Canada puts diversity in the spotlight at the Frankfurt Book Fair | Books | DW

After the cancellation of the physical event last year, Canada is once again the guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse, FBM21) to be held October 20-24. “Singular plurality” is the theme chosen by the country to reflect its “eclectic and multicultural” literature.

Margaret Atwood, internationally renowned for her dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, will be the guest star of the opening ceremony of the book fair. She will deliver a speech via video link with Joséphine Bacon, renowned poet and filmmaker who writes in French and Innu-aimun.

While these two established authors embody three of Canada’s main cultural traditions – English, French and Indigenous literatures – a new generation of authors is also helping to expand the diversity of the country’s literary landscape.

Vivek Shraya explores in his work the human impulse to reinvent himself

Vivek Shraya, an award-winning trans writer who is also a musician, filmmaker and visual artist, is the third guest at the opening ceremony. An advocate for LGBTQ + rights, she is a member of the board of directors of the Tegan and Sara Foundation and founded the publishing brand VS. Books, which supports BIPOC writers.

Honored authors of indigenous and migrant literature

With its delegation of 58 authors who will participate in live events in Frankfurt or virtually, Canada FBM2021 features a wide range of writers.

French-speaking authors such as Dany Laferriere, originally from Haiti and Kim Thuy, who fled Vietnam at the age of 10, have come to prominence through their personal stories reflecting the experience of migrants.

Innu writer Michel Jean will also be in Frankfurt to promote Kukum (2019), a tribute to his great-grandmother. A bestseller in French Canada, the German translation of the novel was published just before the book fair. Also present at the event is Paul Seesequasis, founder of Indigenous voices magazine, also renowned for its social media project to post images of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Aim to go beyond “performative diversity”

Another author selected for the official Canadian delegation is Catherine Hernandez, who describes herself on her website as “a proud queer woman of color” of Filipino, Spanish, Chinese and Indian descent and who has married the Navajo nation.

His latest novel, Reticle (2020), is a dystopia unfolding in the near future, where communities of color, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ + people are forced to take refuge in concentration camps.

Hernandez points out that while publishers are more open to including racialized, disabled, or queer authors in their list of books, increasing diversity in CanLit remains an ongoing battle. “It’s still mostly performative,” she told DW.

She says she is hungry to see stories written by writers from under-represented groups celebrated for their true worth, not just because everyone “tries to tick all the right boxes, but because these stories matter; they are important to the general public. world too. “

Catherine hernandez

Catherine Hernandez has also written children’s books on queer families.

A long way to go yet

Meanwhile, publishers in Canada are also working to make diversity in the book industry more than a marketing slogan.

“I would say we’re a long way from where we want to be,” says David Caron, co-editor at ECW Press, who was recently invited to discuss the topic at a diversity roundtable hosted by the Association of Canadian Publishers. “And this is a feeling shared by a large majority of my colleagues,” adds Caron. “So we are all working hard to try to make sure that under-represented voices are published.”

Part of a “national conversation”

The publishing industry’s awareness of systemic injustice has grown in recent times as part of a “national conversation,” Caron told DW.

Beyond the international discussion sparked by the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, Canada has also recently begun to address the impact of European colonial powers on Indigenous communities, including through of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which was active from 2008 to 2015. The commission concluded that the compulsory boarding system for Indigenous children – which removed them from their families, deprived them of their ancestral languages ​​and in many cases exposed them to physical and sexual abuse – amounted to cultural genocide.

“From that point on, the publishing industry thought a lot more about what it was doing to support Indigenous voices. Not only in terms of published authors, but also in terms of people working in publishing, ”explains Caron.

Waubgeshig rice

A voice reshaping North American science fiction: Indigenous novelist Waubgeshig Rice

Building on the concept of multiculturalism

Another aspect unique to Canada – as opposed to the American concept of the “melting pot”, where all cultural differences are supposed to merge together – is that multiculturalism has been a leading political concept since the 1960s-1970s, as pointed out. by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau (father of current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau).

In a notable 1971 speech, Trudeau said: “There are few policies potentially more disastrous for Canada than telling all Canadians that they must be alike. There is no model or ideal Canadian, ”he said. “A society that emphasizes uniformity is a society that creates intolerance and hatred.”

Caron is part of the generation that grew up with this Canadian ideal of embracing diversity, “but yet here I am, yet another product of systemic biases that exist across our country and in our industry, and we are trying to create a change. within that. “Ideas that were already promoted five decades ago can be called ‘beginnings,’ he says.” But we are in a place where we have a long way to go. “

About Karren Campbell

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