestations of touch, at a time when touch is both a source of fear and anxiety.

When: 3.00am (AEDT) 23 Oct – 2 Nov

Critical Conversations series

Each day of the festival, a different combination of writers, artists and thinkers will engage in live conversations where they critically engage with the most pressing issues affecting us today. The 24 October edition (25 October our time) centres on Black Lives Matter, where Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Rodney Diverlus, Black Canadian author Robyn Maynard and American sociology professor Dana R Fisher will delve into the histories of anti-Black racism in North America and present-day manifestations of this in the form of police brutality and state-enacted violence. Other Critical Conversations examine topics as multifaceted as surveillance, universal basic income, and Indigenous rights, among numerous others.

When: 10.30am (AEDT) 23 Oct – 2 Nov

Toronto Poetry Slam

You won’t want to miss this year’s Toronto Poetry Slam. The high-energy slam, one of Toronto’s largest poetry showcases, will kick-start with a performance by award-winning Nova Scotia author and artist Andre Fenton. After there’ll be a competition among local and internationally renowned spoken word artists. Stay tuned for an announcement about a collaboration with Melbourne Writers Festival.

When: 11.00am (AEDT) Sat 24 Oct

Sleepwalking to Catastrophe: Emily St John Mandel

Canadian novelist Emily St John Mandel is a master at chronicling what it’s like to live through unprecedented times in the age of disaster. In The Glass Hotel, she picks up where she left off in Station Eleven with some of the same characters in the same universe but a completely different timeline and premise: a ruinous Ponzi scheme that inextricably affects everyone in its wake before a hyper-lethal form of swine flu ravages the world in Station Eleven. In this conversation, Mandel discusses her latest novel with Toronto International Festival of Authors director Roland Gulliver.

When: 7.00am (AEDT) Sun 25 Oct

Females on the Frontline: Emma Donoghue & Maaza Mengiste

2020 Booker Prize–shortlisted Ethiopian-American writer Maaza Mengiste appears alongside Irish-Canadian playwright and screenwriter Emma Donoghue in this conversation centred on historical narratives that showcase the strength of women. Mengiste’s critically acclaimed book The Shadow King resurrects African women soldiers who ‘even today have remained no more than errant lines in faded documents’. Donoghue, bestselling author of Room, turns her eye to something altogether different in her latest novel The Pull of the Stars—a tale of three women medics set during the eerily prescient 1918 flu pandemic.

When: 9.30am (AEDT) Mon 26 Oct

Animal Conversations: Laura Jean McKay & Joni Murphy

Several Australian authors have written books this year that pose inventive and urgent questions about our relationship with animals and what it means to be human—situating their work on a global stage where these same questions are being explored. In this panel chaired by Canadian writer and editor Jessica Johnson, MWF 2020 artist Laura Jean McKay and American writer Joni Murphy speak about their respective animal-centred books, The Animals in That Country and Talking Animals.

When: 10.30am (AEDT) Tue 27 Oct

Memoirs for a Generation: Madhur Anand & Maria Tumarkin

Australian literary darling Maria Turmarkin will appear on this panel with Canadian poet and professor of ecology and environmental sciences Madhur Anand to discuss the reverberations of intergenerational trauma and the intimate stories of crisis and hope that ground their books Axiomatic and This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart: A Memoir in Halves. Both authors of works that defy form and convention to raise essential questions about trauma and displacement, Turmarkin and Anand are a dream pairing in what is sure to be a sensitive, profound exchange.

When: 7.30am (AEDT) Wed 28 Oct

Subverting Fairy Tales: Amanda Leduc & Natalie Zina Walschots

There has been an exciting proliferation of women writers reimagining fairy tales and classic fables with a feminist bent. Chief among these works are writer and disability rights advocate Amanda Leduc‘s Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability and Making Space and author, poet and journalist Natalie Zina Walschots‘s Hench. Leduc uses a hybrid of memoir, literary criticism and cultural commentary to explore and subvert the ableism of fairy tales. Walschots employs fiction to overthrow the superhero trope with an unassuming female protagonist at its centre. Leduc and Walschots will be in conversation with Toronto-based disabled writer and mental health advocate K J Aiello.

When: 8.00am (AEDT) Wed 28 Oct

Entanglements: Sidura Ludwig & Maria Reva

One of the most exciting aspects of any international literary festival is discovering homegrown talent, and this panel is exactly that, featuring two Canadian fiction writers utilising the interlinked short story form: Toronto-based novelist Sigura Ludwig who explores the social milieu of a Jewish community in You Are Not What We Expected, and Canadian-Ukrainian writer Maria Reva who foregrounds her latest short story collection with a set of characters living in the same block of flats in Kirovka, Ukraine in Good Citizens Need Not FearLudwig and Reva discuss their latest books and the richness of small communities with Canadian book critic Emily Donaldson.

When: 10.30am (AEDT) Wed 28 Oct

Return to Gilead: Marilynne Robinson

This year marks 40 years of award-winning American novelist Marilynne Robinson‘s writing, and the release of her fourth novel in the now-classic Gilead series JackSpeaking to Canadian literary critic, curator and writer Donna Bailey Nurse, Robinson reflects on four decades of writing and the inspiration behind her much-loved books.

When: 8.45am (AEDT) Sat 31 Oct


TIFA is online 22 October – 1 November. Discover the full program

All dates and times listed in this article are AEDT