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Robson Reading Series coming to an end

After a decade-long run, Vancouver’s Robson Reading Series will be shutting down in March. According to a statement on its website, the series will be concluding in light of the closure of both its host venues – the University of British Columbia library’s Robson Square branch, which closed in August of last year, and the coming March 28 closure of the UBC bookstore at Robson Square.

Run by the UBC bookstore and the university’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Robson Reading Series’ aim is to provide a forum for the discussion of Canadian literature. The series has hosted a number of writers from across the country, including Sheila Heti, Ian Ferguson, Julie Wilson, Linda Besner, and Esi Edugyan.

“Our mandate was to host writers with only one or two published books alongside more well-known ones … to bring in a wider audience, but also as a means to build community,” says Michael Smith, who co-founded the series.

According to Smith, the series’ end was also sparked by economic considerations. In addition to issues over funding, Smith says sales resulting from the events were minimal. “Often, the bookstore couldn’t cover the cost of staffing with the profit from the sale of books,” he says.

“I think it’s a great loss to the city, and to downtown,” Smith adds. “The bookstore [and] library at UBC went above and beyond to extend a helping hand, to offer space, staffing, and finances to host our Canadian writers.”

According to Glenn Drexhage, UBC library’s communications manager, the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre will be “looking for new partners going forward, in Metro Vancouver and possibly beyond, to continue offering a reading series that will highlight Canadian authors.”

The UBC bookstore’s website states that the growth of online retail and a reduced need for textbooks at the store have led them to focus on online sales through the main bookstore website. Prior to the downtown UBC library’s closure, its computer and study space was shuttered and converted into classroom space. It is unclear what led to the closure.

The Robson Reading Series will continue until the end of March. Speakers include dramatic monologue artist Walid Bitar, poet Al Hunter, and Born Weird novelist Andrew Kaufman.

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