Help Spark Teen Literacy

Fuelled by community support and the generosity of our donors, Wordfest’s Youth Program focuses on teen literacy in Grades 5 to 12 to spark the next generation of engaged Calgarians and avid readers. Our interactive programming model enables us to present the world’s most inspiring authors – such as Sarah Polley, Yann Martel, Cadence Weapon, and Tegan & Sara – in theatrical settings to create unforgettable experiences.

In 2023 alone, we connected 4,600+ junior and high school students with Canadian superstars in person, including Indigenous authors Cherie Dimaline, Michelle Good, Waubgeshig Rice, and David A. Robertson). Donors like you helped provide much-needed class sets (1,600+ books!) to Calgary schools, along with free busing. The teens came alive as they were exposed to big, generous ideas, leaving informed and empowered. They asked questions, got autographs, signed up for library cards, and couldn’t wait to dig into the books. 

We also produce innovative online engagement opportunities, such as the Indigenous Voices series (featuring 13 Canadian writers), our ongoing LitCon collaboration with the CPL and CBE (an online youth mini-festival), and a reading of Belong (originally performed in-person for students in 2020) by Olympian Mark Tewksbury.

We invest so much in teaching small children to read. Wordfest Youth ensures that this early investment continues to grow as those children become teens, who need the ability to read and write, fact-based knowledge, deep empathy, and an aptitude for mutually respectful communication now more than ever. 

How Do I Get Involved?

Donate to Wordfest. Your generosity will help meaningfully connect Calgary students with the world’s most inspiring authors. Find out more here.

Help spread the word! Share this Instagram Reel capturing the energy of the youth events at our 2023 Imaginairium Festival, and this audio recording of Yann Martel sharing the meaning of Life of Pi with Calgary students in 2022! To find out about regular Wordfest programming, join our email list and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Threads.

Connect with us if you’re a Calgary-area educator working with  students in Grades 5-12. To find out first about upcoming opportunities for your classes, sign up for the Youth email list. (To avoid FOMO with our regular programming, please sign up for the Wordfest email list and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Threads.)

Life-Changing Experiences

Over the past decade, Wordfest™ has connected more than 100,000 Calgary students with the world’s most inspiring speakers and authors, including Indigenous authors Cherie Dimaline, Bob Joseph, and Jesse Thistle; Olympic Gold Medalist & social justice activist Mark Tewksbury, NASA astronaut Dave Williams; Governor-General Literary Award-winning graphic novelists Mariko and Jillian Tamaki; and Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Omar El Akkad.

Being such a small school with such a tight budget we are really limited in what we can expose the kids to. The fact that this is free AND we get books is amazing. We love this program! –Alternative High School

Wordfest went above and beyond to facilitate my students attending the Michelle Good event. From providing class copies of the book, to helping with transportation, I cannot overstate how grateful I am that, in a time where our budget and administrative constraints are high, an organization exists that can foster greater student learning and appreciation for the arts. –James Fowler High School

I was ecstatic to meet the man who was able to resuscitate my heart through his beautiful and riveting writing. Omar El Akkad gave us rare insights and pushed us to open our minds to the world beyond our cellphones. His words both on paper and in our ears held a magnitude of rich messages that every student at some point needs to hear.” –Grade 12 CBE student

Some Recent Initiatives

Indigenous Voices: With support from our donors and the Calgary Foundation, Wordfest recorded interviews with 13 leading Indigenous authors (selected with input from series advisor David A. Robertson) to build a library of video resources that could be used in the classroom. Watch the series trailer here, and check out these sample segments with Wab Kinew and Waubgeshig Rice.

Belong (featuring Mark Tewksbury) was a one-man show (commissioned and produced by Wordfest in 2019), which insightfully examined LGBTQ+ identity and toxic masculinity in sport. It was then adapted into a touring performance for Calgary’s junior and high schools reaching 5,000+ students attending live. In partnership with BMO Canada, Wordfest also produced an inspirational video by Tewksbury on the themes in Belong, geared for classroom discussion.

Making Reparations – Books in Schools Initiative: Our generous donors helped Wordfest send every junior high school in the city copies of books by Cheryl Foggo (Pourin Down Rain), as well as Canadian author Desmond Cole (The Skin We’re In), Koa Beck (White Feminism) and Fredrick Joseph (The Black Friend). Cole, Beck and Joseph were also featured in Wordfest’s online storytelling show The Way We Make Reparations (2021), which featured questions from students from St. Margaret’s Junior High School.

Continue This Calgary Story of
Innovative Youth Activation

For questions about making a contribution, please contact Everett Wilson, Director of Development and Audience Engagement at