September 27, 2020

BY JOSH VAN OSTRAND

The Word on the Street festival was held in downtown Kitchener Sept. 26 to promote literacy and Canadian authors. It brought artists from all over the region to celebrate the spoken and written word.

The festival is part of a national organization, conveniently named Word on the Street, that runs festivals in four major cities across Canada.

“Literacy is the building block for everything,” said Laura Reed, a volunteer and representative for the Kitchener Public Library. “The importance of reading is invaluable so we like to promote books and reading and get excited about literacy.”

The area outside the Kitchener Market was set up with games, arts and crafts, and a small stage. All morning volunteers read books to children, who attended with their parents, who seemed to enjoy the stories just as much.

Further down King Street was the main stage at the Carl Zehr Square, where tables and chairs were set up. On stage, the ever-charismatic Janice Jo Lee, Kitchener’s artist in residence, introduced each performer and did some performing herself. “It’s good to have poetry in the public,” said Lee. “It’s good for your health.”

Local artists such as Richard Garvey drew people to the event and as the morning went on, seats filled. By noon, most of the tables were filled. A wood-fired street food cart kept everything smelling like a pleasant fire.

Bashar Jabbour and Beth Murch, members of the KW Smash Poetry team, watched the performances of Lee and Garvey as they got ready to perform themselves.

“I think it’s important to support the local arts and use the local spaces we have,” said Jabbour before sharing a poem about authenticity and hummus.

“I think it’s important to celebrate literacy and teach people to not be afraid of words,” said Murch. “I think we live in a culture where people are quick to turn on Netflix or get caught up on television and we forget about the power of books and magazines and even blogs. I think it’s important to hold onto that.” Murch performed a poem about why she sings the blues, about personal depression and the desire to feel happy.

Inside city hall, renowned Canadian authors shared readings from their books and advice to young readers and writers. Authors like Kenneth Oppel, known for the Silverwing and Airborn series of young adult fiction, talked about how he got ideas for novels by asking “what if?” Journalist and author, Amanda Lindhout, a journalist who wrote about her experiences being kidnapped and held for ransom in Somalia, was interviewed about her memoir, A House in the Sky.

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