Sunday, February 3, 2013

"Defining Canadian Urban Fiction" ~ Part Three

Saturday, February 2, 2013 was a great day.At the Malvern branch of the Toronto Public Library, we gathered to discuss a topic that is of utmost importance to Kya Publishing--the definition of the genre urban fiction, and what it specifically means in a Canadian context.

Moderated by journalist Angela Walcott, and featuring panelists relationship blogger Telisha Ng, Christian non-fiction author Tanika Chambers, Life Fiction author D. A. Bourne, TDSB educator Camille Ramnath, hip hop artist General, and children's author Angelot Ndongmo, the discussion took the panelists and attendees through a discussion based on ten questions, and leading up to the final question: "How would you define Canadian Urban Fiction?"

Angela Walcott (left) & SMR
The event began with a welcome address from Toronto Public Library's Joanne Bainbridge, the Senior Branch Head of the Malvern District Branch, who let everyone know that urban fiction is a hot commodity on the shelves! She expressed her interest in bringing more urban fiction to the library, and looking forward to more Canadian contributions to the Rita Cox collection, that is housed at the Malvern Branch. The Rita Cox collection features materials that focus on the Black and Caribbean cultural and historical experience, including the books of Kya Publishing's Stacey Marie Robinson.

After Joanne's address, Stacey welcomed the gathering and introduced the afternoon's objectives: to start a dialogue, to promote and celebrate the works of the featured writers, and of establish a working definition of the genre of Canadian Urban fiction to be used in research, development, and communication from Kya Publishing, and other Canadian cultural advocates.

D.A. Bourne read an except from his novel "Unshaken," Tanika Chambers read from her book "Single, Ready & Waiting," General introduced his music video for "Runaway Slave," Telisha Ng read from her blog "Goddess Intellect," and Angelot Ndongmo read from her books "Loving Me," and "Boy, I'm Loving Me" as well as performed a piece with her drummer. The mood was set, and the talent was declared!

And the "Defining Canadian Urban Fiction" questions began: here's a look at the questions that were asked, and a few of the responses received:

(1) Has the word "urban" become another way of saying "black," and does race always apply when the word "urban" is used?"

-General believes that "urban" is often used as a code word for "black" when it comes to music, events, and classifying a culture...sometimes unfairly
-others felt that the word "urban" is becoming interchangeable, and that the trend is changing with the changing face of the community

(2) Does literature play a strong role in developing identity? Do you have any books that influenced your life and personal identity?

-an audience member said that the books that first influence us are the books that are found in our homes; it is important to be aware of this
-Camille mentioned that not only does it develop you own identity, but it also helps you to be aware of others' identity, and the spaces they occupy as well

(3) What do you know about "urban fiction," and what is your general impression of it? Do you think there will ever be a place for it in the Canadian literary world? Does it need mainstream acceptance to develop?

-D.A. felt that urban fiction were stories of our generation, sometimes reflective of "street literature" and representative of a a variety of experiences with a multicultural edge
-when being reviewed by an American company (Raw Sistaz) that the "Canadian vernacular" was evident to them
-Angelot feels that we do need mainstream support, we need to find our own voices, and also support one another
-It was mentioned that many Canadian book awards (i.e. Giller Prize) do not feel inclusive of urban writing

(4) What do you think urban music, urban radio, and urban culture means to Canada, and why is it so difficult for us to form a strong infrasructure for its development?

-General provided a overview of the history of urban music in Toronto, the importance of support from commercial radio, and how the infrastructure must support the artists and their development
-he also mentioned sports and how many Canadian athletes need an infrastructure here to support their growth, because the talent is becoming increasingly stronger

(5) Do you think it's necessary for us to classify writing by race, culture, or geography? What is the benefit to doing this?

-Camille noted that classification helps us to be able to find resources--as a teacher, she is constantly searching for teaching tools, and it is helpful to specifically know where to find particular voices and experiences

(6) What makes your writing and what you do authentically "Canadian"? How would you like to be classified, and why? / (7) What would you like others to know about Canadian culture as a result of your writing/work, and how much of what is tied to your "urban" identity?

-Telisha noted that most bloggers that she is in association with are American, so be default she is an "ambassador" to the Canadian culture
-her Canadian experiences, as well as her Caribbean influences help to form her unique writing tone
-Tanika also noted that particular locations and items make her writing Canadian, as many of the references are location-specific

(8) What will this generation of children have--in terms of urban and cultural literature--that our generation didn't have? / (9) What Canadian urban identity have you seen develop over the past 10 years, and how are the young being influenced by it?

-Telisha notes that she has seen a strong American influence in the past, but that perspective is changing
-Camille has noticed that children are benefitting from arts in schools, and that they are more of a voice
-General noted that the younger generation are able to see people of various cultures in positions of power, and in roles that the previous generation didn't necessarily see as much

(10) How do you think Canada's "urban" culture will look 5-10 years from now, and what can we do as writers to help shape this?

-D.A. believes that urban culture will dominate, and will be inclusive of many races
-Telisha feels that many Canadian artists who have left for the U.S. to develop, will return to Canada once our infrastructure grows and continues to develop
-Tanika recommends that we wear our Canadian pride and make sure to mention where we're from, where possible
-an audience member mentioned that we should encourage young people to write more, and she believes that Canadian urban fiction and culture will have a stronger place in mainstream international culture

This is just a small look at a rich discussion that took place at the Toronto Public Library. There were so many wonderful commentaries, insightful observations, and passionate declarations made by those on the panel, as well as the audience members. In the next coming weeks, there will be video footage posted via Kya Publishing to share the discussion with the greater writing community, and to keep the conversation going.

As one of our attendees said: "Racism takes a long time [to change], change takes a long time...tell your stories, and continue to break barriers."

Check in with Kya Publishing via Facebook, Twitter, or email to be a part of the ongoing discussion, and the development of Canadian Urban Fiction.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a very interesting new genre that has not been explored in depth before. I'm looking forward to seeing new urban fiction books hit the shelves and experience new exciting reads first hand.