Defining Canadian Urban fiction

A group of urban Canadian writers, educators, and artists celebrated the beginning of Black History Month by letting the community know how they are telling their own stories, and documenting the spirit and progress of their generation.

On February 2, the Toronto Public Library and Kya Publishing co-sponsored a panel discussion “Defining Canadian Urban Fiction” at the Malvern branch, encouraging a conversation about what it means to be an urban writer, in a Canadian context.

Moderated by journalist Angela Walcott, the panel featured relationship blogger Telisha Ng, Christian non-fiction author Tanika Chambers, Life Fiction author D. A. Bourne, TDSB educator and urban education scholar Camille Ramnath, hip hop artist General, and children’s author Angelot Ndongmo.

Joanne Bainbridge, the Senior Branch Head of the Toronto Public Library’s Malvern District Branch, noted that “urban fiction” is a hot commodity on the shelves and particularly popular with the library’s young readers. The Rita Cox collection is also housed at her branch and features materials that focus on the Black and Caribbean cultural and historical experience, including the books of Kya Publishing founder and event host, Stacey Marie Robinson.

The panel agreed that while the word “urban” may have previously referred to the black community in particular, that the urban culture of the city was now more inclusive. With shared interests in music, foods, activities, and a common Canadian culture, they felt the word “urban” had grown with the changing faces of the nation.

Whether the books on the shelves of Camille Ramnath’s classroom, the Canadian street vernacular of D.A. Bourne’s novels, the real-talk relationship advice from Telisha Ng’s blog, or the spiritual-toned encouragement of Tanika Chambers’ book, the panelists all had the same objective in mind: to reach others with the written word, and positively strengthen cultural identity.

It was agreed that young people should be encouraged to write more and share their experiences, and as a result the genre of Canadian Urban Fiction would grow naturally. Paying homage to the great African-Canadian writers of the past and present, the writers agreed that the legacy would continue as long as the “urban” stories were being written, and encouraged.

Kya Publishing will take the information from the discussion and continue research on Canadian Urban Fiction, and keep the conversation going through workshops, video discussion, and interaction with the writing, reading, and cultural community.

Last words of encouragement from an audience member to the panels were fitting for their Black History Month appearance: “Racism takes a long time [to change]; change itself takes a long time…but tell your stories, and continue to break barriers.”