Toronto International Festival of Authors’ 42nd edition is underway: We introduce eight ‘dazzling’ debut writers
|Toronto Star 21 Oct 2021 at 13:54|
The 42nd edition of the Toronto International Festival of Authors is underway and runs until Sunday, Oct. 31. Always a highly anticipated event, this year, for the second year in a row, it’s going all-virtual, featuring writers including Colson Whitehead, Cherie Dimaline, Lisa Taddeo, Paul Auster and more in a wide range — more than 200 — of online events and podcasts.
Each year, we like to feature the debut authors at the Festival — those just breaking into the industry, whom you might not have heard of yet, and who are experiencing it all with fresh eyes. This year, TIFA has curated a “Dazzling Debuts” list of writers from around the world.
We asked each of them two questions: to describe the moment they first saw a physical copy of their book and their go-to approach to feeling part of the writing community during the pandemic. Here’s what they said.
Kavita Bedford, “Friends and Dark Shapes” (Europa Editions) Australian-Indian
I received a notification in the mail to say there was a package waiting to be picked up. I went to a local news agents with my partner where there was a box filled with books delivered from the U.S.A., and we raced home (in Sydney, Australia) and ripped the box open! I haven’t seen the books overseas, due to the pandemic, but friends have been sending me photographs from New York and Toronto and Paris and various places.
I have been part of book launches, festivals, discussions and book clubs, however they have been online which does make it harder to build relationships. I also got Instagram before my book came out and I found the community on ‘bookstagram’ reviewing and posting about it and sending me messages made me feel part of a community and has become some of the main interaction I have had with readers.
Kerri Arsenault, “Mill Town” (St. Martin’s Press) American
On March 12, 2020, the official beginning of the pandemic in the U.S., I was with colleagues from the National Book Critics Circle board in NYC deliberating on the 2019 NBCC awards. My husband texted me a photograph … my books had arrived at home! With all that was going on — the questions about COVID-19, the hostility of Trump’s presidential campaign, and my exhaustion from working on “Mill Town” for 10 years — I cried. I cried with relief and lingering uncertainty, knowing that circumstances surrounding the publication of “Mill Town” in September would not be normal.
I said yes to everything. I did almost 90 book events, most with conversation partners and in bookstores, book festivals, book groups, at non-profit organizations, libraries, businesses, on radio, online, in person, and even once on TV. I’ve also guest lectured in graduate programs across the U.S. in sociology, anthropology, creative writing, architecture, environmental studies, and science programs, and talk or text regularly with a few writer friends, who I count on for inspiration, empathy, or humour, and I try to provide the same to them. Readers and other authors have also been a source of connection, and I’ve developed so many new virtual friendships this year. While writing is an individual act, I can’t write or live without conversation, community, and human contact.
Mateo Askaripour, “Black Buck” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) American
I’ve worked hard to foster community with readers and fellow authors, which has sustained me over this year in more ways than I’m probably aware of. With readers who reach out to me, I always do my best to respond, in some form. I know this isn’t sustainable, but I love the one-on-one connection it gives me with people who invested time, and often money, to engage with my work. I’ve also hosted Instagram Lives called “Talkin’ Lit,” where my readers get a chance to interact with me and one another in a fun, thoughtful, and unique way. But what makes feeling a part of a literary community even easier is that there are bookstagrammers — people who share reviews and their love of books on Instagram —— who have created their own communities, and welcomed me as one of their own.
I’ve been fortunate enough to become real friends with some of my peers, and aside from publicly supporting one another’s works, we’re there for each other behind the scenes: checking in, meeting up in person, when safe and possible to do so, and letting each other know we’re only a text, phone call, or FaceTime away.
Meg Remy, “Begin By Telling” (Book*hug Press) American, Canadian
I thought, “Who knows when this opportunity will present itself again, I sure hope I said what I wanted to say.” And then, I searched for typos.
My go-to for building community: Reading, reading, reading.
Therese Estacion, “Phantompains” (Book*hug Press) Canadian, Visayan
I remember my whole body feeling flushed and warm. I felt joyous, proud and a bit shy about its entrance into the world. I knew a lot of love went into writing it, but I hoped others would feel the same way I felt about my work as well. I also felt a deep sense of gratitude for the people involved in the creation of the book — my publisher (Book*Hug), my editor (Brecken Hancock), the cover’s artist (Marigold Santos), my parents, Ipo and sister, my friends and partner, and my ancestors. It felt cosmic.
I am just beginning to feel my way through the writing community, and for me, being alone is an important part of my writing process. However, I have been fortunate enough to have been invited to various literary festivals where I’ve met incredibly supportive and talented poets. Being with them, albeit online, and keeping in touch via social media, has left me feeling excited about the possibility of creating new friendships and maybe encountering them one day by chance out on the street.
Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia, “The Son of the House” (Dundurn Press) Canadian, Nigerian
It was exhilarating. I got a delivery via courier. Even though I knew what was in the box, my hands shook as I cut through to reach the books. Many writers say there is no feeling quite like it and it is true. It felt like a mother seeing a baby for the first time, these hours of labour turned almost like magic into something solid, with my name on it.
Asha Bromfield, “Hurricane Summer” (Raincoast Books) Afro-Jamaican, Canadian
Tears filled my eyes, and I had to reckon with the truth that anything is possible, because it was so surreal to hold a physical copy of something that all began as an idea of my head. I realized then, that this life is truly a magical one — I remember the days I would sit in Chapters working on my novel, just dreaming that it would be on shelves. As an Afro-Jamaican author and actress, I have a powerful responsibility to create stories that expand the narrative for humanity, and particularly Black girls and women. I hope to continue to write books that make them feel seen — that explore the depths of our humanity and that take an honest look at our culture and intrinsic power. I want to write about who we are as a global planet, and who we have the potential to be. I pray that the stories I write help others return home to their truest self — Love.
Genki Ferguson, “Satellite Love” (McClelland and Stewart) Canadian
The moment I first saw a physical copy of “Satellite Love,” I was winded. Partially because of excitement, but also because I had run home during my lunch break at Book Warehouse to intercept the package! I already knew that Emma Dolan, the designer, had done a beautiful job creating the book, but holding it in your hands is a uniquely visceral experience.
For more information about these authors and their events, as well as more information about the Toronto International Festival of Authors and the more than, go to festivalofauthors.ca . The festival runs virtually this year from Oct. 21 to Oct 31.