Sunday, February 16, 2014

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

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:

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