Sunday, December 2, 2012

Why Toronto Needs an Urban Book Festival

Kya Publishing was initially established to support the books I (Stacey Marie Robinson) have written and to provide an outlet for me to share these works with others, with the hopes of seeing Kya Publishing develop into a natural home for other urban Canadian writers who have not yet established a place within the current Canadian literary market.

I am a writer, and have been an “aspiring author” since adolescence. I had the ideas, the passion, and the determination, but was not always presented with an opportunity. The Toronto Urban Book Expo (TUBE) is my way of giving an opportunity to writers like myself, and including myself, so that we have a consistent venue to display our work, and share our art and voice with the greater society.

The importance of being a supporting voice in the Canadian urban literary and cultural community was reinforced for me when I was invited to attend a Toronto Public Library event in celebration of Black-Canadian writers in February of 2010. Through recommendation from author/scholar Dr. George Elliott Clarke and invitation from the TPL, I had the honour of sharing the stage with Dr. Clarke, legendary author Austin Clarke, contemporary writer Dalton Higgins, and another emerging writer, Yvette Trancoso, on a discussion panel about being a Black-Canadian writer.

While attending this event, I recognized that while Austin Clarke and his peers had led the movement of Caribbean- and Black-Canadian literature, it was evident through discussion and through research (or lack thereof), that the ongoing devcelopment and emergence of writers of my generation was not yet commonplace. As a "designated" representative for the “new voice” of Black-Canadian literature, I realized that I must seize the opportunity to create an environment of support, celebration, and awareness for not only my own writing, but also the writing of my peers.

In order to increase visibility for my writing and the genre of urban fiction, I have been present at numerous cultural festivals and literary events in the city of Toronto, including: AfroFest, Word on the Street, the Irie Music Festival, and University of Toronto black history month celebrations.

While support has been great at the above-mentioned events and the opportunity for communication assisted in exposure for Kya Publishing, I felt that a specified event for urban/Black-Canadian literature would be beneficial: having materials and products to share in an exclusive venue with a centralized location, and invited international authors and guests as well. Also, the fees to participate in the above-mentioned events can range from $400-600 per vendor booth (which can be pricy for an amateur writer who just wants to expose his/her work) and the visitors to the booth are not always necessarily readers or fans/aware of the urban fiction genre.

Toronto Urban Book Expo would allow for a dedicated audience, as well as decreased participation fees.

Having enjoyed the opportunities to promote arts and urban culture in Toronto, I travelled to the United States of America to investigate the structure of their literary opportunities. Due to the larger urban population and greater popularity of urban fiction, there was no surprise to find that there were already numerous urban book festivals underway in the U.S.

Since the genre of urban fiction is relatively new in the international literary world, most of the festivals had only been established within the last 5 years. Of the biggest urban books festivals was the National Black Book Festival (NBBF), in Houston, Texas. I attended this festival in May of 2010 as a vendor. The NBBF—and research and conversations with the festival’s founder, Gwen Richardson—inspired me to pursue producing a similar event in Toronto. After attending and connecting with authors and urban fiction readers from across the country all under one roof, this confirmed that not only was there a huge market and support in the United States, but also that the American writers were extremely unfamiliar and under-exposed to urban-Canadian authors.

Also in May of 2010, I travelled to New York City to attend Book Expo America, the largest book trade show in North America. In the “African-American Pavilion” in particular, I was able to connect with the prominent authors and publishers that were present. Along with research, conversation, and investigation with those in attendance at the two major book festivals, as well as follow-up communication with the numerous urban fiction authors I encountered, I discovered that Toronto was the only major North American city that did not have an exclusive urban/”Black” book festival on the same scale.

A few of the festivals where urban fiction authors converge to share, sell, and celebrate their works (some, in cities much smaller and less diverse than Toronto) include:

Las Vegas Black Book Festival (Las Vegas, Nevada) – February
Baltimore Urban Book Festival (Baltimore, Maryland) – April
National Black Book Festival (Houston, Texas) – May/June
African American Book Festival (Austin, Texas) – June
Harlem Book Fair (New York City, New York) – July
Atlanta Black Book Festival (Atlanta, Georgia) – August
Los Angeles Black Book Expo – (Los Angeles, California) – August
North Carolina Black Book Festival (Winston-Salem, North Carolina) – October

While “urban” culture and Black-Canadian culture are not mutually exclusive, there is a connection between the celebration of culture and the sharing of values and experiences that can be communicated effectively to many Canadian cultures, particularly the culture of first- and second-generation Canadians who share a collective identity as urban Canadians with common experiences.

Toronto needs an urban book festival because it is so important to nurture and celebrate these experiences, and the documented voices of contemporary urban Canadians.

It is important to provide a regular opportunity for urban writers to share their books, develop a readership, and network with their peers in order to see this genre grow and develop in Canada as it has in other parts of the continent.

Toronto needs TUBE because the voices of contemporary urban-Canadians and their experiences need to be documented and recognized in the greater literary community. Kya Publishing is an ideal presenter of this type of festival because for the past few years we have been one of the only voices of "urban fiction" in Ontario, and have thus far developed the passion, education, and expertise to ensure the growth of the related urban cultural infrastructure through opportunity and visibility.

 Kya Publishing’s mission is to give Canadian urban authors an opportunity to share their work while promoting, documenting, and developing urban Canadian culture. The vision of the Toronto Urban Book Expo is to introduce Canadian and international readers to the Canadian urban fiction literary market, and to support the growth of this culture through stories and opportunity.

No comments:

Post a Comment