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Wordfest’s Shelley Youngblut finding different ways to bring to life the literary experience with Imaginarium

On this, the first morning of Snowtoberpocalypse, Shelley Youngblut is at home, making herself a hot toddy, fighting the effects of a cold and reading four different books, while the rest of the city is fighting terrible weather and worse traffic.

“I’m just so grateful that it was this week and not next week,” she says.

That would be this week. Which would be the start of Wordfest’s annual October experience, which Youngblut, the CEO and “Creative Ringleader” at the organization, has now rebranded The Imaginarium.

“Because we’re year-round now, I’m trying to move us away from just being a literary festival,” she says, before turning to the name itself, the Wordfest moniker.

“I felt like it didn’t really capture the experiential part of what we do and why.”

That, Youngblut says, is all about the personal connections between readers and the authors and the words on the page, and helping to facilitate further, deeper connections and conversations. She likens it to running a curio shop of old, with the accompanying, cracked and worn artwork given to the authors throwing back to the idea of antique-iness.

So, not surprisingly, The 2018 Imaginarium is one with an incredible array of events featuring some of the finest writers from this country and around the world and not in a stuffy setting.

For example, things kicked off on Thanksgiving Monday with a free, family-friendly event celebrating the enduring charm of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.

But that was just the start. Until Oct. 15 and at various locations around the city — centred mainly around Wordfest’s home in the Memorial Park Library and the vibrant Beltline neighbourhood where it resides — there are so many more cool ways for the curious to connect and have a unique experience with literature.

“I think that if you’re looking to come and just watch writers sitting in a room reading from their books, this is not the experience for you,” Youngblut says.

“What we’re trying to do is really embrace the whole talk -how format. These are deeply interesting people and we want to get into how they think and … we also want it to be really theatrical. I think that’s the thing we’ve really focussed on in the last two years, is making sure that it feels worth your time and money.”

Some of the more notable events include: A Dramatic Celebration of the Governor General’s Literary Awards on Tuesday, Oct. 10 at the DJD Dance Centre with One Yellow Rabbit’s Blake Brooker directing local actors performing staged readings from the work of Claudia Dey, Rawi Hage, David A. Robertson and Jordan Tannahill; returning fashion fave The Way We Wear on Oct. 10 at the library featuring six stylish authors showing off their wardrobes; food events, with Kim Thúy and Sheila Heti, at Foreign Concept and Raw Bar respectively; and, along the same lines, a daily salon series every day from 2 to 5 p.m. in the library titled Tea and Sustenance, where they turn it into a Victorian tea parlour, with a tea hostess who serves actual tea and will bring you a menu for the author of your choice, and you can check out the books or purchase them from the pop-up bookstores.

The two tentpole events this year are Between the Pages: An Evening With the Scotiabank Giller Prize Finalists, which is hosted by Shelagh Rogers and features Patrick deWitt, Eric Dupont, Esi Edugyan, Sheila Heti and Thea Lim, and the closing event, a night of song and words with musician and writer Tanya Tagaq — both at the Bella Concert Hall.

Whatever your passion, whatever your taste, whatever your literary predilection, there are so many ways into The 2018 Imaginarium, something that Youngblut and her small team of curio curators take great pride in.

“It’s just trying to find ways to make the experience come alive,” she says.

The 2018 Imaginarium runs until Oct. 15 at various locations around Calgary. For tickets and the full schedule of authors and events please go to wordfest.com.

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