Tuesday, November 20, 2018

JCUF VOL 5 NO 1 (2018) - FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS: Developing Romantic Relationships During Life's Transitions

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (1996) - Despite the title's implications, this is not a book about sexual promiscuity, a lack of virtuosity, or an erotic urban novel. This book was written while I was finishing high school, preparing to attend university at a time when the curiosity about the life and love of a "college woman" was increasing amongst my peers and I. What challenges would she face? How would she balance her romantic world with her academic life? Without the restrictions of parental regulations, with a later curfew, access to a vehicle and cash flow, how would life change from high school to college/university, and how would that affect things? How would her womanhood develop?

The theme of this story quickly unfolded to be about the broader issue of self-love, about lifestyle choices, and how to develop and maintain romantic relationships. The idea of having options and being presented with potential partners, yet having the ability to choose a path was enticing. The process of having the character discover herself and understand her choices was liberating.

THE GENERAL THEME OF "FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS": A young woman learning about relationships.

THE SOCIAL THEME OF "FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS": Understanding the importance of making good relationship choices, during a transitional period of life.

Dionne Codrington wrote an article about "Black Women Writing History" for a 2006 edition of The Link (Concordia University's student publication)--like most young Black girls, searching for self-identification in books at a young age was something that was attempted, but rarely fulfilled. Dionne mentioned how she felt when she first discovered a story about Harriet Tubman, and then with age, how she also became obsessed with writings from Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes. She said that when she discovered Maya Angelou... "I knew I had finally come home."

Home = Black womanhood. There is something powerful about seeing yourself, your flaws, and your strengths, reflected in print and or the media. Even the routine choices like boyfriends and college courses are strenuous, and of utmost importance to a young mind, but a relief to see as a a commonality.

Dionne said, of Maya Angelou's writing: "Even though her portraits of Black women were not always gracious or glamorous, they were real." She continued to speak about reading Alice Walker's "The Color Purple," and how those words spoke to the heart of Black women, in particular. As a "young Montrealer of West Indian descent, far removed from their realities...I heard them. Reading their novels was a conversation among sisters."

What I loved about Dionne's article was that she enjoyed reading the pain as well as the success. She learned from the stories of chaos as much as she learned from the stories of perseverance. In the character Michelle, from "Friends with Benefits," I hoped to create the every day Black female in Toronto, in her early twenties, navigating her way through college and hoping to discover personal victory at the end of her journey. I wanted her flaws, her choices, and her mistakes to be something readers could relate to. I also wanted her decisions and the related consequences to be something readers could learn from.

Far from an erotic novel, the story "Friends with Benefits" carefully explores Michelle's sexuality as an important part of her character, the driving force behind her relationships, yet an obstacle in her daily processes. While writing characters' sexuality is not a strength or common feature in the novels of the Urban Toronto Tales, in this story I believed it to be an important enough element just based on the freedoms Michelle had, and the future she was trying to build for herself. She wanted the comfort and the attention. She craved the support system and oftentimes, this all came under the guise of sexual relationships with the three main suitors of the story.

Richard (an academic athlete), Jeremy (an old fashioned gentleman), and Darnell (a hustler) represent the various directions she could take her passions, and inspiration from. While trying to finish her college program, she is also trying to find routine and consistency in these men, and try to maintain her self-respect, her personal pride, and also the approval of her parents who were quietly watching her navigate...and ready to pass judgement where they were able to intervene.

In her article "Black Women Writing History," Dionne Codrington quotes professor Patricia Hill Collins, the chair of the department of African-African studies at the University of Cincinnati, who believes that "Efforts to control black women's sexuality lie at the heart of black woman's oppression." Dionne said that she worried about "who will tell our stories," and I had to agree. Again, in the pursuit of relatable texts and contemporary stories about real life in Urban Toronto, I felt that the character Michelle as a young, single, and upwardly mobile woman had a right to have her relationship story told. It wasn't a story of deep oppression, racial struggle, or feminist sociial pursuits...but it was a story about her heart, learning to love, learning to trust, and also exploring her sexuality through three secure--but different--male friendships.

"We have moved from the stereotypes of the 19th century, but still have a long way to go," said Dionne.  Indeed, this particular story of a Black woman only touches the surface of the social, political, and economic struggles Black females face (and have faced) in comparison to their counterparts of other races. As for this twenty-three year old college student, who she engages with, and the conversations she has, are of utmost importance to her world and who she is becoming. These encounters, these discussions, and these decisions will shape the way she interacts with the world, and the way the world views her as a result.

I loved the opportunity to pursue love and understand relationships through the character of Michelle, and would hope that this book could serve as a cautionary tale, as well as an accurate reflection of emotion and circumstance for other young woman at a similar point in their lives who need to safely explore ideals and fictionalize the what-ifs without causing actual impact to their personal lives.

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

JCUF VOL 5 NO 1 (2018) - FIRST YEAR: Seeking a "Black College" Experience in Canada through the University of Windsor

FIRST YEAR (1999) - Freshman year in college is always an intriguing concept for teens. Like many, at that age I watched the television program "A Different World" and marvelled at the Black college experience as a social paradise filled with culture shows, exciting relationships, and academic challenges. Higher education seemed glamourous, and the possibility of being placed in a similar situation like the campus of Hillman College was an amazing concept. Living in Toronto, the option of attending an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) wasn't there. Applying to Spellman University in Atlanta or Howard University in Washington, D.C. were pipe dreams for many of us. Factoring in international student fees, room and board, and applying for student visas were a big process for a Canadian teenager without a strong support system or knowledgeable foundation of the process. Submitting inquiries to other diverse-but-hip schools in the United States like UCLA in California, or Florida State University were possibilities, but not always practical.

And then there was the University of Windsor. It appeared in event clips on Much Music ("The Nation's Music Station"), in exciting word-of-mouth tales of Sports Weekend, and in party flyers and adjacent teenage fantasies. It was possibly the closest thing we had in Ontario (or across Canada, for that matter) to an "all Black" college, and around the time that I attended this Southern Ontario university, it lived up to its hype in every way possible.

The novel "First Year" was written during my second year of attendance at the University of Windsor, from 1998 to 1999 while I lived in Windsor, Ontario. Like the majority of Black students on campus, we had left our families and homes in Toronto to move into dorms, bungalows, and old apartment buildings on the lower-income side of town, in exchange for a great education, and even better extra-curriculars.

It was fascinating. Taking students from Toronto, as far east as Oshawa and far west as Brampton, and integrating us with students from small Ontario farming towns, from other parts of the country, and occasionally a student from across the border in our sister city, Detroit, Michigan. The Black students from Toronto had the opportunity to reinvent themselves and explore current identities, hundreds of kilometres away from home. The infiltration of Americans, fundamentally different than the peers we were used to, added an interesting element and cultural contrast to our behaviours and customs. The social gatherings were intimate, but exhilarating. The campus clubs were the hub of activities and events, and the nationally revered "Sports Weekend" gave us the opportunity to invite our friends from back home to our school environment, and integrate comrades, fun, and freedom into a few days of cultural celebration. Sports Weekend was centred around Caribbean-centric fashion shows, talent shows, and parties. Lots (and lots) of well-attended parties with the top DJs from Toronto and occasionally a special guest performer. For example, during my first year in Windsor we had an exclusive performance from Toronto hip hop artist Kardinal Offishall. This was the era of the phenomenal Howard Homecoming weekend in D.C., and the infamous "Freaknik" in Atlanta...Sports Weekend was our Canadian version of the Black college extravaganza.

As a teenager entering adulthood, moving away from home was a life-changing experience, as can be expected. There were lessons in independence, paired with academic expectations. There were career aspirations and life goals established, while old childhood friendships were expiring and new adult ones were brewing. It was a change in era, and a shift in reality. The book "First Year" was a fictional look at a University of Windsor-like institution called Essex University, and the drama, challenges, jubilation, and lessons in maturity that took place under these circumstances.

THE GENERAL THEME OF "FIRST YEAR": A young couple seeking a cultural education and personal independence through a campus community experience

THE SOCIAL THEME OF "FIRST YEAR": The introduction to independent living and future construction, for first year university students

Urban fiction can be used as a guideline, a road map, and even as a cautionary tale for young adults preparing to enter post-secondary educational institutions. The importance of higher education is evident across races and across cultures, however, when highlighting specifically appealing elements of the experience, I believe there are elements outside of the classroom that will appeal more to some students than to others. Urban fiction can play a role in making the college experience appealing, by showcasing the day-to-day elements of interaction that can complement the learning experience.

Whether it's a football team or a great music program, high-tech digital facilities, or environmentally-progressive practices, or maybe it's a strong cultural foundation. In the case of the fictional Essex University in Windsor, Ontario, the setting of the book "First Year," the draw to this campus environment was the social scene and the attendance of others. The main character, Michelle, has an older cousin as well as a childhood sweetheart that attend Essex U, when she finally decides to accept her admission and join them on campus, one semester into the term. A hesitant scholar, Michelle chooses to move away to attend school to be near her boyfriend and the social advances he is making on his own, and avoid the "fear of missing out" as he grows in life experiences, while she remained back in their hometown of Malvern, just east of Toronto.

The Durham Technical Community College Library's website (in Durham, North Carolina) defines urban fiction as street literature that presents "realistic characters in realistic environments, often focusing on the characters' everyday lives and their relationships with other characters and their urban environment. This focus on realism makes the books easy for readers to understand and relate to or understand." In the definition is the appeal: the realism. The site goes on to define the genre by outlining that: "Not all street lit is based in the U.S., and it includes a variety of cultural, social, political, geographical, and economical aspects. Street lit set in New Orleans will differ greatly from that based in Tokyo, but they will have similar issues."

Moving away to attend college/university is a process that is similar for all young people leaving home in that they are leaving their parents and oftentimes direct supervision, in an attempt to establish their independence and begin their career training, to build a foundation for their adult lives. This is consistent, however, just like the campus of an HBCU will differ from, say, a small Christian college in the American mid-west, the highlights of each environment will vary. Needless to say, when selecting a school to attend, most prospective students have an idea about the desired campus culture, social scene, and reputation in mind.

In the case of Essex University, the reputation was that of a "party" school, popular with African- and Caribbean-Canadian students from across the province of Ontario. It was far away from the big city living of urban Toronto, yet so close geographically to the true urban experience of inner-city Detroit. The paradoxes between environments were exciting, and the unique blend of American and Canadian urban cultures made for vibrant social interaction and down-time exploration.

"First Year" is a love story between high school sweethearts who are forced to mature and trust one another when their relationship and personal boundaries are tested in a new environment. It's a story of career aspirations, and making new friends. It's a story about college life, dorm life, and the balance between attending classes and maintaining a social life. It is what you would imagine any story about the freshman year of college to be about, written from a specific urban and Black Canadian lens.

Urban fiction, as defined by the Durham Technical Community College Library, contains a few other specific characteristics, that can be found in the telling of this particular college campus story. These characteristics include: (1) fast-paced stories often including flashbacks with vivid descriptions of the urban environment; (2) the street itself as a place where action occurs, with young adult protagonists often in the age range of 19-25; (3) a focus on relationships, including surviving abuse, betrayal by friends, or perhaps plans to take revenge; (4) a focus on name-brand items or the accumulation of tangible wealth; (5) surviving street life and overcoming the street lifestyle.

It was also noted that street lit can blend with other genres, and contain elements of romance, mystery, or even science fiction, while also covering gritty themes like drugs use, domestic violence, or stereotyped gender roles. Because the characters in this novel are college-aged, they are still figuring out their identity as Black Canadians, as first-generation West Indians, carrying on the Caribbean traditions of their parents, and also as scholars who have been removed from their home neighbourhoods and now placed in an industrial working-class town like Windsor to learn. So while the book resembles "street lit" in detail, it is taking the elements of the Toronto urban environment and lifestyle, and applying these habits and lessons to their new temporary home.

Throughout the book, they re-visit Scarborough for holidays and school breaks, and there you find contrast and comparison between the campus life and the home life. The goal of "First Year" is to take the common urban fiction issues like drug usage, domestic violence, and "street life," and transfer them to the students on the campus. While the students are not aggressively from the streets, in that they are suffering from limited means or engaging in illicit activities, they are definitely coming from an urban locale, and are forced to challenge their beliefs and habits and upbringing in an environment that is otherwise supposed to nurture them into adulthood.

A classic urban story, I believe that "First Year" presents in literature what A Different World or the fantasy of attending an HBCU may have presented in television or imagination: an up close look at the "Black" college experience, in an exciting and intriguing manner that reminds you that the experience is much more than just books and assignments, but that there is a greater element of cultural socializing taking place that will also determine the student's success and future movements. Covering the first year of this experience, it allows for the readers to take this snapshot for the specific moment that it is in a college student's life, in hopes that the remaining years of the degree program continue to be progressive, and aimed directly at their imagined success. It is a reminder that higher education has its challenges, but there are also enjoyable elements and important cultural aspects that are equally as crucial to manoeuvring and mastering the process at hand.

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

JCUF VOL 5 NO 1 (2018) - THE WAY WE USED TO BE: Cultural Short Stories About Being a Black Teenager in 1990s Toronto

THE WAY WE USED TO BE (1999) - This collection of short stories was written from approximately 1993 through 1997, while I was a high school student and had my eyes and ears open to the events, occurrences, and activities around me. From relationships to drug usage, teen pregnancy, coming of age, and peer pressures, I tried to explore all of the common topics through story. Some of the stories in this collection were written as English class assignments (like "Girlfriend"), while some were exploratory based on real-life scenarios around me. Others were cautionary tales, and some were exercises in fantasy and entertainment. Collectively, the pages of this book were a safe space for me to document what I believed to be the real lives of adolescents and teenagers in the Greater Toronto Area during the 90s. The technology, the terminology, and the mentality clearly articulate that not only were the words crafted by a teenager, but also that the ideals and circumstances were reflective of the time period.

In the first edition of New Dawn, the OISE/UT publication released in the spring of 2006, editor Rinaldo Walcott outlined the importance of documenting Black Canadian life. He said: "As scholars, artists, and other interested parties, our task is to make sense of, to document, and to engage the terms, conditions and manifestations of Black Canadian life in its broadest possible sense. Since the slave narratives, Black diasporan peoples have been consciously aware of the political importance of documentation."

The stories of "The Way We Used to Be" were written primarily for entertainment purposes, however, there was definitely an intrinsic need for the specifics of these experiences to exist in print. They felt important. They felt unique. They also felt necessary. There were moments in time that would pass, phrases that would be communicated, and occurrences that would take place that felt needed to be documented. According to author Donna Bailey nurse, the "seeds of contemporary Black literature were sown in the mid-sixties with the novels of Austin Clarke," which also ignited the "concomitant flowering of a self-consciously nationalistic Canadian literature." The seeds were planted in the 60s, however, there is still a need for the stories of Black Canadians to be recorded...in real time. The Canadian national identity changes with each generation, and even the smallest nuances are worth documenting.

Donna Bailey Nurse was referenced in Leslie Sanders' review of her book "Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing." In the spring 2006 edition of New Dawn, Sanders pointed out that the "cultural expression of every group has its own richness and complexity." What may be a liberating and familiar story to one teen, may not resonate at all with another. This was the primary focus when the stories of "The Way We Used to Be" were being constructed, realizing that with this particular group of students and readers (Black Canadians, living in Toronto), the specific stories of their lives had yet to exist in literature.

It was important to document these first-generation Caribbean-Canadian cultural stories, in an attempt to validate and amplify the emotions and daily occurrences, as well as to highlight the unique way in which Black teens experienced high school, in comparison to their counterparts of other backgrounds. In her review of Nurse's anthology, Sanders went on to say: "Born in struggle and adversity, courage and defiance, Black diasporic cultures continually challenge whatever place they inhabit, recognizing the provisional nature of their arrivals and belonging but recognizing, too, that their struggles against racism and oppression have profound resonance beyond themselves."


"Babymoms": Dawn gets pregnant at seventeen, in the midst of a tumultuous relationship

"Bad Man": Lucas fights to save his reputation, surrounding rumours about his sexuality

"Drink With Me": Mina experiments with drugs, in an attempt to impress her best friend

"Girlfriend": Latisha's new boyfriend, a drug dealer, forces her to test her character

"I Got It Like That": Trish vows to end her promiscuity, after making a new acquaintance

"No Regret": Sara, while away at summer camp, tests her loyalty to her boyfriend Marcus

"Rahim": Bria fears her boyfriend's new associates, unfamiliar with their lifestyle

"Run Away": Perrine, a reclusive tomboy, encounters her first romantic relationship

"The Ex": Malene's possessive ex-boyfriend causes an annoyance as she tries to move on

"Tie The Knot": Shanita cheats on her boyfriend when presented with an exciting option

"Tru Playa": Garfield, the school playboy, is challenged when enticed by an older woman

THE GENERAL THEME OF "THE WAY WE USED TO BE": Cultural short stories about coming of age as a first generation Black/Caribbean-Canadian teenager in the 1990s, in the Greater Toronto Area

Over the years, I feared the content was too trivial. I questioned whether or not the themes were still relevant. Logical doubts for any artist, but also inquiries of relevance as I hoped to create socially beneficial documents while also hoping for literary importance. Sherrod Tunstall wrote an article for the Webster Journal in February of 2012 questioning "Urban Literature: Is it Beneficial Reading?" where he also questioned whether or not urban fiction was "real" literature. Noting that the genre is as much defined by the race and culture of the characters, as well as by the city landscape, it is a common discussion amongst literary experts as to whether or not this underground genre is progressive...or simply novelty. Sherrod's conclusion: that the genre of urban fiction has helped a lot of children who live in urban cities to read more, instead of other less desirable activities like playing video games, or catching up in bad company.

"As a 25-year-old Black, educated man, I find reading urban literature gives readers some insight on where the writer comes from, and what they went through in their own lives. Even the slang, sex, and profanity, it reveals some piece of their environment, while the character is trying to reach his or her goals..." Tunstall said. He continued to state: "These types of novels can be very educational, because they can tell you what's going on in your own backyard." Like many other young adult novels, the author's main focus is to help young people who may be going through what a character is going through. The difference with urban fiction: the language, the subject matter, and the overall culture may not be socially acceptable, or even deemed as potentially destructive in some instances.

With adult novels: anything goes. With young adult books, you have to be more conscious about the direction you are leading the young mind in. For example, I remember that high school, for many, was a time of experimentation with the consumption and the distribution of recreational drugs and liquor. This is true to the 90s experience, as well as the contemporary one. Looking back at the text of  "The Way We Used To Be" it is evident that underage drinking and marijuana smoking were common place. This will be of no surprise to any teenager, but yet many "harsh" realities are not often communicated in young adult literature for fear of the consequences.

As an adolescent and teenager, I had the opportunity to consume young adult novels filled with pleasantries and difficulties of the heart and mind, but I seldom discovered books that really openly discussed teenage sexuality and other raw and inappropriate misdemeanors. As an adult, I doubt I would create texts with these themes, but as a teenager, it was natural for me to document what I witnessed around me, and what I heard about through social grapevines and word of mouth.

What is now evident--but not intentional at the time of writing--was the impact of technology and communication on culture, and looking back you can see the difference in behaviour and interaction as a result of their limited options. This urban Toronto Black cultural status and state of mind is also achieved in the text by outlining what group membership consists of, what behaviours look like, and outlining the defined roles amongst the teens, the role conflict, and how these roles are interconnected. Also, looking at the historical traditions of the character's parents (as outlined in the 60s Black Canadian literature of Austin Clarke, for example), and how the contemporary counter cultures challenge them. Hopefully, this book can one day serve as a historical record of this particular moment in time, accurately reflecting the mood and cultural realities of this demographic.

How does "The Way We Used To Be" differ from other young adult publications? It is my hope that the specific element of first-generation Black Canadian, urban Toronto culture is evident. Through language: the use of Caribbean-inspired phrases and pronunciations. Through norms: the predictable interactions, common rituals, and social stigmas experienced by the characters and their peers. Through shared values, beliefs, and ideologies: what the characters hold to be true, and why, and the conflicting or complimentary elements of their circumstances that they are striving to understand. Most importantly, as a social collective, I hope to explore the cultural values of the teen characters in these novels through their collectively produced symbols and the negotiation of their behaviours and standards. This will differ from urban Winnipeg, to urban Montreal, to urban Halifax. In the particular story, it is intrinsically Torontonian, and hopefully a clear and authentic record of the state of mind and state of culture during this period.

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

Sunday, October 21, 2018

JCUF VOL 5 NO 1 (2018) - I WISH I NEVER MET HIM: Courting, Relationships, and Commitment for Black Women in Toronto

I WISH I NEVER MET HIM (2011) - It's important to pass on historical moments to the younger generations--this is an obvious fact. Stories of politics, technology, social systems, and traditions are easily discovered in textbooks and documentaries, and we're able to understand previous generations through these documented facts and events.

Matters of the heart are individual, however, no less important. Relationships and navigating dating rituals are also entities that change with generations and within cultures. What might have been acceptable courting practices in the 60s in Jamaica, for example, may not be reasonable in Toronto in the 90s. Popular dating habits in Chicago in the 80s are definitely going to be different than dating in Ajax in the early 2000s.

In this particular novel, I chose to explore relationships through a local cultural lens: dating in urban Toronto from the 90s until the early 2000s, and what that might commonly look like. Using the main protagonist as the constant, she reflects on her past dating experiences from her first encounter up until what may be her final commitment.

Stories of inter-personal relationships are important, especially when communicating lessons of cultural values and standards to the next generation. I wanted to capture the anecdotes, and the common occurrences, the choices presented at various stages of dating, as well as the consequences of situations. Heterosexual relationships were explored through the main character Renee, as well as homosexual relationships with Renee's best friend and first cousin, Vanessa, in her love life.

THE GENERAL THEME OF "I WISH I NEVER MET HIM": A young woman chronicling relationship advice and personal experiences through journaling.

THE SOCIAL THEME OF "I WISH I NEVER MET HIM": A cultural look at dating in urban Toronto, from a Black female perspective.

Toronto is home to the largest group of Canadian-born and Caribbean-born Blacks in Canada, yet ethnic diversity in literature hasn't adequately focused on the African-Canadian or African-Caribbean experience, according to Amoaba Gooden, in "Community Organizing by African Caribbean People in Toronto, Ontario." In this Journal of Black Studies article, published in 2008 in the third edition of Volume 38, Gooden outlines the social groups constructed over the years to provide social comfort, activities, and camaraderie. From the Canadian Negro Woman's Association of 1967, to the student groups at York University, University of Toronto, and Ryerson in the late 60s and 70s, community organizations have historically been a common method of uniting, building relationships, and sharing experiences.

These social clubs and self-help organizations often struggled to maintain a long-term presence, however they have remained a vital part of publicly uniting on a social commonality. One of the most public of these organizations was the Caribbean Cultural Committee, the founders of the parade formerly known as "Caribana." Despite the need for Black groups to gather to foster cultural community in Canada, Gooden notes that literature tends to focus on the experiences of other ethnic communities like the Italians, Greeks, and Chinese. While their journeys are well documented as Canadian immigrants, there still remains untold stories of the day-to-day activities of Black Torontonians, and a thorough documentation of their social progress over the years.

The representation is scarce, and Andrea Davis believes this is because "Blackness" has no national relevance in Canada. In her article "We have historically been Rooted in/routed to this place, and we are here to stay: women's voices in Black Canadian literature" (New Dawn, 2006), she indicates that this is why there is difficulty and slowness in articulating a Black Canadian literature.

As with most issues of "Blackness" in Canada, we look to our American neighbours for examples and research. In the U.S., their literature is also used to represent their position. The ownership of this position, Davis indicates, "demands the negotiation of an intensively conflictural relationship between African-diasporic writers and the region or nation(s) they claim to represent." The conflict exists because while the literature is forced to represent the national Black consciousness, it is also required to critique it.

"The works of Black women writers in Canada offer us, perhaps, the most critical tools in the reconceptualization of what constitutes a Black Canadian literature, and in the articulation of (an)other kind of Canadianness that can account for both multiple Black and multiple Canadian identities," according to Davis.

She believes that most of the Black women writing in Canada represent multiple diasporic identities, and must understand that their work is part of a shared literary tradition. She says: "In Canada, where many Black women writers are of Caribbean or African descent twice or three times diasporized--the acts of boundary crossing are multiple and necessary, transgressing not just geography, but also nationality, ethnicity, genre, race, and sexuality."

Issues of geography, nationality, ethnicity, gender, and race are easily quantified and studied. These are usually characteristics that can be understood and analyzed. When it comes to exploring sexuality and interpersonal relationships, however, from a Black female lens, this of course will be more subjective. That being said: Where can women go to hear their voices in this regard?" How can the Black women who reside in Canada, and want to explore their sexuality in the context of their history and surroundings, do so formally, much like other cultures can by accessing tools and narratives?

"I Wish I Never Met Him" is an attempt at rooting the Black Canadian female, in a Toronto-specific context, in a few difference spaces and times. Rather than having to explain, or compare and contrast the Black courting experience, this story is a look at one particular woman's fictional journey and what that looks like in the context of her location, ethnicity, and other defining characteristics.

At the root of this story: a Black woman falling in love, and figuring out what love means to her. I hope that the scenarios are familiar for those who have walked similar paths, and are currently navigating similar thoughts as a part of life in Toronto. From being courted at the Eaton Centre as a young teenager, to meeting potential mates at various events in the city. It is my hope that the language, the processes, the conversations, the dating activities, and even the mentalities are familiar, and that Black females (or other readers) can recognize and appreciate the authentic experience fictionalized in the text, as well as use the circumstances to help navigate future experiences.

By documenting the otherwise mundane, this book is meant to chronicle the courting activities and make it a part of a common social history for Black Canadians, and their experiences during this particular generation. I imagine that the experiences configured through stories, observation, and speculation may differ quite a bit with the advent of various technologies and levels of communication and connectivity, in the Black culture and global culture. But during the span of Renee's specific Black female experience, this is how she dated, how she explored her sexuality, how she learned about her personal boundaries with men and relationships, and inevitably how she blossomed as a woman and found a way to understand love. Hopefully there is value in connecting these matters of the heart, through a familiar (or at least entertaining, and informative) fictional voice.

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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

JCUF VOL 5 NO 1 (2018) - EIGHTEEN: Writing the Black Canadian Childhood Experience

EIGHTEEN (1993) - I have mixed emotions about this novel. It is the longest book I have ever written, and the one that I put the most time into. I started composing "Eighteen" when I was ten years old, on lined paper, with pencil, in a baby blue Finder Binder. I still have that binder, and I still have the character charts, the graphs, and the hand-written architecture of fantasy planning that I engaged in night after night. I eventually graduated onto a word processor, and finally a desktop computer. I transferred the text meticulously, and never lost a word in technical transition.

Looking back, it was definitely an exercise in narrative assumption, as I took the lives of adolescent bi-racial triplets (their mother was Scottish, their father hailed from Ghana) and tried to project their experiences with identity, school, family, relationships, and growing up...through story. This was my one of my favourite hobbies. This was my entertainment.

What "Eighteen" lacks in actual structure (at 294 pages long, it covers a span of 5 years of the characters' lives through first-person narrative from each of the three main characters), it makes up for in cultural accuracy through adolescent fodder. I'm somewhat embarrassed to share the immature aspirations of my childhood with a public audience, but always a little nostalgic when I remember how completely legitimate the storylines and character arcs were to me at that time.

This story represents what I thought life would and should be like; I was able to humour myself for hours and hours on end designing and plotting the hijinks of the Osei triplets and their jovial web of multicultural friendships over their adolescent and teenage years. Until they turned eighteen.

When I actually entered high school and was faced with a new social reality and constructive creative tools through excellent English classes and keyboard training, the novel came to an end and a new era of shorter stories and controlled structure began. Over the years, "Eighteen" has been edited for grammar and formatting, but I have left the thoughts, the dialogue, and the intention as pure as possible for authenticity sake. It reads and remains in the late 80's and early 90's, and reflects the realities of a young Canadian at that exact moment in time.

THE GENERAL THEME OF "EIGHTEEN": Siblings coming of age and redefining their identities and friendships as they transition between schools and living environments.

THE SOCIAL THEME OF "EIGHTEEN": Canadian adolescents learning to navigate culture, identity, and related social expectations and norms.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) published an article on the "Narrative Significations of Contemporary Black Girlhood" in 2010 that reminded me of my journey writing, and understanding the book "Eighteen." While finding books now with young Black characters and a multicultural array of friends is commonplace, looking back to the late 80's when my novel was initially conceived, that definitely wasn't the case. The NCTE authors outlined how there were only a "small yet noteworthy number of young adult African-American narratives that have undergone school-sanctioned literary canonization." Therefore, young Black girls (like myself, in 1988 when I began writing "Eighteen") would seldom encounter racially relatable characters in my Canadian classroom, let alone in a similar American classroom. To be an African-American at that time was to at least be partially acknowledged in media. To be a Black-Canadian, it was a reach just to find the American references!

Those images that did exist outside of the neighbourhood, family, or classroom, were of older Black men and women, often objectified, and/or frequently perpetuated negative stereotypes, according to the authors. From the onset of adolescence [and womanhood], Black children would have to form their identities without literature or positive media to counteract or explain the influence of common exposures to "risk and stress, and changes within a range of contexts such as school, and family." Cultural values were in development at this time, along with figuring out relationships...and schooling of course. The conclusion: that positive, cutting-edge portrayals of expression and identity formation for Black girls (in this particular assessment) were rare, but necessary. They needed these images. They needed something to round out their development, and did not have enough tools to reach for.

The NCTE article goes on to look at discussions from the 80's about Black females in rap videos, and the Black female experience in general, as "situated within multiple intersecting oppressions (racism, classism, sexism) along with growing tension and victimization". These were the most publicly obvious examples at the time, and the subject of many controversial debates. In the study, the writings of Sharon Flake, Rita Williams-Garcia, Nikki Grimes, and Jacqueline Woodson were analyzed. Black female protagonists in urban settings were observed through their decisions-making abilities, and situational depictions of their demographic. The study found that kinship identity was of utmost importance, as were relationships with boys, sexuality, etc. In these stories, "urban girls came to life," they were multi-layered, and spoke to the Black girls' human experience.

Before the late 90's era of urban fiction where Black females could see realistic representations of themselves in books, they were forced to compromise by investing in the lives of white characters, and projecting their own wishes and assumptions through fantasies. Looking at the progression of the novel "Eighteen," I can now see how even as the characters came of age, their access to cultural artefacts increased and their opinions on beauty, on acceptance, and their career goals changed with their ability to define themselves. Essentially, this novel served as my own discussion of Black Canadian childhood, and interpreted life as a Black Canadian adolescent, in the absence of reflective texts, programming, and media.

The NCTE article took a look at the above-mentioned authors and the ways in which they took the time to understand the Black girl's experience and what it meant for the girls who were able to access these books as entertainment, and also as tools for growth.

In the November 3, 2011 edition of The Guardian, Carlene Thomas-Bailey wrote that urban fiction author Teri Woods (who independently sold over 300,000 copies of her bestselling novel "True to the Game") said that many young Black women continually give her credit for their interest in reading. Woods told Bailey: "I have a lot of young women approach me and say that other that school books, this is the first thing they read cover to cover."

Teri Woods, and other emerging urban fiction writers in the 90s, noted that their books became popular because they reflected the reality of the Black experience, and that readers could identify themselves with the characters and specifically relate to their stories.

Authenticity is key, when it comes to urban fiction. Thomas-Bailey's article "Is Urban Fiction Defined by Its Subject--Or the Skin Color Of It's Author" noted that publishing companies have books presented to them that speak very differently to very different audiences for a reason. When urban fiction re-emerged in the late 90's, it was an era when Black authors were choosing to speak specifically to Black audiences, and the "content was shedding light on people who were, for many years, swept under the rug." Teri Woods described: "[Urban fiction is] showing you its world. It's giving you the whole lifestyle. If you want to sweep that exposure under the rug and pretend it doesn't exist, then that is not going to fix this problem."

While African-American authors and musicians were gaining underground momentum, as well as mainstream exposure for telling their cultural stories through hip-hop and urban fiction (aka "hip hop literature"), in Canada the Black experience was not as widely communicated or accessible. In Cheryl Thompson's 2007 Master's thesis "Situating Hybridity and Searching for Authenticity in Canadian Hip-Hop: How do we 'keep it real?' " she concluded that with the status of hip-hop in Canada at the time, the genre's dominant themes were actually "centred on the lack of definition of the Black, White, and Native Canadian identity, ownership, and how corporate annexation impedes the genre's ability to transcend."

Dionne Codrington, also navigating her Black female Canadianess through literature noted: "It was only when I read Maya Angelou, however, that I knew I had finally come home," in Concordia University's student publication, The Link, in her 2007 article "Black Women Writing History." With Angelou: "Even thought her portraits of Black women were not always gracious or glamorous, they were real..." continuing to say that "I was a young Montrealer of West Indian descent, far removed from their realities, but I heard them. Reading their novels was a conversation among sisters."

I can relate to the confessions of Black women from the U.S. and also here in Canada, expressing their love for reading, but the lack of recognition in books. Their appreciation for literature, but their longing for familiarity. So although I now scoff at the amateur construction and naive ideals of my young adult novel "Eighteen," I can also clearly recognize that its innocent composition was an exercise in necessity and survival. An eager reader, regularly tearing through Sweet Valley High, V.C. Andrews, Nancy Drew, Babysitter's Club, and the other popular texts for young girls of my era, I was thirsty for familiarity and had to call on my own creativity to fulfil that need.

Vanessa Irvin Morris wrote in the University of Pennsylvania's "Scholarly Commons" that urban public librarians were empowered by reading urban fiction, and discovering what their students and patrons read as part of their identity. Reading texts like "Eighteen" helped the librarians as they unpacked, questioned, and transformed their perceptions towards their library patrons, as well as how they began to modify their approaches to professional practice in the library such that they were more invested and involved in community life.

"I learned how to more gently regard my students' reading habits and effectively apply them to my pedagogical practices in the classroom as a means to encourage pre-service librarians to be active readers of what the patrons read as part of their professional identity," said Morris. Her study was created to understand what could happen when librarians read what the young folks were reading, as a form of "practitioner inquiry to inform their professional practices."

For librarians and teachers, urban fiction texts like "Eighteen" can be an example of  transformative tools, as well as identity-forming guidelines for students. Marcelle Haddix and Detra Price-Dennis in the English Education journal, published by the National Council of Teachers of English (Volume 45, Number 3 in April of 2013) also noted that similar texts can prepare educators from a diversity perspective for critical encounters with literature, to help shape the learning of students.

The authors noted that written works depicting Black children were helpful, in: acknowledging multiple world views, honouring diverse backgrounds and student histories, and responding to racist ideologies and structures. They stated: "Critical encounters with literature can shape their learning," and that appropriate stories need to be selected to help students "interrogate interplay between race, gender, sexuality, class, language, and to examine how this interplay affects the lives of adolescent learners."

Students have shown to enjoy the non-standard use of language, familiar "slang," and references to real cities and neighbourhoods, in urban fiction. These texts help students to better understand how their personal histories can influence texts, and also provide "cautionary" tales to young readers, where necessary. Most importantly, the humanizing power of literature was acknowledged and how much it means for self-esteem and identity formation.

As a young writer, I attempted to form social reality through literature, and understand identity through a range of characters. I didn't have culturally-specific texts to rely on during the years 1988 and 1993 when I was writing, planning, restructuring, and projecting into the characters of "Eighteen." There were a few multi-racial television shows, and occasionally African-American  characters in books, but it was the existence of Afia, Naki, and Kwame Osei (the triplets) that made me feel like I wasn't alone as a young Black girl, and that somewhere out there in Toronto there were similar kids doing similar things, and learning practical lessons about life. I learned through them, and through my imagination, as best I could. Looking back I realize that this story is probably more important to me, personally, than it will ever be to any other reader.

The technology in the text of "Eighteen" is outdated, the music, the practices, and even the city has changed since then. But what remains consistent is the need for self-reflection that other Black Canadian children are most likely experiencing, and the hope that there continues to be enough content and progressive narratives available for them. They deserve to feel confident, valued, and seen...and feel that their experiences are as normalized as possible, to help them get through the most confusing and internally challenging years of their young lives.

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

Sunday, October 7, 2018

JCUF VOL 5 NO 1 (2018) - CARNIVAL SPOTLIGHT: Exploring Caribbean Carnival's Relevance and Social Implications in Toronto

CARNIVAL SPOTLIGHT (2014) - I wrote this book as a follow up to "Video Light" and the lives of the main characters Delia and Ryan Wright. An admirer of Sister Souljah's writing, I truly appreciated how she would take various characters from her books, and develop them independently at another space in time. I loved the way that readers had the opportunity to follow up with characters later in life, and continue the fictional journey with them in another book. In writing "Carnival Spotlight" I wanted to explore Delia and Ryan's relationship and whether or not it was capable of evolving.

In 2014, I was also knee-deep in the production and administration of Toronto's Caribbean Carnival with one of the city's larger masquerade bands, and I would often observe the social aspects of mas making and marvel at how unique and niche the experience really was. Participating in Toronto Carnival as a spectator or reveller was one thing, but to live the daily behind-the-costumes routine at the mas camp and band level was an entirely different ordeal.

My understanding of the passion behind the Caribbean Carnival phenomenon was on high alert, and my curiousity for the implications of being so closely tied to this world was also elevated. I began to realize that my perceptions of the culture, the carnival itself, and its participants was in extreme contrast to the views and ideals of those who were only familiar with the carnival as yet another Toronto event. While I vehemently justified my use of time, finances, and creativity through mas...others questioned the relevance. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to take Delia and Ryan, walk them into a mas band and see what happened.

Through the lens of an outsider--a Jamaican one, at that--I used this novel as a tool to explore how someone without any interaction with the inner-workings of mas would take on the experience. My protagonist, Delia Chinn aka Delia Wright (someone who was decidedly Jamaican-centric in her lifestyle and experience) was lured into the world of Trinidadian-focused music and culture.

THE GENERAL THEME OF "CARNIVAL SPOTLIGHT": An aging dancer regaining her self-esteem through music and culture.

THE SOCIAL THEME OF "CARNIVAL SPOTLIGHT" : Exploring Caribbean Carnival's Relevance and Social Implications in Toronto

I came across an article by Melanie U. Pooch, from the 2016 book "DiverCity--Global Cities as a Literary Phenomenon: Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles in a Globalizing Age" and her take on the Dionne Brand story: "Toronto, What We All Long For." As a global city, Toronto is so multicultural in nature, one would think that the social and cultural expectations between Caribbean-Canadians of Jamaican and Trinidadian backgrounds couldn't be that different.

Pooch's analysis called Toronto an immigrant city and a role model of social integration. It was the 1976 Immigration Act that served as the catalyst to bring families together again in a new land, boost the Canadian economy, and support the various diasporas as a result. In particular, looking at the Asian and Caribbean immigrants, the author noted that Toronto's cultural industry was key to the economic success of the city.

Brand's book was noted as a translation of Toronto that "negotiates between the different worlds within a society." Listing code-switching, counter-geographies, and the gaps between immigrant generations as issues brought up through Brand's fiction, I felt as though "What We All Long For" had a few similarities with my intentions when writing "Carnival Spotlight."

I, too, wanted to highlight the voice of the city's ethnic diversities, specifically between the various island communities. I also wanted to profile African-Canadian vernacular, and perform the "many lingos multi-ethnic Toronto performs." To tell a story of Toronto is to acknowledge that while we all share the city, that our ethnicities by nature make it a location that is filled with many, many sub-cultures, native values, and social objectives at times.

Melanie U. Pooch mentioned that Dionne Brand's novel was a "zone of contact" in which different languages, cultures, and ideologies intersected. With the immigrant children born in Toronto constantly "translating the city's culture to their parents," it seemed as though even within similar cultures, there were still additional levels of understanding and reality to explore.

While "Carnival Spotlight" specifically looks at the Caribbean Carnival experience from a Jamaican-Canadian lens, intersecting with a Trinidadian-Canadian focused environment, it does also touch briefly on the ways in which other nationalities also have found a space within the Caribbean celebration, by nature of just being a Torontonian. There is nothing spectacular about this, but the hyper-awareness of the character Ryan (who is also an historian) can't help but notice the ways in which his personal Jamaican upbringing is again in conflict with the Jamaican upbringing of his wife (central to the theme of "Video Light"), and the Caribbean-Canadian folks that she introduces into their lives through carnival.

A crucial voice in Black/Caribbean-Canadian literature, Brand's view of Toronto and "the experience of Blacks in Canada as oscillating between invisibility and hyper-visibility" is communicated in print in a way that one would almost have to experience first-hand to understand the subtleties and nuances.

While I respect the creativity and writing processes that allow for writers everywhere to transport and place themselves into spaces and races that are not natural to them, I also strongly believe that there is something to be said for writing specifically about an experience, a culture, and a phenomenon that is directly witnessed from one's own place within the culture. Brand's view of African-Canadian life is honest, because it is real. Not necessarily autobiographical, but still culturally authentic.

Spending years and countless hours engulfed in the Caribbean Carnival culture and related surroundings, I had to carefully compose this novel to ensure that I was being as objective as possible, while still being true to the experience, the joys, the passions, and the elements of the story that were not necessarily related to "carnival" per se, but just a result of human nature. I believe that it was my position within the carnival environment that allowed me to observe and understand particular occurrences, traditions, and activities. I also believe that it was my position as a Jamaican-Canadian with no familial ties to "carnival" that allowed me to witness the carnival culture also as an outsider, putting the pieces together and participating wholeheartedly as best as I could from my own limited viewpoint.

My conclusion: that carnival in Toronto is obviously a different phenomenon than Carnival in Trinidad, Carnival in Jamaica, or even Carnival in Ottawa, Ontario or Edmonton, Alberta. I recognize that living in Toronto puts us in a constant position of navigating various cultural lifestyles, traditions, and circumstances that I believe is a great skill that we can expertly transfer no matter where in the world we travel. A true Torontonian is comfortable around Asians, South Asians, Europeans, or those of African descent. It's just how we live, by default. We can recognize the dialects, distinguish between Indian curry and Jamaican curry, and we can often take for granted just how diverse our daily interactions are.

What does that say about Toronto's Carnival as it happens in this particular book? I let the various characters genuinely speak from their cultural experiences, and I believe the end result that Delia was true to her soul as a dancer, and Ryan was true to his as an academic. The other players in the novel were also true to their origins, their histories, and their positions within Toronto's Carnival hierarchy. As a mother. An expert. A superstar. A performer. All of the individuals in this fictional carnival environment navigated the social experience through their role, as well as their ethnicity. It is my hope that these characters authentically developed as a result of this particular summer in the city, and that readers can empathize with their positions, understanding the effect that this event has on a range of cultures, integrating with their lives from various points of contact within the city of Toronto.

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

Thursday, October 4, 2018

JCUF VOL 5 NO 1 (2018) - The Value of Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" Collection

It's been 26 years, and I continue to write and endorse my "Urban Toronto Tales" novel and short story collection with the eager enthusiasm of my 14-year-old self, and the dedicated ambition of my 40-year-old self. Self-published out of necessity, these books are written in real-time as I have come of age in the urban locale of Toronto (by way of Ajax and Windsor, Ontario). It's been 26 years, but I still feel the need to defend, justify, and validate the Urban Fiction that has been curated from the depths of my soul.

I often doubt my literary prowess. I question my artistic merit. I lament that I will most likely never win a Giller, Roger's Trust, or [insert-Black-woman-of-Toronto-award-here] based on my creative abilities. I don't have any best seller lists to brag about or really any other accolades of merit to boast. I went from submitting query letters and manuscript samples to the great publishing houses of North America with 100% confidence...to creating "Kya Publishing" as a personal vehicle of expression and hope.

It's been 26 years, and I continue to write and endorse my "Urban Toronto Tales" collection, because I truly believe that somewhere in the adolescent fantasies and young adult realities are a truth about growing up Black in Toronto that means something to someone. Even if that someone is the 12-year-old version of me who would have LOVED to stumble upon a collection like this to work through issues of identity, belongingness, Blackness, Canadian-ness, and womanhood. Even if that someone is a teenage version of me, who would have benefited from reading about other teenagers living in the Durham Region and navigating this diverse and dynamic city from east to west. Even if that someone was an adult me, experimenting with career options, relationships, and friendships, and looking for a Caribbean-Canadian reflection of a similar experience somewhere. Anywhere.

I'm currently finalizing my tenth novel, even though I have yet to verify if the first nine had any tangible impact...anywhere. I'm clinging to the classification of "Urban Fiction" because I've seen the research indicating that this form of writing really helps young people with literacy and developing positive, lasting reading habits. I have accepted that my position within the Canadian literary landscape might just have to remain one of reclusivity and obscurity, but I so believe in the underlying messaging and intent of these novels that I will continue to produce, and publish, and write, and share them, as long as I am able to construct the fictional characters in my mind.

Like most writers, my books are an exercise in fantasy, psychology, sociology, and history. Fantasy, because I'm able to take fictional people and hypothetical scenarios and see what happens when you add particular elements together. Like a social experience, the narratives allow me to play with factors that I can't adjust in real life, but still allows me to exercise the outcomes, the conversations, and the predicaments that may occurs as a result.

The psychological and sociological elements come with the human interaction, primarily. The majority of the "Urban Toronto Tales" have a focus on relationships and friendships. Without getting into the areas of mystery, science fiction, thriller, or crime, these novels and short stories stay on the fringes of romance and explore relationships from a variety of angles and personalities.

The elements of personal change and growth, and pursuing these lanes from various perspectives are entertaining, and at times challenging when forced to ensure that the processes and outcomes are realistic and authentic to the time and space they exist within.

I view these books a historical reference, because 26 years from now, I may not be able to remember the feeling, culture, mood, language and trends of this moment...but I do want them to exist and live on. "This moment" has occurred steadily for me from I wrote my first novel in 1992 ("Eighteen"), up until the present time where I am finishing my tenth novel "Bonafide Toronto Love."

Each book is written from the perspective of a character that is exactly my age at press time, so I can specifically relate the trends, the life cycle, and the priorities according to the exact moment in time, from an individual at a specific age. While writing outside of your personal demographic is a key challenge of writing, perhaps it is a skill I am too stubborn to develop, to transport myself into another age or city. On a biographical level, I do like to use my books as cultural reference as to what was hot and common at any particular moment in time, and know that it is authentic.

I love to read the vernacular used in my high school books, like "The Way We Used to Be." It entertains me! It's nostalgic for me to remember the issues and thought processes of adolescent girls, when I re-read "Eighteen." With the more recent novels, it's still interesting to see the thought processes and happenings of my characters in the present time...while I am still living in this time.

Self-serving? Possibly! Irrelevant? To some. Necessary? I believe so.

There is a part of me that can not stop writing, no matter how much I realize that my writing isn't receiving the attention or merit that most authors dream of. I've passed that moment as an artist, where the validation and acceptance is my primary goal. I'm at the point where I simply want my writing to exist in historical context, and mention matters that were important, scenes that were entertaining, and cultural phenomena that were really, really crucial to someone. Even if that someone is...me.

I've dedicated this edition of the Journal of Canadian Urban Fiction--in the most selfish of ways--to my books. I've researched, and brainstormed, and thought about how I could prove to myself that for the past two and a half decades, that my writing had a purpose. TAnd for the decade before that, that 10-year-old Stacey wasn't writing her heart out, for nothing.

I imagine that somewhere down the line in history, someone, somewhere will care. Perhaps? Someone will be pleased to find a fictional account of what it was like to party in the 90s in Toronto, or attend high school in Pickering. Someone, somewhere, will want to read the language and "slang" of a young person growing up in Toronto in the early 2000s. It is my hope that the words I've written will not exist in vain forever...and I am patient enough to let my work exist digitally, knowing that one day, they may have value that exists beyond my own ego and amusement.

I have always admired the way our African-American neighbours have utilized the wonders of Urban Fiction. Like most, I was drawn to the genre through Terry McMillan and Sister Souljah. I have yet to dive back to the 1970s Iceberg Slim to get the true, true roots of Urban Fiction, but I do value and appreciate the spirit with which his stories were recorded. I love the relevance they still hold.

Aside from the most prominent authors, it is difficult to find professional reviews of many Urban Fiction novels. Despite the best selling books from the above-mentioned authors, and the hundreds of other contributions from small presses and independent authors across America, there is still a bit of a void when it comes to research in this area. The Kya Publishing Journal of Canadian Urban Fiction exists as a preliminary attempt to institutionalize the study of Urban Fiction, and to chronicle the academic and social importance of the books, once the reader puts it down.

Existing research (many studies that will be referenced in this edition of JCUF), declare that the teen protagonists appeal to many teen readers. Despite the sometimes controversial placement of these books in school and public libraries, there has been evidence that Urban Fiction has a high appeal to otherwise reluctant readers, and is a valuable way to connect with young patrons.

In the "Readers' Advisory Guide to Street Literature," author Vanessa Irvin found that Urban Fiction (also known as "street literature") is a great way to promote library use, and has been helpful with assisting library staff with establishing their credibility by giving them the information they need to knowledgeable guide their young readers.

Its impact in the United States of America is fundamentally more powerful, based on the number of Urban Fiction authors, as well as the availability of books in bookstores, libraries, street corners, and online. This grassroots promotion and hustling of books has made the Urban Fiction industry in the U.S. an interesting model of entrepreneurship, as well as community independence.

In an assessment of Canadian writer George Elliott Clark's 2000 book, "Odysseys Home: Mapping African Canadian Literature" Andrea Davis noted that "What black Canadian literature offers is the convergence of multiple African diasporic voices, coming from different ethno-cultural, linguistic and national spaces, but together articulating a deliberately transgressive Canadianness that not only takes cultural differences into account, but also positions the lived experiences of Black Canadians as an essential part of a wider discussion about what it means to live and be in this country."

Davis mentioned that while African-american literature was defining itself within the American canons, according to "Black nationalist and Black aesthetic traditions," that Black Canadian literature to some extent is is a projection of the imagination, because it is representing various identities within "coherent national narratives."

The identities represented in the "Urban Toronto Tales" are not a specific Black Canadian experience, or Caribbean-Canadian lifestyle, but a combination of what I have observed from my own Black/Caribbean-Canadian lens, and my interpretation of how these events play into the greater narrative of living in this country and the ways in which the cultural context impacts that experience.

Music has, and always will, play a huge factor in the development and understanding of the mood of my stories, and how I try to convey that mood. A reflection of the urban musical experience--be it hip hop, R&B, reggae, or soca music--the stories often exist within that framework: in the presentation and enjoyment of the music as a root to understanding the culture.

As a means of understanding the experience, the culture, the music, the race politics, the identities, and the interpersonal relationships, it is just my hope that the Urban Fiction novels of the "Urban Toronto Tales" collection can serve as a catalyst for youth to enjoy reading, a reflection in identity construction for young people and young adults, and a documentation of the African-Canadian voice in a specific space in time.

It's been 26 years, and I hope to continue to write for 26 more, as I age, as I learn, and as I continue to respect the value of story and the importance stories have in how history remembers even the most routine and casual of occurrences. To some of us, it is this experience that make up the beauty of our lives.

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