A Different Toronto

By Ann Y.K. Choi

K & Y Convenience. Queen and Bellwoods. Photo taken by Ardo Omer. Photo edited by Emily Jung.

As an outsider looking in, our neighbourhood in the 1980s could be perceived as sketchy with the Madonna-inspired prostitutes sitting on the side steps of the imposing Ukrainian church at the corner of Queen and Bellwoods, and the homeless asking for loose change outside our variety store. Our best sellers really did include cigarettes and condoms.

But for my family and the characters in Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, the neighbourhood was a vibrant reflection of the residents and our working-class background. The store allowed us to connect with everyone from immigrant families to starving artists–writers, musicians, and actors–who lived on white bread and cola but paid for brand named foods for their pets. And, although we were robbed frequently and our home vandalized, we felt a strong sense of belonging. People looked out for each other. One vivid memory of this was when someone set the entrance to our apartment (above the store) on fire in the middle of the night. One of the prostitutes who worked on our street corner called 911 and rescued us.Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety by Ann Y.K. Choi. 2016

I was surprised to hear that any novel set in the 80s is now considered historical fiction. But that got me thinking about how much the city has changed.

Gone are the matchbox movie theatres and Mr. Greenjeans at the Eaton Centre. Queen Video used to be just west of the store where we rented movies like Blade Runner and The Gremlins on beta and VHS tapes. But change has also brought about shifts in Toronto’s cultural landscape. We now have 24-hour Korean supermarkets the size of Loblaws, and Korean cosmetics in high-end shops like Sephora. Many of us, who spent the 80s trying to reconcile our dual identities as Korean children at home and “Canadian” just about everywhere else, have since come to embrace our Korean selves as adults. Our children now have role models of Korean descent to inspire them. I still can’t believe there is even a national TV show about a Korean immigrant family on CBC!

Even though I live in the north end of Toronto, I find myself making my way down to the Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood regularly. I still feel quite connected to that part of the city. I have learned that people can look at the same thing and have different perspectives and experiences–all of them being right. I hope that my readers can gain some insight into a different Toronto in the 80s by allowing themselves to view the world from behind our variety store counter.


choi-ann-john-burridge-1Originally from South Korea, Ann Y.K. Choi immigrated to Canada in 1975. She is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers and the Creative Writing Certificate Program at the University of Toronto. Most recently, she completed an MFA in Creative Writing at National University in San Diego, California. Her debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was a finalist for the Toronto Book Award. The story, set in the 1980s, was inspired by her experiences working in her family-run variety store. A teacher with the York Region District School Board, Ann lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.

Author Vincent Lam will interview Choi at the CNE for IFOA @ the CNE on August 24 at 6PM. The event is free with a CNE admission.

For more info, click here.

Staff Picks: Summer Readings

The IFOA staff is recommending a range of titles to quench your literary thirst this summer. Enjoy!

Pastoral by Andre Alexis (Coach House Books)Pastoral by André Alexis (Coach House Books)

Pastoral is the first installment in Andre Alexis’ quincunx (a five book series) which also includes Canada Reads 2017 winner Fifteen Dogs, and his most recent novel, The Hidden Keys.

Pastoral elegantly follows the personal meanderings of a young pastor, Father Christopher Pennant, and a recently engaged woman, Liz Denny, in the small town of Barrow as they struggle with their own doubts and questions about faith and love. Alexis beautifully reinvigorates the pastoral genre through his story about a modern-day Canadian town in the lush countryside, exploring how the land’s beauty and mystery affect the lives of the townsfolk who live there.

As always, Alexis’ unique insight into the human condition is startlingly evident as he takes readers on a gentle but compelling journey through the seemingly simple lives of his richly detailed characters. Pastoral is a perfect read for the summer season!

Brianna


A Body Beneath: Collecting Issues of the Comic Book Series "Lose" by Michael DeForge. Koyama PressA Body Beneath: Collecting Issues of the Comic Book Series “Lose” by Michael DeForge (Koyama Press)

I’m reading A Body Beneath: Collecting Issues of the Comic Book Series “Lose” by Michael DeForge. Graphic novels straddle both the literary and the visual worlds, and DeForge works beautifully within both mediums. A great book to start with for anyone who is interested in getting a taste of contemporary graphic novels!

Here’s a quote from Koyama Press because I cannot describe it better: “He has crafted a phantasmagoria of stories that feature a spider-infested pet horse head, post-apocalyptic dogs dealing with existential angst, the romantic undertones of a hired hit, and more.”

— Emily


Stopgap by Liam Card. Dundurn Press.Stopgap by Liam Card (Dundurn Press)

Local Toronto author, Liam Card, brings the mystery of the paranormal to Oakville, Ontario with his darkly comedic novel Stopgap. Written from the POV of a ghost, who while enjoying the blissful life of an invisible voyeur finds himself in the middle of an ethical dilemma that would change the world. Full of quippy remarks, thoughtful deliberations and digs about life in the GTA, this novel make for a quick read to lift your spirits this summer.

Madeline

 

 

 


Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway (Anchor Canada)Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway. Anchor Canada.

I recommend Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen (1998) for reading anytime of the year. An accomplished playwright, pianist and novelist (all things I wish I was), Thomson Highway is an author I can never recommend enough.

A bestseller when it came out, his debut novel is a story about sibling love and rivalry, education, and religion as the reader is welcomed into the world of these two Cree brothers trying to navigate two worlds, two languages and two cultures. Especially given the conversations going on at the moment about what this 150th year means for Canada, this book is poignant and pointed wrapped up in beautiful language. Pick it up at your local library or indie bookstore, but be ready for a good cleansing cry.

— Rebecca


SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki. Drawn and Quarterly. SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki (Drawn & Quarterly)

I find that summer is a time for a chuckle-inducing read and Tamaki’s SuperMutant Magic Academy definitely does that. The comic as the X-Men meets Harry Potter starring misfit teens and collects the 4 year webcomic with additional strips to create a cohesive storyline.

It’s hilarious and will look good in a selfie with a cold beverage of your choice. Tamaki also co-created This One Summer with her cousin, Mariko Tamaki, which won a Printz Honor, and a Governor General’s Award for Jillian Tamaki.

— Ardo


These are our recommendations. Tell or show us your summer recommendations at either @internationalfestivalofauthors on Instagram, @ifoa on Twitter or International Festival of Authors on Facebook.

5 Questions with Diana Biacora

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

IFOA: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Diana Biacora: I draw inspiration from anything that sparks my interest from real life.

From everything I see, touch, taste, smell and hear.

I particularly enjoy drawing inspiration from my travels, and the observations and experiences I’ve had in other parts of the world. Experiences that are new, foreign and unfamiliar.

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

Biacora: I think we all have several stories that we have to write at different stages in our lives. Sometimes the stories come out immediately, other times it’s years after. No matter what, they are always there. It’s a matter of timing, listening to ourselves and being open.

The story that I have to write right now is about two childhood friends.

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

Biacora: I have a room with a desk and a big window with lots of plants. Sometimes I write in coffee shops, in public libraries and my backyard.

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

Biacora: I’m always interested in the process and the different ways in which all artists conceptualize their ideas into something physical and concrete such as a novel, a poem, a play, or a painting. I’m fascinated by different approaches and practices for my own growth and learning as an artist.

IFOA: What are you writing now?

Biacora: I’m writing a piece that will hopefully turn into a novel. It’s about the childhood friendship between two girls.


Diana Biacora. Author. The Unpublished City. BookThug. IFOA. Diana Biacora is a first year MFA student in the University of Guelph’s Creative Writing program. She writes fiction and non-fiction. She lives and writes in Toronto.

Biacora 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!

An Experiment in Creativity

By Sofia Mostaghimi

Photographed by Rodion Kutsaev. Unsplash. Girl/Woman.

To become less photogenic
Over the years my mother became less…

My ex-boyfriend started dropping off stray cats at my doorstep after we broke up…

– Notes of stories-in-waiting, from my notebook.

In 2012, when I was doing my MA in creative writing at the University of Toronto, some of us were paid ten dollars to participate in a study in which researchers sought to measure our creativity. We were asked to write a short story, make associations (things like “dog… cat”), watch videos and guess at the relationship between the actors (“Was the woman in the blue dress Todd’s boss or his wife?”), and decipher long sentences (“John said to Mary who talked to Liz who asked Larry to tell John not to say anything to Mary that…”).

I don’t know what my “score” was. We were never told; though feeling insecure as I was in my new program, I sometimes wondered about it.

The creative process is one that baffles and mystifies. When I tell people I’m a writer, their most common response is often, “It must be pretty hard, to come up with all those ideas…” I tell them not really. What’s hard to come by—though—is time.

Scan the internet and you’ll find various articles written about the creative process; it’s dialectical—no—it’s a byproduct of mental illness. Inspiration is akin to possession. Or else, cartoonish charts delineate famous writers’ routines (when I read these I’m always struck with how much damn money and free time these white, male writers had. How am I supposed to replicate a daily walk through the woods then write until dinner is served at sundown?). Or, and most comfortingly, that most writers write their masterpieces around age 40 (I have time!).

To create something from nothing is one way to look at it, but I think it’s the wrong way. What you’re doing, really, is transforming one idea or many disparate ones, into something new. Creativity is as much a process as it is a filter.

For fun, let’s explore a story idea I wrote into my notebook recently:

“To become less photogenic
Over the years my mother became less…”

I drew this idea from the fact that lately—and for reasons unknown and tragic to me—I am becoming less photogenic. My mother also recently pointed this out to me (I think a mother’s honesty may also be a key requisite to becoming a fiction writer).

I’m reminded of Nabokov’s Lolita here too: “My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident…”

So: photogenic can be a loaded word, wrapped up into ideas about youth, beauty, longing, loss, grief, and some indecipherable, innate quality in a person.

Now fiction gets more interesting for me when it deviates from my literal truth. I also wrote: “Over the years my mother became less…” Maybe I transformed it into “my mother,” because she deigned to tell me an annoying observation, or because I connected it to Nabokov. Whatever the case, I’ve got the beginnings of a story dynamic in those half-formed sentences. A young woman living with her mother, both aging (badly, bitterly), fading beauty in the age of Instagram and plastic surgery (hopes confounding with resentment), but also this idea of becoming “less”…

Still, we have a dynamic but no plot. Rookie mistake. Sometimes, it helps to crash one idea against another. In the same notebook, I found this one a few lines below:

“My ex-boyfriend started dropping off stray cats at my doorstep after we broke up…”

Alright, so now we’ve got an aging mother, possibly obsessed with her own fading beauty, and a grown daughter, living at home, whose ex-boyfriend is aggressively and literally insisting she become a cat lady.

I imagine my process to be the opposite of how white light splits and disperses through a glass prism.

But I suppose all creativity must also be drawn from some unconscious well within ourselves. I’m almost thirty. My mother is aging. I look like crap in lots of photos nowadays. I’m pulled between a desire to focus on my work and use up the last bit of my twenties in some roaring, fashionable way. I’m wondering what it’s going to mean for me, for my mother, to be not as young as we were? I’m scared of that. I am.

Maybe creative processes baffle so many because it isn’t sequential. It’s messy. It can’t be quantified, only felt. And I like that idea. I like that idea, a lot.


Sofia Mostaghimi. Author. The Unpublished City. BookThug. IFOA.Sofia Mostaghimi‘s stories have appeared in The Hart House Review, Joyland Magazine, Flyway: The Journal of Writing and Environment, Echolocation, as well as two anthologies: Aestas 2014: A Fabula Press Anthology (3rd place winner) and You Care Too Much: Creative Women on the Question of Self-Care. A graduate of the University of Toronto’s Creative Writing Master’s program, she teaches, lives, and writes in Toronto.

Mostaghimi 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 Nadia Ragbar

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

IFOA: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Nadia Ragbar: It all comes through observation, both in the world around me, but also in keenly observing my own feelings and internal tensions in response to what I’m seeing or thinking.

I am inspired to physically sit and write when I have witnessed that lovely, bubbling creative spark in other people’s work and art.

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

Ragbar: The story I most need to finish no matter what is the manuscript I’m currently working on. It’s the first novel I’ve ever written and I absolutely have to see it to completion before I die. Or else.

Also, I think I might need to write a screenplay for a teen comedy.

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

Ragbar: I write at home, toggling between pen and paper, and on the computer. Writing by hand helps me get a shape out, but typing with both hands helps me write faster, and get more complex thoughts and sentences out.

I also have a weekly writing date with a good friend at a coffee shop. I never thought I’d be able to write in public, but these meetings have been really productive and I got over my self-consciousness when I saw everyone else in there frantically Dear Diary-ing, as well.

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

Ragbar: I would ask any career writer how they managed to balance between being a dreamer in their heads and being a realist in the world, at the very starts of their careers. I have a hard time keeping a foot in both.

Toni Morrison, three practical tips, maybe?

IFOA: What are you writing now?

Ragbar: I’m revising a draft of a novel manuscript about conjoined twins. The more dominant twin is a boxer, and the other a bookkeeper who hates boxing and secretly wants to separate. It’s a story about belonging, loss, compromise and connection. Ultimately, it’s a story about family, and finding your unique place in it and in the world.


Nadia Ragbar. Author. The Unpublished City. BookThug. IFOA.Nadia Ragbar‘s work has appeared in Broken Pencil, Echolocation, Dragnet Magazine, and The Glass Coin. She lives in Toronto.

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!

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