Picture it: You've worked for years on a book, pouring your heart and soul into every sentence and idea, and you even managed to find a publisher. It's supposed to be a dream come true, and often involves years of work beforehand as well: honing your craft, publishing in magazines and journals, and overcoming rejection.
But just when you're poised to finally share your story with the world—Covid. No more in-person book launches, literary festivals, book tours, or reading series where authors and publishers can sell copies of their books. Not to mention that everyone's attention was glued to the anxious 24-hour news cycle as we collectively tried to understand what each new day of the pandemic brought. The promotional landscape for books changed over night and countless books fell through the cracks, never receiving the attention they otherwise might have.
Enter the Writers' Trust, who have earned their reputation as a champion for Canadian writers over decades with their prizes, programmes, writer's retreat, mentorships, emergency grants, and more. Seeing the unprecedented challenges faced by writers publishing during the pandemic, they created the Amplified Voices programme, which offers promotional support for a curated list of books that were released during the height of the pandemic. In particular, the programme focuses on BIPOC writers, who face numerous barriers in securing coveted media coverage of their writing even outside of a pandemic context. 25 writers were chosen, and the programme launched in late 2021. It will continue with creative digital programming to help spread the word about books we all may have missed over the past two years.
We got to speak to Amanda Hopkins, Director, Author Programs at the Writers’ Trust of Canada, to learn more about this essential new programme and their upcoming week of events (January 17-21) featuring Marty Chan, Francesca Ekwuyasi, Nyanza Julian, Shanice Nicole and her illustrator Kezna Dalz, Leah Ranada, and Jael Richardson.
Tell us a little bit about how the Amplified Voices programme came about.
Amanda Hopkins for the Writers’ Trust:
We wanted to do more to support authors during the pandemic. So many writers have lost opportunities to hold in-person book launches, travel to literary festivals, and have their books hand-sold in bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Since BIPOC and racialized writers have been disproportionately impacted, the Writers’ Trust of Canada designed #WTAmplifiedVoices to give their books another chance to be discovered by readers. This project to help promote books published during this difficult time has been made possible by the Government of Canada.
How did the pandemic change things for writers whose books were published during the various stages of lockdown?
We've heard from many writers about their disappointment in missing out on in-person opportunities to promote their work directly to readers. Some of these books are years in the making and just happened to be released at a time when the world was distracted by dire public health circumstances and uncertainty. Although there has been loads of innovative digital programming from literary festivals, publicists, and booksellers, authors have missed out on making personal connections and benefitting from the organic discovery of books.
We also know that writers have lost important sources of income due to the pandemic and, together with industry partners, have tried to help where we can through programs such as the Canadian Writers’ Emergency Relief Fund in 2020. Going forward, we encourage professionally published writers who find themselves in a financial emergency to apply for a grant through our Woodcock Fund.
Why was it important to ensure the programme highlights BIPOC and racialized authors’ work in particular? In what ways does a focus on equity fit with the Trust’s mission?
BIPOC and racialized authors have historically been underrepresented throughout the Canadian literary industry. Our goal is to provide additional support to those that need it most, and we have heard from our community that more opportunities specifically for BIPOC and racialized writers are needed to make the industry more equitable. Celebrating and encouraging diverse voices from across Canada is a top priority for us when creating new literary programs. We all benefit when a wide range of stories from varying perspectives can be shared.
What longterm changes do you think may be coming for the publishing landscape in a post pandemic world, given the feedback you’ve gotten from writers?
Digital programming is here to stay. In many ways, it can be a benefit because it allows national organizations like Writers’ Trust to connect writers and readers from coast to coast to coast without travel expenses. While we look forward to hosting in-person events again eventually, we’re excited to seize on what we’ve learned from creating digital content and applying that to #WTAmplifiedVoices. Things like virtual book readings, live-streamed conversations, and video profiles offer new opportunities for promotion and outreach.
Can you tell us a little about the first few books the programme has supported and what’s to come as the programme continues?
We featured three authors during our first week, and in total the program will focus on 25 books by Canadian BIPOC writers. We launched with Tainna (The Unseen Ones) by Inuk author Norma Dunning, who is based in Edmonton. Tainna is a book of short stories about the lives of several Inuit characters who live outside of Inuit Nunangat. Norma participated in a live conversation and shared her inspirations for the book and insights on her writing life with Cree author Darrel J. McLeod. The informative talk can be viewed on our YouTube page here.
The second featured book was Monster Child by Rahela Nayebzadah, who came to Canada from Afghanistan via Iran when she was two years old and currently lives in Vancouver. Monster Child is a novel about three children from a family of Afghan immigrants set in the spring of 2000. Rahela shared a bolanee recipe on IG Live and asked her young son to draw some scenes from her book. She also shared ideas for how to carve out writing time and get work done with kids at home. Her content can be seen on our Instagram feed.
The third book featured was Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty by Hana Shafi, a queer writer and visual artist from Toronto. Her book includes humorous essays on pop culture and body positive affirmations like, "You don't always have to be your best self, you can be whatever you need to get through today." Hana shared timelapse videos showing how she created some of her colourful digital drawings and recorded a short reading, which can be viewed at the Writers' Trust facebook page.
To round out our launch week we held a book giveaway over the holidays where readers could enter to win one of the first three featured books. We'll be doing more giveaways as the program continues so be sure to follow @writerstrust on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to win.
Future rounds of WT Amplified Voices programming will roll-out in January, February, and March. Look out for our next week of content January 17–21 featuring Marty Chan, Francesca Ekwuyasi, Nyanza Julian, Shanice Nicole and her illustrator Kezna Dalz, Leah Ranada, and Jael Richardson.
Given that the programme responds specifically to the challenges of the pandemic, how long do you see it lasting? What do you envision for the future of the programme?
We hope to run a second year of WT Amplified Voices to support BIPOC authors. We know this pandemic isn’t over yet and writers still need innovative opportunities to reach readers and promote their books. Our goal is to keep meeting those needs as long as funding allows.
For more about the program visit writerstrust.com/AmplifiedVoices and check out #WTAmplifiedVoices on Twitter and Instagram.
In 1976, five prominent writers — Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Graeme Gibson, Margaret Laurence, and David Young — founded the Writers’ Trust to ensure that Canadian writing would continue to thrive for the benefit of all readers. The Writers' Trust has built on this mission over the past 40 years, elevating the country’s writers to amplify the empathetic, imaginative Canadian voices that can change worlds far beyond our own border.