My first introduction to author Jael Richardson, founder and artistic director of The Festival of Literary Diversity was after she was invited to speak while I was taking a nonfiction class with writer Ayelet Tsabari. Jael wrote the memoir The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, A Father’s Life. It’s about her journey to find her father’s story and get answers to questions about family, identity and belonging. In class, Jael spoke about her novel and about this brand new, first of its kind literary festival that focused on diverse authors and stories. There were going to be workshops, panels, readings, community, The Writer’s Hub (meet & greet with editors & agents) and more. I had been to lots of lit festivals before, but none with a mandate to “create a vibrant community of readers and writers by celebrating diverse authors and literature.”
The first year that I attended FOLD, I went as a volunteer. It usually takes place on the May 3rd weekend. I had such a great experience. I recommend volunteering as a way of supporting FOLD if you can and it’s a great way to meet and get to know others in the diverse literary community. After your volunteer hours are done, you can get into sessions/workshops free. FOLD also offered a free course to me as a volunteer the first year, called Anti-Oppression Training and it was run by Facilitation Wellington Dufferin. Did I mention they fed us with pizza at training? During the festival, we were also supplied with drinks and treats to keep us going. Fold also runs events all year to attend or take part of. Fun things like their Write Now workshops available in person or online, author book rides, reading challenges so they are engaging and building up the lit community all year long.
“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” Desiderius Erasmus
What I love about FOLD is that I am getting to know and enjoy different writers work each time I attend and there is so much variety from year to year. I am always reading and buying books and have a never-ending book pile. I bought a FOLD shirt and picked up three books this time Deadly Slipper by Michelle Wan and This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (who was eating lunch at our table!!) and The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline. I attended the panel The Edge of Suspense with writers Amber Dawn, David A. Robertson and Michelle Wan and Cherie Dimaline. I can’t share my notes (as they are illegible) but I do remember that the pieces they read were really good at creating that tension and suspense of what was going to happen next in the story. If you buy a membership from Audible you can also hear some of the FOLD’s events and panels here: https://www.audible.ca/ep/FOLD
I like to attend the nonfiction workshops and I went to the Research for Nonfiction Writing (it was packed full) with Robyn Maynard, author of Policing Black Lives. There were many different types of writers attending; fiction, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, poets, and journalists. Writers asked about research and how not to get lost in the details (over researching can widen the scope sometimes), where to go for information. There’s a website for journalists called, Help a Reporter Out and Academia.edu. Maynard discussed citation as a way of giving love and respect to the sources used so writers can give credit to where these thoughts came from because ideas are always informed by ideas around us. She talked about alternatives for research for data gaps and exploring oral history from elders and the need for an inner circle of critical readers to read the work. Also, to be accountable. What is my relationship to the community? Am I the best person to tell this story?
The last panel I attended that day, was Extraordinary Voices and the discussion was about what it means and takes to be a successful writer in Canada. The panel was moderated by Carrianne Leung, author of That Time I Loved You and The Wondrous Woo and the panel made up of Kim Thúy, Lee Maracle, and Rabindranath Maharaj. Lee Maracle offered emerging writers this advice, “Fall into your own story. Don’t come out until the door closes.” I stopped taking notes because I was laughing too much. So, when it goes up on Audible, be sure to give it a listen.
There were over twenty-five events to attend over the course of the whole festival. It’s hard to pick (which is a good thing) and prices are reasonable to attend. I bought an all-access pass which was $117.36 with tax and there are day passes priced at about $50. There are events that are offered for free and this year FOLD offered free passes to those that had financial hardship but wanted to come. FOLD also been making the necessary changes so that that the venues where events are being held are fully accessible to all including the disabled community. I’m a fan and supporter of Jael, Amanda Leduc, Léonicka Valcius, the volunteer team and FOLD ever since attending my first festival. Hope to see you there next year!
Tamara Jong is a Montreal-born mixed-race writer of Chinese and European ancestry. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper, Room, and The New Quarterly. She is currently enrolled in The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University.