Illuminating Luminato: 10 days of literature


Eleanor Wachtel (right) interviews Irvine Welsh (left) during the Luminato 2012 festival.

Luminato is a multidisciplinary arts festival held in Toronto in June. This annual festival features artists from a wide range of disciplines, including music, dance, film, visual arts, theatre and literature. You can see their entire roster of programming here. Luminato's curator of literary programming, Devyani Saltzman, will be giving CBC Books the inside scoop on this year's programming. You can read her first post here and her second post here.


On Sunday night, we wrapped our sixth festival with a free outdoor concert by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (their first in more than seven years). It was a beautiful moment of collective enjoyment, which is what a festival should be at its best. After 10 days of literature, theatre, music, dance and visual arts, audiences gathered on the grass in David Pecaut Square, named after our late co-founder, and enjoyed the closing celebration.

Over those 10 days we had the pleasure inhabiting many of Toronto's theatres, public spaces and arts venues. It's one of the things I like most about the festival: its rootedness in the city and its existence as an arts institution without walls. If anything, this year it felt like that was fully embraced by Toronto and our audiences in a way we have been working to have happen since our inception. It was incredibly satisfying to see people go from a public concert to a reading, and pick up on the themes that run below our multidisciplinary programming.

It was also a great pleasure to see the hunger to discuss our literature from a continental perspective. The bicentennial of the War of 1812 offered a means of opening up that conversation, but seeing audiences react to Linden MacIntyre and Kyo Maclear discuss contemporary Canadian fiction with host Zaib Shaikh, or Hari Kunzru and Jim Lynch discuss the way they write American landscapes -- the Mojave desert in the case of Kunzru's Gods Without Men and Seattle and the Pacific Northwest in the case of Lynch's Truth Like the Sun -- was a pleasure. During the first discussion, Zaib looked around and said "This is a Canadian panel. A second-generation Pakistani-Canadian, an East Coaster and half-Japanese/half Scottish author." To see that our stories can come from anywhere and still be quintessentially Canadian was a pleasure. As was seeing how engaged audiences are in discussing those questions.


Chris Cleave and Vincent Lam read from their latest works, Gold and The Headmaster's Wager, respectively. Nicole Krauss joined Laurie Brown, host of CBC's The Signal, to read from her yet to be published short story A Garden Is an Arrangement of Light. As Nicole read, the audience watched a selection of David Hockney images rotate on the screen behind her, illustrating the story. Irvine Welsh discussed Scottish politics and writing with Eleanor Wachtel. And our second year partnering with the UK's Hay Festivals led to a panel about new writing from Latin America with three fantastic young authors, Valeria Luiselli, Santiago Roncagliolo and Rodrigo Hasbun. As mentioned in my previous post, I spent most of my time watching and listening from my favourite vantage point in the wings.

Historians Alan Taylor and James Laxer discussed the context of the War of 1812 and how it redefined the North American continent, in two sold-out events as part of our fifth wonderful year partnering with the Toronto Public Library system. That hunger for words and ideas was reflected in both talks. A capacity crowd of 500 packed the venue for Alan Taylor for the equivalent of a history rock concert, and on a lazy Sunday, we had so many people at James Laxer's presentation at the Bloor/Gladstone branch of the Toronto Public Library that we were in danger of breaking the fire code. We closed our sixth year with Richard Ford in conversation with Jane Urquhart.

In the midst of a multi-arts festival that includes large-scale works of opera and dance, I really saw, more than any other year, the power of two or more people speaking about literature and ideas in a darkened room. The currency is definitely conversation.