BookFest Windsor celebrates 20th anniversary

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Essex County’s bookworms and bibliophiles have an exciting new chapter to celebrate Thursday with the start of BookFest Windsor’s 20th anniversary celebrations.


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Even Dan Wells, a festival co-founder and former chair, is slightly surprised the annual literary event has thrived for so long.

“It’s always been volunteer-run,” said Wells, currently the owner of Biblioasis bookstore and publishing company. “Even currently, it is an entirely volunteer-run festival. That places a tremendous strain on the resources of everybody. These things don’t usually last that long. You burn out. The fact that there has been sort of a successive generation of people who have taken this under their wing and kept it alive, I think, is a marvellous thing.”

The festival runs from Thursday to Sunday with readings, interviews and Q & A events featuring many celebrated authors. This year’s festival, like the 2020 version, will be entirely online.


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The event began in 2001 as the Windsor Festival of the Book. Wells said he remembers The Bookroom owner Anne Beer, whose independent bookstore closed in 2015, bringing a group of booksellers together to start a literary festival.

The festival has since hosted many Giller Prize winners, Governor General Award recipients and bestselling authors.

Margaret Atwood, Nino Ricci, Lawrence Hill, Richard Wagamese, and Alistair MacLeod are among the names associated with BookFest Windsor over the years.

The 2021 festival will include Gary Barwin, who won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 2017, and Heidi L.M. Jacobs, who earned it in 2020.

The Thursday Night Thrillers — True Crime panel will feature several writers including Will Toffan and his book, Watching the Devil Dance: How a Spree Killer Slipped through the Cracks of the Criminal Justice System.


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Essex County-born Natalie Zina Walschots will be among the writers on the Friday Night Fiction panel. Hench, her debut novel exploring what’s like to be an administrative assistant to supervillains, made the 2021 Canada Reads shortlist.

Saturday will bring a series of events including a Black history celebration featuring award-winning Detroit columnist Rochelle Riley along with historians Funke Aladejebi and Cheryl Thompson.

The Saturday evening spotlight on Indigenous authors will showcase several authors including G.A. Grisenthwaite and John Brady McDonald, who made headlines when he “discovered” and “claimed” England for the First Peoples of the Americas in 2000.

Organizers close the book on anniversary celebrations Sunday with the popular Poetry Cafe featuring a panel of celebrated Canadian poets.


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Well said the list of guests at this year’s festival is a testament to how much things have changed since 2001, when publishers authors weren’t exactly rushing to send their writers to Windsor.

“In those first years it was hard to convince them to send people because they didn’t know who we were,” said Wells. “It was only after the first year or two, when we treated everybody so well and we had respectable audiences, that publishers began to seriously consider sending their authors down to this part of the country.”

Tickets are available at .

The festival is offering a one-time “goodwill ticket price” ranging from $15 to $60 so people can pay what they’re able to.

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