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May 8, 2018

#FOLD2018

The first Festival of Literary Diversity in 2016 was the most interesting, inspiring and potentially transformative literary event I have ever attended—and I would have been back last year but I was out of town. So this year I did not miss a beat purchasing a pass for the Saturday events (and let me tell you, making the choice between Saturday and Sunday was really difficult—there were excellent things going on all weekend long). And once again, it was the very best day. I got the bus at 8:50 and was dropped off in front of Brampton City Hall just forty minutes later. There was even tea and scones for sale, so I was all set for the first event, which was writer Kai Cheng Thom discussing the important of setting with SK Ali (Saints and Misfits which I loved), Catherine Hernandez (Scarborough), Fartumo Kuso (Tale of a Boon’s Wife), and Joshua Whitehead (Johnny Appleseed)Whitehead talked about how huge The Break was in inspiring him how Winnipeg could be used as a setting in his novel, and how he wanted to use his setting as a “place of refuge” for queer Indigenous youth. Ali spoke about writing in the shadows of dominant narratives about Muslims and how she wasn’t trying to subvert that, exactly, because it would simply be falling into the same agenda. Instead, “I was just trying to write the Muslims I didn’t see in books.” She also spoke about how she had to get lessons from fantasy writers on world-building because there were elements of her story that would seem foreign to some readers, although these elements are parts of our communities. Hernandez talked about writing Scarborough, and “wanting to imagine beautiful possibilities for these places.” Kusow spoke of the balance between resisting mainstream images of Africa (Somalia) in her novel, but also she wanted to be honest. (PS I remember the panel in 2016 at which Kusow asked a question about how she, as a Muslim-Canadian immigrant, could find a place for herself in Canadian literature. Which made it particularly exciting to ask her to sign her novel for me this year…)

Next up was The Edge of Suspense, with Amber Dawn (Sodom Road Exit), David A. Robertson (Strangers), Michelle Wan (Death in Dordogne Mystery Series), moderated by the incredible Cherie Dimaline. They all talked about where their stories came from—Dawn sets her story in her hometown of Crystal Beach, ON, the year after the town’s iconic amusement park shuts down. She spoke about coming into her own as a writer as the Pickton trial was going on, and all the questions it evoked, which she uses her work to try to answer, this time in a novel. “I love for my art to have a house,” she said, discussing the novel as a container for the ghost story. Robertson’s YA novel was born of his interest in writing an origin story for a superhero, but he also wanted to have a dialogue in his work about mental health. He also wanted to give Indigenous youth a character in which they could see themselves reflected. And Michelle Wan told us about her own experience that had inspired her botanical mystery series, piecing a story together via flowers and their habitats. She talked about the constraints of literary narratives, and how these really can be artful, but also about her experience writing literary fiction, and how freeing it felt to “step off the path.” And then all three authors had a fantastic conversation about genre, and writers being bold in the forms of literature they’re choosing to tackle. But Dawn notes that Creative Writing Programs still have far to travel in encouraging this boldness in their students.

And then I had a long lunch, plenty of good conversations, met amazing literary people IN REAL LIFE, and tried and failed to exercise restraint while perusing the book sale table (“Don’t you already have books at home?” Anjula from Another Story Books asked me, but I pretended I hadn’t heard a thing). We also got ice cream. And then I took my seat for the Extraordinary Voices panel with Carrianne Leung moderating a discussion with Kim Thuy (Vi), Lee Maracle (My Conversations With Canadians), and Rabindranath Maharaj (Adjacentland). Leung began with a statement Cherie Dimaline made at The FOLD in 2016 about how story is magic. (And I remember this quote! I wrote the whole thing down: “Writing,” says Dimaline, “is the last true magic. Imagine being able to create something out of nothing, and that something is what literature is. It takes faith to create it, and also to receive it.”) Although Maracle suggested the inverse of Dimaline’s point, that story goes around looking for the writers. Maharaj talked about growing up in an oral culture, how everything was exaggerated, and storytelling becomes second-nature. Thuy mentioned that novel has been declared dead over and over ahead, but yet stories (and novels!) persist. Maracle talked about the importance of loving characters in order for the them to become multi-dimensional. And about writing for an audience: “But the initial story is coming to you—Own it.” Thuy talked about how different the discussions about her books are the various countries in which they’re published, which shifts the idea of writing for an audience—because how can you ever know? Maracle shared advice for young writers: “So dance and fall into your own story and don’t climb out until the door closes on you.” Maharaj explains that being a writer is having a particular way of looking at the world, of paying attention and noticing things. And finally Thuy on not fighting a story, on moving with it instead of against it: “And I just say YES.”

One thought on “#FOLD2018”

  1. JC Sutcliffe says:

    Year 1 I was living in a hospital bed, year 2 in England, year 3 away again … see you there next year!

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