When we started planning for the Festival of Literary Diversity, our goal was to deliver a festival that provided readers with access to diverse authors and stories and a place for writers from diverse backgrounds to exchange stories in a craft that can often feel isolating.
But in the early development stages of the FOLD, we also heard from educators looking for information and resources on diverse Canadian authors, stories, and genres. Books are a meaningful tool for change on an individual and a collective level, and educators and the curriculum they choose to incorporate in the classroom, play a fundamental role in cultivating lifelong readers and building sustainable writing careers for authors.
While provinces like British Columbia, have implemented mandatory curriculum guidelines that ensure every high school student studies at least one BC writer before they graduate, curriculum mandates of this nature are not in place across Canada. Meaning that it is entirely possible for a Canadian student to go through their entire secondary school career without ever reading a single Canadian author.
And while some teachers may choose to incorporate CanLit into their lesson plans, the large majority tend to focus on CanLit mainstays like Munro and Atwood – increasing the challenges diverse Canadian authors already face in establishing sustainable careers. In a 2009 interview about BC’s CanLit curriculum, Ontario author Wayne Grady spoke of the benefits authors experience when their texts are studied in classrooms: “[The book] stays in print longer, and so it’ll be available in bookstores longer. There are all kinds of spinoff effects.”
In discussions with teachers and librarians here in Brampton, there is a strong interest in incorporating new, diverse content in the classroom. But there are also challenges and questions. How do they know which texts to choose? How do they find a range of novels by writers of colour to share with their students? How do they teach material they themselves have not studied in university, material like spoken word – which while meaningful to students, may fall outside their range of teaching expertise?
It was interest from EDUCATORS, spearheaded by a group of local high school teachers, that led to the development of the tagline Engaging Readers, Inspiring Writers, Empowering Educators. And with this three-fold approach in mind, the FOLD Planning Team is ready to launch registration for the first sessions at the inaugural Festival of Literary Diversity – sessions designed for school groups and a workshop designed specifically for educators.
Students will have the opportunity to hear from PEN Canada, the spoken word team The Unchartered, and a collection of fantastic first-time authors. Educators will learn how to teach spoken word from award-winning spoken word artist and author Dwayne Morgan; they’ll hear from editor Janice Zawerbny, followed by a powerful panel featuring Waubgeshig Rice, Zarqa Nawaz, and Heather O’Neill who will help them dream about the future of reading and books in high schools.