Searching for the Canadian Voice

canadian voice
Lillian Nattel, bestselling author of Web of Angel, at the Record Author’s Stage.

It was a brisk, windy fall day last Sunday when Word on the Street — a Canadian book and magazine festival — rolled out across from Kitchener city hall. All local literary-related organizations and  authors came out demonstrating Canada’s living literary voice and the booming self-publishing scene.

The Canadian literature genre is almost inexplicable. Like Canada’s music scene, there are definite elements of American and European influence, but with that particular multicultural twist that makes Canada unique. Everywhere you looked, this singular voice was present, not just from published authors but from the readers and lovers of books who make this festival a success. The KW literary scene is a great starting point for students who dream of writing in any genre.

Community-based programs such as One Book One Community (OBOC) and Made in Kitchener are examples of how readers shape Canadian literature. Championing the Canadian authors as always, OBOC is like Canada Reads, the official program that selects the nationally-representative book each year, but on a city-level.

A Canadian book is selected for members of the Waterloo community to read and talk about; the author then makes an appearance at the year-end event. The Made in Kitchener project backs this idea of community, but with a digital twist. By spreading QR codes throughout the city, Made in Kitchener has created a virtual walking path about the local history.

New to the 2012 festival was The Word in the Alley, featuring guest speakers from all literary genres. The sectioned off alleyway of Charles St. and Gaukel was a stage for local professionals to give advice. There you could hear Jason Schneider, music journalist from The Record, speak on the world of rock journalism and give advice to those intrepid enough to enter the business.

“It came down to writing about music was the only thing I could do,” Schneider recalled of his college years. With Arcade Fire playing in the background, his answer to the question of the existence of the Canadian voice was: “We’re listening to it right now — there’s no bigger testament in the world to Canadian rock right now.”

The festivities continued inside city hall, where The Record sponsored an Author’s Stage. Jian Ghomeshi, of CBC’s daily program Q and member of ‘80s famed Canadian band Moxy Früvous, was there promoting his new biography entitled 1982. Witty, and with hilarious snippets of his life as an Iranian British-born teen in Canada, Ghomeshi retold his tale of writing music in his teens, multiculturalism, and Canada folk-rockdom.

Both the Waterloo and Kitchener public libraries were present, and incredibly supportive of local literacy.

“I had never been before but I really like the venue here, you wouldn’t think you were in the street,” said Sandra Dance of Waterloo Library’s Ayr Branch.

KPL is also the sponsor of the Human Library tent. Keeping oral storytelling alive, the Human Library allows you to check out Human Books, a wide cast of volunteers with stories to tell.

With titles such as Vietnam Draft Dodger, Muslim Woman, Gender Outlaw, Child Abuse Survivor, and Eating Disorder, it’s no wonder this tent is one of the most popular at Word on the Street. Here was where the compelling story of Frank, a man who escaped the Vietnam War, was told.

“I didn’t want to be part of it anymore,” he explains of the atmosphere of the ‘70s, “I think it was worse then, it was kind of like a cancer. [The war] affected everything and in so many ways — relationships, media, everything,” said Frank.

If you sat down with Wesley, the gender outlaw, he would’ve recounted his experiences of discovering he was transgender after living life as a woman for years — even getting married and giving birth to a son.

“I always felt like I never belonged, but didn’t have the language to tell my school counselors how I was feeling,” he said thinking back. Now a public speaker, Wesley openly shares his tale with anyone who is willing to hear.

UW’s intellectual spirit was present in the mix as well. Alternatives, the part-magazine part-academic journal run out of the faculty of environment, and The New Quarterly (TNQ), a literary publication housed in St. Jerome’s were out promoting Canadian academia. Alternatives and TNQboth encourage students to contribute to literature through co-op, internships, submissions, and subscriptions.

Even graduates were there to make their contribution, such as the case of alumni Neal and Graham Moogk-Soulis, who were running the Crowdsource Comics booth. Authors of PostScriptcomics, the Moogk-Soulis brothers created “A Magical Romp through Faerie,” a comic adventure where each page was drawn by a different passerby, with prompts provided if needed.

Featuring doodles from young and old, the storyline demonstrated the imagination of all members of KW and put an innovative twist on crowd-sourcing.

By far, the most interesting trend at this year’s fair was self-publishing. The practice has become more popular than ever thanks to the internet, and now anyone with the dream to publish a book can do so if they put in enough effort.

A.C. Miller, author of the Deadlies series says: “it’s not easy, but it’s a lot of fun.” Independent comic artist, The Becka, described her story Cadaverificas as “a dark, humorous story and my first, so I’m having fun with it.” From Rev. Mirella, a retired hospital chaplain, to Doug Thomas, author of Bloody Boy, writers of all kinds were making efforts to fulfill their lifelong goals.

Lillian Nattel, bestselling author of Web of Angels, could not be more supportive of striking out to live your dreams.  She took the Record Author’s Stage and told her tale of achieving her dream of being an author, the long way.

“As a young adult, I became depressed and what do you do when you’re depressed? You become an accountant,” she explained cheekily. After living in the world of accountancy for 10 years, she quit as soon as her first book sold. Web of Angels is her third book and turned into a bestseller after just one week on the market.

After her talk, Nattel had some sound words of advice.

“If you have a dream, pursue it. If there is something that is creative within you, do it. And don’t let anything stand in your way or stop you,” said Nattel. “Yes, you have to pay bills. Yes, you have to make a living, but make [your dream] your priority. Don’t give up on it because that’s what makes you alive.”

An ambassador of Canadian literature, Nattel could not have described the Canadian scene any better.

“It’s different from readers, as well as writers, in other countries. I think that it’s really diverse, it’s exciting, it’s innovative, it’s fabulous,” said Nattel.

Closing the Record Author’s Stage was KW native Taylor Jones. At 23 years old, he has experienced phenomenal success as the creative mind behind the blog He has recently turned his site into print, a book aptly named Dear Photograph, a complex story told by over 200 authors. Stemming from a day of nostalgically photo-flipping, Jones became the source of viral inspiration. His advice to students looking to make it big:

“I kept on putting up websites every week, every week I’d come up with a new website, or reset the Twitter name or to get the Gmail account, and I didn’t stop doing that,” said Jones. “So if you have a startup that didn’t pick up the first time, don’t hesitate to keep on trying to make more, because that’s what I kept on doing. I was very persistent. I knew I wanted to do something online and eventually, I got the right thing, and it ended up working out for me. So just keep on going at it. Keep on hustling.”

This article originally appeared in the Imprint on September 28, 2012.