Tuesday, November 7, 2017

JCUF VOL 4 NO 1 (2017) - "Next Steps for the Journal of Canadian Urban Fiction" by Stacey Marie Robinson

This is the fourth volume of the Journal of Canadian Urban Fiction, which leads me to contemplate the next steps and the long-term vision for this publication as we move into the fifth year for 2018. Next year also marks the fifth year of the Toronto Urban Book Expo. With five years of celebrating urban Canadian literature, and five years of studying it...the next steps have become an urgent and necessary brainstorm.

I've been institutionalized, admittedly. Years of university and post-graduate thinking have me conditioned to believe that if it doesn't exist in a "research journal" then it isn't legitimized as a topic worth researching, advancing, and documenting. If it can't be verified, corroborated, or if there isn't any statistical information or data to back up the claims...then what is the point of reporting it?

As a student at Wayne State University (Detroit, Michigan), I remember attempting to study Black Canadian Literature, and being faced with the rude awakening that outside of Canada...the resources in this topic were extremely limited. In fact, the resources even IN Canada were extremely limited. It was 2003, and I had hoped to see enough documented processes that would validate my personal aspirations. There were anthologies. There were published novels, and great lecturers and authors in the Black Canadian academic landscape who had committed their lives to the topic as well. Blogs, yes. Personal websites, yes. Passion, plenty. But published research...scarce.

Now, a university education nearly 15 years ago hardly classifies me as an expert in research or statistics, but as a writer-slash-editor who has dedicated her life to building the genre thus far, I recognize that the research element is an important one that must now be improved upon, and tightened.

Therefore, the informal brainstorm has led me to the following list of next steps as JCUF embarks upon its fifth year, and for the next five years of its development:

01) Continue to publish JCUF as an annual online periodical.
02) Seek funding towards the eventual development into a print publication.
03) Provide opportunities for additional guest writers, and peer reviews.
04) Increased marketing/outreach outside of Ontario, and within similar spaces internationally.
05) Regular review of Canadian authors, and new books.
06) Increased effort to improve the national discourse surrounding urban fiction.
07) Additional study of the independent publishing market, and sales impact internationally.
08) Dialogue with other Canadian niche journals of literature and culture.
09) Support of Canadian student research and current academic discussion.
10) Re-define and strengthen JCUF objectives, and measurable impact.

I appreciate those of you who have been reading this Journal for the past few years, and those who have taken the time to contribute to its development. I thank you for supporting my publication vision, and I strive to make this Journal less about "my" personal objectives, and more about the overall benefits that it can have for urban Canadian writers, editors, publishers, readers, and of course, academics.

~Stacey Marie Robinson, Editor

Monday, November 6, 2017

JCUF VOL 4 NO 1 (2017) - Downtown Winnipeg and Urban Culture Across Canada

The term urban is one that takes on many forms, like many monikers, based on when it's being used and why. It's been both an issue of controversy and celebration at times in the Kya Publishing context, as our use of it is fluid.

The dictionary definition also goes in two directions. From the Canadian Oxford Dictionary we have 1) of, living in, or situated in a town or city, and 2) designating music, or radio stations playing it, performed by Black artists, especially R&B, hop hop, reggae, etc.

Terms like urban planning, urban renewal, and urbanization can be applied to basically any city and its development--that is commonplace. While we as writers claim "urban culture" as a central tenet of our existence, we realize that the majority of Canadians searching for urban anything, are probably searching on a city tip...and less likely on a cultural tip.

Statistics Canada used the term "urban area" to describe towns that had a population of at least 1000, and a population density of no fewer than 400 per square kilometre. More than familiar with the urban landscape of Toronto, both physically and culturally, we thought it best to expand our urban horizons to a densely populated city that wasn't within the borders of Ontario.

Admittedly Ontario-centric, as Toronto-based writers we tend to equate our experiences (urban and otherwise) as the Canadian norm. While Toronto is easily the biggest urban area in our country, we would be remiss not to mention the cities of Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton that round out the top 5, population-wise.

Down the list, at number 7 is Winnipeg with a population of approximately 700,000. Much less than Toronto's 5.4 million, but yet still greater than the majority of Canada's other urban centres like Hamilton, Halifax, Saskatoon, and St. Johns. For the sake of our research and cultural expansion, we decided that Winnipeg would be the next space to explore on our journey to fully understand the urban Canadian experience.

On the agenda: the Winnipeg Public Library, the University of Winnipeg, the University of Manitoba, various bookstores, and a general exploration of the city, the culture, tourist attractions, common areas, and the essence of urban (downtown) Winnipeg.

Our hotel was centrally located, right on Portage in the heart of downtown. Adjacent to the University of Winnipeg, and unbeknownst to us, also in the middle of the most feared part of town. Security personnel, police sirens, and an active street culture greeted us on our first night downtown. It wasn't the tourist-laden Yonge Street we were used to in Toronto, with active storefronts and crowded sidewalks. This was different.

The home of the Canadian Journal of Urban Research (founded in 1992), the University of Winnipeg is dedicated to the study of urban Aboriginal people, related social issues, and urban issues like homelessness intervention, and downtown planning. With a focus on issues of housing and income inequality, the Journal has a legacy of training policy makers and contributing to the revitalization of Winnipeg's urban areas. One of the the few independent scholarly journals in Canada with a focus on urban culture, the Canadian Journal of Urban Research and the makeup of Winnipeg quickly let us know that Toronto's "urban" and Winnipeg's "urban" could easily mean different things.

While Toronto, like most densely populated cities, will have to address issues of housing, homelessness, and other social concerns that were brought to our attention in Winnipeg, we realized that the urban "style" and urban "culture" that we were used to representing would take on a different form in this prairie province of Manitoba.

Yes, there is an undergound hip hop scene in Winnipeg, with hip hop artists and a tangible "street" arts culture...but the underlying commonality in Winnipeg was not so much the "urban culture" as it was the First Nations culture. It was a culture that was underexposed in Toronto, yet everything in Winnipeg. A culture that was so fundamentally Canadian, yet still so foreign to us. Almost embarrassingly so.

Maneuvering the bookstores and universities, looking at the courses, and sections, the themes, content, and pervasive cultures brought us to the same conclusion repeatedly: to know urban Winnipeg is to intimately know its Aboriginal culture. Both universities, and also the McNally Robinson bookstore (Canada's largest independent bookstore) had awesome resources dedicated to this culture, as did the Winnipeg Public Library.

In Toronto, we would search for "Black writers" or "urban culture"...but in Winnipeg, this wasn't the case. It wasn't even close. And while we know that "Black" and "urban" are not always interchangeable, coming with our Caribbean- and African-Canadian lens, we were reminded that the definition of urban is not constant at all. It had already taken on an entirely new meaning.

Winnipeg is unique in that 11% of the population is of First Nations descent, which is vastly higher than the national average of 4.3%. Winnipeg also had the highest percentage of Aboriginal residents for any major Canadian city of over 100,000 people. The highest percentage of Aboriginal residents living off of the reserve. These facts created a new framework for us to view Winnipeg with.

As Canadian-born writers of Jamaican descent, in Black skin, and urban cultural spirit, Kya Publishing writers Kamilah Haywood and Stacey Marie Robinson approached this site visit with the optimism and openness for knowledgeable exploration. Having been educated by a Canadian school system 100%, and Canadian citizens to the core...it was a reminder that outside of  Toronto's strong cultural influence, were major cities with entirely different realities.

Yes, Winnipeg and Manitoba celebrate Black History Month, as the entire country does officially since the Government declaration in 1995. Winnipeg hosts many cultural organizations, and a few annual Afric-centered events and gatherings. While the Black community is small, casual conversation and a surface surveillance led to the conclusion that the "Black" impact as a culture wasn't as pervasive as that of the First Nations community. And rightfully so.

It brought back the details of a 2015 article from MacLeans Magazine that declared Winnipeg was the most racist city in Canada. Recalling numerous Facebook debates, and online discussion where many African-Canadians objected to this declaration in defense of their own discrimination...it was interesting to note the racial climate in Winnipeg. As mentioned in the article, the city was "deeply divided, ethnically" and also there was obvious (and disturbing!) "sub-human treatment" of the Aboriginal community.

Living in Canada with Black skin, Caribbean heritage, and an "urban" soul...both authors expected to feel their race while navigating the city. Surprisingly, the race they felt the most was that of the First Nations people...and the discrimination was overt, and disgusting.

Derogatory comments. Open glares. Dismissive attitudes. Racially charged statements. For a weekend visit anywhere, to openly witness this type of behaviour was shocking. While experiencing racism as an individual of colour is "nothing new"...this level of overt shunning was appalling.

The intention was to seek out urban writers, urban culture, writers of colour, and a unique cultural experience outside of Toronto that would reinforce our commitment to representing Canada in our writing and actions. Instead, the journey went straight to the core of our consciousness as we had to reevaluate what we believed our place to be in Canadian society, what we perceived the place of the Aboriginals to be, and how we could reconcile the similarities, the differences...and what this would mean for the way we created and communicated literature.

Obviously, discrimination exists. Of course, the First Nations communities of Canada have had a less than acceptable history of treatment and equality in our country. These are facts we have always known. However, to FEEL racism against someone else in a way you have never even experienced yourself hit home in an unexpected way.

The MacLeans article noted that Winnipeg yielded the highest proportions of racist Tweets and online commentary. It mentioned the visible division of the city by the CP rail yard, which led us to explore the city's notorious North End. The part of town that many locals have never seen with their own eyes, or driven the streets of. The part of town where police cars, and trouble roam the streets after dark. Where the commotion is. Where the violence is. Where the name "Murderpeg" originated, due to the fact that this area contains 2 of the 3 poorest postal codes in Canada, and the highest rate of violent crimes as well.

No shops or enterprise. Prostitution. High rates of suicide. Solvent abuse. Alcoholism. It was called a "bruised generation" of citizens, only two generations removed from the residential schools of the past. A damaged ego. Lack of trust. These were concepts we were familiar with, with a landscape and face we rarely witnessed in Toronto.

And at the shores of the historical Forks, sat a majestic new museum, with a focus on Human Rights. With floor after beautiful floor dedicated to the suffering of women, various ethnicities, and stories of perseverance and rebellion. The Canadian Museum of Human Rights, just a few kilometers from Winnipeg's notorious "North End" packaged the city of Winnipeg in the most perplexing way.

It was a city of beauty, flat lands, cooler temperatures, and a simple skyline. A city of friendly folks, with deep, deep resentments and anger towards their most influential citizens. A city that barely made the top ten list of Canadian populations, but easily had an impactful history and future.

What did the city of Winnipeg do for Kya Publishing's vision of urban culture across Canada, and the influence on the writers? It just reminded us of how location and experience is so extremely intimate. How the writers and communicators of each area are strongly influenced by the immediate social concerns and historical influences of their communities.

It wouldn't be easy to draw parallels between our urban writing, and say, the research of the Urban Studies department at the University of Winnipeg. We were writing about urban culture as a style, and as a culturally-specific set of rules, language, behaviours, and expectations. Our urban culture was definitily urban, both in locale and in spirit...but it wasn't comparable to the urban culture of a city like Winnipeg.

Chances are, visits to Halifax, and Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Vancouver would also reveal significantly different urban experiences.

Our working definition of urban, based on how we perceive our Toronto experience to be as Black citizens, and individuals who have grown up in and around the city have a strong Caribbean influence. Musical influence. Behavioural influence, and societal appreciation for African-American culture as well. Our urban looks and feels like a combination of the various influences that we are used to absorbing as Torontonians with access to so many other powerful cultures each day.

The urban culture of Winnipeg, is Winnipeg-centric. Looking out from the top floor observatory of the Museum of Human Rights, we couldn't see anything but land, regardless of what side of the 360 degree view we took in. It was a city in the middle of the plains, in the middle of our country, that was still feeling the sensitivities and historical impact of their divisions. Out loud. Still trying to reconcile between the strong and spiritual First Nations presence, and the rejuvenating urban presence of the residents.

In just a few days, we found ourselves deeply touched by the experience, in awe at our ignorance to some of the most commonplace realities of Winnipeg life, and inevitably flying back to Toronto with a new appreciation for our abundantly diverse urban culture...yet with a sadness for the citizens of the North End, and the verbal and cultural abuse they experienced daily.

Just as we explored Winnipeg, we look forward to exploring other areas of our country, and the intricacies of their makeup. Until then, we can hardly claim to represent "urban Canada" because even using the divisive word "urban" itself still doesn't compare to how dramatically different the urban experience is from one town to another. We will specify our Toronto-ness. Our Black-ness. Our Caribbean-ness, and all other signifiers that make the urban Toronto experience what it is, in the majority of cases.

We will not forget what we saw, and what we felt in Winnipeg, and we will remember that when we write from a Canadian perspective, that it is much, much deeper than we could have ever imagined. We will strive to make the writing and communicating of these experiences a standard...regardless of the location in this country, that we still deem to be the best in the world.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's Journal of Canadian Urban Fiction.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

JCUF VOL 4 NO 1 (2017) - The Harlem Book Fair and the Seattle Urban Book Expo

Harlem is the heart of Black American arts and culture, and just stepping foot on 135th Street, you can feel the history, the soul, and the vibrancy of the community. As the host of the country's largest Black book festival--the Harlem Book Fair--it is the perfect setting for literary celebration, cultural investigation, and community gathering.

All of the literary greats have had a presence at this event, from Cornel West and Maya Angelou, to Terry McMillan and Walter Mosley. With a mission of creating "access to the transformative power of reading by celebrating, encouraging, and promoting literacy and literacy awareness through public programs, community participation, corporate partnerships and in-school programs that broaden and strengthen the vitality of the African-American community" it is a must-see event for any Black writer or cultural enthusiast.

Kya Publishing visited the event in July of 2017, to experience the culture, speak with the participating authors, gather new reading materials, and gain deeper understanding of the value of the cultural-specific book fair to the Black and "urban" writing community.

An outdoor festival with a musical stage, food vendors, and books and writers-a-plenty, the Harlem Book Fair took place on an ideal New York summer day that felt rich with the culture and spirit of the city. To the backdrop of a live jazz band and various performances, spoken word artists, author readings, and guest speakers, the intersection of 135th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard in uptown New York was bustling with activity. The event began in 1998, and was founded by Max Rodriquez who is also the publisher of the QBR/Black Book Review.

Dozens of vendor booths, ranging from the elaborate to the no-frills, aligned the road, bookmarked by the New York Public Library's Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture, as well as other Harlem landmarks. There were Israelites distributing promotional materials for an upcoming community event, authors without stationary vendor booths who shared their literature from backpacks, and community members and supporters visiting with those on display.

It felt like how a Black book fair should feel. The aroma of food on the grill, and the sounds of brass instruments made it sound like how a Black book fair should sound. A sensory experience made it easy to want to learn about the texts and artists.

The literature? The authors presented a range of works varying from tales of romance, to three-hundred page deep historical fiction from scholars and life-long writers. Mystery stories, children's books...it was all there. Careful investigation of the books and products made it evident that it wasn't so much the specific books that made this event such an important one, but it was the collective presentation of the books, and the spirit of the location and legacy that made that particular venue so special.

A month later, August 26 in Seattle was the 2nd annual Seattle Urban Book Expo, hosted by founder Jeffrey Lee Cheatham II, a children's author and community mobilizer on the west coast. This particular platform was created for urban authors to showcase their works, to provide a place for urban literature in the Seattle community, and a location for Seattle's cultural folk to gather and communicate with one another.

Born and raised in Seattle, Cheatham is an expert on the ever-changing face of the city's social construction, and the access and availability for individuals to meet up and share. There are no predominantly "Black" or particularly "urban" neighbourhoods in Seattle, there are reportedly few urban cultural-specific night clubs or events, and there isn't a radio station to project the music and sounds that this demographic would appreciate.

With approximately 350 attendees and over 20 authors (including Omari Amilli, Key Porter, Amber Racks Kemp, Kenneth Thomas Senior, Sharon Black, Deon Abdullah, Kamari Bright, James D. Macon, the Seattle Escribe collective, Gui Chevalier, Zackery Driver, Stacey Marie Robinson--representing Kya Publishing--Aramis Hamer, Nyrel Ausler, Freddie McClain, and Natasha Rivers aka "N. Marie") the book fair was filled with opportunity for dialogue and book sales.

Cheatham presented two events leading up to the Book Expo, including a panel discussion at the local Seattle Public Library, as well as an author showcase. The enthusiasm for the event gains momentum with each mention and appearance, and it is becoming the cornerstone of his development of the urban book industry in Washington, as well as a means to socialization with his peers and community.

With circulating journalists, patrons who were eager to ask questions and exchange contact information, one could feel the need for the event, as well as the enjoyment of all participants. The live DJ playing the best of American rhythm and blues gave it the essence of cultural celebration as readers lingered, authors chatted, and the hours flew by on one of Seattle's only cultural-specific events for the year.

The commonalities between the legendary book fair in the heart of Harlem, and the fresh book fair in Seattle's historical Washington Hall? It was the feeling. The sense of belonging. The essence of self-empowerment as independent writers and publishers proudly presented their texts to the world. The recognition that both events were the culmination of months of planning, and years of vision, all while starting in finishing in just a few brief hours.

Strong elements of cultural authenticity anchored these events, and the celebration of literature and identity simultaneously. It was evident that these book fairs in Harlem, Seattle, and across the continent represent an integral part of the writer's identity, as well as the community's well being through honouring and celebration the tradition. There is social cohesion, and an ongoing recruitment of new attendees and new participants.

The book fairs claim spaces, and shape new traditions. They support individuals and bring them into a larger community of like-minded artists. The live music adds an element of a familiar shared cultural experience, and the food and community involvement is reminiscent of family gatherings and intimate memories.

Self-organization. Mass mobilization. These events--whether historical or emerging--are a reminder that this sub-section of cultural writing exists, and is consistently building and creating spaces for its permanent influence.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's Journal of Canadian Urban Fiction.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

JCUF VOL 4 NO 1 (2017) - The 2014 Toronto Urban Book Expo, Event Review

Inspired specifically by a trip to Houston, Texas, to attend the National Black Book Festival (NBBF), the Toronto Urban Book Expo (TUBE) began as a concept of duplication. The owner of the NBBF, Gwen Richardson, was approached by Kya Publishing's Stacey Marie Robinson, and asked if she was interested in expanding her brand north of the border. Ms. Richardson graciously declined, as she had her hands full with her annual Book Festival. Hosting over 100 authors each year, the NBBF has become a staple in the urban/Black book fair circuit, with steady growth and positive national awareness.

While there were dozens of similarly-themed book fairs across the United States, there was nothing comparable in Toronto or Canada for black and urban authors to gravitate towards--the conversation didn't end there. Ms. Robinson and Ms. Richardson continued to chat, and Ms. Richardson was more than happy to provide recommendations, tips, and an overview of the development of her book fair. This was 2010, and the beginning of TUBE's planning.

Notes multiplied, ideas spawned, and eventually (after an exploratory 2013 panel discussion at the Toronto Public Library entitled "Defining Canadian Urban Fiction," the inaugural Toronto Urban Book Expo took place on Saturday, February 8, 2014 at the Malvern Branch of the Toronto Public Library (TPL). A call was put out to local authors via word of mouth and social media, and details were coordinated with the branch librarian, Joanne Bainbridge.

A small event, there was a modest but steady stream of friends, supporters, library patrons, and curious onlookers for the duration of the four hours.

Sean Liburd, writer, and owner of Knowledge Bookstore was present to speak, and share his wisdom on urban fiction and cultural literature. Entertainment expert and event producer Ian Andre Espinet spoke about his experiences within the industry, and his views on urban culture. Reggae artist and CHRY 105.5fm staff member Mel Dube shared her perspectives on urban culture. Author and cultural expert Dalton Higgins also shared his views on the connotations of the word "urban," as well as provided the keynote address for the afternoon. The four selected cultural experts were interviewed by journalist Angela Walcott:

Remarks were shared from event coordinator Stacey Marie Robinson, as well as from event host Keishia Facey, while MC Brenton B provided the musical soundtrack to the day's event. The additional participating authors each spoke to the gathered folks about the books they had on sale, their experiences in publishing, and the inspiration behind their individuals works.

These featured authors also included:

Three representatives from the "7 MasterMinds" including Lloyd Richards, Maurice Burnside, T. Peter James, Amatus Forsac, Fitzroy Grossett, Curline Bennett, and Angelita Barnswell

Representatives from "Basodee: An Anthology Dedicated to Black Youth" featuring Mutendei Nabutete

Author John Robinson Jr.

Author Matthew L. Taylor

Children's Writer Angelot Ndongmo

Author Stacey Marie Robinson

The informal gathering was an introduction to many for this type of event in Toronto. While Liburd's Knowledge Bookstore and other landmarks in Toronto like A Different Booklist and various branches of the TPL had hosted many book launches, celebrations, and author gatherings, this particular event was specifically dedicated to "urban" fiction and culture. This was indeed a first.

Through discussion, peer-to-peer connections, and attendee feedback, it was determined that the model of TUBE and the intent behind celebrating urban fiction, authors, and culture was something worth continuing to pursue. A participant survey was collected and collated, with plans set in motion to continue the tradition the following year.

With the support of Joanna Bainbridge, and the TPL communications staff, and the Kya Publishing team of volunteers and event facilitators (Telisha Ng, Angela Walcott, Brent Kitson, Camille Ramnath, Jackie Beckford, Jenelle Diaz, Keishia Facey, Kevin Williams, Marsha Mohammed, Pam Robinson, Pat Diaz, and Rea Ganesh), the formula was established. The mission, ignited by the enthusiasm and inspiration of the African-American writers in Houston, Texas, was now going to become a reality in Toronto for years to come.


Friday, November 3, 2017

JCUF VOL 4 NO 1 (2017) - The 2015 Toronto Urban Book Expo, Event Review

For year two of Kya Publishing's Toronto Urban Book Expo (TUBE), the group of writers expanded, and again gathered at the Malvern Branch of the Toronto Public Library. As a part of the Library's Black History Month celebration, the event took place on Saturday, February 28, 2015.

Participants and attendees both saw a nice increase, over the year. Many of the same Toronto-based authors returned to set up vendor tables in the auditorium, as well as friends and associates who had heard about the event over the months. The group of authors included:

Akwasi Afriyie
Simone DaCosta
Bernadette Hood
Mutendei Nabutete
Kamilah Haywood
Matthew L. Taylor
Randall Mitchell
Kwame Osei (representative)
Nadine Chevolleau
Angela Walcott
Jennylynd James
Lavern Lewis
Stacey Marie Robinson

Also participating were the Black Starline Readers book club, who were treated to a special Q&A session with urban fiction author Kamilah Haywood.

For this edition of TUBE, there were giveaways added: a gift card to Chapters, a Kobo e-reader, a few books, as well as donated Raptors swag. Included was Toronto's DJ Majesty to officially provide the urban musical soundtrack to the afternoon, as well as video coverage by OSC Photography.

Word was spreading. Interest was gaining momentum, and there was a supportive crowd of approximately 150 throughout the afternoon, who came to visit with their friends, purchase reading materials, and learn about the various projects on display.

With the same concept, the conversation had now changed. What would the following year bring? Perhaps Kya Publishing could bring sponsors on board. Perhaps guest authors, and celebrity appearances? Authors and visitors alike were beginning to feel invested in the process, and were eager to share their feedback, opinions, and well wishes for the future of TUBE.

Unlike the previous year, this year there were no formal presentations or guest speakers. Instead, the music played and set the urban ambiance for the day, refreshments were served, and there was a relaxed atmosphere for conversation, socializing, and education about urban fiction.

The momentum was tangible, as well as the need for writers to gather in a culturally specific space to celebrate the inspiration for their words, as well as project their hopes for the future of their literary careers.

As a special treat, children's authors Angela Walcott and Simone DaCosta also featured book launches as a part of the festivities.

By now, most of the authors are acquainted with one another. Having connected on the literary circuit in town, the energy of support and mutual respect was evident. Everyone wanted to do well with their writing pursuits, and everyone wanted to ensure that the visibility of their efforts continued.

At this stage, there were advertising dollars invested, postings across the internet, and media interviews sought out to help spread the word. Kya Publishing's vision was becoming more defined, and the steady growth was evident.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

JCUF VOL 4 NO 1 (2017) - The 2016 Toronto Urban Book Expo, Event Review

There was a unique energy to the third installment of the Toronto Urban Book Expo (TUBE), held on Saturday, February 13, 2016 at the North York Central (NYCL) branch of the Toronto Public Library. Having outgrown the capacity available in the Malvern Branch auditorium over the previous two years, the NYCL provided a new auditorium space, breakaway rooms for additional programming, and an increase in awareness for new library patrons and community folk.

An added incentive for authors from out of town, who had expressed interest in participating in the event in response to online marketing: the NBA All-Star Game was to take place in Toronto the same weekend. The focus on urban fiction and culture of TUBE resonated specifically with African-American authors, Caribbean-based authors, and urban fiction writers across the continent. Many reached out to Kya Publishing following the 2015 event, with hopes of expanding their readership across the border and gaining international supporters.

Registration was overwhelming both from urban writers, and urban cultural organizations, independent business owners, and small publishers. In total, 50 vendors were participating in an awesome display of community creativity and support.

The added incentive of the festivities of the All-Star weekend brought an added energy to the travelers. There were many noted urban celebrities in town, a plethora of special events, and an overall feeling that Toronto was the "place to be" for urban entertainment aficionados. DJ Majesty provided a free special urban mix CD for all attendees, and there were giveaways again from Kya Publishing's favourite brands: The Toronto Raptors, Chapters, and Kobo.

The energy was fantastic, with attendees reaching approximately 350 throughout the afternoon. Conversation, promotional opportunities, and community exposure felt incredibly positive for participants and visitors alike. There was an auditorium hosting the majority of the vendors and authors, the main hallway was where the businesses and reception desk were staged; one breakout room hosted children's authors with live readings, crafts, and treats, while the second breakout room was designated for presentations and readings from participating authors.

For photos from the 2016, and contact information for the participating vendors/authors, please visit the Kya Publishing Facebook Page.

Vendors included:
DJ Majesty
Guernica Editions
Northridges Publications
Riddim Fit
Roots to Curls
The Fold
Toronto Public Library
Up North Naturals

Canadian Authors:
Adrian Sterling
Akwasi Afriyie
Andre Nicole
Angela Walcott
Angelot Ndongmo
Ava Knight
Brentt Hood
Dalton Higgins
Jaden Amber Taylor
Janine Carrrington
Jennylynd James
Josephine Casey
Kamilah Haywood
Kareative Interlude
Kebrina Morgan
Latania Christie
Lavern Lewis
Makini Smith
Robert Small
Simone DaCosta

American Authors:
Chase Monet
Christopher Signal
Dominique Pequet
Ebony Stroder
Fanchon Stylez
J. L. Cheatham
Jalissa Monique Brown
Jedah Mayberry
Jessica Tamara
Kamesha Shropshire
Queen Rella
Sammodah Speaks
Sheila L. Brown
Tawanda Amos

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

JCUF VOL 4 NO 1 (2017) - The 2017 Toronto Urban Book Expo, Event Review

With the news that the North York Central branch of the Toronto Public Library was going to be under construction for most of 2017, Kya Publishing embraced the opportunity to continue to feature their event in the heart of North York, adjacent to the Library in the beautiful Toronto Centre for the Arts. A generous sponsorship through North York Arts provided the spacious atrium/hall area for participating vendors of the Toronto Urban Book Expo to set up tables, present their books, and communicate with one another.

The sub-zero temperatures of the February weekend when the 2016 event was held was re-evaluated, when Kya Publishing organizers noted that most of the visiting American authors would not get to fully enjoy and appreciate the beauty and vibrancy of Toronto at that time of year. For many, it was their first trip to Canada, and Toronto specifically, and it seemed unfair to have them remain in hotel rooms and malls to escape the cold. An August event date was determined, and the holiday weekend of the annual Toronto Caribbean Carnival was selected as a suitable time to schedule the Book Expo.

Much like the excitement, tourist-friendly events, escalated international profile, and increase in tourists that the previous years' NBA All-Star Weekend provided, the Carnival weekend also allowed for visiting authors to experience the best of Toronto's urban culture and entertainment, as well as bring additional people to the city of Toronto who could potentially attend TUBE.

The increase in travelling American authors could not be ignored by Kya Publishing's coordinators. The previous year had participation from American authors growing exponentially, and their presence was a benefit to writers and readers alike. Authors from the U.S. outnumbered Canadian authors for the 2017 event, and the reach was expanding.

While the previous year brought mainly travelling authors from urban centres close to the border like Ohio, Michigan, and New York, the 2017 installment had writers flying in now from the south, like Florida, and Texas. There were many familiar faces, as about half of the attendees had participated in the 2016 far...but there were also many new faces. A joy for authors to network, exchange contact information, and build on the already established urban writing network.

Again, DJ Majesty was present to provide the urban musical soundtrack to the afternoon's event. Held on Sunday, August 6, it was a new day of the week, as well as the first time TUBE had been held without the co-sponsorship and additional communications support from the Toronto Public Library. Consistent was the partnership established with the Novotel North York Hotel, who had graciously provided discounted accommodations and other perks (free breakfast, parking) to Book Fair attendees. The familiar location made it a comfortable return for many American visitors, and a less-hectic alternative to the downtown hustle and bustle for the holiday weekend.

The staff of the Toronto Centre for the Arts, and the volunteers from North York Arts were amazing. On hand to help set up the event, and escort authors to their tables, while helping them unload from awaiting cars was a fabulous addition to the festivities, remarked upon favourably by all respondents to the follow-up survey.

The venue: stunning. High ceilings, detailed flooring, and the broad windows and designs that only a Centre for the Arts could bring made for an elegant setup, and spacious grounds to browse and chat about the range of books that were available for purchase.

Attendees ranged from aspiring authors, community members, family and friends of the vendors, to arts professionals from the city. Traffic began slowly, increasing as the afternoon continued on, however, the notable lack of participants was evident, in comparison to past Expos being held within an open library.

Spirits were positive, nonetheless, as the authors and attendees shared projects and aspirations, and the city outside the doors of the TCA prepared for another day of carnival festivities.

A follow-up survey determined that the majority of authors preferred the switch from February to August, and recommended that the event remain during Carnival weekend so they could maximize their marketing potential, participate in surrounding events (which was a bonus to visiting authors), and also to be a part of the bigger cultural celebration...in their own way. They were pleased to announce suggestions and their hopes for the following year--they were invested in the process, and the Kya Publishing vision.

The afternoon affair was a great exercise in execution for the organizers of TUBE, who were increasingly gaining visibility in the Canadian book media, were expanding their advertising reach, and were also mastering the preparation and execution for the vendor services and volunteer roles, with each additional year.

Moving into the fifth year of TUBE, the overall impact that writers were hoping to have on the city, the response from book professionals and community members, and also the execution and management of the Expo were now reaching a place of comfort and experience. TUBE 2018 would be a new challenge, to take the lessons, feedback, and objective of the Book Expos of the past, and channel them into an improved version of the book fair, beneficial and productive for all involved, in all capacities.