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This report is taken from PN Review 72, Volume 16 Number 4, March - April 1990.

The 10th International Festival of Authors Michael Hulse
Do literature festivals matter? The average British function, featuring a talk on Jane Austen for the National Trust set, Attila the Stockbroker for the yawp-junkies, a West Indian, a Pitt-Kethley, and a Pole or Czech, suggests that they don't. So does Strasbourg's so-called European Literature Festival, with its eurobucks and francopomp and the crowning vulgarity: announcing a European Writer of the Year. Who needs this?

The International Festival of Authors which Greg Gatenby founded in 1979 in Toronto shows that a sensibly-conceived literature festival can matter in precisely the same sense that literature itself matters. It can communicate beauty, pleasure, and understanding. If Toronto has become (with Adelaide) the favourite reading venue with authors, it is not only because Canada, like Auden's USA, is 'so friendly and rich'. Toronto has evolved a classic formula for combining sheer enjoyment with intelligent discourse. The 10th Festival provides a welcome opportunity to applaud Greg Gatenby's achievement and wish it many imitators.

This year, the authors came from Chile, Argentina, the USA and USSR, Yugoslavia, Germany, and Britain, Zaire and Australia, and many more countries: the IFOA's internationalism represents a serious commitment to the ideal of a global literary community and compares favourably with the lip-service that disfigures many European events. The Toronto audiences like a laugh as much as the rest of us, and wits such as Martin Amis and Julian Barnes, the ingenious Australian Murray Bail, or Canadians reading on home territory (Mordecai Richler, Robertson Davies, W.O. Mitchell, Michel ...


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