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.

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