Diaspora Dialogues Gives Emerging Writers a Voice

Good initiative given the power of story telling and writing. CanLit includes a number of strong immigrant and visible minority writers (e.g., Bissoondath, Vassanji, Ondaatje, Hage, Hill):

New writers are using mentorship opportunities to create and share more diverse and inclusive stories about Toronto’s history and culture.

“What we want to do is to create a living history of Toronto through literature [and] make it as diverse as the city itself,” says Helen Walsh, the president of Diaspora Dialogues  – a charitable society made up of writers, artists and performers.

“I’m not surprised that there are at least 50 to 60 countries represented through Diaspora Dialogues – lots of voices from Asia, Africa and Northern Europe,” Walsh adds. “Often, people write about their own cultural background and we want to bring Toronto to life through literature.”

Mentoring new writers

Toronto’s iconic Old City Hall, a national historic site, was the stage for Diaspora Dialogues during Doors Open Toronto, an event that offers access to buildings with historical significance across the city.

“Often, people write about their own cultural background and we want to bring Toronto to life through literature.”

Jamaican-born and Ottawa-raised emerging writer Dianah Smith is one of 12 writers who presented their work at Old City Hall. As a teacher and arts educator, Smith joined Diaspora Dialogues in 2014 for its mentoring program, in which she paired-up with Jamaican-Canadian writer and media professional Martin Mordecai.

“For about six months, he helped me to get into [a] schedule of my draft and first novel, finalizing some of the scenes of my manuscript to get it ready for publication,” Smith says about her experience as a mentee.

“It’s a story about a seven-year-old girl, Jemela Campbell, and her experience in immigrating from Jamaica to Canada and her first year in Canada,” Smith explains.

The excerpt she reads is from the novel, with a working title The Promise of Foreign, which explores some of the challenges newcomer parents face in Canada such as finding work and keeping jobs.

Seeking recognition as writers

“As a racialized person of colour, as an immigrant, you don’t really feel represented in the publishing world,” Smith explains. “You have names like Margaret Atwood, mainly white and middle-class people.”

She says that while Diaspora Dialogues does not restrict white writers from participating, it also tries “to have alternative voices to give immigrants and indigenous people the opportunity to share their stories.”

Author Mia Herrera adds that working in the Canadian publishing and writing industry is precarious.

“A writer who publishes regularly makes a salary of about $12,000 a year. You can’t make a living on that,” she says.

Born to Filipino parents, Herrera now lives in Bradford, Ont. She works in communications and marketing and says she continues to write because it is her passion.

Smith says she is still in the process of finding an interested publisher for her novel. While her mentorship program ended last fall, she continues to participate in other programs led by Diaspora Dialogues such as Lunch and Learn events, workshops about pitching to agents, as well as mentee book readings such as the one at Old City Hall.

Source: Diaspora Dialogues Gives Emerging Writers a Voice – New Canadian Media

Diversity In Canadian Literature Is Long Overdue #DiverseCanLit | Jael Richardson

One of the things that I always found interesting is the number of Canadian authors of diverse backgrounds (e.g., Ondaatje, Vassanji, Hill, Hage) and how that enriched Canada. Richardson argues not enough and has organized this upcoming event aims to address that:

In 2014, I met with Scholastic Book Buyer Leonicka Valcius. She was doing important work on social media via the hashtag #DiverseCanLit. She was passionate about increasing the representation of people of colour in the industry. She was also interested in dismantling literary elitism — pushing against the hierarchy that places literary fiction in the upper echelon of worthy reading and leaves genres like graphic novels, science fiction, speculative fiction, crime novels and romance novels on the literary worthiness periphery.

Together, we made plans to kickoff the first Festival of Literary Diversity in May 2016.

In our first planning meeting, our small team of three talked about where we might host the festival. Toronto is so dense — literary events happen throughout the city year-round, the literary scene is vibrant — supporting numerous long-standing series and events. In the suburbs, reading series are not as common. Many readers have never been to a literary festival or a reading, and many suburban and rural writers I know feel disconnected from the action.

Brampton is one of Canada’s youngest cities. It is amongst the most diverse cities in the country. The downtown core is easily accessible from Union Station and close to the airport. It was the perfect place for the FOLD.

But Brampton was also a risk. It’s considered to be a “bedroom community” by some — a place where residents sleep, but not a place where they go to enjoy life or work. And while the population is large and the downtown core boasts great accessible venues, the FOLD would be the city’s first major event.

So while the Festival of Literary Diversity will serve as a necessary addition to Canada’s literary landscape, it will also play an important role in Brampton’s growth and development. Backed by a committed planning team and a supportive board of directors — as well as significant municipal and provincial funding — the first festival is set to welcome over 40 authors, spoken word artists and literary professionals for a three-day event on May 6 to 8, delivering more than 30 sessions for readers and writers from all walks of life in historic, downtown Brampton.

Our hope is that the FOLD will benefit readers and writers across Canada — showcasing voices they may not otherwise encounter, highlighting topics and discussions that will evoke thought-provoking conversations which will have a positive impact on Canada’s literary arts scene for years to come.

Source: Diversity In Canadian Literature Is Long Overdue | Jael Richardson

Israeli novel Borderlife is cut from school curriculum, becomes bestseller

Seems like these are the kinds of novels that should be read by high school students to help them see the humanity in the other (as should comparable readings be part of Palestinian and Arab curricula):

A novel by an Israeli author about a love affair between an Israeli Jewish woman and a Palestinian Muslim man from the West Bank who meet in New York has been excluded from Israel’s regular high school curriculum, out of concern it might threaten the Jewish identity of students reading it.

The book, written by Dorit Rabinyan and known in English as Borderlife, was recommended for inclusion in the curriculum of upper high school grades by a committee advising the education ministry, which nevertheless decided against it. “Young people of adolescent age tend to romanticize and don’t, in many cases, have the systemic vision that includes considerations involving maintaining the national-ethnic identity of the people and the significance of miscegenation,” a senior ministry official said, according to Ha’aretz, an Israeli newspaper. (The Hebrew word translated by Ha’aretz as “miscegenation” can also mean “assimilation.”) The official, in other words, feared that reading the book might lead students to accept as normal romance between Jews and Muslims.

The education ministry later backtracked to some degree and said the book could be taught in advanced literature classes, but would not be part of the regular curriculum, according to Ha’aretz.

In an interview, Rabinyan describes the novel’s central romance as one in which the protagonists for the first time discover a member of their homeland’s opposite community as an individual. Hilmi, the Palestinian, is simply Hilmi, a man. And Liat “is no longer her Israeli people, her Israeli country, army, government. She’s herself.”

At the same time, Rabinyan says, every individual is shaped by the soil on which they grow, and she wanted to explore the resulting tensions when the two characters connect. “What I was looking into was the power of love to drift us into each other’s identity, and to have our mutual third identity that is born be a threat, be the one that can colour us with the loved one’s colours, and take over and maybe swallow ourselves and our original identity,” she says.

Rabinyan drew on her own past when writing the book. “I did live a year in New York. I did meet a group of young Palestinians who impressed me and really made me tick in a way that inspired me.” But she says that when writing literature, memories are not enough. “We have to add a portion of fantasy.”

The political undertones of the book might not have been Rabinyan’s primary concern, but they are unavoidable. The symbiosis of the couple, she says, is like the symbiosis of Palestinians and Israelis inhabiting the same land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. “We have no borderlines between us, and we have no definition of our identities in ways that usually two neighbours have, and this is why we treat one another in such a way that maintains the conflict to be more than just a fight of two gangs over territory,” she says.

Instead, says Rabinyan, the conflict is defined as an existential question of identity. “It’s a matter of the Jewish DNA being threatened by the surrounding Arab culture,” and it is this fear of being swallowed that justifies—demands, even—Jews’ isolation from their Palestinian neighbours.

Source: Borderlife is cut from school curriculum, becomes bestseller

ICYMI: Michael Smolander: Canadian literature is intimately linked to multiculturalism | Ottawa Citizen

On how multiculturalism is reflected in, and reflects multiculturalism, and some of the limitations and mixed nature of Canadian literature and the multiculturalism narrative:

It is unsurprising that Canada’s literature reflects the practical challenges of multiculturalism. Queen’s University professor Will Kymlicka says that although multicultural policies are difficult to implement and maintain, they are necessary to sustain a well-functioning democracy.

Kymlicka argues that multicultural policies can take many forms such as re-tooling education curriculums “to include the history and culture of minority groups” and even “teaching police officers, social workers and health-care professionals to be sensitive to cultural differences in their work.”

In this way, novels expressing dissatisfaction with the level of inclusion immigrant groups experience are an important measure of democratic vitality and can act as a guide for policy reformers.

Frances Brooke, the English essayist, correctly described Canadian literature as “bilingual, multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic, postcolonial, postmodern and even multinational.” The many examples of novels by Canadian writers detailing their experiences with immigration and cultural difference give weight to Brooke’s definition.

Indeed, Canada’s literary identity crisis can be relaxed given the persistence of the uniquely Canadian theme that highlights the challenges associated with the multicultural mission.

While works by Choy and Ondaatje reflect a less-than-rosy history of immigration in Canada prior to the widespread legal guarantees of free cultural expression, Hage has since advanced the idea that inclusion into Canadian society remains an elusive challenge for many immigrants.

To forge a more inclusive and democratic order, it is crucial that Canadian literary works exposing the shortcomings of the multicultural project be understood and addressed.

Source: Michael Smolander: Canadian literature is intimately linked to multiculturalism | Ottawa Citizen

As a student of David Gilmour, and a feminist, I say put away the rope – The Globe and Mail

A bit off topic but as it relates to political correctness, have been following the “public lynching” of David Gilmour, a well-known author and professor at University of Toronto, who in a clumsy interview, explained why he only teaches male authors because those are the ones he relates to best.

Given that UofT also offers specialized courses by geographic region and community (e.g., Canlit, American, African, Asian, British and Jewish literature), gender (including LGBT), Shakespeare,  post-colonial etc., I find the criticism excessive. Students can choose or not to take the course, and the issue for the university is not that each course should be a survey type course. Rather, the English department has to ensure that there is a full-range of course themes to provide students with a broad perspective on writing and literature, and looking at the undergraduate calendar, that would appear to be the case.

As a student of David Gilmour, and a feminist, I say put away the rope – The Globe and Mail.

David Gilmour controversy: Margaret Atwood says universities places for ‘free expression’

‘Down the hall’ from David Gilmour

Why Teach Multicultural Literature? | Bhakti Shringarpure

I would call it world literature, and agree that more exposure to different perspectives is better (and we are fortunate in Canada to have many Canadian writers who draw upon their formative experiences in their country of origin).

This is a bit of an over-the-top debate between a student, commenting on Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and his professor, Bhakti Shringarpure. However, illustrates the sensitivities of some.

Why Teach Multicultural Literature? | Bhakti Shringarpure.