Keeping BookFest fresh a key priority for organizer

From a first meeting with Lenore Langs, you might get the mistaken impression she’s not a big fan of dub poetry or graphic novels.

Whether she’s an avid consumer of those genres, however, seems irrelevant. As a key organizer of BookFest Windsor, her interest is in promoting literature in all its forms, and keeping the three-day event fresh and current is her number one priority.

BookFest Windsor – which runs November 3 to 5 – celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Besides the usual assortment of literary readings and panel discussions, the event includes a performance at Phog Lounge by Jamaican-born dub poet Klyde Broox and a presentation by the creators of the comic series Kill Shakespeare, which has become an international sensation.

“Things keep changing,” says Langs, who has chaired the event’s organizing committee for the last seven years, and has taught creative and expository writing sessionally in the university’s English department for the last 20.

“You have to stay fluid. So we’ve changed and evolved. We’ve made it much more lively and interesting. This is the first time we’ve ever had dub poetry. It just keeps evolving and moving along. We don’t want it to stay the same. It’s different every year.”

When the festival began at the Capitol Theatre a decade ago, it was led by Daniel Wells, who used to own a bookstore on Ouellette Avenue and now runs the Emeryville-based Biblioasis publishing company. Langs was also on the organizing committee then and said the initial feedback they received was that the event was “too solemn.”

“The venue just wasn’t the proper size,” she said. “It was hard to fill the main room and the authors said they felt too distant from the audience.”

The festival is now held at the Art Gallery of Windsor, which Langs said is much better suited to accommodate a variety of events. Besides the off-site venue of Phog, there will be children’s readings at the Sandwich and Central branches of the Windsor Public Library.

Over the last 10 years, the festival – which operates on a budget of about $40,000 – has grown steadily and made literature a more visible art form in the area, Langs said.

“It’s created a wonderful place for local writers and people who love books to move around and have the chance to meet some very good authors,” she said.

Some of those authors for this year’s festival include Rosemary Sullivan, winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction; Douglas Gibson, president and publisher of McClelland & Stewart; Clark Blaise, officer of the Order of Canada and recent nominee for the Scotiabank Giller Prize; and Will Ferguson who has won the Leacock Medal for Humour twice.

Having a great relationship with the University of Windsor has contributed to the festival’s success, she added.

“It’s really great to have that connection because the English department really supports BookFest,” she said. “We also get a lot of support from the president’s office, the Leddy Library, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the university’s book store. Martin Deck does a lot of work. He’s a staunch committee member and he’s also president of Literary Arts Windsor, the parent organization of BookFest.”

And while the festival takes an extraordinary amount of effort, Langs doesn’t seem to be growing weary of being involved.

“I’m not tired of doing it, but I am tired,” she quips. “I love it. I love meeting all the people, the writers are always so nice, and they’re very appreciated by the audience.”

Visit the festival’s Web site for scheduling and more information.