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Last Modified: July 2, 2021
Shelley Youngblut
Interview with Wordfest’s Shelley Youngblut

“I’ve discovered through Wordfest that authors are just the loveliest of the loveliest people.” –Shelley Youngblut

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m the CEO & Creative Ringleader at Wordfest, which connects Calgarians (and now the world) to the most powerful ideas through the most engaging authors.

Take us through a day in your life.
Couldn’t possibly.

How has the pandemic changed your job?
We very quickly moved from being a live theatrical event producer to a professional online broadcaster. The small but mighty team had to become instant experts in broadcast platforms, animation, original theme music, original title sequences, and home studios (lighting, sound). We saw an opportunity to create a national and international platform for ourselves, presenting authors from all over the world and tripling our audiences. I’m still on the phone with publishers and publicists all day long, but I also host at least one show a week from my home studio (I actually read five books and did five interviews last week alone), and I’m constantly working with the team remotely to imagineer ways to make our programming even more professional and creative and tasty.

Tell us one thing about your job as the CEO and Creative Ringleader at WordFest that people would be surprised to know.
I still squeal with delight when I get book mail.

What is one Alberta book that everyone should read?
Note from the Read Alberta editors: This was an unfair question. I’m not sure how we expected Shelley to keep the list under twenty-five, never mind one! There are many, many more authors and books she would have loved to include. 

That is impossible. I would invite people to read any cookbook by Julie Van Rosendaal, any poetry book by Richard Harrison, any YA book by Richard Van Camp, anything by Sharon Butala, any novel by Ali Bryan, anything by Cheryl Foggo, any mystery by Wayne Arthurson, anything by Larissa Lai, anything by Will Ferguson and Todd Babiak, any graphic novel by Clem and Olivier Martini, anything by Joshua Whitehead, Vivek Shraya, Suzette Mayr and Aritha Van Herk, any photography book by George Webber, any art book by Mary Beth Laviolette. Discover Benjamin Hertwig, Ian Kinney, Beth Everest, Richard Kemick, Rea Tarvydas…. Keep Rosemary Griebel and Alice Major close. I could keep going forever and this is just the beginning, so please, if you must quote me here, make that very clear. My Alberta bookstore is busting with great reads and there are many aisles that we have yet to fill.

What’s a question you wish people would ask you about your work?
Explain why making connections matters so deeply to you.

How do you organize your personal library?
By my connections to the subject matter. In the living room, it’s a sampling of my many obsessions. In the second floor hallway, it’s all my Tudor novels. My upstairs office bookshelf is divided into sections featuring magazine and cultural essayists, fiction, music, TV, film, advertising, poker, pop culture, sports, graphic design, pop-up books and odd bits and pieces (a book about Christmas cards, another about dreams, another about housewives). The back of my desk is another shelf, where I keep books written by my friends. It’s such a delight to see that the books have now overflowed all over the house, as I’ve discovered through Wordfest that authors are just the loveliest of the loveliest people – and my new friends.

Do you see any exciting developments happening in the literary world?
Diversity, diversity, diversity: in who is writing, what they are writing, where they are writing, how their books are packaged and sold and read, and in audiences and their appetites for more. And I love both the book/magazine hybrids, as well as artisanal books.

What’s your educational and professional background and did it help you get to where you are today?
I was a magazine editor for almost thirty years and I still see what I am doing at Wordfest as a general interest magazine in three-dimensions. It’s still all about connecting people with ideas to bring out their best selves.


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