Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Word on the Street Interview Series: Sarah Liss

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Sarah Liss

One of the highlights of the fall literary scene is The Word on the Street. Held in Toronto’s beautiful Queen’s Park, the festival is chock full of readings, discussions, workshops and amazing interactive children’s programming. The Word on the Street is also a place for bargains as the marketplace features an assortment of Canadian publishers of books and magazines. It’s definitely a good way to spend a Sunday so if you haven’t been before make sure to check it out this year.

Today’s edition of The Word on the Street interview series features Sarah Liss, the music columnist and culture editor of Toronto based magazine The Grid. Sarah’s recent release Army of Lovers is a collection of stories from and about the people who knew legendary artist and activist Will Munro and how he shaped Toronto’s queer community.

In today’s interview, Sarah tells us about being Franklin the Turtle, her endless list of favourite Ontario authors and where she likes to spend her summers.

Sarah will be reading in the Vibrant Voices of Ontario tent at the Toronto The Word on the Street festival on September 22 at 2:00 p.m. The Word on the Street will also take place in Lethbridge, Saskatoon and Halifax on September 22 and on September 21 in Kitchener.

And book lovers, don't miss our exciting contests in partnership with The Word on the Street — you can enter now for a chance to win a fantastic non-fiction prize pack!

Open Book:

Tell us about what you’ll be reading in the Vibrant Voices tent.

Sarah Liss:

I’ll be reading an excerpt from Army of Lovers, my oral history-cum-cultural biography about the late Toronto artist, activist, impresario, and all-around awesome guy Will Munro. As of now, I’m not entirely sure what section I’ll be reading from, but I’m leaning toward something from part two, which tries to capture the sweaty, raunchy, transformative space of Will’s unforgettable Vazaleen parties.


Have you attended The Word on the Street in the past? If so, tell us about a favourite memory. If not, what are you most looking forward to?


I have a longstanding love affair with The Word on the Street, although I often have to limit the amount of cash I bring so as not to come home overloaded with books. As for my favourite memory: For years, I worked for the children’s publishing company Kids Can Press, best known as the home of Franklin the Turtle. As you might imagine, Franklin was a huge draw for all the pint-sized WOTS attendees, so Kids Can wisely brought a larger-than-life-sized mascot to the festival every year—and someone had to bring the turtle costume to life. I kind of loved being Franklin, although I was often haunted by the ghosts of Franklins past—or rather, the distinctive smell of the sweat they’d left behind (it could get pretty hot and claustrophobic inside that shell, even though the helmet came equipped with a tiny built-in fan).


The Vibrant Voices tent celebrates Ontario authored and published books. Tell us about a favourite Ontario author or book.


Oh heck. I could never name just one. Can I list some of my favourites? Katrina Onstad, for sure. Her novel How Happy to Be is hilarious, heartbreaking, and searingly brilliant, like everything else she writes. Other fiction I’ve enjoyed: Alayna Munce’s When I Was Young and In My Prime, Catherine Bush’s Minus Time, anything by Andrew Kaufman, Tamara Faith Berger’s Maidenhead. As for non-fiction: I love Ian Brown’s The Boy in the Moon. I love Rosemary Sullivan’s biography of Gwendolyn MacEwan. This barely scrapes the surface!


What’s the best advice about public readings you have ever received?


I could use more advice! I’m terrible at public readings, but I try to remember to slow down and breathe.


Word on the Street is happening simultaneously in Toronto, Lethbridge, Saskatoon and Halifax on September 22 this year (as well as in Kitchener on September 21). If you could be in two places at once, which WOTS festival, in addition to Toronto, would you attend?


Halifax, without a doubt. I’ve never been to the east coast and would love to be near the ocean while reveling in the printed word.


Do you have a favourite spot in Ontario?


Prince Edward County, with its grasses and sumac and sprawling fields, has become my favourite summer vacation spot, but my favourite favourite place in Ontario—and possibly the world—is Bruce Beach, sprawling in the sand of Lake Huron outside my dear friend Janey’s cottage.


What can you tell us about your next project?


It’s going to be completely, totally, utterly different from this one.

Sarah Liss is The Grid’s music columnist and culture editor. Her writing has appeared in a number of places, including Toronto Life, The Walrus, Maisonneuve, and Flare, and onstage at the Nightwood Theatre. Her piece "A Force of Will," a love letter to deceased Toronto artist Will Munro published in The Grid, was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2013. She lives in Toronto.

For more information about Army of Lovers please visit the Coach House Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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