The Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD)

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Canadian literature has a diversity problem. Major publishers roll out catalogues full of predominantly white authors. Literary festivals fall into a pattern of white male headliners. Men review books by men far more than they review books written by women and non-binary authors. Diverse voices, whether they’re writers of colour, women, and members of the LGBTQ community are relegated to the sidelines.

It was from this climate that the Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD) was born, a new festival on the literary landscape that has a mission of creating a vibrant community of readers and writers by celebrating diverse authors and literature. The inaugural festival took place in Brampton’s downtown core between May 6-8.

Coming just a few weeks after putting another successful gritLIT: Hamilton’s Readers and Writers Festival to bed, it was wonderful to sit back and watch The FOLD team produce an eye-opening and thoroughly enjoyable festival led by Artistic Director Jael Richardson, whose new picture book, The Stone Thrower, I’ll be featuring in the next Hamilton Magazine. I was able to sit in on four sessions, and I've broken them down below.

A Little Mosque on the Prairie Breakfast
I had never watched an episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie before the FOLD team broadcast one over breakfast before best-selling author and series creator Zarqa Nawaz took the stage. Clever, yet thought-provoking, I quickly became a fan. Nawaz talked about the show and her memoir Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, but also about her plans for the future. I can’t see what she does next.   

PANEL | In The News            
Hosted by author Karen Connelly, the In The News panel featured Canadian authors Farzana Doctor, Jay Pitter, Chase Joynt, and Patti Laboucane-Benson discussing how politics shape the creation of stories. Besides Farzana Doctor who joined us at gritLIT, I was unfamiliar with the panelists, which is the greatest part of the FOLD. I left with a reading list full of authors I had never heard of. I’m especially looking forward to reading Chase Joynt’s You Only Live Twice (coauthored by Mike Hoolboom) from Coach House.  

PRESENTATION | Diverse Can Kid Lit       
This workshop for educators, librarians and parents looking for stories by and about diverse, Canadian authors was hosted by Toronto’s Another Story Bookshop. Covering picture books to YA lit, this presentation brought me back to my eight years in educational publishing. There are few things closer to my heart than diverse children’s literature, and a presentation like this never fails to confirm what incredible talent we have in Canada. 

FEATURE EVENT | The Last Lecture with Lawrence Hill        
I’ll never tire of seeing Lawrence Hill read or be interviewed. He’s always so generous with his stories and his time. Hill read from his current book, The Illegal, “discussing the important role stories play in the lives of those who are marginalized and disenfranchised with a focus on the current global refugee crisis.” He's pictured here with the event's host, Jael Richardson.

Interview: Amber McMillan

Thursday, 9 June 2016
Amber McMillan's We Can't Ever Do This Again (Wolsak and Wynn) was undoubtedly one of my favourite reads of 2015, so it was a pleasure to learn more about it, and Amber's writing process, through this interview.

The first thing I was drawn to was your book's title. We Can't Ever Do This Again is a title I'm sure we can all relate to. Can you tell us a little about the title and what inspired it? 
I struggled with what to call the book for a long time. I couldn’t come up with a title that I thought was relevant to the aims of the book and also comprehensible in and of itself. Then, over the phone between Toronto and Vancouver, my boyfriend said of our separation “We can’t ever do this again.” In the context of our conversation, his comment was meant as a joke but it struck me as encompassing some essential totality that I was after. A decision you make before you know what any of the consequences could possibly be.

We Can't Ever Do This Again is divided into four parts. What can you tell us about each part?
The parts are organized in a loose chronology. If this were a story, these would be the order of events. Except for Part 4. Part 4 leaves the narrative of the book and addresses the issue of how the personal is informed by the wider, more inclusive events that get shared by many more people. Like war, for example.

As a reader, We Can't Ever Do This Again seems deeply personal. How much was inspired by your own life and what was fiction? 
I don’t know how to write a poem of fiction. I can’t imagine how I would think myself into something like that. The library in the town that I was born in has one shelf for non-fiction and one shelf for fiction. Poetry went on the non-fiction shelf. When I was older I asked the librarian how come the poetry books were on the non-fiction shelf instead of somewhere else. He said where else would they go? Now, looking back, I have to agree with him. If the choice is between fiction and non-fiction, I’d put We Can't Ever Do This Again on the non-fiction shelf.

I was struck by the everyday details found in We Can't Ever Do This Again, from waiting for a bus, walking home from school to daily chores. Have you always had such a keen sense of observation?
I don’t know about that. From what I remember, my mum used to say I had my head in the clouds all the time, always distracted. I’m not as much that way now, but I certainly was for a long time. The one time my parents enrolled me in sports was a baseball team for kids under 13. All I remember of that year was standing in the outfield during a game and making chains of dandelions. I would actually take off my baseball glove to do this. Occasionally I would toss fistfulls of grass in the air and spin around as the blades floated back down to the ground. Needless to say, I wasn’t a good player and I didn’t go back the following year.

What's next for you writing wise?
I have a book of non-fiction coming out this fall with Nightwood Editions called The Woods which documents my time living on Protection Island, BC. It has some juicy local history, some murders and a few other surprising turns.

Amber McMillan’s poems have appeared in The Puritan, CV2, Forget Magazine and subTerrain among others. She currently lives on Protection Island, BC. We Can’t Ever Do This Again is her first book. Visit her at Photo Credit: Nathaniel G. Moore

Playa del Carmen: "I shall lie abed and do nothing."

Sunday, 5 June 2016

“What shall you do all your vacation?’, asked Amy. "I shall lie abed and do nothing", replied Meg.”

Three days after gritLIT 2016 ended (Recap here!), I hopped on a plane to Mexico for seven blissful days of reading, eating, and wandering. It was one of those gluttonous vacations you can't help but feel guilty about. It was the first vacation the better half and I took in four years, and likely the last for a while as he dives into an exciting, but busy, next chapter. (Details soon!) Here are just a few of the pictures I snapped in between piƱa coladas.

Doors Open Hamilton and Jane's Walks 2016

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Doors Open Hamilton and Jane’s Walks are two annual events that mark the beginning of spring for me. They’re both the perfect excuse to wander and explore Hamilton’s unique and storied history, learning about the people and places that have helped shape the city we live and work in today.

I began my day of urban adventuring by stopping at a number of Doors Open Hamilton sites in the downtown core. Organized by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario Hamilton Region Branch, in partnership with the Hamilton Burlington Society of Architects, Doors Open Hamilton is a chance to see inside buildings that often aren’t open to the public. This year, 30 buildings opened their doors to the public, including the Cotton Factory, which will be home of the HIVEX 2016 Conference in November.

The Textile Building
I began my Doors Open Hamilton tour at the Textile Building. Tucked between Bay and Caroline, the Textile Building isTextileBuilding1 located at 10 George Street. The four-storey red brick building was built in 1874 (with modifications in 1903), and it was redeveloped in 1988. It’s currently being renovated by Core Urban Inc. into a contemporary office building. The Textile Building was originally home to the E. Van Allen Shirt Company, which manufactured shirts, collars, cuffs and other clothing.

The Doors Open Hamilton brochure promised a look at the before (unrenovated 4th floor), during (2nd floor), and after (a new glass-enclosed elevator in the four-storey atrium), but unfortunately, we were only able to view the second floor, which is currently being renovated into a contemporary office building that will include a gym and day care. Characterized by wood beams and exposed bricks, the Textile Building is stunning, in a raw and unfinished way. There’s no doubt that this project is a work in progress, as evidenced by the empty cigarette packages and hand tools strewn around the site.

Pit Stop #1: St. Mark's Church
Three years ago, there was excitement when the Hamilton Spectator reported that the "boarded up St. Mark's Anglican Church on Bay Street South could be rescued from decay and given a new future under a city plan to turn the building into 'cultural programming space.'" As you can tell from these photos, little has changed in the past few years. St. Mark's Anglican Church was built in 1877 and closed more than a century  later in 1889. It's been owned by the city since 1994. Read more about its "saga" here.

Central Presbyterian Church
Located on Charlton Avenue West, right across the street from Durand Coffee, Central Presbyterian Church is home to a congregation that is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. Built in a neoclassical style in 1908, the church was built by the congregation after their location was destroyed by a fire in 1906. It was built by architect John M. Lyle, whose granddaughter Lorna Harris gave a number of talks on a number of sites during Doors Open Hamilton weekend. Many of her photos and artifacts were on view at Central Presbyterian.

I arrived just in time for the organ recital that began both Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. on the Casavant pipe organ, which is original to the building. Among other original elements at Central Presbyterian church are the interior oak panelling, decorative plaster, and English and Canadian stained glass.

After years of attending Doors Open Hamilton, I’ve noticed a similarity between all the churches I’ve visited. Church volunteers are among the most welcoming folks I’ve encountered, and they’re always so willing to share the history and stories of their congregation and the buildings that house them.

Pit Stop #2: Durand Coffee
A new favourite coffee shoppe in Hamilton? Maybe! Post on this one coming soon.

Hamilton GO Centre (Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway Museum – TH&B)
Next time you’re at the Hamilton GO Centre, look up. Did you know there’s a museum on the second floor that overlooks the main lobby of the station? It’s small, but worth a visit, as it includes a number of artifacts related to transit and rail in Hamilton. The museum is located on the mezzanine level and is operated by retired staff.

The Hamilton GO Centre is located between James Street South and Hughson Street South. It was built in 1933 by architecture firm Fellheimer & Wagner, New York, and restored by Trevor Garwood-Jones in 1995. The building is “a rare example of an art moderne public building with curved forms, polished metals and machined detailing throughout.” The gracious volunteer shared with me that the centre’s benches, some of the windows, and many of the other features of the building that I’m in nearly every day are original to the 1930s. I’ll see the Hamilton GO Centre in a completely different light now.

As Hamilton HIVE Vice-Chair Michael Parente explained in his article yesterday, “Jane’s Walks are a wonderful opportunity to explore parts of the city that may otherwise go unnoticed.” The Jane’s Walk Secret Staircases gave me the opportunity to check out a site in Hamilton I’ve been hoping to find for years — Uli’s Stairs.

Led by Mary Lou Tanner, the Chief Planner at the City of Burlington, Secret Staircases began at the base of the Kenilworth Stairs, in Hamilton’s picturesque Rosedale neighbourhood. The group of approximately 15 of us climbed together, ending up on the Bruce Trail. After a half-kilometre trek along the trail where Mary Lou shared stories of Rosedale and the mysterious Uli, we arrived at the first of Uli’s Stairs, a set of staircases built by Uli himself.

If you’re not familiar with Uli, you’re not the only one! He’s been a mystery to journalists and Rosedale residents for years. Read about Uli (full name Ulrich) in this 2007 article in the Hamilton Spectator. His finely crafted stone staircases are a marvel, and the climb to the top is treacherous, as no rock is the same, and the incline is steep!

Even in his 70s, Uli is still adding to his masterpieces, recently adding benches that allow climbers to pause and take in the breathtaking view. I urge each of you to take the time to visit Uli’s Stairs this spring. They’re worth the trek to East Hamilton.

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