Saturday, April 29, 2017

Author Kamilah Haywood: The Literary Voice of Canadian Urban Fiction

Since the age of twelve, Kamilah Haywood has been crafting stories based on the realities she has witnessed, growing up in the Canadian city of Toronto. She did not choose to be a writer, or intentionally design her life to be an urban author with a unique perspective on the world class city she calls home. Writing chose her...and even now, she is not sure why.

The first author to sign to independent Canadian publishing company, Kya Publishing, Kamilah is ready to have her literary voice recognized as a contemporary communicator of Toronto's urban culture. Though categorized as an "urban fiction" author formally, Kamilah's work is literary treasure, as she encapsulates and personifies a sector of Canadian life not often exposed through literature or pop culture.

Diverse by nature, the city of Toronto is visibly filled with community members of all nationalities. Anyone who visits Toronto or rides the TTC (Toronto's transit system) for the day can clearly observe that one of the city's unique features is that people of all races, ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds proudly call the city home. Approximately 9 million.

As a writer, fiction is a language that Kamilah speaks fluently, but she also realizes that within this life-long hobby lies a responsibility. A responsibility to tell stories that are truthful, raw, and that are honest about the realities and experiences of some Torontonians. Not all, but the portion that is often under represented.

The majority of urban fiction authors will express the same sentiments: their readers don't always want to escape reality, or experience tales about foreign landscapes or events that are so far from their personal experience that it's distracting. For that reason, "urban" authors tend to stick to storylines, character presentations, and subject matters that lean towards the darker side of society, or the lesser-known and seldom publicized lifestyles that exist within the bigger picture. Drugs, crime, sexuality, and the "under world" are common themes in urban fiction. That being said, many urban stories also cover "everyday" topics like relationships, coming of age, and traditional storylines...but happen to feature characters that are black, or from racialized groups that are not commonly featured in mainstream literature.

"My experiences as a Canadian most definitely shape my writing, as I feel there are a lot of hidden stories and experiences not being told," said Kamilah. "I would like to expose some of those stories."

Her previous books focused on the misadventures of a young woman named Diamond, who grew up in Toronto's west end, and found herself on the wrong side of the law. Her forthcoming novel, published through Kya Publishing this summer, will take a look at Diamond's journey in a new space, exploring similar themes.

"My goal as a writer is to create stories that open the minds of readers," said Kamilah, who uses these fictional examples as a way to speak to her audience and challenge their thoughts and perceptions. "I feel words are a very powerful tool to inspire others, and if I can inspire one person...then I am at peace with that."

Her tone isn't preachy. Although some of her characters could probably benefit from a formal pep talk, or social correction, Kamilah isn't here to lecture her readers on lifestyle choices or the usual thoughts about distinguishing right-from-wrong. She is simply taking specific situations and moments in time, and speaking to her readers through the characters' experiences.

"As for a message would be (if I had to choose one) that we are all human, and all have a purpose. However your story goes, it's all connected, and we should all appreciate the difference in each human experience we encounter," said Kamilah.

Previously working with an American publisher, Kamilah's connection with Kya Publishing will be her first official experience with the Canadian publishing industry. Admittedly, she is curious about how this industry works for African-Canadian authors, or authors in general, within the country. Admittedly, she initially chose to work with an American publisher due to lack of experience and direction in the field, but she believes that it was with its purpose.

"For every path you take, there is always growth and opportunity to a new door," said Kamilah.

Although she has been writing fiction for over three decades, Kamilah still considers herself to be new to the publishing game, and an eager student of the craft. She recognizes the industry is not without its challenges (particularly for "urban fiction" writers), but is anticipating the experience, and the opportunity she will have to grow as an author and businesswoman as a result.

Her advice to other writers considering a journey in publishing: "Be true to you and your story; don't let no one shape the story you are trying to tell. You have been chosen for a reason to share your story."

Another tip she has: RESEARCH, research, and more research!

As she takes this next step in her writing career, as an author with Kya Publishing, Kamilah is hoping to encounter acceptance, exposure, and recognition within the Canadian writing landscape. Taking gems of advice from one of her favourite authors, Paulo Caehlo (of the Alchemist), she is ready to embrace this next stage, and celebrate the city and culture that created this creative expression.

To message Kamilah directly, request an interview, or connect with her on social media, please visit her page on the Kya Publishing website.

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

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