I remember seeing the idea for FOLD grow on Twitter over a year ago to finally coming together. I looked at the lineup and sessions and bought a weekend pass. I liked the idea of FOLD in theory but the reality was so much better than I possibly expected. Everyone involved should be incredibly proud of what they accomplished this past weekend.
The inaugural FOLD event was held at the Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives centre in downtown Brampton. Although I work about 5 minutes south of this building, I had never been to it before. It’s an interesting building that mixes old and new as an addition was built over an old courthouse that was built in 1867.
I attended Brian Francis’ Publishing 101 which was an entertaining and straightforward walk through the ins and outs of trying to get published from completing a manuscript (i.e. – it’s a good idea to hire a freelance editor) to query letter tips to get an agent, to the realities of being a published writer (i.e. – you’ll likely have to keep your day job). Brian’s session was funny, informative and pragmatic.
After the Publishing session I moved upstairs to the old courtroom for a session on Powerful Protagonists with (once again) Brian Francis, Waubgeshig Rice, Sabrina Ramnanan and Heather O’Neil. Aga Maksimowska, author of Giant, (who attended the Humber School for Writers the same year as me a long time ago, so it was nice to see someone made good), moderated this session. Each author read from their book and then Aga led the discussion on how each author approached writing strong protagonists. I was particularly impressed by Waub’s story who said he was inspired by his aunt’s life and wanted his female protagonist to fight against some of the same prejudices he faced going to university in Toronto.
After this we broke for lunch. I sat in the main courtyard with a group of attendees and we talked about the sessions we attended. Sitting with us was Zarqa Nawaz, an author and the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie. She spoke a little about bringing humour into her work and the reception of her book by her family (A discussion point that came up several times through the weekend is how we portray our families and how that portrayal could be received). Although pizza and chips were for sale in the courtyard, some volunteers came around and said they ordered too much food for the writers so we were free to help ourselves to tacos provided by local Mexican restaurant La Catrina.
After lunch I attended the Writing YA session. For every session put on this weekend, there was another one scheduled I really wanted to see. But this one was I was most conflicted about. In the court room upstairs was Vivek Shireya, Zoe Whittal and Chase Joynt talking about Defying Boundaries. But Angela Misri, author of the Portia Adams series, gave the YA equivalent of Brian Francis’ Publishing 101, which was incredibly helpful since my current project is in the YA genre and I don’t have a lot of experience with it. Some seemingly obvious tips, like don’t have a heavy handed message, kids know when they’re being taught something and might not like it, don’t talk down to your audience, are probably common pitfalls for new YA writers.
Following this was probably the most important session of the Festival: Publishing (More) Diverse Stories. The session was moderated by the Chair of The Fold, Leonicka Valcius, and featured Anita Chong, Senior Editor at McClelland & Stewart, Barbara Howson, Vice President of Sales and Licensing at House of Anansi, Bianca Spence from the Ontario Media Development Corporation, Rachael Thompson, an editor at ROOM Magazine and Susan Travis, an in-house territory rep for Scholastic Canada. Right from the start, Valcius said, “we know diverse books are important,” and jumped straight into actionable measures each person of the panel and audience could do to help to improve diversity in literature. ROOM recently had their women of colour issue, Travis spoke of approaching booksellers and wanting to increase diversity in what she has to offer them, Howson spoke of Anansi’s kid imprint, Grounwood Books’, track record. Chong and Spence said they were often the only people of colour in their respective fields and as such were sometimes expected to be a champion for all people of colour. Howson suggested to the audience that we could help the cause for diverse books by taking these books out from our local libraries, putting them on hold, demanding they be ordered from our librarians. I had never thought of that before and I’ll look to change the books I take out for my kids (particularly for my son, for whom I usually just take out 10 page pared down movie adaptations).
The Writer’s Court featured four aspiring authors read an excerpt of their work before four judges: Janice Zawerbny, the senior editor of Canadian Fiction at House of Anansi Press, Léonicka Valcius, book buyer at Scholastic Books, literary agent Carly Watters, and Troy Palmer, the creative director at Little Fiction/Big Truths. I happened to be one of the four readers and I loved listening to the other three readings. My own reading went well, although it was a little nerve wracking. The judges said kind things and afterwards audience members gave me amazing compliments, but the one thing that kept echoing in my mind afterwards was Janice Zawerbny’s comment, “if you’re writing in the literary fiction genre, you might want to tighten up the prose.” Ouch. But it was the most helpful of all the comments I received and I’ve gone back to my MS with renewed purpose.
The final event of the day was a networking event held at The Golden Restaurant. Jon Chan Simpson, author of Chinkstar, read from this excellent list Publishing My First (Diverse) Book: 39 Things I’m Pretty Sure Happened.
Unfortunately, the festival took place over Mother’s Day weekend, so I couldn’t get to Brampton before lunch on the Sunday. I showed up for a great session, moderated by Rashi Khilnani and featuring Cherie Dimaline, Carrianne Leung and Sabrina Ramananan, called Talk to Me:On Language and Dialogue. This was perhaps my favourite session of the weekend. Each author read from their work and then spoke about the language in their novel, how they incorporated foreign words and accents and the way those choices were handled by their editors. Ramananan spoke of how she and her brother used to imitate their mother’s Trinidadian accent and how they worked together to get the accented English to sound authentic. Leung was at the opposite end of the spectrum, insisting she didn’t want to write her mother as speaking with an accent as it was something people mocked her for when she was younger. I wondered how much was the difference between speaking accented English and learning English as a second language. I sided with Leung’s perspective as I still remember the hurt look on my mother’s face when I imitated her accent. During the Q&A, a young woman asked about being a spokesperson for your culture and each author tackled what that meant to them. Afterwards, I asked that young woman, “was your question, ‘what if you don’t want to be a spokesperson for you culture?'” and she nodded.
Afterwards was The Diverse Can Lit Writer’s Hub where exhibitors interested in diverse authors spoke one-on-one with attendees. Some of the exhibitors included ECW Press, Dundurn Press, The New Quarterly, Room Magazine, Little Fiction/Big Truths and Diaspora Dialogues.
The FOLD festival was closed by Lawerence Hill reading from The Illegal and answering some questions from the audience. Local author, Peter Jailall asked Hill what his definition of CanLit was in 2016 and Lawerence simply replied, “Canadian literature is literature written by a Canadian.”
I met so many amazing and inspiring people over the weekend. I wish I could’ve seen all the sessions and talked to all the authors, but this was an incredibly important event and I’m so happy I came out.
At the moment I’m reading James Elroy’s The Black Dahlia for a book club and it’s about two male cops in the 40’s dealing with their tough guy angst trying to catch a killer. The main detectives and the rest of police crew are generally awful human beings, POCs are one dimensional character sketches sprinkled around so the cops can use racial slurs when talking about them. Women are demeaned constantly (Kay, the love interest is the only woman in the book handled decently), the titular character is the archetypal woman in a fridge. I don’t care about this book at all, and I can’t wait to be done with it and dig into my book haul from The FOLD.