Monday, February 17, 2014

JCUF VOL 1 NO 1 (2014) - "Book Review: Sister Souljah's The Coldest Winter Ever" by Queeny

Community activist, recording artist and author, Sister Souljah is the God Mother of Urban Fiction. Born and raised in the streets of Bronx, New York, Souljah is a survivor who has seen and been through it all.
 
In 1985 Souljah graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in American History and African Studies, however, she is a global student having travelled and studied across Europe and Africa. Following her studies, Souljah founded the African Youth Survival Camp, a six-week program for homeless youth in Enfield North Carolina that was financed by Bad Boys Entertainment.
 
In 1992, Souljah became a member of Public Enemy and released the controversial album 360 Degree of Power that caught the attention of Bill Clinton, leading him to admonish her at a Rainbow Coalition event.
 
Souljah began her writing career in 1995 when she published an autobiography titled No Disrespect. In 1999, she published her debut fiction novel The Coldest Winter and later she published the bestselling titles Midnight: A Gangster Love Story in 2008, Midnight and The Meaning Of Love in 2009, and A Deeper Love Inside in 2013. All four books are considered urban tales, even urban romances, however, it is The Coldest Winter Ever that captured the attention of young, black girls in urban communities and helped pave the way for urban fiction today.
 
It is fair to say that over the last decade, urban fiction has grown rapidly in population primarily because of its creative connection to the stereotype of “Ghetto America”—profanity, violence, drug abuse, and fast, money-hungry women. Although Canada and America are two different countries, the urban communities are very much alike. The primary difference, to me, is that the urban communities in Toronto are multicultural.
 
When I think of “Ghetto Canada,” or in my case Toronto, I think of high and low-rise, brown-brick apartments flooded with low income blacks, whites, Asians and Indians with low English proficiency and limited education. It’s the choices one makes that will leave them in the cycle, or allow them to break free.
 
More youth in the urban communities are making a change in their values and lifestyles for the better, however, it’s the amount of young kids at risk  who are accepting these lifestyles that is the problem.
 
It is no wonder that young girls and even some boys would take a liking towards this genre and engage in this culture of literacy. Souljah speaks in the language of Ghetto America in The Coldest Winter Ever to tell the story of a typical yet addictive lifestyle.
 
The Coldest Winter Ever is street saga that follows the life of a teenage girl named Winter who is the oldest daughter of Santiaga, an infamous drug dealer in Brooklyn. Winter is materialistic, dainty, superficial, and fierce. She has an eye for men and money, and she doesn’t take “no” for an answer.  It’s her dominant personality that makes young female readers around the world idolize with her, although, when Souljah wrote this book, her intentions weren’t to create a role model out of Winter, but rather a lesson out of her life story—how easy it is to get caught up in a fast lifestyle; how fast you can lose everything, and learning to value the important things in life.
 
In the beginning of the book, Souljah gives her readers a taste of what it’s like when the odds are in ones favour in the drug game as Santiaga spoils Winter, her two younger sisters and her mother, with designer clothing, expensive jewellery, and fine dining.
 
Winter quickly turns into a spoiled brat and sucks up the luxurious street lifestyle like a sponge. Even when Santiaga moves their family into the suburbs, Winter’s heart is broken. She yearns to be in the streets of Brooklyn where she can be the “head bitch in charge,” and have the ability to brag to everyone about her notorious family.
 
But like most drug stories, the fame and fortune soon come to an end and Winter is forced to fend for herself.
 
Initially, Winter is not open to the idea of learning to live a ‘normal’ life without the glamour. She is reluctant about taking a helping hand, even from Sister Souljah herself. In the book she says, “Oh no, you tryna take me to Souljah’s house like I’m some kind of charity case. A homeless runaway or something.”  Winter is so caught up trying to go back to the luxurious life she once lived, instead of embracing Sister Souljah’s uplifting lessons about self-love and respect; she steals and schemes with no intentions of giving up the fast life.
 
By the end of the book, Winter has tried everything from sleeping with rappers to stealing. She realizes her downfall: her love for money and her willingness to do anything for it.
 
When you are raised with a certain set of values, in the urban community, it’s hard to deviate from them, especially when nobody is telling you otherwise. Winter was raised in a family that thrived off the sale of drugs, and glorified materialism. By the time her family was taken away from her by the law, she already had the mind frame of a fast young girl. This was a problem many young women had and still have today.
 
In fact, in 1998, a year before The Coldest Winter Ever was published, there were more than a quarter million female drug arrests. This was accountable for approximately 18% of all arrests for drug law violations in America. That same year, 9,425 adult women were admitted to sentenced custody in Canada.
 
Any young lady could relate to Winter because despite her problems, she is popular, confident and adventurous.  Not only does this urban fiction book follow a young, teenage girl, Souljah uses a ghetto narrative, giving the book a realistic touch. Thousands of women, young and old, have read The Coldest Winter Ever and said “this book is telling my life story.”
 
It’s easy for a young girl in Toronto to relate to Winter in New York, and even want to be her. It is easy to fall in the trap of the glamour of the fast life. When you live in a poor neighborhood, where violence and drugs surround you, something better is going to be addictive.
 
The”high risk” communities in Toronto could easily be Winter’s Brooklyn—Jane & and Finch, Rexdale, Regent Park, and certain parts of Scarborough, for example. Similar to Winter, many young girls in Toronto grew up seeing local drug dealers in their flashy cars and name brand clothes, riding around the hood with their own version of Winter in their passenger seats.
 
Children have been put into the system because they were exposed to drugs and/or guns. I remember thinking I was Winter. Fourteen years later, after the book has been published, versions of the Santiaga family are still roaming the streets of Toronto and young men getting gunned down before they could make something of their lives.
 
The Coldest Winter Ever doesn’t have a fairy tale ending.  The events that take place in the book are everyday events. The drug dealers and their families are real. I’m sure anyone who has lived in Toronto for the past seven years remembers the raid that took place in Jamestown in 2006, which resulted in over 100 arrests, for example.
 
Children’s Aid Society is real too. In 2007-2008 over 77,000 children were allegedly abused in Ontario and 9,400 of these children remained in custody. The message in the book is quite clear—a drug dealer can only go so far until he ends up dead or in jail, and his family is torn apart by the system.  This has been a problem in urban Canada (Toronto in particular) for a long time, and with more young women growing up wanting to be a “bad b****” like Winter…if anything, it is a bigger problem today.
 
Over the past two decades, the number of women being charged in Canada has risen by 34% with a total of 9,425 woman in 2009—4,010 per 100,000 female youths were accused by the police in comparison to 1,360 adult females, especially for assault, break and enter and uttering threats. What does this tell you about our young women today?
 
Sister Souljah does an exceptionally good job of keeping her readers in suspense as they follow Winter down an overwhelming road of destruction. The Coldest Winter Ever is a classic, urban, crime novel and is the perfect reason for any young girl, whether she is in New York or Toronto, to open her eyes and face reality. It is no wonder that the Website for Harriet included it on their list of 100 books to read by black women.  Not to mention, A Deeper Love Inside hit number seven on the New York Times Best Seller list.
 
Women, especially black women, need more role models that can understand and relate to them and aren’t afraid to tell the world what’s going on in their communities. American urban fiction writers have reached out to the youth by speaking their language. Because of this, more and more black youths are turning to literature, regardless of the genre. With urban fiction growing in popularity, it will only be a matter of time before Canadian writers begin to put their name on the urban literary map with hopes of becoming prominent in the urban Canadian lifestyle and culture.
 
Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Michelle “Queeny” Garvey is a force not be reckoned with. Many may know her as the “Diva Of All Trades” – a music artist, entertainer and hustler. She intends to make a name for herself and Toronto in the Urban Fiction world with her debut novel Sasha's Truth. Queeny currently lives with her girlfriend in Etobicoke. She is preparing to go back to school for Book Publishing at Ryerson University and is currently working on two novels. Contact Queeny at: queenytheentertainer@gmail.com 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

JCUF VOL 1 NO 1 (2014) - "The Issue of Belonging" by Keishia Facey

In the fourth grade, my teacher asked a question to the class (actually, less a question and more a fact that she felt needed to be shared), and she started by talking about God as being great.

I agreed. Years of Sunday school had me believing that God was great, not feeling the least bit uncomfortable with the topic, although I could sense that some of the other kids were not familiar with the direction that this was going. After all this was a public school, and God was not a part of the curriculum.

Then she informed the all-white class that white people came from God. Okay, I thought, where is this going? Before she could say the rest, a familiar tightness in the pit of my belly emerged, and I felt like I was going to be sick. She said “white people“—and everyone knew that I was not white and so this must be about me.

Everyone was looking at me now. It was the look that made me feel that the weight of every issue pertaining to blackness—good or bad—was placed squarely on my nine year old shoulders. So I sat back, not daring to show my insecurities about my blackness, and feigned hardness and pride.

I knew this dance.

My teacher then proceeded to look directly at me, whilst informing the class that “white people came from God and Black people came from monkeys.”

Before she was done, I saw myself outside of myself telling the teacher that she was a lying b**** and that she was a monkey and in fact that she would be going to hell. Instead of her losing her job, I was transferred to another class, for my outburst. Again, alone in my Blackness, feeling like I did not belong.

There is an issue with the concept of belonging. As a woman of Afro-Caribbean descent who was born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan in the late 70’s and early 80’s, my relationship with the concept of belonging has jumped, shifted, been skewed, evolved, de-volved and remained static over the course of my lifetime.

I have had moments where I feel I belong so much to the fabric of Canadian identity that I swear that I invented mukluks, maple syrup and multicultural pageantry.

In those moments, my Canadianess—as multi-faceted and complicated as it is—is worn as a badge of honour, and I am so grateful to be born in Canada, and for the experiences that I have had.  And as with most anything in life, there is always a polar opposite experience, and for me that polar opposite has resulted in my Canadianess being the mark of an outsider. In those moments, I am eager to align myself with my Jamaican roots.

While I was being called an N***** at school, my Jamaican mother (well-intentioned, but ill-equipped to deal with the racial epithets that were hurled my direction on a frequent basis) could only muster up an insult, which of course made no sense to me, and likely would have made no sense to my detractors.  I knew my mother never had this experience—this weight of race.

Growing up surrounded by family and friends, that looked like her, sounded like her and ate the same foods as her, she was safe from the racially charged name calling, and that knowledge was enough for me to place Jamaica on a pedestal.  It was a safe space where I did not have to feel the same way that I did when I was in the fourth grade.

And here lies the issue for me, of belonging.

My time spent in Jamaica, always reminded me how Canadian I truly was. My cousins would prod me “Keishia. say bulla, one more time!” I would respond “Buller-duh.” Can’t get much more Canadian than that! When in Canada, my pseudo-Jamaicaness seemed to act as more of a shield against the constant feeling of not belonging, but while in Jamaica, my accent and foreign look made me stick out.

I was always talking about Jamaica and how amazing it was. Jamaica had to be family, acceptance and love, because Canada was none of the latter. My mother, father and sister (in my mind not able to fill the endless void of need for extended family):  grand-mother, aunties, uncles, cousins—to me that was what family was.

At least that was how it had always been portrayed in the movies. (“Soul Food,” anyone?)  To be accepted by a large group of people, who knew you and all of your quirks, but loved you anyway, was my biggest ambition in life.  And so, much like the weather, the reasons for the fluxes in my sense of belonging are constantly changing and being re-negotiated based on a mixture of my past experiences, hopes, and dreams for the future, my interactions with others in society, and I am not ashamed to say even the way that I digest films in popular culture.

Today, my time in Saskatchewan, and my time in Jamaica have faded into the distant past. Nostalgia fills my memories, and both places now fill my heart and mind with the experiences that have shaped me into the woman that I am today.

Here I find myself in Toronto, a city that I always knew would encapsulate my need for belonging. Here you are as likely to be a Black Canadian, with roots that go back in Canada for generations, as you are to be a first-generation Canadian with ties to the Caribbean or Africa, or an immigrant to Canada—experiencing your own version of a struggle for belonging and search for home.

I am neither, only of Caribbean descent, or only Canadian. I have negotiated that I am both, and that I belong equally to the diaspora as I do the highways and bi-ways of urban Toronto life, of professional discourse, of academic pursuits, of bodies in motion and of belonging wherever it is that I feel most at peace within myself.

Keishia Facey is a Social Worker, African-Caribbean dance and fitness instructor, and writer. Contact Keishia at: keishiafacey@gmail.com

JCUF VOL 1 NO 1 (2014) - "What I Learned From Hip Hop That They Didn't Teach in School" by General, Mr. Born Hungry

Children growing up in North America have access to many forms of education, such as: school, books, TV, the newspaper, magazines, family and friends.

The formal school system during the 1980’s offered little to no education about Black History or a perspective that was relatable to a young, black youth.  However, there was a tool that many educators, parents and other leaders overlooked that provided a limitless amount of knowledge, black history related, and otherwise. That tool was HIP HOP MUSIC.

While it is argued that hip hop had a negative impact on the development of the youth it actually had an immense capability to educate and uplift.  It is hip hop that educated a large number of black youth and gave them a sense of relevance and a relatable culture in a world structured to keep them down.

During the “golden age” of hip hop, the internet didn’t exist, nor was hip hop played on commercial radio.  In order to hear a song/album from your favourite artist, you would have to wait for it to be released on one of the 52 Tuesdays in the year.

Another alternative to gain access to hip hop would be to listen to one of the few college radio shows that existed in Toronto (The Fantastic Voyage/ Power Move Show or The Masterplan Show, for example). This limited access heightened the experience and made hearing a new record and talking about it more special.

Songs were perceived as more personal and listeners internalized the messages. Although some songs had gang, criminal, or violent connotations, the message wasn’t to follow in these footsteps. The messages were grounded in consciousness, a perspective expressing the struggle of young black youth in America.

Hip hop writing during this time was often political and had the ability to educate listeners about information not taught in school books.  Stetasonic (A.F.R.I.C.A. and Hip Hop against Apartheid) spoke about Apartheid and the oppression of the black majority in South Africa.  They brought to light Nelson Mandela and the “Free Mandela” campaign.

The teacher, KRS-ONE talked about black inventors who are not taught in school (“You Must Learn”).  Public Enemy (“Fight the Power” and “Burn Hollywood Burn”) preached that Black History didn’t start with slavery.  They outlined how black people were (and still are) Kings and Queens in Africa and other parts of the world.

X-Clan rapped about the continent of Africa and the concept of freedom or death. In the song “Illegal Business,” KRS-ONE rapped about how major corporations commit crimes everyday by selling drugs (coffee, prescriptions, pop/soda, cigarettes) and pushing products they know are not good for humans, all to make money. The song also highlighted the role that the government played in the importation of drugs into the United States (i.e. the Iran Contra Scandal).

What is legal versus Illegal is simply based on who benefits monetarily from the labels put on products, was a message taken from KRS ONE. This content and different perspective of the world was what hip hop was about.

Racism and the systemic process of keeping the black race down was also a prominent topic in hip hop music.

A group of east coast emcees famously rapped about the ills of “Self Destruction”.  N.W.A. song (“F*** the Police”) rapped about police brutality, corruption and racism which targeted young black males.

Ice-T spoke about the effect of drugs and gang violence on young black males.  Ice Cube (“AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”) outlined how the mass media’s covert negative portrayal of young black males seeps into the minds sub-conscious.

In the song “Sound of the Police,” KRS_ONE provided insight into the negative role of the police force in the hood.  His song “Why is that” discussed how the education system played an important role in the systemic racism that prevails in society and how the machine tries to erase all the good and highlight all the negativity in the black community.

Tupac Shakur (“Trapped”), Gangstarr (“Just to Get a Rep”) and D Nice (“25 to Life”) all described the pitfalls of living the street life and the most likely outcome of a young black male was death or jail.  Although often it was a depiction of the present state of black youth, emcees also ensured they expressed how to combat the negativity.

LL Cool J talked about the “The Power of God” and Big Daddy Kane reminded us that “Children are the Future”. Big Daddy Kane also preached about the importance of education (“Lean on Me”) and Kool G Rap expressed how important it was to “Erase Racism.”

With the state of hip hop music in 2014 it would be hard to imagine that hip hop was an instrument providing information about social commentary, racism and race relations, politics and government.

Unfortunately, there is only one type of music being pushed to the masses and most (not all) lacks any substance.  The ills of society back in 1980 still exist today but instead of hip hop bringing these to light, one can say that hip hop has become a negative reinforcement, keeping young black youth from achieving a better life.

Beyond urban literature and film, hip hop music is one of the most powerful forces in the world.  It is up to the individual to decide if they will let music influence them in a positive or negative manner.

Hip hop should return to the roots that made it so successful.  Every contemporary hip hop artist should be required to listen to songs from the past that enable hip hop to be the force that it is now. Hip Hop is a culture and there should be required “listening” just as other professions have required readings, certificates, diplomas, and degrees.

With this urban education, hip hop will hopefully return to when it was (to quote Keith Murray) “the most beautifulest thing in the world.”

Please check out the KRS-ONE movie on HIP HOP, “40 Years of Hip Hop.”

GENERAL is a hip hop artist, performer and motivational speaker.  He has performed in front of thousands of people and shared the stage with notable artists including Rita Marley, Wayne Wonder, Jadakiss, Joe Buddens, Royce 5'9, D12 and more.  His music is available on iTunes and his videos can be seen on YouTube. Contact General at: bornhungry@rogers.com

JCUF VOL 1 NO 1 (2014) - "Building the Identity of Urban Canadian Children Through Literature" by Angelot Ndongmo

Nothing could have prepared Kabrina, a Scarborough, Ontario mother, for the questions her 4 year old daughter asked after reading the award winning Children's book titled 'Loving Me.'

Kabrina had given her daughter the book for Christmas and after reading it with her a few times, she suddenly asked: “Mommy, am I black?” and “Are you black too?”

Dumbfounded, Kabrina mechanically replied “yes” both times.

Then she followed up with, “Mommy, is my doll white?” while Kabrina thought to herself… “Awkward!” then softly replied, “Oh, ummmmm yes,” realizing for the first time that her daughter was completely unaware of her own identity.

Kabrina quickly made a conscious decision to phase out the dolls that didn't resemble her daughter, just so she could first work on helping her daughter gain an understanding and love for who she was. She filled her daughter's library with urban children's books that would edutain (educate and entertain) her and that had characters that looked like her. As the days went on, her daughter began comparing her own arm's complexion against Kabrina's or would make references to the book saying things like 'Mommy that's my hair!' with the biggest smile.


There are countless mothers in urban communities who, just like Kabrina, have experienced the shock that comes with seeing their children struggle with their identities. Many are confused about when the breakdown happened, what caused it, or how to fix it.

Identity gives communities purpose and direction. It lets children know how they fit into the world and inspires thoughts of what they could be doing to contribute to their communities, or how they should behave, etc. By the time a child can recognize themselves in the mirror (18-20 months of age), their self awareness has already begun to develop. Once that child begins elementary school, he/she will begin comparing what they perceive to be their own laws against others' characteristics or behaviors, etc.: “She can run better than I can!” or “He can draw better than I can!”

The formative years (0-5yrs) are crucial for healthy development and building a strong identity. If parents are not vigilant during this delicate time, then the likelihood of the child rejecting themselves or feeling excluded from the human experience, can increase exponentially. They may even get the sense they are not important enough to be celebrated and/or wish they were more like someone who is.

It was not too long ago that a collective gasp could be heard throughout urban communities when they watched in despair as child after child showed preferences for the white dolls and wanted to be more like them. Although one test was performed back in 1947 and another one as recent as 2010, both tests yielded the same results. Many parents feel helpless when it comes to preventing their loved ones from becoming that child.

Rest assured, there are straightforward solutions to this dilemma, but that doesn't mean it will be easy. Most importantly, urban Canadian parents must take charge of the teaching tools they provide for their children in their home the way other communities do. Teaching tools can be dolls, movies or even programming. As well as being ready to answer those tough questions in a positive way, such as “why am I black?” Chances are your child will always be exposed to other types of materials once they reach school. This is definitely a good thing because it will provide balance. However, if parents continue to rely only on those materials used by the school system, they may continue to end up with a child who shows disdain towards their own identity.

One of the most influential teaching tools in nurturing your child's identity is children's literature. Books capture the imagination and help young readers find their voice.

Children become motivated or inspired to learn more. A story has the power to shape young hearts and minds. A book like Mathieu Da Costa: First to Arrive by Itah Sadu, or Marcus Teaches Us by Eleanor Wint, or Boy! I Am Loving Me! by Angelot Ndongmo, are all great examples of fusing entertainment and education together successfully for urban Canadian children.

As you reach for your child's next bedtime story, think about the effect it may have on them, as well as other books you have in their collection. Do the stories contain main characters who resemble your child and who are doing amazing things, or going on adventures or problem solving? Are the characters saving the day, having a great time, or being considered handsome/beautiful? If not, your literary selections could be doing more harm than good.

Tips for Success:

A) Foster a positive attitude towards embracing people's differences as well as their own through literature.
B) Engage. Always take on the responsibility of helping your child understand who they are before someone else does.
C) Regularly expose them to various books, activities, black businesses, etc., that help them dream big and reinforce their self-esteem.
D) Check in with your child now and again to get a sense of their awareness around their identity.

This award-winning children’s author’s first professional writing accomplishment was an article published in 'Black Woman & Child' magazine. She has always enjoyed working with youth and writing as a pastime. Those two worlds collided during her position as a youth worker. Remembering her own personal struggles as a young African-Canadian girl, she recognized the need for reading materials geared towards black children that would help them embrace their own beauty and enchanting features. A burning desire set in to do something about it and the end result was her first children's book titled 'Loving Me' which was met with great success! Many parents expressed their desire to engage their young sons as well, thus giving way to her follow up children's book titled 'Boy! I Am Loving Me!' Angelot Ndongmo continues to reside in Brampton and is currently working on her third story! Contact Angelot at: lovingmeseries@aol.com

JCUF VOL 1 NO 1 (2014) - "Building the Canadian Urban Identity Through the Arts" by Angela Walcott


Poetry has grown to the point where today’s treatment challenges, shocks and leaves us wondering, analyzing and questioning our previous understanding of things. Poetry can be subversive, controversial, confrontational, cryptic—it can be code. But it begs to be answered, why does poetry move us? Poetry inspires.
 
Poetry is a reflection and provides a commentary of what was and what is.  If we look back on the earliest forms of poetry, Shakespeare springs to mind as the founding father. The Harlem Renaissance period in the U.S. was a time for cultural enlightenment and expression of the African-American identity, while the 1950s Beat Generation marked a confrontation of society’s obsession with materialism. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, The Last Poets challenged society further and sparked yet another vision for expression.
 
Within the Canadian urban landscape, poetry has evolved and taken a foothold based on the establishment of an adapted culture and new social identity of immigrants who settled in Canada. When families came to Canada they brought with them traditions, ideals and practices which became a backdrop which their children would continue to draw upon. This new perspective ultimately emerged in their writing.

Although poetry produces little in the way of generating revenue compared to the world of fiction, it has been marketed and rebranded into several hugely popular forms that has been well-received by the public. One such popular form is spoken word.

Within the subculture, spoken word has come to represent a means of transforming the voice via performance art. For the Canadian-born Trinidadian-raised visual artist Apanaki Temitayo M, who emerged on the scene as Indigo in the 90s, spoken word is art.

“Spoken word encompasses the poet’s body language, breath and body as an instrument. The instrument is not only the voice.

You can use song, rap and a capella,” she points out.  “Poetry is powerful. You can be a warrior and it can take you to another place.”

From a Canadian perspective, spoken word is not a new phenomenon. Spoken word poets have emerged from every generation in every language and like song, it creates a universal reach.

“I admire the ability of spoken word artists to create performance we consider closer to art through dramatic performance—performances that capture our attention where there is something ‘more’ in the delivery,” says Trinidadian-born poet Ian Williams.

Williams, who was recently nominated for the Griffin Prize for poetry for his collection Personals, hasn’t openly experimented with spoken word performance. But upon closer analysis, his rhythmic patterns and cadence echoes a musical form in keeping with the tradition of spoken word genre.

As it later turns out, a background in classical piano has found its way into his work from a literary perspective.

“Music is close to poetry,” Williams admits. “Poetry is a place to experiment. It is a true experience, it is not petulant, serious but challenging,” says the winner of the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for the short story collection Not Anyone’s Anything.

Whether it is referred to poetry in the traditional sense or spoken word from a contemporary perspective, both are powerful media and as the English professor succinctly dissects the power and relevance of this art form a step further, this notion becomes clearer.

“It is not about changing things just because, it’s about exploring. Poetry doesn’t knock convention—it makes it bold.
 
Angela Walcott - is a writer/ copy editor and member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada. She created Perfect Bound Magazine while at Ryerson University. Published namely in This, CPA Magazine, Sway, Share and culture365, her creative writing appears in ‘Reimaging the Sky’ and ‘Beyond the Journey: Women’s Stories of Settlement and Community Building in Canada’. She has organized Culture Days events including ‘How Does Culture Influence the Arts’ and ‘Getting Started in Non-fiction Freelance Writing’. Angela has completed her second children’s picture book, ‘I Want to Be’. Contact Angela at: northwordpublishing@gmail.com

JCUF VOL 1 NO 1 (2014) - "Defining Canadian Urban Fiction" by Stacey Marie Robinson

In February 2013, at the Malvern branch of the Toronto Public Library, I gathered a group of urban Canadian writers to discuss a topic that is of utmost importance to Kya Publishing—the definition of the Canadian Urban Fiction genre, and what it specifically means in a Canadian context.

Moderated by journalist Angela Walcott, and featuring relationship blogger Telisha Ng, Christian non-fiction author Tanika Chambers, Life Fiction author D.A. Bourne, TDSB educator Camille Ramnath, hip hop artist General, and children's author Angelot Ndongmo, the event took the panelists and attendees through a discussion based on ten questions, and leading up to the final question: "How would you define Canadian Urban Fiction?"


Here are some of the points that were raised:

(1) Has the word "urban" become another way of saying "black," and does race always apply when the word "urban" is used?"

General believes that "urban" is often used as a code word for "black" when it comes to music, events, and classifying a culture...sometimes unfairly

Others felt that the word "urban" is becoming interchangeable, and that the trend is shifting with the changing face of the community

(2) Does literature play a strong role in developing identity? Do you have any books that influenced your life and personal identity?


An audience member said the books that first influence us are the books that are found in our homes; it is important to be aware of this

Camille  mentioned that not only does literature develop your own identity, but it also helps you to be aware of others' identity, and the spaces they occupy

(3) What do you know about "urban fiction," and what is your general impression of it? Do you think there will ever be a place for it in the Canadian literary world? Does it need mainstream acceptance to develop?

D.A. said that urban fiction was stories of our generation, sometimes reflective of "street literature" and representative of a variety of experiences with a multicultural edge

Angelot feels that we do need mainstream support, we need to find our own voices, and also support one another

It was mentioned that many Canadian book awards (i.e. Giller Prize) do not appear to be inclusive of urban writing

(4) What do you think urban music, urban radio, and urban culture means to Canada, and why is it so difficult for us to form a strong infrastructure for its development?

General provided an overview of the history of urban music in Toronto, the importance of support from commercial radio, and how the infrastructure must support the artists and their development

General also mentioned sports and how many Canadian athletes need an infrastructure here to support their growth, because the talent is becoming increasingly stronger

(5) Do you think it's necessary for us to classify writing by race, culture, or geography? What is the benefit of doing this?

Camille noted that classification helps us to find resources--as a teacher, she is constantly searching for teaching tools, and it is helpful to specifically know where to find particular voices and experiences

(6) What makes your writing and what you do authentically "Canadian"? How would you like to be classified, and why? / (7) What would you like others to know about Canadian culture as a result of your writing/work, and how much of what you do is tied to your "urban" identity?

Telisha noted that as a blogger she is an "ambassador" to Canadian culture—her Canadian experiences, as well as her Caribbean influences help to form her unique writing tone

Tanika also noted that particular locations and items make her writing Canadian, as many of her references are location-specific

(8) What will this generation of children have—in terms of urban and cultural literature—that our generation didn't have? / (9) What Canadian urban identity have you seen develop over the past 10 years, and how are the young being influenced by it?

Telisha noted that she has seen a strong American influence in the past, but that perspective is changing

Camille has noticed that children are benefitting from arts in schools, and that they are developing more of a voice

General noted that the younger generation are able to see people of various cultures in positions of power, and in roles that the previous generation didn't necessarily see as much

(10) How do you think Canada's "urban" culture will look 5-10 years from now, and what can we do as writers to help shape this?

D.A. believes that urban culture will dominate, and will be inclusive of many races

Telisha feels that many urban Canadian artists who have left for the U.S. to develop, will return to Canada once our infrastructure grows and continues to develop

Tanika recommends that we wear our Canadian pride and make sure to mention where we're from, wherever possible

An audience member mentioned that we should encourage young people to write more, and believes that Canadian Urban Fiction and culture will have a stronger place in mainstream international culture as a result

This is just a small look at a rich discussion that took place at the Toronto Public Library, the discussion that was the catalyst for the Journal of Canadian Urban Fiction (a video recap of the event is available online at youtube.com/kyapublishing).

Defining Canadian Urban Fiction was the first step, and now the Journal of Canadian Urban Fiction will continue to build upon the necessary research and investigation that will help to shape this generation of readers and writers, and their place in literary history. Please enjoy the urban cultural reflections, reviews, and commentaries from this edition’s contributions.

Stacey Marie Robinson is the founder of Kya Publishing, a writer, music instructor, and communications specialist. Contact Stacey at: info@kyapublishing.com

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Introducing Kya Publishing's Journal of Canadian Urban Fiction


Kya Publishing’s Journal of Canadian Urban Fiction highlights research in the field of urban fiction, and examines cultural and literary works from an urban perspective. Published bi-annually, each edition will feature articles, book reviews, and commentary, providing progressive debate and critical analysis of issues surrounding Canadian Urban Fiction’s development and growth. Available online at www.CanadianUrbanFiction.com.