Wordfest celebrating 25 @ 25 with virtual festival featuring Canada’s finest writers including Will Ferguson, Lawrence Hill and Eden Robinson

What’s the saying? Man makes plans, God laughs.

Well, yes, She does, but somehow Shelley Youngblut always seems to get the last laugh.

That’s what the CEO and “ringleader” of Wordfest is doing with a very fine pivot to help the organization celebrate its 25th year.

In fact, the 13-week virtual festival, dubbed 25 @ 25, seems less a reaction to COVID and more just one of her incredibly creative ideas to connect readers with authors.

The original plan was “an ambitious five-day amplification of what its Fall Imaginarium has become known for – 25 authors in 25 events on Calgary’s top stages, connecting live audiences with life-changing experiences, books, and ideas.”

Instead, what audiences will get beginning Sept. 8 and running every Tuesday night until Dec. 8 is an online “daisy chain” featuring some of Canlit’s biggest names in conversation with one another.

Youngblut and the rest of the Wordfest team reached out to some of the stars from the organization’s past two-and-a-half decades of putting on events and asked them who they would like to be paired with for an informal conversation — be it a rising star on the scene, a good friend, or a writer or person whom they admire.

Then, at the conclusion of the conversation, that featured writer will reveal who will be the “anchor” author for the following week’s event.

Kicking things off on Sept. 8 is Calgary’s own Will Ferguson, who is celebrating the release of his new novel The Finder. He’ll keep it in the family, as he’ll be joined his son Genki Ferguson, whose debut novel Satellite Love will be launched early next year.

Future Tuesday night 25 @ 25 events include: Lawrence Hill (The Book of Negroes) with Zalika Reid-Benta; Thomas King who will be interviewed by Shelagh Rogers; Emily St. John Mandel and Eden Robinson; and writer-illustrator Seth with Leanne Shapton.

“We put our faith in the writers, knowing that that was the only way for these pairings to be authentic and unexpected,” Youngblut said in a release.

“The pairings turned out even better than we’d hoped. And they showcase the best of Canadian literature, past, present and future.”

As for the rest of the lineup, that won’t be completely revealed, with Youngblut choosing once again to make things more interesting.

“I can’t give away the full roster – discovering who the authors are will be part of the magic of the experience – but I can say that I squealed in delight many times over the past month. Big minds. Big hearts. Big books. The best.”

Passes for 25 @ 25 are now on sale, with the following packages available:

  • All-Access Pass, $99 + gst:
    • Access to all 13 online events on the evening they are broadcast, as well as on-demand viewing after the event.
    • A personalized treat from a past Wordfest author 
  • All-Access Pass + 25@25 Limited Edition Book, $125 + gst: 
    • Access to all 13 online events on the evening they are broadcast, as well as on-demand viewing
    • A personalized treat from a past Wordfest author 
    • A limited-edition copy of Wordfests 25@25 book, featuring specially commissioned portrait illustrations for each author and written contributions from each author, celebrating this extraordinary collection of authors for Wordfest’s 25th anniversary. 

Single tickets at $15 + gst will go on sale online seven days before each event, when the authors and their partners are announced, and will include the on-demand viewing option. 

For passes and more information go to or check out the video below.

(Photo of Shelley Youngblut courtesy Heather Saitz.)