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.

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