Join Diaspora Dialogues from August 19 to 21 as we ascend into Camp Wavelength, the only Toronto music festival to offer overnight camping at the Toronto Islands! The 3 day festival will feature performances and activities by various artists including our very own literary fortune telling event! Stay tuned for more details!
Sunday June 19, 2016, 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
North Pavilion sharing Circle at the Evergreen Brick Works, 550 Bayview Ave
Join Diaspora Dialogues for National Aboriginal Day at Evergreen Brick Works, for an afternoon of literature showcasing the works of Indigenous writers, poets and spoken word artists and their contributions to Canadian culture and heritage. The performers will discuss contemporary issues affecting themselves and their communities through the power and strength of words.
Alicia Elliott is a graduate of York University’s Creative Writing program. Her writing has appeared in TOK 6: Writing the New Toronto, Initiations: A Selection of Young Native Writing, The Malahat Review and is forthcoming in The New Quarterly. She lives and writes in Brantford, Ontario, where she’s currently working on a feature screenplay and a collection of short stories about indigenous women.
Drew Hayden Taylor
Drew Hayden Taylor is an award winning playwright, novelist, scriptwriter and journalist. He has done everything from performing stand up comedy at the Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C. to being Artistic Director of Canada’s Premiere Native theatre company, Native Earth Performing Arts Inc. This October will see the launch of his 29th book, a collection of Aboriginal science fiction short stories titled TAKE ME TO YOUR CHIEF AND OTHER STORIES, published by Douglas & McIntyre. He was raised and currently lives on the Curve Lake First Nation.
Gwen Benaway is a two-spirited poet of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. She was born in Huron Country and currently lives in Toronto. Her first collection of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead, was published in 2013 and her second collection is forthcoming from Kegedonce Press this fall.
Lee Maracle is an accomplished, award winning author and teacher born in North Vancouver. A member of the Sto: Loh nation, she is the mother of four and grandmother of seven. Maracle is currently an instructor at the University of Toronto. She is also the Traditional Teacher for First Nation’s House and instructor with the Centre for Indigenous Theatre and the S.A.G.E. [Support for Aboriginal Graduate Education] as well as the Banff Centre for the Arts writing instructor. In 2009, Maracle received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from St. Thomas University and recently the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her work promoting writing among Aboriginal Youth. Maracle has served as Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and the University of Western Washington. She received the Ontario Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. Her works include: the novels, Ravensong, Bobbi Lee, Sundogs, short story collection, Sojourner’s Truth, poetry collection, Bentbox, and non-fiction work I Am Woman.
With the June 15th TAC Grant for Writers fast approaching, Diaspora Dialogues asked TAC Dance Officer and Literary Officer, Timea Wharton-Suri, a few questions.
1. What is your role as a Literature Officer for the TAC?
The Officer helps guide applicants through the entire application process, answering questions before the deadline, providing feedback on draft applications, and then answering questions after the results are released. We also select the jury members once submissions are in. We review the types of applications received and try to find jury members who can speak to the diversity of work submitted. Officers facilitate the adjudication process, keeping the discussions as fair and on track as possible.
2. Are there guidelines for juries that help them determine which works carry literary significance?
Unlike project grant applications, where the applicants must provide budgets, contingency plans, justification for chosen contributors and venues, etc., Writers Program applications are quite simple and the jury mainly assesses the support materials/writing sample, which is the bulk of the application. The jurors are providing their subjective opinions on the strength of the writing given their experience. We change use an anonymous application process and change juries each round for this reason. We also endeavour to ensure that a diversity of practice is supported in each round, i.e. novels, poetry, short stories, YA, etc., but the ultimate choice is left to the jury.
3. What is the worst mistake a writer can make on her or his application?
There isn’t one “worst” mistake, as it depends on the type of writing being submitted, but here are a few mistakes:
- Not using the entire allotment of space for the writing sample, i.e. TAC only asks for a maximum of 15 pages for prose and 10 pages for poetry, so use all of the space. Even though many readers have a strong sense of their assessment of the writing on the first page, they do keep reading on.
- Submitting work with spelling and grammatical errors. To other writers, finding a typo and turn them off of the entire submission. Take care throughout your application.
- Not selecting the strongest section of the writing as a sample. You do not have to start at page 1 – submit the strongest writing sample that you have for the current work, and make sure it gets to the point quickly. If you need to provide context for the sample, do so in the “project description” section.
- Not having a sample of the current work ready at the time of application. Jurors want to see a sample of the current work, not a past work.
- Trying to guess what the jury wants instead of submitting the work you believe in most. You can never predict what the jury will say, as the members haven’t been selected until after the submissions are in. Juries change every time, and in my experience, they are all quite different. Focus on submitting your strongest writing and nothing else. If you don’t receive the grant, keep writing and keep going. Many prominent authors don’t receive a grant until their second or third time trying with the same project, once it’s farther along in development.
4. Are certain disciplines more competitive than others?
Writers grants are extremely competitive at TAC, with a 20%–30% success rate, depending on the round. We receive mostly prose/novel submissions that are destined for an adult audience, but the grants are generally awarded in line with type of work submitted. For example, if 15% of the submissions were poetry based, the percentage of grants awarded for poetry is usually close to 15%.
We are seeing more diverse types of writing each round, with submissions following publishing trends. Genre-based work is gaining more acceptance in the community, and TAC encourages juries to treat all submissions equally. It’s not about what style the jury likes, it’s about the strength of the writing in the author’s stated style/genre/intension.
5. What advice would you give to a writer applying for a grant?
I would repeat: Focus on submitting your strongest writing and don’t try to guess what the not-yet-chosen jury will fund.
If you don’t receive the grant, keep writing and keep going. You can’t receive the subjective artistic jury feedback, but you can call the Officer to ask if there were any suggestions to strengthen your application.
It is with heavy hearts that we’d like to pay tribute to Rishma Dunlop. Rishma, who has been involved in Diaspora Dialogues for years as a mentor, writer, and festival participant, passed away in her husband’s arms on April 17.
Rishma was an extremely talented writer. In her lifetime she published five volumes of poetry, including Lover Through Departure and the acclaimed Reading Like a Girl; edited and co-edited multiple anthologies; produced a radio drama for the CBC; and contributed to numerous national and international publications. She continued to work on two writing projects—Love and Cancer in the Candy Factory and Dangerous Words: the Poetry of Witness—up to her last surgery in December. When she wasn’t writing, she taught the next generation of great Canadian writers at York University.
Rishma was extremely generous with her time and a great supporter of emerging Canadian writers. In 2010, she got involved with Diaspora Dialogues as a mentor through our short-form mentorship program. She contributed to TOK and appeared at numerous events while maintaining her busy schedule and raising her daughters—a wonder woman if there ever was one.
Thank you, Rishma, for all of you have done for Canadian literature. Our thoughts are with Rishma’s family, friends, colleagues, and students. She touched countless lives and we are so grateful we got the opportunity to work with her.
We’re lucky to live in a country where we’re blessed with the freedom to express and be ourselves. Robert Carr, DD alum and author of A Question of Return, knows this firsthand. Fleeing Communist Romania at 24, Carr travelled through Bulgaria, Turkey, France, and Israel before settling in Canada. His books probe themes of oppression, displacement, and the way autocratic regimes can leave an imprint on a person long after they’ve left the regime behind.
We spoke with Robert about his latest novel, what inspires him, and how he got his start.
Diaspora Dialogues: Tell us about your new book.
Robert Carr: A Question of Return opens in mid-1980s Toronto, where Artyom (Art) Laukhin, a Soviet poet famous worldwide but no longer able to publish in his own country, works toward transforming his father’s notes kept between the mid-1930s and the late 1950s into a publishable literary journal. A writer of popular spy stories much enjoyed by Stalin himself, Laukhin’s father had been in the middle of the Soviet literary life and had kept a secret record of it.
Among the explosive journal entries are those of the last two years in the life of the Russian poet Marina Tsvetayeva, including her return to the Soviet Union in 1939, her discovery that her husband had been a KGB agent, her agony over the arrest and disappearance of both her daughter and her husband, and her inability to find proper work to put a roof over hear head. As entries detail Tsvetayeva’s slide toward a terrible end, they also reveal a callous indifference from her friends and fellow artists. Among these, remarkably, is Boris Pasternak, who, years later, undertakes a remorseful journey to the small town on the Kama River where Tsvetayeva died.
The first volume of the journal is only a few months away from printing. Laukhin teaches, reads the proofs, works on a long introduction, gives interviews. He worries that his days as a poet are over. He falls in love. He suspects a shady dealer of selling KGB-confiscated art. As Laukhin links and revises the Tsvetayeva-related journal entries into a separate narration about the poetess requested by his literary agent, the past encroaches into the present of Laukhin’s life.
When did you realize you had a passion for writing?
I began writing fiction in 1998, somewhat late in life and almost by accident, prompted by a desire to record my mother’s stories about her family and childhood. I found I enjoyed doing it and decided to make writing a part of my life.
In August 2007, I retired in order to write full time. My first novel, Continuums, was published in the fall of 2008. A Question of Return was published in November 2015.
I live with my wife in Toronto. She has been very supportive of my (late) career switch.
How did you find time to write while working? How has it changed since you became a full-time writer?
As many writers, I began with short stories. I wrote them and I wrote Continuums, my first published novel, while I was still working full-time as an engineer. As a result, I wrote mainly during weekends and vacations. Sometime, but not often, I wrote very early in the morning because I’m an early riser. I might have done things in the evening too, but mostly mechanical, housekeeping kind of work.
It’s different now, retired from engineering and writing full time. I’m a morning person, and, if I’m writing, it’s usually in the morning.
What pieces of writing / authors have had the greatest impact on you?
I don’t know which ones had the greatest impact on me. There are, obviously, writers I love and admire. It easier for me to list books that I love rather than authors. Top of my list is Isaac Babel, and of him I can say I love everything he wrote, or just about. Of course, he wrote very little, or little that had reached us. I love Alice Munro, and am baffled by the way she does her magic. By and large, British writing is more appealing to me than North American writing.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a writer?
English is not my native language so gaining the confidence and a feel for what I write was not easy.
These days, with literary fiction in less demand and the reduction of book sections in newspapers and magazines, a big challenge is to get the attention of book critics.
What’s next for you?
Corby Falls is the tentative title of the novel I’m currently working on. It has as protagonist a minor character from A Question of Return and could be viewed as a sequel to it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
A recent observation and interest of mine was sparked by breakfast—both in its preparation and consumption. Depending on the day, particular circumstance and individual tendencies, breakfast can take place in a number of different ways. There are those who enjoy a finely prepared, well calculated and orderly start to their day. Others experience a more rushed or chaotic meal.
Either way, the order/chaos dichotomy seems to infiltrate every aspect of our daily lives. They are two extremes essential to existence and also prominent throughout literature. Order/chaos captures something that takes place within individual consciousness, communal revolutions, within organizations and on a global scale.
The Canadian writer Ethel Wilson’s short story “The Window” explores the order and stability that accompanies its protagonist’s isolation from society. Margaret Atwood’s Progressive Insanities of a Pioneerforegrounds the human desire to impose order through her pioneer’s need to “dig the soil in rows” and asserts that “I am not random” in this chaotic new wilderness. One aspect of Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid explores the inevitable chaos that occupies a continuously changing physical body. Finally, the infamous “The Dunciad” by Alexander Pope is an account of the disintegration of poetry into chaos and filth, due to its mass production, which accompanied the growing use of the printing press.
The neat contained yolk of a fried egg may be scrambled into the chaotic blur of onions, tomatoes and cheese. As such, breakfast may be emblematic of the order/chaos dichotomy, both in life and literature.