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STARFest on a meteor's path

The final week of this year's virtual STARFest is going to be more like a meteor shower with six stellar authors to go before the big finish next Wednesday.


Festival runs until Oct. 28.

Tickets to all 2020 festival events are free; however, organizers remain committed to paying all artists and interviewers for their work. To support the sustainability of STARFest, donations can be made online when you register for events, and online during events. Find out more at


STARFest 2020 has already seen some excellent events with authors including Terese Mailhot, Marina Endicott and Aislinn Hunter as of Monday.

"It's been very, very successful. We're going great guns getting ready for tomorrow night where I am pretty excited about Karma Brown," said festival director Peter Midgley, mentioning the event would feature a lavender muffin cooking show along with host Jennifer Cockrall-King.

The rest of the fest is chock-a-block with six more authors to go, all scheduled within the next week. Here's a quick look at what's still in store.

Emily St. John Mandel

Friday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m.

Hosted by Senator Paula Simons

Friday night's event with Emily St. John Mandel will feature fest fan fave Senator Paula Simons as host. She's a fabulous interviewer, Midgley stated, and the star author is having a great fall as her new book, The Glass Hotel, has just been shortlisted for the Giller Prize.

"I'm really looking forward to talking with Emily. The list of prizes just grows daily. I have not kept track of that, but it's doing exceptionally well with really good reviews."

The novel – her fifth – tells of a Vancouver Island hotel that is at the centre of an international Ponzi scheme. A young man named Paul is suspected of marking graffiti on the window with a threat aimed at the hotel's owner, which aids in upsetting the secret of the scam. The revelation leads to not just the owner's arrest but the hotel staff scatter, dealing with the disruption in various ways. The book is a long look at how lies can cause untold trauma with far-reaching and unpredictable results.

The free online event starts at 7 p.m. on YouTube but pre-registration is encouraged.

Desmond Cole

Sunday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m.

Award-winning Ontario journalist, radio host and activist Desmond Cole brings his insightful book The Skin We're In and his commentary on racial injustice in Toronto, all in the wake of his 2015 Toronto Life cover story exposing police racism including the practice of carding. It's an unflinching look that puts our country under the microscope, and should be required reading for citizens of all colours.

Midgley said interest in this event is sky-high.

"The registrations are off the wall. When I checked before the weekend, we were over 250 people registered for that one."

The free online event will be hosted by Jesse Lipscombe. It starts at 7 p.m. on YouTube but pre-registration is encouraged.

Téa Mutonji and Zalika Reid-Benta

Monday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m.

The final three days of STARFest start with a double-billed event that should continue the important conversations from Desmond Cole the night before.

Téa Mutonji, a poet, was a finalist for the 2019 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for her debut book of poignant short stories called Shut Up You’re Pretty.

Zalika Reid-Banta brings in her own debut collection of short stories called Frying Plantain, which won the 23rd annual Danuta Gleed Literary Award and the 2020 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in literary fiction. It's a series of vignettes in the coming of age of a young Jamaican-Canadian girl growing up in Toronto.

That again is going to be a wonderful conversation both evenings on BLM and other topical issues, Midgley suggested.

They will be hosted by Valerie Mason-John, a legend in the local LGBTQ community who performed as Queenie for many years.

The free online event starts at 7 p.m. on YouTube but pre-registration is encouraged.

Nazanine Hozar

Tuesday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m.

Iran-born Nazanine Hozar sets her stunning debut novel Aria in the period of her country's history that saw the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini and the start of a calamitous war with Iraq. The story is seen through the eyes of a young orphan girl. She will be in conversation with host Marcello Di Cintio.

The free online event starts at 7 p.m. on YouTube but pre-registration is encouraged.

Annabel Lyon

Wednesday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m.

Regional Writer in Residence Conni Massing hosts Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize winner Annabel Lyon who brings her thought-provoking novel Consent to the virtual stage. The story focuses on two sets of sisters whose lives are joined by unspeakable tragedy and the resulting emotions of guilt, resentment and regret.

The free online event starts at 7 p.m. on YouTube but pre-registration is encouraged.


Asking Midgley which event he's looking forward to the most is a lot like asking about his favourite child. There isn't simply one answer.

"Emily St. John Mandel ... has been on our invite list for well on a decade, so she's a big name to snag. Our audiences are really looking forward to her. Desmond Cole is such a hot commodity. The topic of his work – the dealing with race and racial issues in Toronto, and then now with Black Lives Matter coming into the fall – it is so topical, so important that we have those conversations. Yes, I'm just thrilled to have him and to have that immediately followed by Téa Mutonji and Zalika Reid-Banta, two African-Canadian writers who are young and new. Both their first books won national prizes, so yes, it's hard to pick a favourite," he exclaimed, adding his enthusiasm for Annabel Lyon as well, of course.

Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns, and profiles on people.
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