News and Interviews

The Dirty Dozen, with Catherine Hernandez

Catherine H

Catherine Hernandez's Scarborough (Arsenal Pulp Press) is a force to be reckoned with. Filled with the vibrant voices of a struggling but tight-knit community in the titular city, the story immerses the reader in myriad complex emotional landscapes. From Hina, the Muslim school worker fighting for her students, to Bing, a young gay Filipino boy whose father suffers from mental illness, the cast of characters is large and varied. Hernandez, however, has no problem managing multiple voices, creating a choir-like narrative that is even more than the sum of its parts.

It's no mean feat, and it's no surprise that Scarborough is already receiving accolades for it, having been named the winner of the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop Emerging Writers Award in 2015, and a finalist for the 2016 $50,000 Half the World Global Literati Award for best unpublished manuscript.

We're pleased to welcome Catherine to Open Book today so we can get to know this essential new voice in CanLit through our Dirty Dozen series (which asks authors to share 12 facts about themselves). She tells us about blood stained mementos, her very impressive toddler-whisperer skills, and the sweet reason why you might see her rocking back and forth while writing. 

  1. I was the Wally Parr Sausage girl at Scarborough Town Centre. This involved a 17-year-old me holding a tray of samples and shyly asking passersby “Want some sausage?” I was paid minimum wage to titillate old men in the hopes that they would buy the Kielbasa and fountain pop combo. They rarely bought the combo. They enjoyed ogling the 17 year-old-girl, though.
  2. I suffered from chronic nose bleeds from ages 14 to 18. That is why some of my high school memorabilia has blood stains on them.
  3. I was a go-go dancer during the 90s (thank goodness it was the 90s since music has gone downhill since then). I was paid a whopping $75 a night to shake my booty to the tune of folks like Black Sheep, Shabba Ranks, and Zhané.
  4. I endured a 51-hour at-home labour. My daughter is now 13 and I will not stop reminding her of what she put me through until my final breath.
  5. I can overextend my elbows. As a child, I would casually do this to weasel my way out of conversations with authority figures. It worked well.
  6. I still harmonize to my favourite songs in the hopes that those musicians may come to me one day saying “Catherine! My back up singer has pink eye! Can you perform tonight? Can you leave your life and go on tour with us? We need you! The world needs you!” And I would be prepared.
  7. Like a shark, I had two rows of teeth, both bottom and top. Fixing my smile involved four years of braces and enough metal in my mouth to build a suspension bridge. After they were removed was the first time I could bite into an apple and not get my jaw stuck. I was 18, the same year the nose bleeds stopped. It was only uphill for my social life from there.
  8. I was an esthetician. That means that the passages in Scarborough referring to the deplorable working conditions in spas are from my own lived experiences.
  9. I owned a home daycare for six years, which I closed recently after becoming the Artistic Director of b current performing arts. I walk away from that experience with skills such as putting five toddlers down for a nap in under ten minutes, making realistic animal noises while singing Old MacDonald, and toilet training children in under one week.
  10. After failing my first two driving tests, I arrived for my third test chewing gum. It allowed me to embody a confident driver by looking cool and casual. I performed my driver’s test. It worked.
  11. After my daughter was born with a painful disease that lasted the first eight months of her life, I had to strap her onto me in order to write. I would rock her to sleep while typing.  To this day, I still rock side to side when I write.
  12. When people wonder at all the work skills I have acquired being a hustling single mama and ask, “What can’t you do?” my answer is always “Sports and math.” Please do not ask me to catch a ball or make change.


Catherine Hernandez is a queer theatre practitioner and writer. Her plays Singkil and Kilt Pins were published by Playwrights Canada Press. Her children's book M is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book was published by Flamingo Rampant. She is the Artistic Director of Sulong Theatre for women of colour. She lives in Scarborough, Ontario.

Buy the Book


A poignant, multi-voiced novel about life in the inner city.

Scarborough is a low-income, culturally diverse neighbourhood east of Toronto, the fourth largest city in North America; like many inner-city communities, it suffers under the weight of poverty, drugs, crime, and urban blight. Scarborough the novel employs a multitude of voices to tell the story of a tight-knit neighbourhood under fire: among them, Victor, a black artist harassed by the police; Winsum, a West Indian restaurant owner struggling to keep it together; and Hina, a Muslim school worker who witnesses first-hand the impact of poverty on education.

And then there are the three kids who work to rise above a system that consistently fails them: Bing, a gay Filipino boy who lives under the shadow of his father's mental illness; Sylvie, Bing's best friend, a Native girl whose family struggles to find a permanent home to live in; and Laura, whose history of neglect by her mother is destined to repeat itself with her father.

Scarborough has already received recognition as winner of the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop Emerging Writers Award in 2015, and finalist for the 2016 $50,000 Half the World Global Literati Award for best unpublished manuscript. It offers a raw yet empathetic glimpse into a troubled community that locates its dignity in unexpected places: a neighbourhood that refuses to be undone.