The mission of IFOA programming is to promote writing and reading on both a local and international level and to showcase excellence in Canadian literature. It also aims to introduce young readers to the pleasures and possibilities of reading and writing; to provide Canadian and international authors with an opportunity to meet and to exchange ideas; and to offer programs and events for a wide range of communities and age groups that increase the awareness of all forms of literature.
Since its inception in 1974, the IFOA (formerly Authors at Harbourfront Centre) has played an important role in the cultural life of Canada by presenting the finest international novelists, poets, playwrights, short story writers and biographers, while simultaneously providing Canadian writers with an internationally recognized forum in which to present their work. From early on, the IFOA featured important Canadian writers such as Robertson Davies, Mordecai Richler,Al Purdy, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Farley Mowat, Irving Layton, Northrop Frye, and Hugh MacLennan.
Incorporated in 1986 as a non-profit organization with a mandate to cultivate and advance the cause of literature, the IFOA is home to a weekly event series (September to June), the annual International Festival of Authors (October), and, for younger readers, YoungIFOA (October) and ALOUD: a Celebration for Young Readers with Forest of Reading® Festival of Trees™ (May)
The Festival, which takes places at the Harbourfront Centre, and the weekly series together have held readings, round table discussions, interviews and performances involving over 8,000 authors from more than 100 countries. Annually, IFOA’s programs attract over 80,000 audience members. The majority of attendees come from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), but there is a growing percentage of audience members that come from across Ontario, the United States and abroad.
International Festival of Authors
The International Festival of Authors was inaugurated in 1980 with a mandate to bring together the best writers of contemporary world literature. Like the weekly series, the International Festival of Authors includes readings, interviews, round table discussions and talks, as well as public book signings and a festival bookstore. It also continues to present readings by Scotiabank Giller Prize, Governor General’s Literary Award and Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize finalists and the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction recipients, and to feature the awarding of the $10,000 Harbourfront Festival Prize. The Harbourfront Festival Prize is presented annually to an author in recognition of his or her contribution to Canadian letters, based on the merits of the author's own published work or the time he or she has invested in nurturing the next generation of literary talent. Recent winners include Austin Clarke, Alice Munro and Seth.
The IFOA in the 21st Century
In 2007, IFOA introduced its touring program, which now visits communities in numerous cities and towns across Ontario, such as Barrie, Burlington, Hamilton, London, Midland, Milton, Orillia, Owen Sound, Parry Sound, Picton, Port Hope, Sudbury, Uxbridge, Thunder Bay, Windsor and Woodstock.
YoungIFOA, an integral part of IFOA, was born as a way to include a younger generation of readers in a festival of international repute. ALOUD: a Celebration for Young Readers was also introduced in 2005, featuring some of the world's leading authors for young people. In 2010, ALOUD was incorporated as part of the Forest of Reading® Festival of Trees™. In May 2007, IFOA hosted the first annual Forest of Reading® Festival of Trees™ on the Harbourfront Centre site. Now Canada's largest children's literary event, attracting 8000 audience members annually, the festival celebrates the shared experience of reading through award ceremonies, workshops and activities. Festival of Trees™ is presented with the Ontario Library Association.
Each IFOA event is digitally recorded on photo, video and audio. Beginning in 2006, these recordings have been sent to the holdings of Library and Archives Canada. This not only grants researchers and documentary filmmakers access to the archives, but also acts as a means of permanent documentation of the IFOA’s extensive programming.