Author Jael Richardson, in observing the unbalanced lineups at many literary festivals, founded the The Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD) to celebrate diverse voices and stories in Canadian literature. Now in its second year, the FOLD takes place in Brampton, one of Canada's most diverse cities, and this year will run from May 4 to May 7, with a packed calendar of readings, panel discussions, writing workshops, and more.
Today speak with festival guest author Kamal Al-Solaylee, known for his moving, wise, and timely non-fiction. An absolute avalanche of acclaim has greeted his newest book, Brown: What Being Brown Means in the World Today (To Everyone) (HarperCollins Canada) -- nominated for the prestigious Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing and the Governor General's Literary Award, and also chosen as a best book by countless outlets (CBC, the National Post, and The Walrus, to name a few), the book is insightful, powerful, personal, and political.
Kamal tells us today about the importance of getting outside of Toronto, about choosing not to read from his book at the festival, and his experiences as a writer of colour in CanLit.
You can catch Kamal at the FOLD on Saturday, May 6 at 3:00pm as part of The Role of Writers in Times of Trouble event (PAMA Council Chambers, 9 Wellington St. East, Brampton, ON). He will also be teaching a non-fiction writing workshop on the same day (May 6) at 11:00am in PAMA Studio 2.
Also be sure to catch our interview with fabulous festival guest author Scaachi Koul.
This will be the FOLD's second year of programming. How do you view the festival's identity and how do you feel about being a part of it?
I love the fact that this festival takes place in Brampton and not downtown Toronto and I think that’s an essential part of its identity. For one thing, it eschews the Toronto-centric nature of many cultural events. Demographic changes in cities like Brampton – and I talk about this in my book Brown – are making some so-called old-stock Canadians there nervous. Festivals like the FOLD and the conversations they generate tend to bridge gaps in misunderstanding among communities. I’m very excited about being part of a panel about writing in a difficult time – although I think “difficult” is an understatement. Sadly, these are catastrophic times for race issues.
Tell us a little bit about the book you'll be reading from at the FOLD.
I will not be reading and that’s by choice. I’m doing a workshop to encourage diverse writers to explore nonfiction in general and magazine writing in particular and I’m taking part in a panel with some incredible writers, including Hayden King and Scaachi Koul. I’m sure both will touch on and incorporate the ideas in my last book, Brown, which looks at the personal, political and economic meanings of brown skin. It’s a global look, set in ten different countries, and takes in such issues as migrant labour, anti-Muslim sentiments and the pursuit of whiteness as an ideal.
Part of the FOLD's purpose is to celebrate diverse stories. What has your experience in Canadian writing and publishing been, as a writer of colour? Are there positives or negatives that spring to mind? And do you think diverse stories are being celebrated in CanLit?
I’ve had great opportunities and some success as a journalist and book author in Canada, but I think my experience is not representative. Writers of diverse backgrounds still occupy a relatively marginalized and precarious space on the literary map of this country. I still feel that way most of the time. In terms of numbers, writers of colour certainly don’t reflect the population shifts in Canada. Just take a ride on the subway and then attend a literary event and compare the two. When it comes to editorial positions in publishing houses or media in general, I think the gap is much wider. It’s not enough to have diverse writers; we need diverse editors and publishers. The makeup of the gatekeeper – and that role still exists – also needs to change.
Is there another writer or panelist at the FOLD who you're looking forward to meeting or spending time with?
Oh no, I’m not answering this one. How can I choose one writer with such a great lineup? I think of the weekend as an intellectual getaway. I want to catch as many sessions in 48 hours as my old body will allow.
What will you be working on next?
I’m working on a proposal for a third book of nonfiction, but that can take any time from a few months to two years. As I’m a full-time university professor, I tend to work on book projects during school breaks so my writing and thinking process is slow by definition. I prefer it that way. Ideas marinate in my head for much longer, and I get to read, sometimes aimlessly, for months and months without committing myself to any one approach.
Kamal Al-Solaylee, an associate professor at the School of Journalism at Ryerson University, was previously a distinguished writer at Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail. Al-Solaylee also worked at Report on Business magazine and has written features and reviews for the Toronto Star, National Post, The Walrus, Toronto Life, Chatelaine, eye weekly, the Literary Review of Canada and Elle Canada. Al Solaylee’s bestselling memoir Intolerable was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize, the Lambda Literary Award, and Canada Reads, and won the Toronto Book Award. Brown is a finalist for the Governor General's Award for Literary Non-fiction. Al-Solaylee holds a PhD from the University of Nottingham and has taught at the University of Waterloo and York University. Al-Solaylee lives in Toronto.
The Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD) celebrates diversity in literature by promoting diverse authors and stories in Brampton, Ontario – one of Canada’s most culturally diverse cities. The FOLD 2017 runs from May 4 to May 7.