5 Questions with Sanchari Sur

We asked Sanchari Sur five questions about writing as we gear up for the launch of The Unpublished City collection on June 22.

Sanchari Sur. Author. The Unpublished City. BookThug. IFOA.IFOA: Why do you write?

Sanchari Sur: I am not quite sure. I have tried to give up writing for a long time, convinced it was only this idea of grandeur that I was allowing myself to believe in. There is a certain bit of je ne sais quoi that accompanies the idea of being a writer.

But the stories wouldn’t stop coming, and writing was the only recourse.

IFOA: What are some of the themes that you explore in your writing? Why?

Sur: Again, I do not choose the stories (and by extension, the themes). However, I suppose some themes haunt my narratives like familiar ghostly encounters.

I am most interested in the idea of gender and sexuality as malleable concepts. The binary of masculinity and femininity is frankly quite boring, and slightly clichéd. Another theme that crops up a lot is the idea of negotiation of different parts of one’s identity such as race, class, age, caste, (dis)ability and so on; that is, navigating one’s spectrum of privileges and the lack thereof.

IFOA: What are some of the genres you explore in your work?

Sur: I started out writing poetry and genre fiction (mostly, horror), but it is literary fiction that I have gravitated towards time and again. Currently, apart from my academic work, it is writing short literary fiction that consumes my writing hours.

IFOA: Who is your favourite author, poet or writer?

Sur: The book that started it all was The God of Small Things. So, in that sense, I will forever be indebted to Arundhati Roy for turning me into a lit fic enthusiast. Reading her book (several times since I was fourteen) made/makes me think: if only I could write an ounce of what she has written…

IFOA: What inspires you?

Sur: Random things. Some of my stories are based on very real experiences and some are just by-products of the theory I have been reading for school at the moment. And some are based on news items I come across on CTV when I am doing my thirty minutes of cardio at the gym.

Mostly however, it is usually an image, or a scene, or even a feeling (or, as Sara Ahmed would say, an “affect”) that sticks to me, and haunts me for days until I give in and try to figure it out through writing.

Sanchari Sur is a feminist/anti-racist/sex-positive/genderqueer Canadian who was born in Calcutta, India. A doctoral student of Canlit at Wilfrid Laurier University and a curator of Balderdash Reading Series, her work has been published in Jaggery, The Feminist Wire, and Matrix.

Sur is one of the authors featured in The Unpublished City: a collection of works by Toronto’s emerging literary talents. IFOA and BookThug invite you to the collection’s release on June 22 at 7:30 PM as part of the Toronto Lit Up book launch series.

For more information, click here!

5 Questions with Doyali Islam

We asked Doyali Islam five questions about writing as we gear up for the launch of The Unpublished City collection on June 22.

Doyali Islam. Author. The Unpublished City. BookThug. IFOA.IFOA: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Doyali Islam: As a poet, lived experience—my own and that of others—is crucial to my work, but language is the mat to which I return.

To return to language is to resist in the most deft, complex and powerful way that I can. I like to think about existing language and its potential for poetic yield. I also like to invent words such as ‘geesturing’. (To ‘geesture’ is to gesture at geese!).

As a human seeking to become ever more human, I am moved by friends who are both fantastic poets/writers as well as gentle-fierce, curious and intentional beings: Geffrey Davis, Stevie Howell, Sheniz Janmohamed, Sylvia Legris, Tanya Lukin Linklater, Roger Nash, Soraya Peerbaye, Pearl Pirie, Sanchari Sur, Kim Trainor, Phoebe Wang and Chuqiao Yang come to mind immediately, but there are more.

As for my home life, I take inspiration from minimalism. ‘Minimalism’ is a trendy word these days, but I don’t mean the term in a narrow way. It’s basically an intentional approach to living in which one clears away physical, mental and emotional clutter to distill that which is essential. Poetry-making is not so different.

IFOA: What’s the story that you have to write no matter what (at some point in your life)?

Islam: I don’t believe in having to write anything; only that which arises as urgent, and compelling enough to invest time, attention and energy into for the sake of intrinsic reward.

Furthermore, I only publish—make public—poems that I think are working and that might have value to others. (I say ‘working poems’ instead of ‘good poems’ because I am trying to avoid the pernicious language of ‘good’ and ‘bad’.)

IFOA: Where do you write? Is there a specific place you do your writing?

Islam: I can’t generate new material in a café or public space. It’s my cat-nature. I need a cozy and familiar environment to be able to work. I wear my bathrobe when I write at home – the stereotypical poet! Clothing irritates me and makes it hard to focus.

These days, I most often work on drafts at my desk which was gifted to me by a friend—thanks, Sue!—during my time in North Bay (summer 2012 – spring 2015). The desk is longer than I am tall and takes two strong people to move it anywhere. I have been minimizing my possessions over the past two years ever since undergoing marital separation and subsequent divorce, but I kept this functional and handsome object.

Today, as I was dusting it, I felt an unexpected joy—sense of epiphany—in the maintenance work. So now I think that maintenance can offer up its own kind of pleasure and reward – what it might mean to polish a cherished kettle until it shines. Then again, perhaps, my perspective reveals a certain amount of privilege.

I sometimes revise by hand. I can print and carry a draft in my purse and work on it while I wait for an appointment, or when I’m on the subway. (I never revise on the bus. I look out the window or listen to the street sounds.) However, I still save and number all of my drafts in Microsoft Word – for example, “site draft52”. For me, a poem usually requires between 25 and 100 drafts.

IFOA: If you could ask your favourite author a question, what would it be?

Islam: I don’t know. I do think it’s important to contribute to the literary landscape beyond one’s own poems whether it be through interviewing/moderating (asking direct questions), curating, reviewing, adjudicating, or editing. Also, I think we all need to be asking, “What is the most important question I can ask myself right now?”

IFOA: What are you writing now?

Islam: My current full-length poetry manuscript is heft. I have been working on it since 2010 and the manuscript is almost complete.

As a collection, heft is formally innovative and lyrical. It contains a section of ‘parallel poems’ – a poetic form that I invented in the summer of 2010 and have been working in since then. One of these ‘parallel poems’ is my contribution to The Unpublished City collection, “43rd parallel”.

The manuscript of heft also contains my innovations on the traditional Shakespearean sonnet, in the form of my self-termed ‘split sonnets’ and ‘double sonnets’. The poem bhater mondo, which was nominated for the 2017 National Magazine Awards, is an example of my ‘split sonnets’.

As for my ‘double sonnets’, the poem susiya, published in Kenyon Review Online, is still one of my favourites as is the poem two burials which won Contemporary Verse 2’s 2015 Young Buck Poetry Prize for writers under 35.

Doyali Islam is an award-winning poet and the poetry editor of Arc Poetry Magazine. Her poems have been published in such places as Kenyon Review OnlineThe Fiddlehead, and The Best Canadian Poetry in English. In 2017, she was a guest on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition and was a National Magazine Award finalist. Her second poetry book is heft (McClelland & Stewart, 2019).

Islam is one of the authors featured in The Unpublished City: a collection of works by Toronto’s emerging literary talents. IFOA and BookThug invite you to the collection’s release on June 22 at 7:30 PM as part of the Toronto Lit Up book launch series.

For more information, click here!

5 Questions with Simone Dalton

As part of Kuumba 2019, the Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA) is proud to host The Launch of Black Writers Matter on February 20 at Harbourfront Centre. The event will feature the anthology’s editor, Whitney French, as she talks to contributors Simone Dalton, Scott Fraser, Phillip Dwight Morgan and Angela Wright about their shared experiences and individual works. In 2017, during the release of The Unpublished City, Simone Dalton answered five questions about writing. Find out more about the author below.

Simone Dalton. Author. The Unpublished City. BookThug. IFOA.TIFA: Why do you write?

Simone Dalton: I always feel somewhat exposed when I’m asked to answer questions like this one. Not because I don’t think the “why” is important—I believe there is power in pinpointing your passion for, or the impetus to do what ever the thing is that you do—but I cannot say in the definite terms that I often hear other writers express that I was born to write, or I’ve been writing my whole life and have the journals to prove it.

I do have journals, but not one of them is complete. I will say this: I’m passionate about people and the stories that they want to share or the ones that they unknowingly unravel as they move through life.

The oral tradition of storytelling has also been a cornerstone in my life. I come from an extended family of storytellers and theatre performers. One of whom is Trinidadian-Grenadian poet and short story writer, Paul Keens-Douglas.

His poems were the first I ever memorized and performed as monologues. My mother’s sister, Gloria Keens-Douglas, was an educator who wrote allegorical Caribbean folktales for all ages. And my mother made sure my appetite for books was satiated in my youth. These influences shaped who I became as a reader and have helped shape who I’m becoming as a writer.

TIFA: What are some of the themes that you explore in your writing? Why?

Dalton: Inherited histories or cultural inheritance within families is one of my theme obsessions at the moment. It’s about how we echo the lives that started before our own, how imprints from our parents are left within us, and what triggers those parts of ourselves to come forward.

I’m currently exploring my own inheritance from my once absentee father.

TIFA: What are some of the genres that you explore in your work?

Dalton: Creative non-fiction and fiction are two of the genres I currently explore in my work; however, I’m intrigued by writing for stage and screen. I sometimes dream of characters in words, but at times, those characters are sharper and more compelling as people beyond the two-dimensional page.

TIFA: Who is your favourite author, poet or writer?

Dalton: Three women stand out for me, Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat and Toni Morrison, but I will tell you about the first author in my list and her book: Annie John. Before reading Annie John, I was starved for voices that sounded like my own—like the people in my life—which always sounds absurd to me since I was born and raised on an island not far from Kincaid’s.

It was the first “ah-ha” moment that gave an example of people like me who could write—and do so successfully—in the way that Kincaid did. It was also a powerful portrait of motherhood and one that I identified with immediately.

TIFA: What inspires you?

Dalton: The words of people who have fallen six or seven times and still got up to succeed on their eighth try.

Simone Dalton (sometimes published as Simone Makeba Dalton) is a writer and social change communicator. She holds an MFA from the University of Guelph, where she received the Constance Rooke and Board of Graduate Studies Research Scholarships. Her work has been published in the anthologies The Unpublished City: Volume I and Black Writers Matter. The former was a 2018 Toronto Book Awards finalist curated by Dionne Brand. She is currently working on her first play for production with RARE Theatre. Simone lives in Toronto and was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago.

Dalton will next appear on the TIFA stage on February 20, 2019 for The Launch of Black Writers Matter. For event information visit here.

5 Questions with Nicole Chin

We asked Nicole Chin five questions about writing as we gear up for the launch of The Unpublished City collection on June 22.

Nicole Chin. Author. The Unpublished City. Shooting the Bitch. BookThug. IFOA. House of Anansi.IFOA: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Nicole Chin: Writing that completely takes me by surprise. I usually feel the most inspired to write when I’m reading something new that I really love and that’s just supremely special.

It can be poetry or prose, it doesn’t really matter, there’s just a magical kind of cosmic zap that happens when something grabs you.

IFOA: What’s the story that you have to write no matter what (at some point in your life)?

Chin: I’m not sure about that one. That’s a question I really have to think about. I’m not sure what story I have to write no matter what, but I do know that no matter what, in the near future, I want to write something that feels like an honest expression of myself where I don’t feel like I’m self-censoring in any way.

Sometimes my fears can be my biggest saboteur.

IFOA: Where do you write? Is there a specific place you do your writing?

Chin: I usually write on my couch, but in the last while, I’ve been writing a lot on my phone during my commutes on the train.

IFOA: If you could ask your favourite author a question, what would it be?

Chin: “What made you realize that writing is what you wanted to stick with for the rest of your life?” I really like hearing those kinds of stories, not necessarily from writers only, but from artists across the board. Stories like that are always so interesting and life-affirming. They make you feel like you’re not alone.

IFOA: What are you writing now?

Chin: I’m working on a novel. I realized I wasn’t writing the kind of thing that I love reading, so I made a change. I feel at home with my project now! It’s cozy but not too cozy.

Nicole Chin is the author of the House of Anansi Press Digital Short, Shooting the Bitch, which received the Mcllquham Foundation Prize for best original short story. Her work has appeared in Joyland Magazine, Room Magazine, The Puritan, Found Press and others. She has been long-listed for the House of Anansi Broken Social Scene Short Story Contest and was the recipient of the Helen Richards Campbell Memorial Award.

Chin is one of the authors featured in The Unpublished City: a collection of works by Toronto’s emerging literary talents. IFOA and BookThug invite you to the collection’s release on June 22 at 7:30 PM as part of the Toronto Lit Up book launch series.

For more information, click here!

5 Questions with Kerry Clare


IFOA: What are the main themes you wanted to explore in Mitzi Bytes?

Kerry Clare: The idea of a woman who finds out people are reading her blog who aren’t necessarily her intended audience, to put it delicately, turned up in a story I wrote a long time ago, and that idea preoccupied me for a long time after. At some point I made a connection between this idea and the children’s novel Harriet the Spy (which itself explores some mature and complicated themes), in which Harriet writes nasty things about her friends and classmates in her notebook, and then her notebook falls into the wrong hands. I realized that an homage to Harriet the Spy would give me the framework I needed to write my novel, and that the idea of my character not knowing who’d found her out would inject the story with some necessary and urgent plot.

IFOA: Marissa Stapley, bestselling author of Mating for Life,  has called Mitzi Bytes ‘provocative’. What makes this story provocative?

Kerry Clare: Mitzi Bytes is provocative because (like Harriet the Spy) it’s part of a fine literary tradition of books whose protagonist doesn’t learn her lesson and change at the end. It’s not a tidy book, and all this is less common and more controversial than one might expect. The last few months in particular have shown me that we live in a world in which women can be so reviled for the fact of their gender, and so I think it’s more important than ever to tell stories of people resisting narrow notions of how women should be.

IFOA: For the last 15 years you have been blogging about books, experiences, family and the world. You have said that blogging “is about showing one’s work, being open to and curious about the world…”. What advice would you have given your heroine when she first started blogging?

Kerry Clare: I’m not sure she would have needed my advice, or that anybody does, for that matter. Because the point of blogging is to be blazing a trail, which is what Sarah was doing when she started her blog in 1999, and she was just one of a handful of people who were doing that then. And she did it really well, which is why she built up a huge audience without even intending to do so—she was just telling her stories. Maybe I would advise her not to keep her online self and actual self so divided—I think blogs are best approached with a spirit of openness. But then again she was writing about blowjobs in taxicabs and sex with ventriloquists—her blog was much more interesting than mine has ever been—so perhaps that advice might not apply to her!

kerry-clare_credit_tracey-nolanIFOA: Who is Mitzi, who is Sarah? Can these two “identities” exist in the same realm?

Kerry Clare: This is the central question of the novel, I think, and the answer is: of course they can! Only on stupidly provocative magazine covers do women have to decide between being one thing or another. In real life, we’re all lots of things. We contain multitudes. And while negotiating these can be tricky, it also keeps the world interesting. It keeps us human too.

IFOA: What’s most exciting about having your debut novel published?

Kerry Clare: As a ridiculously avid reader, it’s been thrilling to learn about the process of bringing a book into the world, and all of the people who are part of that process. Production editors, proofreaders, and copyeditors are now superheroes to me, and I’ve been lucky to work with people who are so good at what they do. I am also excited to start visiting bookstores and festivals, because these are my favourite places to be. And finally, to know that people out there are actually reading this story I sat down and wrote three summers ago. It’s the very best thing, and such a great privilege.

 Kerry Clare and Rebecca Rosenblum talk about love, loss and what it means to bear witness with Amy Jones on May 10 at IFOA Weekly. Join them as they discuss the lives of women looking for the truth. Sheniz Janmohamed will host.

Information and tickets, here!





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