When Stuart McLean sits down to write, there’s usually not a child standing in front of him, blowing discordantly on a harmonica. And John Ralston Saul, philosopher and novelist, doesn’t stop by to say hello. And McLean is usually not writing outdoors in late September. “That was the hardest part,” said McLean, rubbing his cold hands together last Sunday afternoon in Queen’s Park.
The host of CBC Radio’s Vinyl Cafe was one of eight authors creating “literary portraits” at Sunday’s Word on the Street festival—a glimpse of the creative process at work, at an event otherwise about the finished product. Created by common-law partners Siri Agrell and Dave McGinn (she’s a communications advisor to Liberal MPP Kathleen Wynne; he’s an arts journalist), TypeFace was also a Toronto Public Library fundraiser.
While most other tables featured stacks of books and magazines for sale, the TypeFace table was covered in notebooks, pens, and half-empty coffee cups. Authors had 15 minutes to interview subjects and write a descriptive “portrait.”
When Jennifer McKinney sat down with Toronto Star columnist Joe Fiorito, he asked her to describe her two biggest adventures. She only had time to describe one: the time she and her one-year-old daughter spent four weeks at sea as the only passengers on a freighter going from Montreal to Cape Town.
“I think sometimes I’m leading such a dull life,” she said afterwards. “But I should remember those parts.”
Agrell and McGinn hope to extend TypeFace beyond Sunday’s one-off. Lining up willing writers was no problem, and judging by the crowds that stopped in for a portrait, finding subjects should be just as easy. “Some people line up at TIFF to see Brad Pitt,” said portrait recipient Angela Libby. “We follow Stuart McLean.”