The Toronto International Festival of Authors’ Delegate Programme gives writers, creators, journalists and bloggers the opportunity to engage in conversation and share their unique perspectives throughout our Festival events. Delivered virtually this year, our Delegate Programme gave participants the opportunity to attend the Festival from home, participate in Q&As and share their favourite moments online. 2020 Delegate Terese shares her thoughts about the opportunities literary events bring into her life.
Literary events were, to me, as much event as they were literary. They would very easily become a part of my week. I’d go to work from 9am to 5pm, then head downtown for an event with a 6pm or 7pm start time, and chat with friends afterward till past 11pm. Sometimes I’d go to two events in one night. I’d go to reading series, book launches, author talks/interviews and more. And while watching and listening to people read—close friends or not—was exciting and fulfilling, the events after the events were just as fun. After a reading or a launch, many of the writers and attendees would move to a nearby bar or restaurant for more social hangs. Here, you could talk to writers in a more informal, laidback environment, not separated by a stage or a mic stand. And while it was a good place to chat to work off the nerves, it was also an opportunity to meet various people.
The writing community in Toronto (where I live), as far as I know, is quite small. This means that quite a number of people wear many hats—they’re not just writers, but also editors, publishers, professors, publicists, agents, booksellers, administrators, assistants and so on. I vaguely keep this fact in the back of my mind when I say hello to someone I don’t know—that they could be part of a broader network, have some role I don’t know about it. In any case, I’m always excited to introduce myself. I don’t know if I consider it networking.
The word networking has somewhat of a bad taste. It implies that you’re not talking to new people because you’re interested in getting to know them and their work—you’re talking to them because you think they can be useful to you, or you think they can help you get ahead. Actions matter here, as well as intentions. People don’t like to be used, generally, but they do like to be supported. Part of being in a community means leaning on others for support.
I am interested in getting to know other writers mainly because they are writers, like me, and I know I can always learn something from them even when I’m not paying attention. At the very least, I’ll learn of new books to read, new perspectives. I know that, automatically, these people will be interested in literature, they will be somewhat invested in the community we’re both in, and, if they’re really generous, we can find ways to help each other, not necessarily as work, but as acquaintances and friends. But I also know these writers as people, who exist wholly outside of their writing, who have rich, complex inner lives and their own business to hold close and attend to. And this fact, is really what’s going to highlight whether meeting new people is simply networking or making a new friend. We like our friends outside of their jobs, and outside of what they can do for us. We take a genuine interest in their lives.
I do think getting to know people this way—whether or not you want to call it networking—is beneficial. I have heard that it really is true that who you know matters (in addition to talent), but I’m doubtful this is truer in writing than any other occupation. It’s beneficial to have a community, even if it’s a small one of just two or three people, to support, encourage, critique and guide. It’s also helpful for things like writing circles, or having a buddy to go to events with. I don’t believe there is a need to embark on carving a spot in the broader communities and systems of “CanLit,” if you don’t think you need to. Having your chosen few is good enough. Additionally, I don’t believe it’s beneficial to “network,” if you don’t want to, if it’s uninteresting, or if it’s tiring.
I have met other emerging writers who have asked me “how I know so many people.” And I mainly say that I go to events. While this is true, I also know that it’s also the after-event social hangs where I get to introduce myself—and other people—to new faces, to “network.” These events, I know, aren’t always accessible to a number of people, and not beneficial at all. They might happen in an inaccessible building, they might be too far away, they might occur too late at night, alcohol might be present, the spaces might be too overstimulating, or any other factors. And the fact that networking, and getting to know these multi-hatted writers, happens in these spaces, means many people don’t have access to that kind of social capital. I’m interested, in my work with my own journal, in expanding this sort of access. Because, while I think that it’s important for writers and artists to be able to socialize with each other outside of formal spaces like events, launches and classrooms, more people should get that opportunity, even if they don’t take it.
Ultimately, what’s more important to me is supporting people I love and admire, and their work, as much as I am able—especially if we have things in common, if they share the same goals and sentiments and ideologies as me. The word “networking,” isn’t so much on my mind as, broadening my community, and showing up for people. When you make acquaintances and friends, they will help you if they can, regardless. Networking, I feel, on some level, should be considered something kinder, something hopeful, something solid.
Terese Mason Pierre is a writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Canthius, The Puritan, Quill and Quire and Strange Horizons, among others. She is currently the Senior Poetry Editor of Augur Magazine, a Canadian speculative literature journal. Terese has also previously volunteered with Shab-e She’r poetry reading series, and facilitated creative writing workshops. She is the author of chapbooks Surface Area (Anstruther Press, 2019) and Manifest (Gap Riot Press, 2020). Terese lives and works in Toronto.