By Natalie Wee
They say great things come with pronounceable acronyms. The Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD) positions itself as Canada’s first and only festival for diverse authors and stories. On the heels of its first successful year, the festival takes place May 4–7 this year in Brampton, Ontario.
Founded by author and book columnist Jael Richardson, the The FOLD’s mandate involves “celebrat[ing] diversity in literature by promoting authors from marginalized communities in a unique and culturally diverse city” and “present[ing] a diverse range of stories (1) that are underrepresented in literary settings, (2) that reflect variations in geography, ethnicity, race, culture, gender, ability, sexual orientation, and religion, (3) employ different methods of story-telling.”
The FOLD’s schedule is jam-packed with thoughtful workshops and conversations, and brings together literary talents such as national bestseller Kamal Al-Solaylee, Buzzfeed Culture Writer Scaachi Koul, Gary Barwin (of Giller-Prize nominee Yiddish for Pirates fame), City of Vancouver Book Award finalist Jen Sookfong Lee, and the Governor General Literary Award- and Rogers Trust Fiction Prize-shortlisted Katherena Vermette.
The FOLD sessions are extremely affordable, with most sessions kept well below $20. For a sense of how pocket-friendly the tickets are, an all-access pass only costs $90+6. It’s a great steal for critical conversations that advocate necessary social transformation in the current era.
May 4 kicks off the festival:
- I Write takes place from 9:30–10:45am in Central Public School’s Auditorium, with Gary Barwin, Sarah Raughley, and M-E Girard discussing the process and challenges of writing.
- Following this session is The Spoken Word from 12:00–1:15pm, also in Central Public School’s Auditorium, which features performance poetry by Patrick Walters and Scribe Watkis.
- Brampton Library’s Teen Author Readings closes up the night, taking place at the Brampton Public Library from 6:00–8:00pm.
The festival momentum continues on May 5, which opens with In Times of War:
- The session, hosted at Central Public School’s Auditorium from 9:30–10:45am, features authors Adwoa Badoe, Dmitri Nasrallah, and Arushi Raina as they discuss narratives set against backdrops of unrest.
- Following this session is The Spoken Word from 12:00–1:15pm, also in Central Public School’s Auditorium, in which spoken word poets Shadiya Aidid, Sheniz Janmohamed, and Noyz will take the stage.
- Finally, featuring the title Resilience and Triumph – Immigrant Women Tell Their Stories, the FOLD’s Opening Gala takes place 6:30–9:00pm the same night in Brampton City Hall’s Main Atrium. The event features writers, activists, and educators Silmy Abdullah, Pramila Aggarwal, Ikram Ahmed Jama, and Monia Mazigh.
May 6 promises to be The FOLD’s busiest day yet:
- On My Mind, taking place from 9:30–10:45am at the PAMA Council Chambers, has moderator Farzana Doctor and authors Eden Robinson, Danielle Daniel, and Leah Piepzna-Samarasinha on a panel about writing, the mind, and mental health.
- At the same time, Simon and Schuster publicist Adria Iwasutiak will be hosting the workshop Publishing 101 at PAMA Studio 2.
- Following this, three concurrent sessions take place from 11:00am–12:15pm. In the PAMA Council Chambers, Wonder Women focuses on female warriors in literature and features authors Kai Cheng Thom, M-E Girard, and Sarah Raughley in conversation with professor and reading series coordinator Shoilee Khan. Simultaneously, the session What a Crime will take place in PAMA, and features authors Katherena Vermette, Mayank Bhatt, and Jen Sookfong Lee in conversation about crime-based novel writing with crime writer Naben Ruthnum. Author Kamal Al-Solaylee’s Workshop: Writing Nonfiction occurs at the same time in PAMA Studio 2.
- The excitement remains strong throughout the afternoon, with three more concurrent sessions taking place from 1:30–2:45pm. In the PAMA Courtroom, Fabulous Fiction sees authors Adwoa Badoe, Moniz Mazigh, Saleema Nawaz, and Gary Barwin discuss the voices behind their writing with editor Daniel Bezalel Richardsen. In Living Through Multiple Sclerosis, which takes place at the same time in the PAMA Council Chambers, Jen Powley shares the challenges of navigating ableism with author Amanda Leduc. OAC Grants Now will be held in PAMA Studio 2 simultaneously and explores financial support through the OAC.
- Following these events, three more simultaneous sessions occur from 3:00–4:15pm. In the Black with Denham Jolly, taking place in the PAMA Courtroom, titular author Denham Jolly illustrates his struggles as a Jamaican immigrant, and his journey as a businessman and social activist. The Role of Writers in Times of Trouble features authors and journalists Scaachi Koul, Leah Lakshmi, Hayden King, and Kamal Al-Solaylee discussing writing and social transformation with journalist Denise Balkissoon. This event takes place in the PAMA Council Chambers. Author Jen Sookfong Lee’s Workshop: Plotting the Novel will be held at the same time in PAMA Studio 2.
- During The Writer’s Court, from 7:00–8:15pm, emerging authors will reveal the first pages of unpublished manuscripts to professional judges Max Arambulo, Dimitri Nasrallah, Adria Iwastiuk, and Janice Zawerbny in a “live American-Idol-style event” located at the PAMA Courtroom.
- The Poet’s Gallery closes the night with performances by spoken word artists Noyz, Kai Cheng Thom, Lynx Sainte-Marie, and Shadiya Aidid, 8:30–10:00pm at the PAMA Gallery.
May 7 begins warmly with Breakfast with Katherena Vermette from 9:15–10:45am at the PAMA Council Chambers. Meals will be catered by Indigenous chefs as Vermette discusses her latest novel and future plans with journalist and professor Hayden King.
- Following this, publishing professionals Maz Arambulo, Sheila Barry, Naseem Hrab, Hazel Millar, and Synora Van Drine discuss strategies for visibility of diverse voices in the panel Get the Word Out, which takes place from 11:00am–12:00pm at City Hall Conservatory.
- From there, The Writers’ Hub is set up from 12:00–2:00pm at City Hall Main Atrium and offers the public the opportunity to speak to publishing professionals in a “fair-style event.”
- Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox overlaps with this event; taking place from 1:00–2:00pm at the Four Corners Branch of the Brampton Public Library, award-winning children’s author Danielle Daniel reads and introduces readers to the Anishinaabe traditions that inspired her first book.
- In the aptly-titled The Last Lecture with Eden Robinson, which takes place from 3:00–4:30pm at St. Paul’s United, Eden Robinson closes the fold with necessary discussions about the rights and responsibilities of story-telling.
Visit thefoldcanada.org for more information and to register.