LitFest is Canada’s only nonfiction literature festival, and it runs for 11 days every October in Edmonton. The festival offers many events around the downtown area, with book launches and workshops being just the beginning.
“So much of the power of nonfiction lies in good, old-fashioned storytelling. It just so happens that these particular stories are true,” David Buchanan said in an email; Buchanan is an English professor at MacEwan University who teaches literary nonfiction. “This ‘truthiness’ of the stories is often what makes them so utterly compelling.”
Buchanan adds that literary nonfiction gives the reader the experience of reading a story with the gripping knowledge that everything read is woven with true human experience.
In going to Ross King’s book launch for Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies, the conversation was intelligent yet light and entertaining. The festival gives an example of how nonfiction literature is not just “how-to” books, or boring statements of fact, but instead grips the reader with fantastic tales that just happen to be real.
“What I found very interesting is that it seems that among a younger audience there’s more of an interest in nonfiction,” LitFest president Tema Frank said. “When I was your age, nonfiction was really boring; there wasn’t a lot that was written like Ross King’s book, where it’s brought to life, and it’s told as a story, but it is reality, and I believe nonfiction sales have actually surpassed fiction sales.”
Frank went on to explain that serving on a more “artsy” board allows for a wide range of opportunities, with a wide range of people.
“It’s fun, and it’s an honour, I find it very exciting . . . the people that you meet on a board like this are just such interesting people. Whether it’s the other people on the board, the people that attend the event (or) the authors, it’s just such an incredible opportunity,” Frank says.
Most events at LitFest cost $15-20, and have an educational-yet-social atmosphere. The events allow those who love literary nonfiction to gather together, meet some of the authors and learn a thing or two about a number of subjects.
“I would really encourage students to come,” Frank said. “Our prices are very reasonable, and we do that intentionally to make it affordable for students. It’s such a great opportunity to learn more, to get yourself thinking in new ways, and just to meet really interesting people even in the audience.”
The auditorium for Ross King’s talk was almost completely filled, and as LitFest surpasses ten years of running in Edmonton, it’s clear nonfiction isn’t something restricted to a classroom.
The events are a great way to meet people with similar tastes in books, or to simply learn about a genre often forgotten when discussions of literature take place. Buchanan said that the literary nonfiction genre is often given far less respect than its other literary counterparts – at least in the academic world – and tends to be widely ignored in university literature courses. MacEwan has only recently introduced an introductory literary nonfiction course.
In book sales, however, adult nonfiction is rising each year, and rose seven per cent in 2015, while adult fiction only went up two per cent, according to Publishers Weekly.
When asked why he switched from fiction to nonfiction, Ross King’s answer was very simple. He said that when researching for a book that was supposed to be a novel, the story was simply too good to be ruined by fictionalizing it, and that’s what LitFest is all about showing.
Cover photo by Shawn Nystrand / CC BY-SA.