As stated in the first profile that I wrote featuring Oni, my goal was to have a few questions about the place of Black/African-Canadian communities in the literary community answered. However, the answers that I received from Andrea and David actually led to more questions.
With David pointing out that the community(/ies) has little knowledge of how to get published, I reached out to Helen at Ontario Arts Council and she pointed me towards Diaspora Dialogues. I was pleasantly surprised when I received an email from Diaspora Dialogues explaining what they do. If I had more time I would have loved to have done a profile on these guys. I don't, but, I hope someone does take the time to properly promote what they do. Anyway, here's the email response that they sent.
Thanks for your email. The short answer to your question is that yes, we do track the success of the manuscripts submitted to our programs (both short-form and long-form mentorship programs during which writers work on collections of poetry or short stories or novels with an established author for an extended period of time).
When we used to run the short-form mentorship program (2005-2012), a selection of the short stories or poems that were developed in that program were published annually by us in Diaspora Dialogues' own TOK anthology.
Now that we are focusing exclusively on the long-form mentorship program, where writers work on book-length collections of short stories or poems, and novels, it takes longer to see the final result of external publication.
Most of the writers whom we have worked with in the long-form mentorship program since we launched it in 2011 are still in the process of rewriting new drafts. One is doing so with an agent, and another has landed a publishing deal for his short story collection.
As far as going on to publish other works, it's the writers from our short-form mentorship that have reported back with the most news of success. One of them is actually going to launch a novel on February 4th. If you like I can forward your information to her and request that she contact you.
Since we began in 2005, 178 writers have passed through our mentorship program. Of these, we've been able to directly link 23 to publishing houses. Approximately 60 have independently gone on to publish novels and short story or poetry collections with different publishing houses, or been published in literary magazines, or had their plays produced, or won (or been short/longlisted) for major writing awards.
Please note these are the numbers that we know of through our own tracking. We rely as much on the writers themselves to keep us updated on their successes, or correct us of errors in our stats.
Our writers (or their parents) really do come from all over the place, so I can't provide you with any useful information about how it is out there for black writers specifically. Most come from Asian (especially South East Asian), Eastern European, South American, or Caribbean backgrounds. The vast majority are female, although we've seen a slight climb in the participation of male writers in the past five years, in the mid twenties to late thirties age range, with a few in their forties.
Diaspora Dialogues Charitable Society"
With Andrea's answer I was left with more questions: What would drive someone to go it alone? If a writer has an entrepreneurial spirit, wouldn't it be better to team up with a publisher than go it alone?
These questions led me to Dwayne Morgan. Dwayne has toured the world as a spoken-word poet and author. He has also produced a number of large scale spoken-word poetry events at places like Toronto's St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. However, only one of his books has been produced through a traditional publisher -- a collaboration between himself and a European publisher. His perspective, though hopeful, paints a far less rosy picture of things.
The Canadian publishing industry is very White, and caters to White stories and the White consumer. When I first started out, I received rejection letter after rejection letter. I was told that they had issues with how I used the English language, and that there wasn't much relevance to what I was writing about. The publishing industry has been out of touch with the changing Canadian demographic for years.
Some would be broken by the amount of rejection that I received. I self-published my first book in 1995 and sold over 2000 copies with no retail outlets, distribution, or marketing budget. Since then, I have had the same success with each of my titles, which is awesome for poetry, which isn't traditionally a big seller.
I have published through a European publisher, because they had vision, and didn't operate with their head in the sand as most Canadian publishers seem to do. With them, they saw the success of what I had built and they wanted to connect to it. I'm at a point now where I no longer approach publishers when I want to put my work out. I am fully willing to put my work out, and support it through the channels that I've built. I am not opposed to working with Canadian publishers. If they gain vision and are ready to embrace a new way of working with artists, they can get in touch, and if the synergy is there, we may be able to make something happen."
I tend to side with Dwayne. Yes, I am a Black writer who has cracked the glass ceiling. However, I'm not blind. At this point, it's not even a race thing. It's a struggling industry not maximizing potential profit thing. There are a number of writers of color with large fan-bases that aren't even being approached. Furthermore, if writers of color are published, are they ever marketed, or promoted to their communities?
In Toronto there are a number of promoters who host medium (150-200 people), to large scale (500+) events for communities that are open to promoting the literature of their communities. I've read poetry at Dundas Square for a South-Asian charity, rapped for a South Asian magazine function (I know what you're thinking, I thought the same thing!), collaborated with Dwayne and others on a three day poetry/spoken-word festival, etc.
In the Black community, there are promoters like Dwayne, Al St. Louis, Devon "Split" Jones, etc., who are open to supporting literature that speaks to their communities. Promoting arts to the larger urban community are charities like Manifesto -- who have sponsored at least two poets who have self-published projects.
It doesn't cost anything to reach out to these promoters. Sit down with them and find out if working with them would be beneficial to promoting a publisher's writer of color. That's not being done. There's no real excuse. The job of an event promoter is to be in the public eye -- it's not like these people are difficult to find.
If a publisher is not reaching out to the community that the writer is from to promote their work (even if they do publish a writer of color), then who are they actually promoting the work to? Exclusively to a general audience who may not relate to the story that the writer of color is telling? That's leaving money at the table.
For the record, I have a great relationship with Guernica Editions. We could have done more with "Bending the Continuum," but let's talk about what we did do right. First, we had an alternative launch of the book for members of the slam poetry community (an event that probably was my biggest point of purchase). Instead of reading at stale literary festivals, Guernica booked me at the James Street North Super Crawl -- a huge music and arts festival in Hamilton. They then booked me at Word on the Street -- an outdoor festival where my spoken-word talents could grab an audience.
Guernica was more than willing to send media copies to sources that I recommended. That meant bloggers like BlackCoffeepoet.com got copies -- this collaborative effort meant that two and three years after "Bending" was published there was media and press about the book. For "A Mingus Lullaby," we will do so much more.
Publishing writers of color with academic backgrounds is one thing. However, to truly capitalize financially, publishers must reach out to writers of color who also carry an entrepreneurial spirit. If I was a publisher looking for a young poet of color with an entrepreneurial spirit, who also had bundles of raw talent where would I start my search? If I had a budget, I'd reach out to Dwayne, Truth Is Ellipses, Oni the Haitian Sensation, Anthony Bansfield...But even if I didn't I would reach out to the kid who just was nominated for a 2014 Black Canadian Award in Spoken-Word -- David Delisca. I hope there is a publisher reading this, who is wise enough to support his talent.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Dane Swan is a Bermuda-raised, Toronto-based internationally published poet, writer and musician. His first collection, Bending the Continuum was launched by Guernica Editions in the Spring of 2011. The collection was a recommended mid-summer read by Open Book: Toronto. In 2013 Dane was short listed for the Monica Ladell Award (Scarborough Arts) for his poem "Stopwatch."